Business of Joint Committee

As we have a quorum, we will commence in public session straight away. The draft minutes of our meetings of 15 November have been circulated. Are there any matters arising? Are they agreed? Agreed.

We have received six items of correspondence, all of which are noted. Is that agreed? Agreed. Arising from the correspondence received, Dr. Abigail Aiken has submitted a clarification on the research data in the presentation she made to the committee. I intend to read the clarification into the record at the conclusion of our public business today. I am conscious that we are under time pressure given that members want to deal with issues relating to bias on the part of the committee. I suggest we defer the second issue arising - proposed witness for module 3 - until after our public session in the interests of our witnesses today, one of whom can only be with us for a short time as she has a plane to catch. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Which witness is under time constraints?

The first witness, Dr. Patricia Lohr. We agreed at last week's meeting to review our proceedings as claims are circulating within the committee and outside. Deputies Anne Rabbitte and Catherine Murphy raised the issue and the latter suggested we have this discussion. The committee agreed. I intend that this be kept to as short a time as possible bearing in mind that we have witnesses to come in. I ask members to restrict their contributions to a maximum of five minutes and to avoid repetition. If we need more time, we can come back to it. If that is all right, it would be a good way to proceed. I call Deputy Murphy to speak first as it was she who suggested the statements. We can take it from there according to who indicates.

This is a two-pronged process, of which the Citizens' Assembly was the first element. We were asked to consider the report and recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on the eighth amendment of the Constitution and to report in turn to both Houses of the Oireachtas. Our brief does not say anything more than that. At the beginning, we decided that we would not repeat the Citizens' Assembly process but would instead consider the recommendations. The people who were invited here were invited to consider those recommendations.

Looking at those we have invited, the World Health Organization was one. It very definitely said it was not pro-pregnancy or pro-abortion but was rather concerned with how it is regulated if it is in place. If the evidence is cold, clinical evidence, stating the eighth amendment is damaging prenatal and maternal outcomes and one is simply presenting information, it does not make it biased; it makes it factual. A lot of the evidence has been factual. We had two witnesses from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and two witnesses from the largest maternity hospitals in Dublin. Indeed, Professor Fergal Malone made a point of stating that he does not categorise himself. I would have said the two witnesses from the Irish College of General Practitioners were neutral health experts dealing with a legal situation and telling us what the impediments were. That was the questioning that happened. We had witnesses from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, someone from the HSE, the former Supreme Court judge who chaired the Citizens' Assembly, senior counsel and the UK-based obstetrician who wrote the report on the death of Savita Halappanavar. When one looks at the regimes around Europe, one sees that we have one of the most restrictive. It is very difficult to see where one would have drawn someone to write that report. He was based in the UK. We had psychologists and academics who presented us with facts. Facts do not alter and what was presented was peer-reviewed, which is something we were very deliberate about. As such, this notion that there were 24 on one side and four on the other is utter nonsense. It is very important to respect the people who come before us in the context in which they come in front of us.

The Citizens' Assembly went through a range of different hearings. We decided not to bring in advocacy groups. If one goes through the Citizens' Assembly report to look at who presented at the assembly, one sees that there were two sides. That is not what we are being asked to do here. We have been asked to look at the report the Citizens' Assembly produced which means we have had to get people who could help us to take it on and look at the issues that would present in the context of the recommendations, if implemented. I feel very strongly that we should not allow this to become a narrative that is a lie because that would discredit those who are sitting in this room. It is not going to be a constructive contribution to public discourse when we get around to debating this issue in the context of a referendum.

I support Deputy Murphy in what she has just said and there is no need to repeat it. From the outset, our task was to examine the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. In the first few meetings, we were trying to get witnesses in to seek clarity as to how the Citizens' Assembly came to those recommendations and to open our eyes as to how it ended up as it did. It is obviously a challenge that we are an outlier in Europe in maternal health and the provision of abortion services. We looked at national people, urban versus rural, Irish versus international, and some people might say they were all pro-choice. Maybe the world is becoming slightly more pro-choice. It would be very difficult to get a medical expert with a lot of experience in the fields of obstetrics and gynaecology to come here to say the eighth amendment has been good for women's health. I support what Deputy Murphy has said. No one can say other than that all the members of the committee have worked very hard to come here prepared by reading statements beforehand and seeking evidence. Publicly, some members have come on a journey throughout the process. If that is so, it is evidence that the committee is doing its work. I will leave it at that.

