Statements by Committee Members on Recommendations of Citizens' Assembly

I congratulate the Chairman on the great job she has done in chairing the committee. It has not been an easy job. It is important also to thank all of the experts and others who have presented to the committee. Their strength and integrity took us all by surprise. Most of us came here thinking we had heard and knew it all, but we now know a great deal more following the honest testimonies of all of our delegates. Their testimonies are to be commended, despite the fact that they were met with a certain amount of hostility.

Although I have been a rights activist for women's liberation and equality practically all of my adult life, I have been struck by the fact that when it comes to equality and access to it in this country, we are playing catch-up. The time has come for us to recognise that the fundamental rights of women over their fertility are necessary to enable them to have rights to everything else. If one cannot control one's own bodily functions - for women they include reproduction - one is being denied one's basic fundamental human rights.

Women and men need appropriate sex education from an early age. We heard from the experts in the Department of Education and Skills that a set of educational tools were provided for children at an early age but that often these tools were trumped by the ethos of the institutions that ran schools.

That, in this country, means 94% of national schools are run by the Catholic Church and the ideas of the Catholic Church trump the idea of full access to proper health education. That means that if the Catholic Church does not approve of the pill, of condoms, of coils or of caps, then children will not learn about the use of these things at an early age. If sex itself is not seen as something to be celebrated, enjoyed and absolutely part of the lives of human beings - and is not acceptable in the Church to be seen as that but rather as just to produce the next generation - then it will be challenging for people to receive a proper sex education in this country. After that, when women do seek contraception, affordability is often a problem. More and more workers are part time or in precarious work and most of these are women faced with low pay and issues such as the exorbitant cost of accommodation who, on top of this are then obliged to pay quite a lot of money just for contraception. They pay €25 a week at a minimum for the pill and when all things are taken into account, such as regular doctors' visits etc., one is probably looking at €150 to €200 every six months on top of everything else they have to meet. The questions of access to sex education when one is young and contraception when one is sexual active must be considered in the context of this entire discussion about the reproductive rights of women and where that is situated in the Constitution.

Personally, although I do not want to personalise this, when I was a young woman I found myself pregnant when contraception failed me. I only knew that was the case after I felt sick every morning and missed periods. When I discovered that I was pregnant and did not in the least bit want to be, the only option for me was to go to England. This was shortly after the eighth amendment was inserted into the Constitution and I was lucky that I had a lot of friends, and my sisters, who had fought in that referendum and who fully supported the decision that I made and the choice that I took, and therefore, morally, financially and every which way, helped me.

I also know that there have been countless women in this country who have faced crisis pregnancies. Crisis pregnancy does not mean unplanned; it means unwanted. These women have not been able or, as I was, as lucky to have that support, to have access to finances, to be able to take a few days off work and to have the back-up of family and friends and partner to do so. Countless women have gone through that lack of access and that lack of solidarity. The notion of shame and an inability to discuss it and be open about it has dominated women's lives, throughout the past decades and probably further back.

We should recognise that Ireland has fundamentally changed. I appeal to members of the committee who have been on the receiving end of total opposition to what we are trying to do here. It is regrettable that they cannot face up to that. There is a whole new generation, in particular, young Irish men and women, who simply will not accept the old order. They are saying, "It is my body. You are not the boss of me. I want to control my own body." That is what is pushing this initiative, the Citizens' Assembly and this committee forward. On top of that, they are also influencing the other generation, which did feel the fear and shame that surrounded them all their lives, as well as the lack of access. This is shown to us by the vibrant demonstrations, and opinion polls and the openness with which we can have this conversation at last and with which we can consider all the issues that surround it.

I thank the Citizens' Assembly for doing a great job. I opposed the idea of it because many see the apparatus of the Citizens' Assembly and this committee as being a delaying tactic. In that context, I have just watched a video from the young men and women who are involved in Strike for Repeal in which they asked the committee to please move on and hurry up, as they need their rights and a referendum on repeal of the eighth amendment, which is exactly my sentiment. Nevertheless, the citizens randomly chosen by RED C did a great job in reflecting this new Ireland, the desire for change and the desire for equality among women.

We have to vote next week on all of these outcomes. Clearly, as somebody who would advocate for free safe legal abortion in this country, I will be voting for repeal simpliciter. I will be voting to back all of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and probably will put in an amendment to a number of them. We should also strongly consider making a recommendation to the Dáil or the Oireachtas on the question of criminalisation. It is bad enough to have to put up with the stigma, the shame and the lack of access, particularly if one is a migrant, is living in direct provision, is poor or, as I described earlier, is living as does much of the population, on low pay. It is bad enough having to put up with that but it is shocking to be criminalised for the idea that one might go online and try to access an abortion pill or that on one's return from having had a termination in Britain or Holland or somewhere, that one might feel that one must hide it and feel ashamed of it. If for no other reason, the fact that I have spoken out as a Deputy and a public representative has helped a lot of young women and others to be able to feel they do not have to feel ashamed or stigmatised or quiet about this anymore. A lot of the staff in the Oireachtas have approached me and thanked me for it because that has also meant that we can discard that.

On the wording of the referendum, I believe in a simple choice being put to the population. People are not stupid. They can make up their own minds. I am sure we will have quite a debate about it. Quite simply, we have to ask people a yes or no question, namely, whether they want to repeal the eighth amendment or in other terms, whether they want to remove Article 40.3.3° from the Constitution. Anything else would do a disservice to the women and people of this country, who are intelligent enough to know when the waters are being muddied or anybody is attempting to hoodwink them.

I believe Irish women have waited long enough and this issue has been kicked down the road. I do not want to see the alphabet soup of X, Y, A, B and C, PP or the late Ms Savita Halappanavar ever happen again and I am absolutely certain I speak for the majority of people in this country when I say that. I cannot be absolutely certain that we will achieve a repeal of the eighth amendment but we could make a good start here in this committee by making that honest recommendation to the population and by looking seriously next week at how we vote on the outstanding recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly.

I would say to everybody out there, and particularly everybody on this committee, let us please catch up with the people of this country, particularly the young, who have voted for equality in marriage, who want to have full bodily autonomy and who want to take a path for freedom and equality for mná na hÉireann that is long overdue. I hope we get a good result next week when we vote and then make our report to the Oireachtas.

Finally, we need an early referendum. It has to be in May. Young people have been driving the demand for access to abortion and they will be around in May. They will not necessarily be around in June and July. They are already signing up to be registered to be able to vote and we have to give them that access.

I echo what Deputy Bríd Smith said regarding her gratitude to the Chairman and the wealth of experts who have appeared before the committee.

I also acknowledge two Members of my own group, Senators Higgins and Kelleher, who I suppose moved out of the way for me to be able to be here today. They felt as passionate and have worked for a lot longer on the issue than have I, and I am grateful that I was able to be part of this process.

When I sat down to think about what I would say today, I decided to prepare a summary of the evidence so far and what I have taken from that to illustrate my intentions. I will read directly from that script so that it is clear. If I was to speak off the cuff, I would ramble and forget most of it.

The Citizens' Assembly recommendations must set the context of our deliberations in the future. It is a representative, deliberative body well informed on the issues. They decided as they did for a reason. We heard extensive testimony from Ms Justice Laffoy on the make-up, structure and approach taken by the Citizens' Assembly. We can all agree it was a robustly fair and strong process.

We are, however, the elected body which makes the final decision. We can accept or reject recommendations but must provide justification for why.

I came in here with a viewpoint and a position. I supported the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly in most respects. I listened to evidence and I challenged some of my views. To broadly comment on the evidence we have heard, we can say that rigid legislation and excessive detail or lack of flexibility given to doctors is bad practice. Grounds-based abortion access is bad practice. It might be politically tempting to legislate only on narrow grounds but it just is not practical.

Our modular approach was important; the constitutional and legislative grounds are separate. It may have been criticised in some quarters but it was important to vote when we did once all the constitutional evidence was heard.

For the remainder of my contribution, I will split my comments on the recommendations into the separate constitutional and legislative considerations.

In terms of the Constitution, the assembly recommended the full repeal of Article 40.3.3° and its replacement with a constitutional provision authorising the Oireachtas to legislate in this area. Based on the transcripts provided to us of the assembly proceedings and during our engagement with Ms Justice Laffoy, it was clear that the citizens wished for the entire article to be removed and, for the avoidance of doubt, that a replacement provision be made to ensure that the Oireachtas was able to legislate with legal certainty in this area.

The need for Article 40.3.3° to be repealed or deleted was a consistent theme of the evidence we heard across the constitutional, legal and medical fields with Dr. Rhona Mahony, Professor Arulkumaran, Ms Mary O'Toole, senior counsel, Ms Leah Hoctor, Dr. David Kenny, Professor Veronica O'Keane, Professor Fiona de Londras and Dr. Peter Boylan all agreeing that the article needed to be removed in its entirety. For me, based on the evidence we heard, the argument for repeal has been made convincingly.

In terms of the replacement constitutional provision and the associated issue of legal certainty, I believe we can accept the clear expressed intentions of the assembly rather than the exact detail of its constitutional recommendations. We heard consistent evidence that medical practitioners need flexibility and space to manoeuvre in order to provide best-practice abortion services.

Affording flexibility to medical practitioners stands in direct tension with the issue of providing legal certainty. As a result, the committee must make a judgment between the two and my position would be that ensuring doctors are not operating under the chilling effect of heavy criminalisation is more important than ensuring legislation is impervious to judicial review. I am also uncomfortable with the idea that abortion legislation would be immune from challenge in the courts, even in the case that the Oireachtas passes legislation that I would personally support. The separation of powers is a key underpinning of our democracy and we interfere with it at our peril. As a result, I believe we should take the intention expressed by the assembly and translate it into a constitutional and legislative arrangement that more comfortably fits into the relationship between our Judiciary and Legislature in its current form.

It also is clear, on reading the transcripts, that a main reason the Citizens' Assembly recommended a replacement provision was due to the heavy focus on the paper of Brian Murray, senior counsel, and his description of the potential legal certainty surrounding the right to life of the unborn following repeal. I do not think we should insert new text into the Constitution based almost solely on one legal paper. Considering all of the other legal opinions we have heard on this issue, the risk of high legal uncertainty is not a likely scenario.

I believe we should recommend the repeal of the entirety of Article 40.3.3°, as recommended by the assembly, but instead of replacing it, should shift our focus to making the accompanying legislation as legally robust and as constitutionally sound as possible in order to ensure as much legal certainty as possible while still retaining the possibility of judicial review.

