I thank the Deputy. Can we all just stop? I have a few words to say. Chairing this committee is both a privilege and a challenge. It is a privilege in that I am facilitating members who have rolled up their sleeves to examine these issues in great detail and it is a challenge in light of the fact that the issue is so emotionally divisive. Believe it or not, I do not take it personally. I cannot do so. In general, it is not intended personally and I respect what Senator Mullen had to say in that regard.
We were given a report from the Citizens' Assembly in which it recommended a change in the Constitution so as to make 13 grounds for the termination of pregnancy lawful. That is a major step. We were charged with examining whether this change is necessary and, if so, how it could be implemented. To do that, we invited a range of experts in areas such as obstetrics, human rights and international developments in the area of reproductive health care.
In the context of examining this issue by subjecting the recommendations of the assembly to full public scrutiny, the map given to us by Ms Leah Hoctor two weeks ago, which showed all of Europe, with the exception of Malta and Ireland, showed that we are an outlier. We have heard contributions to the effect that because the UK is a provider of abortion for Irish women, we can be an outlier. It was important, therefore, for the committee to understand what would be likely to happen if that ceased and the terminations performed in the UK were performed in our hospitals. That is why we wanted information on worldwide trends and what happens if restrictive laws are removed.
Witnesses from the WHO and bodies such as the Guttmacher Institute and the Center for Reproductive Rights were asked to contribute to the committee so that we, as members, might have a strong understanding of these issues. We also sought information on the illegal importation of abortion pills. As such, our work has very much been based on what is happening on the ground.
I have listened to claims that the committee has been biased in its approach. It would have made the committee better informed if those who argue vehemently for maintaining the status quo gave evidence. That goes without saying. However, it did not happen. We are all aware of their views, though. In any event, those occupying polarised positions on both sides may struggle to make themselves relevant. Long may that continue because it will result in a more rational debate when the issues are put to the people.
I wish to make a few more points. The committee decided who would attend, not me. I do not know how many times I have to say it, but that is the reality. As a committee, we agreed to limit the number of advocacy groups appearing before us because of our time constraints. No vote has been taken in this room on the question of introducing abortion. I want to be very clear about that. I have said this a few times, but I will say it again because it clearly needs to be repeated - we voted to address the status quo. We voted on our belief that Article 40.3.3o needed to be addressed. The actual words were "not retained in full". We have agreed to address the status quo, but we have not decided anything further than that. Anything that has been said outside the committee other than that is incorrect and a misinterpretation, so I ask members to please be constructive with this process and try not to undermine it.
Both Lives Matter was invited to this committee and declined to attend. An advocacy group of a similar persuasion will attend this afternoon.
This is a difficult committee to sit on for all of us and it is an exceptionally difficult committee to chair. It is probably the most difficult in both respects in the history of the State. Let us all try to be reasonable and respectful to one another.
I want to suspend the meeting for two or three minutes to invite the witnesses in.