I hear everything the speakers before me have said and I agree with what Deputy O'Connell has just said. It was to examine and have a good variation between urban and rural. We have had the World Health Organization and the best of people before us. The only reason for my fair, balanced and reasoned commentary last week was that there is a narrative out there. The last thing I want when I walk away from the committee when its work is done is to have it presented as one-sided. I cannot let that happen on my watch and it would have been remiss of me not to have said it. My only ask related to the fact that there were groups which declined the opportunity to come before us. That is not our fault but they are letting down a cohort of people they represent. I ask the Chairman if there is a way to give them the space or a slot that might be a particular viewpoint. Can the space be created? Who is next in the pecking order and who is further down to allow us to still afford the viewpoint to create balance? Let no one have the opportunity to say the committee was biased from the word go because, X, Y or Z was not here. That is not what I want. I have sat here and been open-minded and engaged all the way along with all of my colleagues, but there is a piece of the jigsaw that still needs to come in front of me.

I support Deputy Catherine Murphy and others on the bodies that came before us. Bodies like the World Health Organization, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Irish College of General Practitioners have status as representative bodies or, in the case of the commission, through statute. They are not there on any side of an argument. They are there because of who they are and what they represent. I agree that the balance presented is untrue. However, I also share Deputy Rabbitte's concern on those people who have withdrawn and not come before us. One of the reasons is that they have misinterpreted the decision we made on not retaining Article 40.3.3° as it is. All that was doing was to say we would move on; in other words, that the status quo would not remain. If the status quo had remained, we would not have been making any recommendation for a referendum and there would have been no point moving to the next stage. That point was made earlier.

It might be no harm to go back to these people to say they have misunderstood what the committee has decided so far. I would like to have the opportunity to ask questions of those groups. I regret very much the deliberate attempt to misrepresent the committee in the public arena. What has been said about what the committee has been trying to do is not true. I do not know if it is worth contacting those groups again to tell them they have misunderstood the committee and the people who have come before the committee.

I will not go back over the calibre and professionalism of the speakers or discuss bias because none of this is about bias. It is about tactics and undermining a process. It is about the status quo losing a grip on what they feel is the moral standard in any given country or over women's access to health care. This is the sting of a dying wasp and we do not need to discuss whether it is bias or not. We can see the calibre of speakers we had before us. If anything in relation to bias, I left the room many times looking at the level of time some speakers were given. One week when speakers were supposed to have six minutes, Senator Mullen had three times that and I had my own six minutes. However, I do not leave here screaming "Bias" and saying that my voice was not heard. This room was representative of the mandates of the membership. All parties and technical groups are here. We all have a mandate to be here and we should all abide by the same rules. If one looks at the list of speakers, I submitted six and only two of whom were chosen. Deputy Mattie McGrath had three or four chosen. We all put our individual speakers in and I am sure the proportion is spread according to the people in the room. There is no bias. It is not our fault if some of those speakers have pulled out.

I understand that people believe there may be a misunderstanding by groups out there after the vote was taken, but I find it difficult to accept. I am not rejecting it entirely, but I find it difficult to accept. If we are going to speak in that vein and ask for groups to come back, we need to spell out what groups we are talking about. We need to name them rather than just to have a nebulous reference to groups who are misunderstanding something. It is important that we identify and name the groups we think should be given a second chance and invited back again while we are having this discussion.

There has been a deliberate attempt to paint the Chairman as somehow biased and I find it extremely disturbing and wrong. It is evidentially untrue. It is a false perception. There was even a complaint to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, of which I am a member, accusing the Chairman of repeatedly calling a member of the committee a liar. The committee was about to write to the Chairman to remind her of her duties when I asked that we see the transcripts of her saying repeatedly that the person was a liar as I knew it had never happened. I do not know where the matter has gone since then. It is important that we defend the Chairman and her role and fairness otherwise there will be this attempt to say the entire exercise here is flawed and its outcome must therefore be flawed. I want that on the record. The majority of the committee agrees with me but we need to find a way to express it as a majority.

There has been a deliberate attempt by members of the committee, who know very well who they are, to undermine its work. Much of it is pathetic. We issued invitations to people but perhaps they feel the weight of their argument is not sufficient or they feel unable to articulate it. There were some fairly eminent people on the list who pulled out who I know are more than capable of holding their own in the cut and thrust of debate, but if they felt their arguments would not stand up in the face of the facts and felt unable to come in, we did enough in issuing the invitation. If it is the view of the committee that another chance should be given to people to present an alternative view, I would not object. However, I am not necessarily convinced we need an alternative view. What we have heard very clearly are the facts. As was pointed out previously, there is not really an alternative to the facts because they are the facts.