In terms of how that fits into the options presented to us by the committee's legal counsel, my position is that we should recommend option 1. I would choose that over option 3, which is repeal with legislation published in tandem, only because I believe the latter is a political decision rather than a legislative one.

I believe option 2, which is entrenching legislation in the Constitution, is completely unworkable. As Deputy Browne has said in previous discussions, when entire legal cases in the courts can hinge on the placement of a comma in legislation, the idea of putting complex legislation into the Constitution permanently cannot be considered as a viable option.

Option 4, which is repeal and replacement on specific grounds must be excluded for the same reason. It is inflexible, too explicit and is problematic for the same reasons as the eighth amendment. Constitutions are intended to be general and non-specific to allow for the Oireachtas and the Judiciary to legislate and interpret. This option precludes that.

In the same vein, option 5, which is repeal and replace on broad grounds or a rebalancing of rights, should also be excluded. The most significant problem with the eighth amendment is that it creates an artificial balance of rights between the unborn and the woman. Any attempt to rebalance rights between them with constitutional text would suffer from the same problems and would remove the ability of the courts to decide this balance of rights themselves as they do with all other conflicting constitutional rights.

While option 6 is less problematic than some of the other options, it suffers from the possibility of excluding abortion legislation from judicial review which, as I have already articulated, interferes with the balance of powers and would put abortion law into the same category as law passed in a state of war. This is inappropriate and a bad precedent to set.

Overall, all the options in terms of constitutional change have strengths and weaknesses but I will be supporting option 1, the repeal simplicter with no replacement for Article 40.3.3° in the Constitution and I call on other members to support this option.

Moving to the legislative considerations, we have been given 13 recommendations from the assembly in which termination of pregnancy should be legal. They are, without restriction as to reason up until 12 weeks, where there is a risk to life or health, physical or mental, where pregnancy is a result of rape, where there is a fatal foetal abnormality and on socioeconomic grounds.

As a starting point, it should be made clear that if this committee strays from those recommendations, whether it is to reject the socioeconomic grounds, move to shorter gestational limits or reject on request altogether, this will not stop abortions on these grounds. Abortions in these circumstances will still happen because we will continue to export our human rights obligations to the women of this country to our nearest neighbours. What it will do, if we reject these grounds, to quote Emily Logan in her evidence in this committee, is perpetuate "a two-tier system whereby women who cannot afford to travel are put in a situation where their autonomy is diminished and their ability to make their own decisions about their own health care has been limited by the State." I ask all committee members to think long and hard about that when we vote next week. Moreover, we cannot control the availability of the abortion pill. All we can control is whether women take it legally and safely or alone without medical support.

On the recommendations themselves, based on the evidence we have heard on these grounds, it is clear that only legislating on narrow grounds does not work. It is not practical and any attempt to legislate narrowly drastically reduces access and means we cannot provide best-practice care for women.

We have heard continually from medical practitioners that words such as real and substantial risk; serious risk; and severe, lethal and fatal abnormalities are legislative terms. They are impossible terms to operate under in medical practice. Decisions relating to terminations must be made privately between women and their doctors and not by legislators.

I believe most of us would agree that terminations of pregnancy resulting from rape are an absolute necessity as a ground for abortion access. We heard from three experts who appeared before the committee, Mr. Tom O'Malley, Ms Noeline Blackwell and Dr. Maeve Eogan, who all agreed that such a ground is legally and practically unworkable. As soon as a verification process is introduced for whether rape has taken place, insurmountable barriers are instantly placed for rape victims to access abortion.

The only way to allow for access to abortion in certain exceptional circumstances is to allow for abortion on request, within reasonable gestational limits, because if all women are able to access abortion, this includes women who have experienced rape or a foetal anomaly without the State performing invasive verification or depriving them of their right to privacy. If members present decide to recommend that abortion should be made legal in certain circumstances or only have a mandate to go so far, the only way to absolutely ensure access in these certain circumstances is to expand on-request access. If we do not expand abortion access to include all the grounds recommended by the assembly, poor, marginalised and minority women will pay the price.

This is a momentous decision with which we are tasked. It is an historic moment. I hope that throughout the voting and obviously moving towards a referendum campaign, we can replicate the solidarity that has come to light in this committee, especially across the women and men. Obviously I hope we can pass a referendum. We have set a good basis in this committee and I believe we send a strong message to the Dáil and the people that it is time to take women's health out of the Constitution.

I will begin by noting that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's representative has circulated a letter to the committee today which states that in 2016, 125 babies were aborted in British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinics because they were diagnosed with Down's syndrome. I want to record my shock and sadness at the fact that 125 babies lost their lives because they were diagnosed with this condition. There is no doubt that babies with Down's syndrome are at increased risk if we repeal the eighth amendment. I note also that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's representative forwarded her organisation's guide to termination in the case of foetal abnormality. This is a document which is designed to explain to women what they can expect during and after an abortion procedure. I am very concerned that some of the serious side effects of abortions have not been fully discussed at this committee.

For example, the guide states that during an abortion carried out at up to 12 weeks, the following are significant, unavoidable or frequently occurring risks, which the guide states may have serious long-term health effects: psychological problems; continuing pregnancy, in other words, a botched abortion whereby the woman remains pregnant afterwards; perforation of the uterus; haemorrhaging; very heavy bleeding; injuries to bowels, bladder or serious injuries to the cervix; and death in some cases. The guide also mentions extra procedures that may be needed after the abortion, including a repeat abortion in cases where the first attempt was not successful; blood transfusions; and repair of damage to organs or haemorrhaging.

The role of this committee is to carry out a thorough investigation on abortion, and then to advise on how best to proceed in the best interests of women's health and safety. What I have read out are side effects of abortions which are listed in the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's literature. They are very serious side effects, which are described as unavoidable. They did not get a proper airing when the British Pregnancy Advisory Service representative was before us. I am not trying to impugn her testimony in any way, but I am very concerned at the risk to women's health from abortions, which has been totally brushed under the carpet. I have not, and will not, make false claims. I am simply stating facts to which many of those looking for repeal turn a blind eye, and do everything to avoid talking about. This is a scandal which we should not stand over. I joined this committee because I want to see families and babies being given the best support in this country. During these committee hearings, I have listened in good faith to testimonies that were given by each of the speakers, but I have to say that I am very disappointed with the way the way this issue has been dealt with.

We know that women face unplanned pregnancy in Ireland, but we have not addressed any real way to provide life-saving alternatives to abortion. This was not done at the Citizens' Assembly and it did not happen at this committee either. I tried to raise the issue of adoption in the course of discussion, only to have that suggestion shut down. We all know people who are adopted and of the happiness they have brought to their families. We should be working in this committee to improve the adoption process in Ireland, and this was completely ignored in favour of focusing entirely on abortion.

I am also concerned about some of the groups invited to this committee, which were described as impartial experts. When their attendance was announced, I decided to hear them out in good faith, but it became very evident on further inspection that they were only prepared to offer one side of the argument. To give just one example, it became clear in the course of the hearing that the Centre for Reproductive Rights is running a fundraising campaign abroad to repeal the eighth amendment in Ireland. It should not have been invited as impartial expert. After all the talk of inviting pro-life groups, it turned out that only five pro-life groups were invited, compared to 27 or 28 pro-repeal groups. That is why we are making a decision on abortion without any information on serious consequences of abortion, which are being ignored for political reasons. It is also why we have not heard about all the lives saved by the eighth amendment. Liz McDermott was here two weeks ago, but it was not to talk about her personal experience, it was to talk about the lives saved by the eighth amendment. They have been completely ignored.

Since this committee started, I have become aware of many people who, and organisations which, are able to speak about the life-saving effects of the eighth amendment, but they are not prepared to come before the committee since it already voted not to retain the eighth amendment in full. I understand this because as they see it, the committee has already made its decision. If we are not going to retain the eighth amendment in full, then we will have to have a referendum, so in reality the vote we have taken means that there is no going back for this committee.

I feel the vote we took has prevented us from doing our work properly. It meant that when it became clear that more pro-life speakers were needed, they did not see any point in coming in because the vote had already been taken. I want to live in a country where women and their babies are protected and cared for. I want babies with Down's syndrome and other disabilities to receive the same legal protection as everybody else in this room. Families who find out that babies may not have long to live should be supported and encouraged to spend as long as possible with them, with the highest standard of prenatal hospital care.

Ireland, with the eighth amendment, provides this kind of protection and care. Women in this country already receive whatever treatment they need while pregnant. The difference is that doctors in Ireland do their best to protect and safeguard the unborn baby too. If we repeal the eighth amendment and introduce abortion, we will be creating an Ireland of second-class citizens, where some babies are given the right to life and some are not. This will be completely opposite to the modern, inclusive and equal society that we all want to live in. Discriminating against babies in the womb, and endangering their mothers in an abortion procedure, is not something I can support.

I want to conclude by registering my disappointment at the way this committee has conducted its business on such an issue of vital importance to the country and its people. Thank you.

I begin by thanking Senator Noone for her very good chairing of the committee and thanking all those who appeared before us for giving the evidence they gave. I will briefly respond to Deputy Fitzpatrick's point about balance. I know we have said this before but as I am the next speaker it is important that I say it again. It is regrettable that people declined our invitation. We did not have any control over that. However, if the Deputy is suggesting that the Irish College of General Practitioners, the masters of our maternity hospitals or the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission are advocates of abortion, I completely reject that. They appeared as representatives of bodies and they give their views. We need to knock that on the head again because I believe this committee has done its business fairly. Its membership was drawn on a proportionate basis from representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas, and I think that we have done our job with diligence. I am pleased that we are coming to this point today.

I also am pleased that we heard evidence from the Department of Health last week that it is already working on drafting the possible legislation that might accompany a referendum. We face a very tight timeframe and it is important that work is ongoing because we need to meet the various deadlines if there is to be a referendum in May of next year. I urge the Government to set a date as soon as possible. I believe that we will be able to make our report on the 20 December, as we have been asked to do.

I will speak first of all about module one and about the Constitution. I think this is by far the most important element of our work. The most important thing for us to do is to make a recommendation around a referendum on removing Article 40.3.3° from the Constitution. I believe that question should be put to the people in a clear way, and that it should simply propose that we repeal Article 40.3.3°. Any replacement wording would perpetuate the ambiguity that has prevailed since 1983, whereby we have had subsequent referendums, court challenges domestically and in the European Union and appeals to the UN Human Rights Committee. Furthermore, as more than one witness has described, we have had real practical difficulties for the medical profession in making crucial decisions about when it can legally intervene if a pregnant woman's health rapidly deteriorates. We have had descriptions of how that can happen very quickly, and of the difficulty for doctors to practice medicine in a way that treats their patients appropriately with the current constitutional position.