I echo Deputy Smith's points in relation to the Chairman. No member of the committee who takes his or her work seriously, attends meetings and pays attention to what is happening would in any way, shape or form accuse our Chairman of bias. It is not fair. The Chairman enjoys the support of the vast majority of the members of the committee.

I mean this as no criticism but I agree with Senator Ruane that in terms of bias and speaking time, Senator Mullen and Deputy McGrath have had far more speaking time allocated than was given to other members. I believe the Chairman gave extreme latitude to those members to the committee, and I understand why she did so, but it was not appreciated, which is regrettable. There are certain groups that appear before this committee - medical professionals operating in this State - who hold more weight than medical professionals operating outside this State because they are operating within the current legal regime we are seeking to change. The general practitioners' group, the Master and former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street and the Master of the Rotunda Hospital are individuals who are working every day with mothers, pregnant women and children. The suggestion that they are somehow motivated by some sort of less than honourable motive is totally discredited. I believe their motivations are sincere, honest, genuine and in the best interests of women's health. It is very difficult to ignore medical professional after medical professional appearing before this committee telling us that the eighth amendment is not in the best interests of women's health. It is very difficult to ignore that.

Regarding the suggestion that the committee is biased because somehow we are not 50-50, the country is not 50-50 on either side. It is my view that a majority in this country wants at least some change and I believe this committee is representative of that. Every member of this committee had an opportunity to suggest witnesses, which we all did. We had to justify why those witnesses should appear before this committee and why the State should foot the bill for them to travel if they were going to travel. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the same process as happens with every committee. Regarding the witnesses who chose not to attend, that was not this committee's doing. We invited them to attend but they chose not to do so. Regarding the suggestion that a statement from those particular groups would be read into the record because they did not want to come here and take questions, we cannot question that evidence so it is clearly not the same as evidence given to a committee when a person physically attends and can take questions.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are certain members of this committee who have sought at every opportunity to undermine the work of this committee and, quite frankly, I found the consistent attack on the Chairman to be unbelievable. I think she deserves a medal at the end of this for her patience. She has been consistently under attack at every opportunity and it is not a personal thing. It is part of the process that has been engaged in by certain members to undermine our work. I believe the public has seen through that. At the end of the day, this committee will not decide on what happens to the eighth amendment and whether it is retained, amended or repealed. The people of this country will decide and that is something we must bear in mind.

I echo everything Deputy Chambers has said. Any time the question of abortion has come into the Oireachtas, and I am in my eleventh year, everybody prefaces the debate by saying that we will be reasonable and sensitive and act with responsibility. All these pious statements are made. However, this committee has experienced very little of that. In fact, I must say that some of the aggression shown towards our witnesses has bordered on the unchristian. The idea that anybody who states that this committee is a set up to rubber stamp matters, that it has already decided and that there is a majority of whatever it is, is not being fair to the public and is definitely being very unfair to their colleagues on the committee. If people really feel that this is the situation, perhaps they should ask why they are remaining on the committee if they have such little faith in the process, their colleagues and the Chairman, who has been eminently fair. The public knows she has been fair.

I have nothing against anybody here. Everyone here has the right to their opinion and beliefs. Many of us are on a learning curve. Some people came in here very decided on their position. I find my position has changed since I became a member because of the information I have received. I really regret that one cohort of witnesses has decided for whatever reason not to give us the benefit of their wisdom. The people who might have an influence on such people should go back to them and ask them to come back in. We would like to hear what they have to say, we would learn from what they have to say and we are open enough to listen to them. This should be the last debate about the credibility or otherwise of this committee. Every Oireachtas committee is entitled to be taken very seriously and responsibly. People must make their minds up. Are they going to engage with the committee in a productive manner or should they be here at all?

I think the Chairman mentioned that our first witness, Dr. Patricia Lohr, was in a hurry to catch a flight. I am not trying to be smart but, to me, that is not a good start to the committee meeting today. How much time do we have to ask questions?

I am trying to ensure members have ample time by ensuring that this discussion is no longer than it needs to be, but I do not intend to have a shorter debate than is necessary. I am just bearing in mind that it is necessary for that witness to get to the airport. It is a matter of practicality.