For all those reasons I will be voting for repeal simpliciter. My preferred second option would be option three, that is, that legislation would be published in tandem with the proposed wording of a referendum, which would be to repeal Article 40.3.3°.

My preferred second option is option 3, that legislation will be published in tandem with the proposed wording of a referendum which would be to repeal Article 40. 3.3°. I do have serious concerns about replacing it. We have been told there is no legal certainty under any of the options. I am not a legal expert but I think that is true. I would be worried about putting the alternative wording the Citizens' Assembly recommended into the Constitution. Senator Ruane has outlined the background to that and I will not go into it again.

There is a danger in setting that type of precedent where, as far as we know, it is only emergency legislation which provides that the courts cannot get involved. My preference is for repeal simpliciter to be put to the people. That kind of wording can be easily explained and it is important in the context of any constitutional referendum that what we ask people to decide on is clear and does not involve any ambiguity. I hope that whenever the referendum is to be held, we have a debate that is based on facts and is respectful of different viewpoints, regardless of whether we share them. The committee and the members of the Citizens' Assembly have had the opportunity to give detailed consideration to factual information and I hope that kind of information will be part of the public discourse in the referendum campaign. Having campaigned in previous referenda on various issues, I know the discourse can go off on tangents. I sincerely hope that, in this instance, it will remain focused on the facts.

I also believe that we should make a recommendation on decriminalisation. I suppose we will have to do some work on how that might be worded. The committee should consider it even though it was not a recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly.

On modules 2 and 3, my position is best summed up in a document, Every Woman, produced by the National Women's Council of Ireland, NWCI, which states:

... we are proposing a needs-based approach including the following elements:

- Constitutional change

- Protected period

- Protected treatments

The NWCI is a very representative body, with women's organisations throughout the country affiliated to it. The document to which I refer also states:

... NWCI advocates for a complete removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. Every pregnancy is different, every decision is personal. The complexity of healthcare decisions has no place in the Constitution.

It further states:

We also advocate for legislation that will allow for the availability of abortion in early pregnancy for all women who need it. During this 'protected period' the ending of pregnancy is permitted under medical supervision and considered a private matter with patient-doctor confidentiality protected. This would allow for early abortion care on the basis of need, including in the case of rape or incest, and allow medical professionals to care for women and girls in an appropriate medical setting in Ireland. Limiting this period to early pregnancy will help to minimise the need for later term abortions.

Where a wanted pregnancy turns into a crisis pregnancy at a later stage in pregnancy, we advocate for legislation that would allow for restricted access to abortion where it is considered medically necessary to protect the mental and physical health of the woman, and where there is a nonviable pregnancy. These 'protected treatments' would allow medical professionals to care for women in sometimes extremely difficult and distressing circumstances and support women, couples and families in making the decision that is right for them and their personal circumstances.

That puts it very well and the language summarises my approach to the issue.

I support all of the ancillary recommendations. Deputy Niamh Smyth referred to education and I agree with her. The recommendation about contraception and costs to the effect that an enhanced contraception service should go hand in hand with a less restrictive abortion regime is really important. Much of the evidence we heard, particularly from Britain, related to the importance of contraception advice, particularly post-abortion. This was shown to reduce the number of successive abortions - in other words, women having more than one abortion. It is important that access to contraception is not financially restricted, that it is affordable and money is not an object and that it goes hand in hand with whatever measures are introduced.

The most important action is to remove Article 40.3.3° from the Constitution. We will not be doing that but we will make recommendations that will go to the Houses. I presume that this, in turn, will result a proposal being drafted by the Government - in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General - and that the matter will then be put to the people. Ultimately, it will be a choice for the people but it is important that we make clear recommendations as to how that should proceed. It will be a decision for the people by way of referendum.

I thank the Chairman and the experts who came before the committee. It is important to say that experts in the fields of medicine, legal studies and so on volunteered their time. Many travelled long distances and their testimony was invaluable and overwhelming. I will not repeat it but will make a few points on where we go from here and what I think our job was.

We were here not just to validate the decisions of the Citizens' Assembly but to analyse them and consider how we might possibly take them forward. I agree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan that the first step is to study Article 40.3.3°. That is far and away the most important step. In order to broaden the provision for abortion in line with the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, we need to repeal the eighth amendment.

Confusion arose in the course of the assembly - a matter that was aired here by Ms. Justice Laffoy and the other legal representatives regarding the idea of replacing that provision in the Constitution with something else. The first point to make is that the intentions of the Citizens' Assembly when it explored that avenue were explored here, and the testimony given - this was made clear by Ms Justice Laffoy and others - was to the effect that the assembly wanted more clarity. By doing that, the assembly thought it was voting for a situation where the Oireachtas would legislate, it would not be in the Constitution, ironically enough, and that there would be no impediment to the Oireachtas legislating. There was an idea that something might have to be inserted to specify that. We have teased the matter out with our legal adviser and my view is that it is not necessary. To give effect to the intention of the Citizens' Assembly, simple repeal is the best option because the Oireachtas already has the power to bring in whatever legislation it sees fit once the barrier of the eighth amendment is removed. There would be no comparable area where the courts would be removed from that process, and, in essence, what the Citizens' Assembly recommended would be provided for. My feeling is that the original decision of the Citizens' Assembly to simply repeal is the best way forward. I will not repeat the points but that is the only way in which we can give a voice to this.

The Constitution is not the place to regulate medical practice. We were given evidence on that. Real life medical practice requires flexibility. This is a public health matter. In no other area of medicine do we intrude in the relationship between doctor and patient. We allow the doctor make the best decision in consultation with the patient. That is all that is being advocated here. Such matters being in the Constitution has led to a situation where women's rights and their constitutional status are significantly lessened. My first concern is that this should not be in the Constitution at all. The best way of ensuring that is repeal simpliciter. Legislation may be published in tandem because we know it is being prepared.

I will make some points about what I would like to see in the legislation but it might be a job beyond us.

I know we discussed it earlier in the committee proceedings but there is a problem with putting something into the Constitution given the restrictions in that regard. Our legal counsel was very clear that to repeal and replace in the Constitution a full piece of legislation would be unprecedented and totally unworkable. She also was quite clear that to replace it with specific grounds along the lines of the divorce referendum could give rise to problems. We will have to have another constitutional referendum now to overcome what was voted in at that time. Specifying anything in the Constitution becomes problematic in that sense. Either broad or confined grounds in the Constitution give rise to all sorts of complications. Given that what was being sought by the citizens was legal certainty to broaden the provision of access to abortion in Ireland from all of the evidence I have heard the best way to do that is repeal simpliciter and because of a procedural mechanism, my belief is that we have to take that vote first. We could not possibly vote on other options as to what might go into the Constitution first because if one voted on one and then one jumped into having nothing that would be completely wrong. We need to ask first whether we should have something in the Constitution or not and then take the other votes then after that.

We can come back to that point. Deputy Daly's point is well made and it is a valid point.

It is a case of how we take it forward. Many inaccurate points were made during the course of the discussions as well. Some of them have been made repeatedly and of late. We should remind ourselves that in 1983 when the amendment was brought in, abortion was already illegal in Ireland and it was put forward as a mechanism which would stop Irish abortions but all it meant was that Irish abortions happened later, more of them were done through surgical procedures and very vulnerable and often sick women were exported from this country in what has been adjudicated as a violation of their human rights. Figures have emerged of the number of lives that have been saved on the basis that by restricting people's ability to travel, many people are alive today who would not otherwise be here. We must be very clear. Figures bandied around about comparative rates of abortion between Ireland and other jurisdictions cannot be validated because we do not know the accurate statistical figures for Irish abortion rates. What we do know, and the evidence that was given to the committee is that if one wants to reduce the abortion rates, which I would imagine all of us would like to happen, then restrictive legislation is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to support women's decision making, give access to sex education and contraception and to allow women to have sufficient economic means to care for a child who might have a disability and that they would have a home to bring a child into. All of those things are the measures that reduce abortion. The impression is being given that if we change the eighth amendment, there will be marauding gangs of women taking to the streets to claim their right to a late term abortion and that is really insulting to all citizens. We should not have had to listen to it but no doubt we will listen to a fair amount of it.

We also need to correct the idea that abortion is dangerous. Deputy Fitzpatrick reiterated the point. We were given expert medical evidence from the World Health Organization and medical practitioners that abortion is quite a safe practice. Is it the case that improper procedures have been conducted in the carrying out of some abortions, which have damaged women? I would say that is probably true, but we know it is also true that our maternity services have damaged women and babies and our solution to that is not to shut down the maternity hospitals, rather it is to regulate them properly and ensure they carry out best practice. It is the same in relation to the provision of abortion services. Introducing issues such as adoption is a red herring. Adoption is legal in Ireland. There is no impediment to any woman who wants to put a child up for adoption making that decision. Unless one is going to coerce people into making a decision, there is nothing else we can do about adoption other than provide for it as we do now. Some of those issues are a little bit complicated.

Decriminalisation is an absolute must. It came up at every single session. One of the speakers explained it really well when he said that there are many people on the committee, all over Ireland and all over the world, who have different views on abortion, when life begins and all the rest of it, but where one will get agreement is on the idea that women and doctors should not be penalised or criminalised for making such a decision. That is a key decision of this committee which I would put upfront because much of what follows after is covered by the chilling effect of that. We got a lot of evidence in that regard which I will not repeat. In that context I will refer to how we deal with module two; I know we will deal with it later.

We were asked to address how we deal with the reasons of the Citizens' Assembly. We were not asked to approve them. We were asked how we could give them life, if one likes. In that sense, looking at it point by point is not necessarily the best way to do that because we have so much evidence that said a reasons-based approach would not work and that a better way to look at all of the reasons of the Citizens' Assembly in their entirety is to say the clear majority in all of the categories was that access to abortion should be available without restriction as to reason for early pregnancy and that should be the starting point. Given that we know most abortions are carried out in early term, if we started with that point we would meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of women who need to access abortion at present. We would combine that with decriminalisation, which would make the availability of the abortion pill legal. It would certainly not be criminal anyway and would allow doctors to prescribe it. To my mind, that would be a proper solution, along with, as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan said, the National Women's Council for how one would deal with later stage terminations. We should reiterate the evidence. We spent a lot of time talking about the tragic cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities but they are a tiny number of the women who are accessing abortion in Ireland at the moment and in order for us to really give life to the decisions of the Citizens' Assembly, we need to start the other way around. Perhaps that is something we need to consider later.