The reason I asked that question is because this witness has come all the way over here today and it is very important that we all get an opportunity to put questions to her.

Absolutely, and nobody thinks that more than I do.

I have to confess that I would certainly need more than five minutes to go through the various allegations, implications and inaccurate assertions I have heard in this session alone. I will try my best to address the main points, which is that this committee has hastily but all too belatedly convened a session because it knows that the cat is out of the bag about the flawed processes and attitudes that have existed within this committee from the start.

As far as possible, I have tried to avoid a criticism of the Chairman. I think I used the word "bias" on one occasion because I have not always felt that she was impartial but, by and large, my criticism would be that she probably had a very difficult job in the first place but she has failed to preside over a process and make the necessary proposals that would try to procure objectivity as far as possible on this very difficult issue. I say that as somebody who has been in the Seanad for ten years. I have known the Chairman for a long time and I like her, but I cannot be dishonest about the way I feel this committee has operated. I can only act with integrity if I tell it as I see it.

While I had intended to address what various speakers had to say seriatum, I do not know at whom the notion of unchristian behaviour was being levelled. Speaking for myself, and I am sure, Deputies McGrath and Fitzpatrick, as one of those on the committee who has opposed the motion, all I can say is that I have certainly tried to respect every person's dignity at all times. I do not think I have ever attacked it. I have sought to robustly question in extremely difficult circumstances where there was nothing like the time needed to address various tendentious stuff going on where experts came in and then lashed into their views to a very considerable degree. Although I was grateful on those occasions where, on a grace and favour basis, the Chairman allotted more time, probably because she perceived that I was representing a minority view, as do Deputies McGrath and Fitzpatrick, at least within this committee, it is too much to expect that we would regard as removing all of the problem when time after time, there were questions that desperately needed to be asked which people here were simply not interested in asking because they would tend to undermine advocacy for abortion and which I would have asked had I received the time. Time and again, I have made the comparison with the Committee of Public Accounts where there is serious inquiry into what is being said. This committee has failed almost at all times to engage in that kind of inquiry and that is simply not my fault or the fault of Deputies McGrath and Fitzpatrick. It perhaps reflects the fact that we are in a serious minority on the committee and that most other members did not see that they had a need even to ask questions that would go against the grain of their own point of view.

From the outset, I stressed that the mandate given to the committee by the Houses was to consider the report and recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. I stress that there should be an opportunity to consider in detail the approach taken by the Citizens' Assembly to its work and the strengths and weaknesses in that regard. There was little support for this among committee members. The committee clearly wished only to examine whether and how the assembly's recommendations should be implemented. We heard that from Deputy Murphy here today. She started off by saying that we were asked to consider the report and recommendations and decided that we were not going to repeat the Citizens' Assembly but were going to consider its recommendations.

What is that if not a direct admission that she, and the committee, wanted to truncate the mandate given to it by the Houses of the Oireachtas? As far as I can recall, the Chairman failed in that instance to propose that the committee needed to address the full mandate given to it by the Houses. That is just for starters.

Much was made by the Chairman and others of the need to avoid repeating the work of the Citizens' Assembly. This was simply unsatisfactory because it presupposed that there was no need to analyse how the assembly had done its work. I pointed out the danger at one point that the committee wanted to do less rather than more work, which caused indignation and was rejected by several members. However, it was on the basis of not wanting to repeat the work of the assembly that a consensus was arrived at - I looked at The Irish Times report on the matter earlier - to the effect that the committee would not hear from advocacy groups, just from so-called experts. I opposed that exclusion of advocacy groups and my objection was noted. The committee then went on to invite numerous pro-abortion advocacy groups. No pro-life advocacy group was invited. What more evidence do we need of a flawed process, flawed attitudes and closed minds coming from within the committee? Only one pro-life advocacy group, which clarified an issue relating to its own work - I am referring to Both Lives Matter - offered to come before the committee and this offer was declined by the secretariat on the basis that advocacy groups were not being invited. The latter was despite the fact that the group in question had been invited.

Despite concerns I expressed on numerous occasions, and I will stop when I am out of time and if the Chairman wants to-----

The Senator is out of time.

I will resume this at a later date if that is possible.

It will not be possible so I will allow the Senator a bit more time.

I do not want to hold up our guests. We have a guest who wants to go to the airport.