They are the main points I wish to make. It has been a very good process. Nobody will probably have the time to go back and look at the testimony but if people out there have the time they could do a lot worse than listen to some of the people we had before the committee who were tremendous. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

I thank the Citizens' Assembly and the experts. We would do them a disservice to start categorising them. We had people in who were experts in their field. They would find it odd if they were categorised in the way that some people at this committee have done, which is unfair. One of the things I have been asked on several occasions is whether I have changed my mind as a consequence of being a member of the committee. I have not on the constitutional matter. I voted not to put the amendment into the Constitution in 1983 and I have retained that position. This is something that should be legislated for. It should form no part of the Constitution. For that reason, I favour repeal and not replace, and I think it should be repeal simpliciter.

It was a very different Ireland in 1983. Citizens are way ahead on this particular matter and they are not immune to seeing the number of women who are accessing pills online, not within a medical environment, and the number of women who are travelling. There is a terrific inconsistency with having in the Constitution the right to travel and information and turning a blind eye to the fact that there is criminality attached to abortion on this side of the Irish Sea.

The Citizens' Assembly has done its work, and I am really surprised by the point that Deputy Fitzpatrick made about what this two-stage process did not do. Anyone who followed the Citizens' Assembly saw the balance of the interest groups. We did not repeat the process because we paid attention to it. I am surprised that he is making that point because it is simply missing much of the work that was done and the large body of testimony delivered.

The representatives from Terminations for Medical Reasons made the point that the 13th amendment, which refers to the right to travel and information, saved lives in this country, not the eighth amendment. It is a shameful thing to hear because health care services in other jurisdictions looked after women in very stressful situations. Women are not disconnected people. They are wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. It is not just women who are interested in this issue. It is a public interest matter and rightly so.

Dr. Peter Boylan stated the Citizens' Assembly vote:

clearly recommends that the Oireachtas deal with the question of termination by legislation rather than through the Constitution. I entirely concur with this conclusion, but I would add that legislation needs to be supported by regulation with regard to clinics and hospitals, and by the Medical Council and An Bord Altranais.

That is something to which we could usefully point in terms of some of our recommendations.

On the criminalisation issue, I note that Dr. Rhona Mahony, among others, made the point that at present, women must have a substantial risk of dying before they qualify for termination of pregnancy. People asked if it was a 10%, 20% or 50% risk of dying. I would rather have an obstetrician making a decision on medical grounds than having to put a barrister in a position that he or she should not be in. Dr Mahony went on to state, "Failure to adhere to this is punishable by a 14-year custodial sentence for both the woman and her doctor." That is absolutely wrong. The whole issue of criminalisation has to be dealt with, and I want to see it in the report.

Members heard from Professor Veronica O'Keane, who told us that pregnancy is associated with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms, and that the risk of depression is higher than at any other point in her life. When she was asked about the cases that she worries about at night she spoke about people being very vulnerable and being barely able to get home after meeting her, never mind being in a position to travel. It was quite descriptive and is part of the reason we should not separate physical health from mental health. The evidence was very convincing.

I do not like the idea that we are looking at the Citizens' Assembly recommendations as a list from which we decide on how we will deal with this issue, as so doing almost eliminates all the testimony members heard. The testimony we heard was very useful. Not a day went by in this committee in which we did not learn something that was of real value and that should be incorporated into our thinking in the future.

We heard from Tom O'Malley on the legal issues. He told us that it takes 865 days, or two and a half years, to prosecute rape. At what level is that determined before people are re-victimised? That is a critical issue in terms of how this is dealt with. I believe that a gestation period on request is the way to deal with that and avoiding re-vicitimising those who have been raped or in cases of incest.

The Citizens' Assembly report was very helpful. An enormous amount of work went into it. While it offers guidance, I certainly would not favour what was recommended in terms of how the issue should be handled from a constitutional point of view. A straightforward yes or no question, ultimately decided upon by the citizens of Ireland, is the correct way to go forward. Certain things were recommended that we could consider, but it is very difficult to see how they could be legislated for. We have to make some recommendations and do some work in that area.

The ancillary recommendations are by no means minor. The contributors from the Netherlands were fascinating. The Netherlands has low abortion rates. The holistic approach, in terms of proper education, proper contraception and the reflective times, was very interesting. Looking at how things work in other countries was certainly instructive and very useful.

The political consequences of this debate for ourselves should be put aside. The most important thing is that we do right by the women of Ireland who require health care when they are pregnant. One of the things that has stuck with me was the discussion about constitutional law with Mary O'Toole senior counsel, who discussed the eighth amendment. She reiterated the point that the only time that a woman is considered in terms of rights was when her right to life was at risk. What husband would want that for his wife? What child would want that for their mother? What mother would want that for her daughter? That is how horrific this is. We must keep this centre stage. The right to health is a human right. Professor Binchy, when I made that point to him, acknowledged that the right to health is a human right. It cannot be a human right which ceases when a woman is pregnant.

I have not changed my mind on the constitutional issue but I certainly feel I have had a real education on the range of different things we should be considering. It has been really useful process from that point of view. I also thank the committee members. It has been a good committee to work on and I have been on a few of them.

We still have more work to do. We will be working together for a while yet.

I might not get the chance to thank the members.

It might interest members to know that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has recently declared:

Laws which explicitly allow for abortion on grounds of impairment violate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Art,. 4,5,8). Even if the condition is considered fatal, there is still a decision made on the basis of impairment. Often it cannot be said if an impairment is fatal. Experience shows that assessments on impairment conditions are often false. Even if it is not false, the assessment perpetuates notions of stereotyping disability as incompatible with a good life.

Although Ireland has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while I know it was discussed in Cabinet on Tuesday, the recognition of the UN committee on abortion for so-called fatal foetal abnormalities constitutes unjust discrimination against people with disabilities and is clearly something that should be taken into account when proposals are being made to enshrine such unjust discrimination into law. That is worth putting on the record.

As I have said, the Citizens' Assembly is comprised of 99 citizens, headed by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy. It voted overwhelmingly to undermine the rights of the unborn child. From start to finish, the eighth amendment was subject to a process of interrogation which allowed little, if any, scope for the true assessment of its merits to be heard. Our committee has replicated the process with an appalling level of bias displayed. Despite unsustainable objections, this is certainly the case and an increasing number of people see that. If the assembly has its way, unborn human life will now be subject to whims of democratic consensus on what is, in effect, a totalitarian tyranny of the strong over the weak. Abortion without any restrictions up to 12 weeks is being proposed, going up to 22 weeks without restriction for socioeconomic reasons.

There is a sense, however, that the scale of the liberalisation of abortion law being sought by this unrepresentative and unelected body has inadvertently revealed its inherent bias and laid bare its ultimate agenda. Just how unrepresentative it was can be seen from the fact that there was not one representative from 11 of Ireland's 26 counties, including my own. Can members imagine an equivalent situation in the United States, where Congress establishes a non-judicial citizens' assembly to deliberate on the removal of a fundamental human right and omits everyone from Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana and several other states in that jurisdiction? That is just to mention a few. It would be an absurd parody of democracy, yet it is acceptable here. The Citizens' Assembly was depressingly choreographed and managed with just enough plausible deniability to make one think that what was occurring was an exercise in deliberative democracy. This added to the illusory sense of transparency. Forget, however, that the overwhelming volume of written and online submissions made to the Citizens' Assembly calls for the retention of the eighth amendment. Such inconvenient details muddy the narrative.

Speaking of muddying the narrative, thanks to the misinformation efforts of abortion advocates over the past few years, one could easily believe that we have a reputation of being a dangerous place in which to be pregnant. This is despite the fact that most comprehensive reports over the last number of years have made it clear that we have excellent maternal care even in the face of obvious funding and staffing problems as we see in all our hospitals, including our maternity hospitals. If there is one thing pro-life people are learning, as this debate gathers pace, it is that efforts to liberalise abortion matter more than a balanced assessment of the facts. We saw this in 2013 when abortion was introduced in defiance of the medical evidence presented at the time with respect to suicidality. All signals are clear that this process is not and never was about arriving at balanced legislation which protects mothers and babies. It is about fine-tuning the debate in such a way as to be able to sell the recommendations to a misinformed public with the minimum of political consequences. Since 2012, over 3,328 abortion pills have been seized in 235 separate illegal importations. This committee has heard deeply conflicting evidence about their safety yet we are considering legalising that here in the teeth of conflicting evidence. To push for abortion, the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly have been reduced to a single word on a jumper: "Repeal". That is insulting to the tens of thousands of people in Ireland who credit the eighth amendment with saving their lives and those of their children.

I will raise one more issue with regard to the recommendations to introduce abortion for pregnancies of up to 12 weeks. A delegation from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, the biggest abortion provider in the UK, attended last week. Today, its brochure was circulated to us. That document is absolutely clear that introducing abortion at the so-called early limit of 12 weeks leads to a real and substantial threat to the life of the mother. The brochure was just circulated to us today. This included the possibility of serious long-term health effects, psychological problems, the continuation of pregnancy despite the abortion, which BPAS tells us occurs in one in every 1,500 abortion cases. None of that has made its way into the debate where abortion is consistently presented as an absolutely safe procedure with a minimum of risk.

I will oppose the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and will work to ensure that the merits of the eighth amendment are upheld. Today, we saw a statement from the Danish ambassador to Ireland, who said that in 2016, 133 out of 137 babies found before birth to have Down's syndrome were aborted. That is 97% of all diagnosed cases. Carsten Søndergaard, the Danish ambassador to Ireland, has written to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution to tell it that Denmark does not have an official policy to eradicate Down's syndrome. Given the rate of abortion, it might as well have such a policy. The ambassador told the committee, in the letter, that in 2016, four children were born in Denmark with Down's syndrome after perinatal diagnosis and 20 children were born with Down's syndrome who were diagnosed after birth. He did not tell the committee that while four were born following diagnosis of Down's syndrome, 133 were aborted. It is a huge omission. Last year, 157 women in Denmark became pregnant with a baby with Down's syndrome. As the ambassador points out, 20 were born because no perinatal diagnosis was received and another four were born despite the perinatal diagnosis. To put it another way, while 97% of the babies found to have Down's syndrome while still in the womb were aborted, 85% were aborted overall, which is still a staggering total. In 2015, only one baby found to have Down's syndrome while in the womb was born out of the 144 scanned, so 99.3% were aborted. We know what opening the floodgates of issues like that leads to. It is interesting that we are now trying to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on one hand while on the other we are doing everything we can to destroy unborn babies with any semblance of disability.

I have one comment if the Chairman does not mind.

It is about the Chairman. I do not think the committee was conducted fairly or impartially. Mention has been made of all the people invited. The list is there. The vast majority of 28 or 29 people - one can put whatever flavour one likes on them - advocated for abortion. The number of pro-life people was limited to five in total. Some were in the second round when the Chairman found that, after the vote, she wanted to get balance. As well as that, the Chairman has taken part in a committee of which I am a member, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA. The Chairman participated in committee D when I was there in Liverpool some months ago, in a debate about abortion, and again last weekend at a committee. I think it is wholly inappropriate, while meetings are happening here, for the Chairman to attend that other committee and debate abortion in the United Kingdom.

Will the Deputy expand on why that is inappropriate?

The Chairman is supposed to be an impartial chair of the situation here.

How is my impartiality affected by attending the committee?

I make the statement-----

Excuse me, I have something to say. How is my impartiality affected by my attendance at a committee where there were both pro-choice and pro-life advocates, although I do not like to use those phrases but will for the purposes of explaining my position? How is my impartiality affected? I am a member of that committee. I am expected to be there and am informing myself. What is the problem?

I would have thought that as Chair of this committee, which the Chairman tried to maintain was impartial, which it clearly was not, participating in that debate on those two occasions while the committee was in situ, was highly inappropriate. That is my considered opinion.

Most people's considered opinion would be that the Deputy is incorrect in his opinion.

I am entitled to my opinion and I am stating it on the record.

You are.

I did not see the Chairman question any other person who made statements here today.

Nobody else made an allegation against me personally.

They made allegations about some witnesses and such. It is just confirming the bias and the public can see this.

It is not-----

It confirms the bias.

The Deputy might want a bit of drama here.

I do not want any drama. The Chairman is the drama queen here today.

Excuse me. I am speaking. I do not interrupt. I am the Chair. The Deputy needs to understand that-----

I understand that.

-----when I am speaking, he should not interrupt me. Let me say what I have to say.

I understand that. I have been very respectful of the committee.

It is not appropriate for us to get into this here. I have explained it and I believe I am right in what I say. You have disagreed with me and we will leave it there.

Okay. I call Deputy Naughton.

On a point of order, whether what Deputy McGrath has to say is correct or not, we are all equal members of the committee. The Chairman gets the chance to make her view known. I do not take the view she is impartial or required not to have a view on the eighth amendment. I would have thought you would get a chance, the same as everybody else, to rebut what Deputy McGrath says. That is instead of doing it in the middle of his contribution. If I were to do that while somebody was having a go at me, there would be complete chaos.

Thank you, Senator. It is fine that you have made the point. The Deputy was finished making his contribution. I interject quite regularly. It is a fair point. Perhaps I should have waited until the end.

You are interjecting in your own interest. As I said, I do not want to fall out with you over this.

I am a human being.

You cannot help yourself.

I understand that but if we all did that, there would be chaos.

You are so biased, Chairman, you cannot help yourself. We have seen that in tweets and public relations statements.

I am not going to-----

You are so biased, you cannot help yourself.

I have heard that so many times. The Deputy can keep saying it.

I do not mind. The reality is I am not biased. I have been very fair to you and all members in how I have conducted myself. My conscience is completely clear in that regard. I would like to move on from this.

I have one point, please.

In fairness to Senator Mullen, his point is well made. Perhaps I should have waited until the end.

I will drop it for now. I call Deputy Naughton.

I have one point. Today I had to indicate to the clerk a few times. This is a question about fairness. A number of times today during questioning with our legal adviser, I had to indicate to the clerk and the Chairman about conversations taking place in the room. I could not hear what was being said.

In fairness, I tried to protect you.

The same happens to everybody.

Excuse me, I will handle this. I have consistently tried to keep the room quiet when you have spoken.

I have to indicate four or five times.

I have been as fair, if not more fair, to the Deputy in that regard.

No, you have not.

I will move on.

I start by commending the Chairman on the way she has handled these proceedings from the outset. It was very clear to everybody, even before we started, that this was not going to be an easy process. It is not an easy matter to deal with. I take this opportunity to commend the clerk, the secretariat and all the witnesses who came before us. It has been a very worthwhile exercise. We still have much work to do and this ultimately will be a decision of the Irish people. It will not come from this committee. There is a narrative beyond this committee that we are drawing up legislation within this committee but it is not our role to do that. We are to give the Government a clear indication on what to do with the report of the Citizens' Assembly.

At the outset of this committee's deliberations, we discussed what form of constitutional change would be optimal as outlined in the Citizens' Assembly report. One of the options was to insert a wording into the Constitution that would allow the Oireachtas to decide what abortion provision was to be provided. Along with that was another suggestion that the power of the superior courts to intervene and review any subsequent legislation would be curtailed. This would give the Oireachtas exclusive power in the area with no checks and balances by the courts. Many members are on the same page in this regard and I have grave reservations about any such suggestion.

As a general proposition it would be extremely unusual to give exclusive power to the Oireachtas while at the same time removing the power of the courts to review legislation. Judicial review in Ireland originated in the 1922 Constitution. Article 65 stated, "The judicial power of the High Court shall extend to the question of the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of the Constitution." We know that was carried to the current Constitution and the reason for such a provision was to move away from the old British rule of parliamentary sovereignty. In the UK, courts would not review Acts of Parliament as Parliament was supreme. The principle of judicial review had also come to be recognised by the United States Supreme Court in the famous case of Marbury v. Madison; judicial review was adopted as a move away from the British system to a more republican mode of parliamentary democracy. I would be very slow to go back to the days when it was believed Parliament could do no wrong. It would be a bad day for the State and our citizens if we proceeded down that route. It is important to highlight that, as it was a recommendation that came forward. Through our discussions and legal advice, which is often complicated and does not always come down on either side, it is important I explain my reasons for not moving forward with that suggestion.

In regard to decriminalisation, I agree with the proposal that we recommend abortion be decriminalised. We heard evidence that decriminalising abortion does not lead to abortion becoming more widely available and criminalising it serves no purpose other than to threaten to criminalise women and doctors in circumstances where very personal decisions are being made.

In discussions of the case of rape and incest, we had excellent witnesses coming before us. We heard from Mr. Tom O'Malley about the perils of trying to provide some strict criteria around those particular grounds. It would simply be impossible to await the outcome of a criminal investigation or prosecution. With the trauma, it often takes women many years to come forward and say they have been raped. I do not know if such grounds are workable and we must consider such matters when we make our recommendations.

With regard to ancillary recommendations, I was very much struck by the witness evidence regarding what we should do with respect to sex education, sexuality, relationships, sexual health, contraception awareness, advice and affordable access to contraceptives. This committee's substantive views are around the area of abortion. We all agree preventing crisis pregnancies is vital and it is clear our education system is not doing enough in that regard in educating our young people. It is not just about biology but it also concerns relationship advice, dealing with emotions and a holistic approach to sex education, relationships, etc. It is a key part of our work on the ancillary recommendations. Everything comes back to education, and not just for young people. We have heard it applies right across the board. It will be a very important element that we deal with next week.

On repealing the eighth amendment, people need to know there are safeguards. If people are voting "Yes" or "No" to repealing the eighth amendment, it will not be put to the people on its own. They need to see safeguards in place. Publication of legislation in tandem with the referendum process is the way to go. It will be the body of work that we must do next week.

I apologise for missing some of the presentations by members but I was speaking in the Dáil on a Private Members' motion. I will also put some matters on the record as well.

As a member of this committee representing a party with a vote of conscience on the matter, I speak in a personal capacity. We have full confidence in the workings of the committee and the adjudication by the Chairman. We could not express views that it was biased. Many of the groups brought in were professional bodies and they had an opinion recommending changes to the protection of life during pregnancy legislation and the Constitution. They expressed professional views and we cannot be held responsible for the views they expressed. They were invited here because of their professionalism. They came from some of the colleges and professional bodies that oversee gynaecologists, obstetricians, general practitioners, etc., and they all had views on these matters.

We have had many discussions on the substantive matter of the eighth amendment and what should be done with it. We were given much legal advice that has been gone through on a number of occasions. The issue around the eighth amendment must be the issue of repeal simpliciter. To put this in context, doing anything unless we want to retain the amendment would involve repeal. Obfuscating on that - looking to repeal and replace or amend - would limit our ability to change and legislate afterwards. A straight repeal of the eighth amendment is the most practical way to go about advancing this issue. I say this primarily because of the expert legal advice we have received and the opinions we have heard in public session.

Others may have varying views. However, I believe that in every other way it would tie the hands of the Oireachtas and I do not believe I could support going down the road towards entrenching legislation in the Constitution in the event that there is a referendum. Therefore, from my perspective, repeal simpliciter and legislate thereafter. The key issue in the context of legislation is at what stage in a pregnancy can a termination be allowed and in what circumstances can it occur. That is the challenge and there are varying views on it. I have always said there is a middle ground. Many would accept providing for termination in cases of incest, rape and fatal foetal abnormality, but legislating for it would be quite complex. How we would legislate for termination in cases involving rape would be exceptionally difficult. It would pose huge problems not necessarily for the committee but also for whoever was drafting legislation should the committee recommend repeal of the eighth amendment and legislating to deal with the issue in cases of rape.

When we consider the broader issues, we have to accept that we must have confidence and trust in the women and girls of this country. As a society, regardless of our views, we cannot continue to herd our problems to England or Holland. I am not necessarily comfortable with the concept of terminating a pregnancy, but the reality is that 5,000 terminations are carried out every year, with 3,500 to 3,600 being carried out in England and the rest in Ireland through the use of abortive tablets. That is the reality with which we are dealing. To continue to deny access to terminations in this country when we know that they are happening abroad is doing the women and girls of Ireland a huge disservice. We have to be mature enough to accept that it is an issue. To me, criminalising women is very distasteful and a scar and a blight on how we view women and girls.