The Senator can take another few minutes.

I would need at least twice as much of the time I have used to speak so far, so I would favour a more extended debate on this issue. I am happy to oblige the Chairman and the guest who must get to the airport.

Does the committee agree that we should return to this?

On a point of order, if there was a way to invite further guests, perhaps that would be a more appropriate way to spend time talking about some of the issues through invitees that Senator Mullen would like to appear before the committee.

I have always respected any guests who have appeared before us and have waited until they were finished to make statements at different times. If the guest is waiting and wants to go, because I have quite a detailed contribution to make, I think we are rushing this. We are only going to give it 30 minutes.

The Deputy has five minutes to make it and by all means-----

Yes, but five minutes is not enough.

Anything that cannot be said in five minutes-----

(Interruptions).

Can we have silence in the room?

Can I make this point again? They are waiting just to jump at us. We did not utter a syllable when others wanted to speak, which is the way it should be.

The Deputy does not need to butt in because we stick to our time.

Look at this. Where are the manners and respect?

The reason we have to speak up is because they are eating into time-----

This is outrageous. I thought I had the floor.

I would like another five minutes when they are finished.

Deputy Mattie McGrath does have the floor. I ask him to say what he has to say within five minutes.

This is continuous. It was going on last week within the cabal behind us in the Gallery. I said it was disgraceful. We are here as elected representatives. I listened to the lecture about Christianity from Senator Ned O'Sullivan. We are here to do our honest best and to represent whatever viewpoint we want.

Will the Deputy please make the points he wishes to make-----

I will make the point without interruption, sniping and whooping.

We will start the Deputy's five minutes now and he can make whatever point he wishes to make.

I am making a point in support of Senator Mullen-----

If the Deputy wishes to finish he can-----

----- in that I am willing to wait until after the witness has deliberated, if it is any help.

No, I have allowed 45 minutes, which I thought would be a fair amount for this. There is still time. I want to say something myself. I ask the Deputy to say what he has to say.

As I said, the timeline which led to the charge of bias in the committee is critical. At the outset, the committee invited 24 pro-repeal witnesses to present before it and just three pro-life witnesses. I thank the clerk to the committee for his endurance and forbearance in co-operating with me in trying to find out the full list. Then, in a most extraordinary move, just three weeks into the 12 weeks of hearings, this committee voted not to retain the eighth amendment in full thereby demonstrating that it had no interest in hearing from all witnesses before making a decision. This move alone has destroyed the credibility of the committee and put to bed any claim that it conducted itself in an impartial way. By voting so early in the process, the committee behaved in a juvenile and contemptuous fashion towards the democratic process and our duty as elected parliamentarians to scrutinise and ask the hard questions before voting on any proposal, most particularly when it involves a life-and-death issue. This vote, which was taken just three weeks into the hearings, means that the committee gave its verdict on the eighth amendment after hearing from less than a third of the witnesses who were invited to appear before it. We voted after hearing from 14 pro-repeal witnesses and just one pro-life speaker. That is incredible. Seeking now to justify this farce by engaging in some kind of blame game is, quite frankly, embarrassing. The clear message sent to the public is that the entire thing is a stitch-up and that there is nobody to blame for this other than the members who voted for abortion in week 3 before we heard from two thirds of the witnesses we invited to appear before us.

When members reflected on what they had done, there was a scramble to extend matters late in the day in respect of pro-life speakers. Clearly, this was an attempt to gloss over the appallingly skewed line of speakers and the fact that the committee had already voted for abortion. To add insult to injury, when the two additional pro-life speakers who were invited to appear declined the offer and cited the abortion vote that had taken place, pro-life groups were criticised by committee members for not accepting the invitation to speak. It is disgraceful that the three pro-life groups were invited to present not because the committee wanted to listen to their expert opinions but because the committee needed cover for the one-sided way in which it had conducted its activities. The spin emanating from this committee about pro-life individuals being invited to attend and refusing to do so needs to stop. It is highly misleading and does not put matters in context. Everyone in this room knows why they were invited late in the day. It is time that a modicum of respect was shown and people on this committee were upfront and admitted to what they know to be true, namely, that these hearings have a pre-determined outcome and have been a charade from the start. Given that the committee voted for abortion before hearing the evidence from both sides, it is perfectly reasonable and understandable that pro-life people are reluctant to take part in the process this late. The committee has already made up its mind and just wants a few more pro-life groups to attend to disguise what is a deeply flawed and one-sided process.