I spoke about decriminalisation during the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013. Criminalisation is wholly unacceptable because it can and does, as indicated in some of the evidence presented to the committee, discourage women from seeking medical attention or advice. A young girl could be criminalised and sentenced to 14 years in prison for taking abortion pills. We have to address the situation where a young girl is pregnant, frightened and alone not knowing where to turn when lying in her bed suffering from cramps after taking tablets and not being able to seek medical attention. The committee should recommend a change to the criminalisation element of the legislation in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, as constituted, and whatever legislation may be introduced following a repeal of the eight amendment.

How much time do I have left?

Four or five minutes.

It is not a target.

Is it a definite limit?

No. Members are entitled to as much time-----

I appreciate the flexibility.

Yes, there is a little flexibility today.

Members may have varying views, but assuming that we go for repeal of the eight amendment, those views will come into play in considering the complexities associated with a real and substantial risk to the health of the mother and, as provided for in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, to the life of the mother, including both her physical and mental health.

There is also the issue of gestational periods. They will all have to be decided on at some stage in the near future. I do not believe that as a committee or individuals we can deny the fact that we have listened to evidence where, for example, in the context of fatal foetal abnormality, it cannot be diagnosed in advance of 22 weeks. That case has been made to us by people who deal with the issue regularly. When we consider the entitlements that should be available to women, there should be a scan at 12 weeks and another at 22 weeks to detect anomalies. If we do not allow for termination beyond 22 weeks in a case of fatal foetal abnormality, when there would be a scan to identify and diagnose it, in the context of what they face, we would do a great disservice to a small cohort of women who receive a tragic diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. I know that there are varying views on whether it can be diagnosed, but most of the evidence from the professionals suggests it can. Others make a legitimate point that it would be a slope towards the termination of pregnancies in cases involving varying forms of disability, but the committee must also confront and address this difficult issue.

In summary, we cannot continue to condemn and criminalise women for making the choice and force them to travel abroad because the option is not available to them here. Given the very tragic circumstances in some cases of fatal foetal abnormality and the horrendous and arduous journeys women face emotionally, psychologically and physically, we have to look at the issue in a sympathetic and human way.

There is another view which has been expressed at this committee and elsewhere and we owe it to the people to give them an opportunity to adjudicate on the issue. The committee will not make the decision on it. It will make some recommendation or express an opinion to the Dáil, but it will be the Government that will bring forward legislation that will reflect the debate at the committee and in the Dáil and it will be the people who will decide. The issue was first adjudicated on in 1983. Having regard to the numbers of women who have since had to travel abroad, there has been a change of view in Irish society on the issue. Primarily, we owe it to the women of the country to allow the people to have their say in an informed, a respectful and an intelligent debate on the substantive constitutional issue and the legislation that will flow from the decision of the people.

On whether we should publish legislation in tandem with it, it is important to note that any legislation that might be published would only be a guide. We would not be legally or duty bound to implement or pass that legislation. It should be borne in mind that there will be an election at some stage and that after most elections there is a different make-up in the Dáil. Every Oireachtas is entitled to change legislation and political parties and members of no political party are entitled to campaign and seek a mandate from the people on any platform. I am quite sure there will be people who will seek a platform to oppose the result of the referendum in the context of legislation that may flow from it, but on the issue of publishing legislation and saying definitively that it will be passed by the next Oireachtas, we have to be honest with the people and say it can only be seen as a guide. If the amendment is removed from the Constitution, we must be conscious that it will then be up to the Oireachtas to legislate and that from time to time its political make-up may change and that it may change its opinion and amend the legislation regularly. It will certainly become a political issue. Let us be very honest. Once the amendment is out of the Constitution, the issue will be fully in the political domain. We must all reflect on that fact.

Like everybody else, I compliment the Chairman on the fair and equitable manner in which she has conducted the meetings. I thank the delegates who came before the committee, each of whom had his or her own particular advice to give. They allowed themselves to be challenged, which is what the committee is about. It has been a very successful exercise. It is not so much that we have learned more but that we introduced checks and balances in the committee's job and what it is about. As other speakers mentioned, this will ultimately be an issue for the people. They alone will decide on it. It is completely outside our remit to recommend how they should decide. We need to recognise the importance of the investigative job we have been trying to do which has involved introducing checks and balance in the presentation of the various submissions made. We need to review what we found when we were reassured, or not as the case may be, in the course of our hearings.

I have always held the view that there are two opposing sides in the debate in this country and there have been since 1983. Each side has called for the holding of a referendum at one time or another in the past ten years. I have the correspondence to prove it. It goes without saying a referendum will take place and both sides in the debate have asked for one to be held. We have discovered a number of issues where matters need to be improved. A number of voids in the system need to be filled. For example, it appears that there is an extreme lack of counselling and support services for women with crisis pregnancies. The lack of advice and support of a medical and psychological nature is obvious to us all. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of the women in question when we look at the situation that has been presented to us. We need to ask ourselves whether it is fair that they should be left alone, isolated and treated as if they did not exist. The fact of the matter is that we have to deal with this issue.

I draw a dramatic contrast with the way in which pregnant women were treated in the past. Sadly, it is now coming back to haunt us. We tended to cast out pregnant women and regard them as inferior citizens and human beings. We regarded them as an embarrassment. We cast them out and left it to somebody else to look after them. It was a crying shame that we did what we did to so many women in previous years. I hope we have learned the lesson, which is not to allow such things to occur again. There is a need to accommodate. I am not in favour of abortion, as I have always said during the years, but it now appears that there are reasons particular issues need to be addressed. These issues have been the subject of our discussions in recent weeks.

Apart from the need to put counselling and ancillary services in place as a matter of urgency, there is also a need to dwell on issues such as rape, incest and crisis pregnancies in which fatal foetal abnormalities are detected. It is a serious crisis for the woman in question, more so than anybody else. It is a question of whether she feels competent to address the issue presented to her. Does she feel mentally and physically strong enough to take responsibility for what is coming her way? I remind the committee that I am talking about a woman who has medical evidence in front of her that tells her what will happen. When medical evidence was produced to us by families who had direct experience of being in this situation, the extent to which they wanted to be accommodated was obvious to me. They did not necessarily want to have an abortion, but they wanted some advice and help. They wanted to know with whom they could share their problems. I am thinking particularly of a case in which it might be the only pregnancy or child a woman might have. It is obvious to me that there is a crying need to ensure whatever can be done by way of backup, support, advice and help should be done at the earliest possible date. If we do not do this, we are ignoring a serious matter.

I would be one of the first to recognise that we have to observe the law. We change the law when we have to change it. That is a matter for the Oireachtas, but in this case, it is a matter, in the first instance, for the people. Incidentally, it might be possible to amend the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 to a considerable extent to accommodate quite a number of the issues that have been debated here. There is a lot of work to be done in that regard and it may well come to pass, but if we allow the situation to continue without doing anything about the pressing issues that have been presented to us, despite what we have learned during the course of the committee's hearings and from our own history, as a committee, we will be in default and simply in denial. We cannot continue down that road.

I want to make a point about equality. I recognise there is a right to life, an issue which has been raised and one we have to treat seriously. Regardless of whether it is a devolved right, a primary right or a secondary right, in certain circumstances the life of a mother was at serious risk prior to the 2013 Act and it was a question of having an equal right. It was proved in a number of tragic cases that, depending on the weaker of the two rights, the mother had no right. As I mentioned, we need to remember the equality legislation and be absolutely certain. The general principle of equality is prevalent in our society. We need to recognise that what we will do in the future must have some regard for and the recognition of the need to have a certain degree of equality. However, there should be a clear divide. To my mind, this becomes most obvious in a case in which it is determined at an advanced stage of a pregnancy with no fatal foetal abnormality that a termination is desirable on socioeconomic grounds. It becomes a little hazy at that stage.

The people have expressed their concern about a possible attempt to deal with children with Down's syndrome in a way that they would not find acceptable. There is no great demand or support among the people who will make the decision for such an approach. The reason is simple. We all know children and adults with Down's syndrome who are generally regarded as friendly and helpful and not seen to intrude on anybody. They are a threat to no one. We need to keep that in mind when we are devolving responsibility, in so far as that is what we are doing. It is the responsibility of the people who will deal with this matter in due course.

I mention the possibility of court challenges, an issue which has been covered by a number of speakers. Anything can be challenged in the courts. That is part and parcel of and the basis for our legislation. If we exclude anything from the right of the courts, the question of the separation of powers will arise. The two shall stand alone and not cross over each other. At all times, we have to operate and move in the knowledge that what we do by way of legislation in these Houses is subject to challenge in the courts on some grounds. I do not believe in the theory that any legislation is beyond challenge, even if we might try to state that is the case.

Much of the issue surrounding decriminalisation has resolved itself. However, other problems have presented.

The availability of morning-after and online abortion services has overtaken the legislators and the people in the intervening period between 1983 and now. It would be wrong to allow a situation to prevail whereby women availing of that treatment would be criminalised. I do not think we can do that because then we would be condemning them to seek treatment that is illegal, and that might happen under unsupervised conditions. Again, we are back to the point that the availability of medical and social advice is needed at that time, or may be needed at a particular time. Yet, we are suggesting that we forget about it and that it does not happen. We have to accept as a fact that those processes and procedures are available now and that they are taking place now.

Earlier, I mentioned the availability of counselling. I believe that the extent to which adequate counselling of a supportive and non-directive nature becomes available is of singular importance when it comes to any legislation in future. A comparison can be made with places like Sweden and Switzerland, where there is a major difference in the extent to which abortions are performed. It suggests that the level of counselling in one place or the other is having an impact for one reason or another.

I intend to finish as I started. I am not in favour of abortion but I recognise that in our modern society there are reasons, and a need, for some change to accommodate the evolution of our society. Furthermore, we have an obligation to do whatever we can do to facilitate the people in coming to those conclusions.

At the outset, I wish to commend you, Chairman, on your chairing of the committee. I thank all the witnesses, regardless of whether they had a particular viewpoint or no viewpoint and regardless of whether they were giving factual information to the committee. All of it was valuable in shaping my opinion and in respect of the outcomes of the committee.

Everyone has given a review of the committee's deliberations. It was my understanding that part of the public session today would involve outlining to the public how we will vote next week. We should do that. I do not want a situation next week whereby the committee is arguing about how to proceed. The whole point of today's meeting was to arrange that and, consequently, next week we could simply vote with little conversation. I will touch on that a little more.