For the record, it is not the case that lots of pro-life groups and individuals were contacted after the initial three were invited. My understanding is that only two additional pro-life individuals and groups were contacted, bringing it to a total of five pro-life invitations against 28 or 29 on the pro-repeal side. These figures have been supplied by the secretariat. When members of the committee say they are blue in the face from looking for pro-life witnesses to come forward, there is no basis for such claims. If people here became blue in the face that easily as a result of asking just two more witnesses to attend, they should go to the doctor and have their blood pressure checked.

Can the Deputy try to keep things non-personal?

I just said that they said they were blue in the face.

(Interruptions).

I do want any lectures from Deputy O'Connell.

Deputy Mattie McGrath, without interruption.

I do not interrupt anyone. Deputy O'Connell knows that. The Chairman said at the beginning of the process that this committee would not repeat any of the work of the Citizens' Assembly and then proceeded to invite 12 of the same witnesses who appeared before the assembly. I lay that charge with the Chairman. She made that statement on the record and then invited 12 groups that appeared before the Citizens' Assembly. The Chairman also said at the outset that only experts would be invited to the hearings and that no advocacy groups on either side would be invited. However, pro-abortion advocacy groups such as the Irish Family Planning Association, the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights and the largest abortion group in the UK, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, were all invited. How does that square with the Chairman's statement?

In contrast, not a single one of the numerous families who say their owe their lives and the lives of their children to the eighth amendment were ever invited to present. That is really incredible when one thinks about it - all those stories from families who nearly aborted their children but did not do so because, as they say, the time it took to prepare to travel to England was the time they needed to change their minds. To think that the committee has not heard a single one of these stories is inexcusable, not to mention all the other areas it has not considered from contemporary models of adoption - and we cannot discuss adoption here at all - to putting better supports in place for women experiencing unexpected pregnancies. All of the focus has been on abortion and putting the eighth amendment on trial rather than having an honest and open examination of the issue that also focuses on all that is positive about the amendment. It is impossible to argue with pro-life supporters who say this committee is irredeemably broken and has lost all credibility.

I would like to state one more thing for the record. The Chairman and others claim that they asked pro-life members of this committee to submit names at the outset, and that we supposedly only came up with six or seven. The truth is that we made it very clear back at the start that we believed it to be the collective responsibility of the committee and the secretariat to actively pursue a balance in this regard.

How much time do I have left? I have more to say but the members obviously do not want to hear it. I take grave offence at Deputy Rabbitte, who has now left, and at Senator Ned O'Sullivan coming in here and reading out Fianna Fáil press releases. At its recent Ard-Fheis Fianna Fáil voted overwhelmingly to keep the eighth amendment and yet now it sends party members in here to attack us. Deputy Lisa Chambers-----

On a point of order-----

Only if it is a point of order.

The Deputy's facts are incorrect. He was not present in the room at the time but I was. I ask him to check his facts before commenting on a political party of which he is not himself a member.

The facts are there.

The Deputy should speak about his own personal experience.

I call on Deputy Durkan.

We all do our best to be as fair as we possibly can towards the people who come before us. We can only deal with those who come before us; we cannot deal with those who do not. Nor can we presume that their cases will be made unless they come before us and we have the opportunity to ask them questions. That is fair. As the Chairman knows, I was among those who proposed not having a vote until we had finished the proceedings. I held that view very strongly. It does not make any difference how this committee votes, however, as it is the people who will decide. The suggestion that the committee has voted 'for' abortion is thus incorrect because it is the people and the people alone who can make that decision. The job of this committee is simply to stress-test the report of the Citizens' Assembly; find out how it came to its conclusions; and ask relevant questions of the members of that assembly and of others who have expertise or something to offer in these circumstances. I am only one person and I know that everybody here has tried his or her best to be as fair as possible and to ask pertinent questions, not necessarily in order to get the desired answer, but to get an answer that will in some way address the issues raised and conclusions reached by the Citizens' Assembly.

I would suggest, if it is of any help, that our colleagues Senator Mullen and Deputy McGrath might give us some names or indeed might themselves invite people they consider suitable to come before the committee. They should let us know in the next week or so if these people are available to come before the committee and if they would be satisfied to do so. If that means that we end up with two or three new witnesses then let us facilitate that. I am all in favour of democracy. Most of the people in question, however, have already been invited by the secretariat and most have turned this offer down. I suggest, then, that our colleagues here invite directly the people who they would like to see come before this committee. As far as I am concerned and, I am sure, as far as our Chairman is concerned, I am quite certain that we will give these witnesses every opportunity to make their case and then we will ask relevant questions.