Before I make some proposals in that regard I wish to make some further points. One relates to the issue of risk. Every medical expert we spoke to was firm in the belief that we cannot grade risk. That is the first think I took out of the committee. We cannot grade risk in terms of severe, serious or substantial. Indeed, any attempt to do so simply creates more issues than it resolves.

Another issue I took from the committee relates to fatal foetal abnormalities. It is an impossible task to try to draw up a list and it would be counterproductive as well. Any attempt to put a gestational time limit on fatal foetal abnormalities would be problematic as well. This was something the medical profession did not recommend. That was the second thing I took from the committee.

Another issue relates to the ground of rape and how difficult it may be to legislate for that. The contributions to the committee on the matter outlined how other countries have dealt with the matter by legislating for it in four possible ways. The first was a certification process undertaken by judges. The second was a certification process by law enforcement officials. The third was a certification process by the medical profession. The fourth was to have unrestricted access to termination up to 12 weeks. These were the four options presented to us in respect of how other countries have dealt with the matter. If we deal with the issue of decriminalisation, it would instantly remove two of those options, that is to say, a judicial certification process and reporting to law enforcement or An Garda Síochána. These options would be altogether counterproductive. That leaves two options for the committee to consider.

Another issue is the question of gestational periods. Let us consider the Citizens' Assembly recommendations on the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities. The recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly was that there would be no restriction as to gestational period. In other areas, the assembly looked at gestational periods and came to a view on it. The assembly members voted on these grounds and on what would be acceptable. Once the majority was in favour of accepting a particular ground as a ground for termination, the assembly members were given three options. The first was a period of up to 12 weeks' gestation only. The second was up to 22 weeks' gestation only. The third was no restriction as to gestational period. A forth options of no preference was offered as well.

We have discussed the matter. I believe it may be counterproductive to put in primary legislation a gestational period. It would be difficult to try to legislate for gestational periods. When we are looking at gestational periods for any ground for termination, those best placed to adjudicate are in the medical profession. I will propose, on behalf of ourselves, that we consider a fourth option for next week. My option is for the Oireachtas not to include gestational timeframes in primary legislation and for the matter to be dealt with through secondary legislation in consultation with the medical profession through their representative and regulatory bodies.

I believe there is an onus on politicians to recognise that we do not have the expertise to adjudicate on what appropriate gestational timeframes, if any, should be put in place. That should be a matter for the medical profession and the women of the country.

That may apply for medical cases. What about non-medical cases?

I think in all cases it is a matter for the medical profession. I do not believe we should put gestational timeframes into primary legislation. That is the first proposal I will put forward. I will put it to the committee as an amendment and I hope it will be included in our votes next week as an option.

The second point relates to module 1. We have to give some recognition to the process that the Citizens' Assembly undertook. In dealing with module 1, the assembly had several options available. The first option on ballot paper 1 was that the eighth amendment would not be retained in full. The committee has already made a decision on that matter. Therefore, that proposal or option should not be discussed next week. Let us suppose we follow the path taken by the Citizens' Assembly. The next option put to them was ballot paper 2. I intend to propose a corresponding proposal as the first vote that we take next week in respect of module 1. That ballot paper had three voting options for members of the assembly.

The options were first, repeal of Article 40.3.3°; second, replace or amend it; and third, prefer not to state an opinion. The first vote next week should be on whether we are in favour of repeal of Article 40.3.3°. If this is agreed by the committee then there will be no need to address the third option, which coincidentally is the option which the Citizens' Assembly settled on in its ballot paper. If the repeal question is not passed by the committee then the next option will be ballot paper 3, which is the Citizens' Assembly recommendation, on which it eventually settled. I am proposing that this is the format we take next week. As I said, the first vote of the committee should be on repeal of Article 40.3.3°. If this is agreed then in my opinion module 1 will be completed. If it is not agreed, we should then follow through on all of the Citizens' Assembly recommendations.

Is the Deputy making that proposal now?

Is the committee agreeable to that amendment to the roadmap set out for next week?

If the committee votes next week not to repeal the eighth amendment what happens then?

We then deal with ballot paper 3, which is the option chosen by the Citizens' Assembly, which is that there would be a constitutional provision giving the Oireachtas the power to legislate. If that is not acceptable we then move to deal with the next option on the paper. That is the way that the Citizens' Assembly did its work. I am proposing that this is how the committee would do its business next week.

On module 2, as we are required to give some consideration to the Citizens' Assembly recommendations I propose that we take each of those recommendations separately, voting first on whether we believe fatal foetal abnormality is grounds for termination or not. If we do believe it is grounds for a termination, we then vote on the options made available to the Citizens' Assembly, namely, 12 weeks, 22 weeks or no time limit. The proposal which we will be submitting this week for consideration is that termination be a matter for secondary legislation in consultation with the medical profession, rather than primary legislation. That is a proposal which-----

As certain people are not here it is only fair that we would agree proposals at the beginning of next week's meeting.

I have no issue with that. I am just giving notice that we will be putting a formal proposal before the committee.

I appreciate the Deputy alerting us to that now as it will save us time next week. In fairness, it would be appropriate to hold off on any agreement on this issue until next week.

I am making the proposal now but I am not expecting it to be voted on now. I am merely indicating to the committee that this is how we propose to proceed next week.

We have in the past taken proposals and agreed them immediately regardless of who was in the room but given the stage we are at it would be fairer to members of the committee to wait until next week to agree any proposals.

We will be making two proposals. I have outlined the proposal in regard to module 1. In regard to module 2, we will be seeking an additional option on the ballot paper, which is that gestational timeframes are not dealt with in primary legislation but are dealt with in secondary legislation in consultation with the medical profession. We will submit these two proposals to the committee this evening.

Okay. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

I thank Senator Noone for her work in chairing our meetings over the past couple of weeks. I also thank my fellow committee members for giving me the space to listen, understand and engage in the work of this committee. There was good mutual respect among all who engaged in this committee. I have taken a lot of information on board. Our Oireachtas colleagues need to understand what was discussed at this committee. A lot of good information and expert opinion was put before us. Some people have said this opinion was biased but it was not. The heads of the Rotunda Hospital and Holles Street hospital came before the committee to present the facts as they are. I approached the work of this committee in the same way as I would approach the work of all other committees. I came to listen, learn and understand and to assist the committee in gathering all of the information we require.

I found Deputy Clare Daly's comments about the decriminalisation of abortion interesting. I was not aware of the 14 year prison sentence in regard to the abortion pill. Decriminalisation is a huge issue for me. Deputy Kelleher spoke earlier about young people acquiring abortion pills when they have nobody to turn to. That is shocking. I do not think anybody should feel alone and have nobody to turn to such that they have to order abortion pills online and also be fearful that if caught with these pills they face a prison sentence. We have a duty of care to ensure this issue is addressed.

In regard to fatal foetal abnormality, this generally arises from a planned pregnancy. Regardless of whether it is a first, second, third or fourth child, the child is wanted and it is only when the parent or parents find out on review of a scan that all is not going according to plan that they have to make a choice. We heard from one witness that he was a broken man for nine years in terms of his trips to and from Belfast. That session had a huge impact on me. We all found it very moving. I would not want to find myself in that position and I would not want to be responsible for anybody else being in that position. This man and his wife were broken and he did not talk to anybody about his experience for a long time. It was shocking to listen to his story. There are many men who have been in this position.

This committee played a huge role in listening but I would have liked if more people had come before us. That is no reflection on the Chairman, the clerk or anybody else. I agree with Senator Mullen that the vote was premature. It is unfortunate that more groups did not appear before the committee. I had a willingness to listen to all sides. I do not want to label any group because we heard from experts who were not to be labelled. It is unfortunate that we did not hear all viewpoints.

While they might have submitted letters and everything else, it is not possible to beat face-to-face engagement. It is not possible to beat good robust debates with questioning and everything else because people wanted to tease it out for the general public.

It was also an incredibly tough committee and I found myself challenged. I would nearly have sneaked away there without having spoken. It is very difficult because it was a really emotive debate. We have a duty of care to the general public because it will go to a referendum. Three generations have not had an opportunity to vote on it. I believe in democracy. It is not me who will decide because I have only one vote at the end of the day. The wording will be incredibly important.

Irrespective of one's side, it is all down to a value system. I have deep core values and I respect everybody with their own value system. Ireland is not the society it once was and we can respect each other for their value system. That is why the wording is important, but everybody needs to get out and vote to have their say. Everybody needs to be informed as to what they are voting on. The challenge next week is how we lay it before the Oireachtas and how we present it to Government to come back with a wording to us on it.

I cannot say I enjoyed it. I was challenged by this committee. I would like to think that our colleagues working down here - Senators and all - would educate themselves on what was discussed in the last number of weeks. Irrespective of what comes out of next week's voting system, at the end of the day respect has to be shown to one and all because this debate is only starting and not finishing. We have to be very sure as to how we, as legislators, present it to the general public. We owe the people an opportunity to vote on it.

At the outset, as many other speakers have, I compliment the Chairman on the work she has done and the manner in which she carried out a very difficult task. I express my thanks to the many expert witnesses who have come in and given us testimony and expert evidence. A key point that I hope the public understands is that we were not here to rehearse the Citizens' Assembly; we were here to look at its recommendations and move the process on. Almost all the committee members have approached that in a very honest and principled way.

I am conscious not to rehearse what many people have said. I want to reflect a little. One would need to be at least 52 years of age to have voted in 1983 and the bad news is that I am that old. I remember that referendum and it is important to reflect back on that troubled time. I was not long back from England and those of us who campaigned against that amendment were completely ostracised. Those living in a rural area, as I did at that time, found that neighbours stopped talking to us. People chased and confronted us. Debate was stifled entirely by an autocratic and frankly quite evil Catholic Church at that time. I remember my religion teacher saying to me, "We are taking our last stand on this. We're going to nail this down." Boy, did they do that.

In the previous year, 1982, there was a lovely girl in my school bus, who was probably not more than 14, and she just disappeared. There were all sorts of rumours, but we never saw her again. We gathered she was pregnant; there was some suggestion it could have been incest. However, we just never saw her again because that was what happened back then. Not in the 1950s but in the 1980s we made them disappear. Our society made them disappear. When I moved to Limerick at the end of 1983, I lived beside the Good Shepherd convent along with a group of students aged 17 and 18. One can imagine what we might get up to. Right beside us, women were imprisoned. They could probably hear us coming in at night in all sorts of states and they were imprisoned - not in the 1950s but in the 1980s.