I call Deputy Jonathan O'Brien.

Accusations have been made that this committee is biased. I refute that; I do not think that it is biased. There is no doubt but that there are individual members sitting on the committee who have a bias, but as a committee we are not biased. An assertion has also been made that only three pro-life members sit on this committee, something I think certain other members here would dispute. The fact that these members have not stood outside the gates of Leinster House giving press conferences, because they have been in here carrying out their role on the committee by questioning witnesses, does not make them pro-choice. I do not consider myself pro-choice, for example, or indeed pro-life at this stage. I am a realist and I am going on the factual evidence presented to this committee.

Deputy Mattie McGrath made a particular comment that needs to be addressed. He suggested that the clerk of the committee informed him that 24 pro-repeal groups had appeared before us. I am aware that the clerk cannot speak at these meetings and it is thus unfair to quote him here when he cannot defend himself. I cannot speak for the clerk but I very much doubt that he gave Deputy McGrath that information and I find it very unfair of the Deputy to make an accusation like this in the knowledge that the clerk cannot correct him. The Deputy also claimed that the clerk had told him that four pro-life groups had appeared before us. Not only have he and Senator Mullen questioned the role of the Chairman, they are now questioning the role of the clerk to this committee, something I consider to be absolutely disgraceful. Their behaviour in this committee has been downright disgraceful.

Senator Mullen's comments today were also disgraceful when he claimed that there was no time to ask questions and that more time should have been given. Other than the first two meetings, which I had to miss due to ill health, I have attended every single meeting and listened to every single witness who presented here. I may not have asked questions of every single witness but I listened to their evidence, unlike Senator Mullen and Deputy McGrath who did not attend every session and were not present for every witness. I do not know how they now claim that they did not have sufficient opportunity to question witnesses. Witnesses appeared before this committee and gave evidence that Senator Mullen and Deputy McGrath did not even hear, never mind question, because they were too busy trying to propagate the idea that this committee is biased. I put it to Senator Mullen that the only biased person here is Senator Mullen himself. This committee is not biased.

Can I correct the record please?

No. There is no right of reply here. That is not directed at Deputy McGrath, that is directed at everybody.

I never impugned the name of the good clerk. Why would I? This is typical Sinn Féin bullying.

Sorry, I-----

I thanked the clerk for supplying names, which he did. I made up my own mind as to who they were or what they stood for. I did not expect the clerk to do so and I would not have asked him to. Only members of a party that does not allow free speech would even think that I might have said that-----

Sorry, Deputy-----

I asked him for a list of names. I would never impugn this committee and I want that accusation withdrawn. This is coming from a Deputy who showed his teeth to me last week and told me that he was losing his temper. What am I supposed to do? Sit down and be frightened?

That is an exaggeration. Deputy McGrath has it wrong.

Deputy McGrath has made his point. Does Senator Mullen want to clarify something?

I ask Deputy McGrath to withdraw the comment that I engage in bully-boy tactics.

How is the temper today?

Is Deputy McGrath willing to withdraw that comment?

No way in the world. I was having an exchange with the Chairman and Deputy O'Brien said that he was losing his temper. It had nothing to do with him and I was not engaging with anybody else.

There was a lot of provocation going on.

I will take this up with the relevant people.

Yes. We can take this matter outside of this room.

I never impugned the clerk. I thanked him for his work in supplying the names and I hope that he can accept that. This is very important.

Excuse me-----

I hope he can accept that. He has had a lot of engagement with my office on this and I thanked him for that. I never said that he said who these people were. We can make up our minds. Are we not allowed to think for ourselves?

I appreciate the Deputy saying that about the clerk, who is nothing but excellent and extremely helpful to all members, not least to me.

When we leave here-----

Deputy McGrath cannot just keep talking like this.

I have listened to every committee member and to every guest who has come in here.

This is not fair. The Deputy has no right of reply here.

I do not know why Deputy McGrath feels that he is exceptional.

I am the side-show here.

Please stop talking. I call on Senator Mullen to make his point of clarification.

I have a question for the Chairman. I actually did a lot of preparation for this meeting and even when I am not present in the room I am willing to bet with my colleague across the floor that I am every bit as informed of the issues raised by witnesses as he himself is. Leaving that aside, however, I wish to ask the Chairman if she intends to return to this at a later point or whether I have an opportunity to conclude as the matter has run on.

I do not think that that would be reasonable. The committee will decide that.

I disagree with the Senator. We have to move things on.

We have to move on because we have a witness waiting outside and I want the opportunity to say a few things in the meantime. If Senator Mullen wishes to take two minutes, however, then I will indulge him.

I disagree with two minutes being given.

The clerk has advised me to finish now. I cannot give Senator Mullen any time. It is not agreeable. I call on Deputy Fitzpatrick.

I never denied that the Chairman had a difficult job but-----

Deputy O'Brien mentioned my name and I just want to say one thing in response-----

I never mentioned Deputy Fitzpatrick's name.

A lot of names were mentioned.

Deputy O'Brien mentioned my name. He mentioned three names.

I did not mention the Deputy's name.

He mentioned three names.

I am sorry, but will the Deputies take this outside?

Sorry. I did mention the Deputy.

There are other things that Deputy O'Brien-----

Excuse me, but-----

Just one second, Chair.

No. I am speaking.

He has admitted it.

I am the Chair. I am not interrupting - I am speaking. Please, take those issues outside.

I just want to say one thing. In fairness, Deputy O'Brien has admitted that he said my name. I wanted to raise this because I have attended every session. I have asked most of the witnesses questions. Since joining the committee, I have not once issued a press release. Deputy O'Brien mentioned that people-----

If I have to say anything, I say it in here. We are entitled to ask questions of any witness. I just want to put on the record that not once have I rushed away from this committee. I have never issued a press release. I have treated everyone, pro-life and pro-choice, fairly.

The Deputy has done so.

Matters are getting out of hand. I want an opportunity to ask questions of the witness. I do not want her to turn around in an hour or two and say that she has not-----

I will manage the time well. I tend to.

On a point of clarification,-----

God. Another point of clarification.

In fairness to Deputy Fitzpatrick, I mentioned his name in the context of an assertion that only three members of the committee held pro-life views. In no way would I suggest that he is one of those not attending meetings.

I took that from what Deputy O'Brien said.

I named the two individuals at whom I directed those comments, namely, Senator Mullen and Deputy Mattie McGrath.

I do not believe that anyone took Deputy O'Brien to have meant Deputy Fitzpatrick. The latter's comments are fair. I just want to conclude and-----

I want to ask a question. This is unfair. The Chairman called a meeting to discuss whether there was bias. It adds another instance of bias if we are not able to deal-----

It does not.

I have a list of evidence. This is why we had a press conference in the first instance. One cannot tease out matters at this committee. The debate slows down the minute everyone has-----

The Senator gets more time than anyone else to make his point. He needs to learn how to make it more quickly.

We all need as much time as we need.

Listen-----

I do not begrudge anyone else his or her time.

Excuse me. I want the witness to join us and I want to say what I have to say.

Can we return to the matter?

Not unless the committee wants to. Does the committee want to return to this matter?

I propose that we do.

(Interruptions).

I will only say ten words. If Senator Mullen and Deputy Mattie McGrath would like to bring in witnesses, they should please bring them in. It is the best way to deal with this.

I thank the Deputy. I want to conclude.

(Interruptions).

I just want to make a remark to everyone. The world is looking on and three or four men are having arguments here while women and their health need to be debated. We are delaying the process. Women out there are waiting for a result to do with their reproductive health. What are we like?

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.

May I say something?

No. We are inviting the witnesses in.

Is the Chair ruling that there is to be no further discussion on this? I have not been given an opportunity to put many individual concerns on the record.

By all means, the Senator can approach me about them. For now, we will invite the witnesses in.

I have approached the Chair.

On a point of order, I would also have liked to have put a list of matters-----

So would I.

-----on the agenda in order to have them dealt with.

I resent that. I have sat here for every hour of this committee. The Senator should tell me that he is doing the work.

The Deputy did not look for more time. I actually did the work.

We have been told that there is a 14-1 split in the context of witnesses. I suspect that those witnesses will not be happy with Senator Mullen deciding what their position is. They are academics who have been peer reviewed and who are appearing before us to give facts, and they could challenge some of the things being said. It is unfair.

(Interruptions).

That is it.

Sitting suspended at 2.29 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.