Unfortunately there are people who still want to take us back to those times. While not wanting to be party-political about this, we should acknowledge that legislators through the years have consistently let women down. That is why it is such a privilege to have an opportunity here to do something worthwhile and we must do it. That does not mean we have to agree on everything and I fully respect people with different opinions. However, the evidence is clear and it is not evidence from pro-choice cheerleaders. This came from the head of the Rotunda Hospital and the head of the National Maternity Hospital, people we trust to look after our mothers and babies - I certainly trust them anyway. I do not think they are part of some conspiracy to foist abortion on the country. They are honourable people who are saying, "We have a problem here and we're asking for your help. We're asking you to remove this awful amendment." It should never have been put into our Constitution. We need to unite around this if we can.

Sinn Féin's position is clear. We believe in a simple and straight repeal. I compliment Deputy Kelleher, who summed up the reasons for that extremely well. I hope we can all agree on that. More important, if we do our work properly and move forward on the issue, it is really important that when the referendum comes we put our party political badges aside to a degree and unite where we can to make this country a better and safer place for women and to finally put an end to a very dark episode in our country's history.

Just a few months after the 1983 referendum was passed, an unfortunate girl died in a grotto in Granard with her son. I lived in that part of the world - I used to travel back from college - and all one would hear at the time was "Well, we don't want to talk about that". We need to put an end to this awful dark and backward attitude of hiding things away and not trusting women. That is the big issue that divides us. Most people on this committee are prepared to trust women. By God, should we not be able to do that? If we cannot do that, is something not fundamentally wrong? I am saying simply that we should trust women, trust medical professionals and unite to repeal this awful amendment and let us move forward together.

I thank you, Chairman, for presiding over these proceedings in a very professional, calm and measured way. I totally reject any suggestions that either you or the committee was in any way biased in any stage of the proceedings. I thank my fellow committee members and the staff for giving of their time. I thank all the witnesses who appeared before the committee.

I regret that there was definitely some imbalance in the witness presentation as people from one particular side of the argument, for reasons of their own, chose not to appear before us. They have their reasons and I respect that. Ultimately it was their decision; the forum was here for them. On a personal level I came into this committee quite open-minded. I did not have a settled position coming in here. I was open to every input from witnesses on all sides. I regret that through illness I missed some important sessions. For instance, I regret that I missed Professor William Binchy's contribution.

I want quiet for everyone in the room.

However, I studied all the presentations that were made and I now have a settled view. I hope it is an informed view and a mature view. I have no difficulty with what Deputy O'Brien proposed for the procedures for next week. It makes sense as part of our remit was to drill down into the findings of the Citizens' Assembly. I see no reason not to follow its procedures.

I do not anticipate that everyone will agree with what it suggested, far from it, but it makes sense as a procedural way forward. It gives us a pathway. I hope that would be acceptable to the members. In general, I have no particular wisdom to give this assembly except to say that next Wednesday I will first and foremost be informed by my respect for women. In so far as I have changed, my unerring awareness that women's health and welfare is primary in this debate has grown. As a man, to a certain extent I feel a fraud in pontificating on what is really a matter for the woman in the first instance.

We will not have a final say in anything, as the Cathaoirleach well knows, no more than the Citizens' Assembly had a final say. We have important input to give and a presentation to make to Government. Through our deliberations, I hope we will assist the Government in presenting the people with a very clear and coherent choice by way of referendum next year. First and foremost, we want it to be a referendum which the people will have no difficulty understanding. That has been an issue in many referenda we have had in this country, on this issue and others. Let us hope that our presentation will help Government to formulate a coherent wording for any referendum which will go before the people. Then the people, who are sovereign, will decide. It is important that the choice they are given makes sense to them.

That is all I have to say at this stage. I thank the Cathaoirleach.

At the outset, like everybody else, I compliment the Chair and her team on the work they have done. I also thank all the members of the committee. It has been a pleasure to work with everyone, despite the varying views we hold. For me, it has been an absolute privilege to serve on this committee. I think that I will look back on this in 20 or 30 years' time and consider myself very fortunate to have been part of the important work which we have been asked to do. I certainly share Deputy Rabbitte's view that it has been extremely difficult to do this work. I am sure that other members will agree that it has been very draining. Some of the issues which we have had to deal with have been very heavy, very difficult and very emotive. I certainly found some of the personal testimonies very difficult to listen to and very upsetting. We have considered a lot of evidence over the three months and we have put in a substantial amount of hours.

I hope that other Members in both Houses will take the time to read over the evidence put before the committee because I have no doubt that no member of this committee would say that he or she did not learn something new. Speaking for myself, I have learned quite a lot. I definitely feel that my position is now an informed one. I have considered all of the evidence. I have listened to the overwhelming medical evidence. It disappoints me to see that certain witnesses are being pinned as being either pro-life or pro-choice. I do not even agree with those terms. Some of the witnesses who came before the committee said very clearly that they were not adopting a position but simply presenting the medical facts from the field in which they work. That information has been extremely helpful to members of the committee, most of whom are not medical professionals and require that guidance and information.

Speaking on our current system, one of the witnesses, I cannot recall who it was, said that we do have abortion services, they just happen to be in another jurisdiction. I thought that was very well put. It would be naive of us to think that women are not having terminations. Clearly they are. We have evidence to show that. We know that we have a law on our Statute Book which says they should be locked up for up to 14 years. I find it abhorrent that is on the Statute Book in the country I am from and in which I live. That needs to change. The idea that a woman anywhere in this country could be taking medication on her own, without any medical assistance, to end a pregnancy and could fear that she could not come forward because she might be prosecuted is morally wrong. That needs to change.

In terms of the options open to us, the legal advice to the committee was very clear that the best option in terms of dealing with this issue from a legal perspective is to repeal the eighth amendment simpliciter. We should not amend it, try to jimmy it around or try to entrench legislation. We have already created a mess with our current system. We should repeal simpliciter and allow the Houses to legislate. That is what we are elected to do. We are the people's Houses. We are elected to represent the people of this country. It is in the Dáil and the Seanad that legislation of this nature should be enacted. It should not be in the Constitution.

Over the course of these proceedings the spotlight has been shone very strongly on all of us as members of this committee. We are only one part of this process. One of the most notable outcomes from this committee, and one of the best things it has served to do, is getting the debate started. It has created space for this debate to happen, not just in the Oireachtas, but on the streets, in our communities and across the country. Getting the debate started has been one of the greatest achievements of this committee.

I have had representations in my own office from both sides. Regrettably, some of those representations, from both sides, have been vicious, threatening, abusive and very personal. It is regrettable that any person in this country would feel that he or she would need to resort to those types of tactics to make his or her point or have his or her voice heard. My door is certainly always open, as is the door of every elected representative. The campaign has already started but I hope that all sides to the debate can remain respectful of the other positions being taken and that we do not resort to trying to debase one another and to vicious personal attacks on individuals. That will get us nowhere and will only serve to leave a lasting sour taste in people's mouths following the result.

As Senator O'Sullivan has said, at the end of the day this committee will not decide. We will not be drafting the question or deciding what will happen for the people of this country. The citizens will decide. What this work will do, however, is inform the Dáil and the Government as to what steps they can take to bring this referendum about and as to what the question might look like. When the question comes before the Houses it will not seek the endorsement of every Deputy and Senator. They will not be asked to say "yes" or "no". They will be asked whether they will allow the question go to the people, not whether they support it. That is a really important distinction to make. In a democracy and a republic we have to be willing to let people vote and have their say. As Senator Gavan has pointed out, very few people have had the opportunity to vote on the eighth amendment. I certainly have not and I am potentially very affected by it, as are many of my peers. It is really important that people get the opportunity to vote.

When we finish our report and hand it over to the Dáil and the Seanad and then on to Government, the work will continue. I want to put it on the record that I have been told by certain groups that I was elected to represent the people of my constituency and asked why I was not representing all my constituents' views. It is very difficult to represent all of the varying views because obviously I have my own opinions and I am only one person. As I have done previously, I want to put it clearly on the record that I did get representations from all sides in the constituency, and outside it, including from those in favour of repealing the eighth amendment, those in favour of retaining it and those in favour of amending it. I believe it is fairly obvious to the public and to this committee that there is no consensus and that there are varying views.

I also want to put on the record that I am concerned about the very tight timeline proposed by Government for the holding of the referendum. We have been through a very detailed process of educating ourselves. We have heard three months of evidence. The Citizens' Assembly also had considerable time to debate and consider evidence. I hope that every effort will be made to ensure that the public gets all of the information it needs to make an informed choice come referendum day. That will be hugely important to the debate.

I thank the Deputy. Is anyone else indicating?

I was hoping to hear other people but if I am the last person to indicate-----

Is Senator Mullen indicating now?

Yes, unless any-----

Is anyone else indicating?

Yes. I wish to speak after Senator Mullen.

We will proceed thus unless there are other members who may not be in the room but who wish to contribute.

I would like to address the issue of the committee processes first because in many ways the process dictated much that followed, and one can only really understand the content of the committee in the light of the processes. As I have said before, I believe that the committee failed to check against its own majority bias and that, as a result, a whole swathe of the relevant issues went unscrutinised. There were problems with the scope of our inquiries and our willingness to look at all the issues and not just some issues. People have talked about the choice of witnesses, but also among those witnesses sometimes there was the conflation of expert testimony and a whole lot of personal opinion. As I have often said, the time allocated for questioning was hugely problematic, given the life-or-death nature of the issues. Although I acknowledge that on a grace-and-favour basis I was sometimes afforded some leeway, I think it was a problem for everyone and completely inappropriate, given the issues at hand. The extraordinary imbalance in the list of invited guests in favour of abortion was the problem from the start and was pointed out by me and others. With the greatest of respect to Senator Ned O'Sullivan, to whom I have listened over the years, including in 2013, and whose statement to the effect that while he was, unfortunately, unable to be here, he listened to all the proceedings I fully accept, one thing he could not have heard or been a party to were the closed proceedings. It was then, at the beginning of this process, that I found it extremely difficult to get the committee to accept that we had been given a wider mandate than the committee was willing to admit, and there was much discussion about that. The problem arose because the abortion-supporting majority on the committee did not see it as necessary or desirable to hear expert testimony on issues such as whether, as has been claimed, the eighth amendment contributed to Ireland's having a significantly lower than average abortion rate and to the saving of thousands of lives; the experience of families who believe that the lives of some of their loved ones have been saved by the eighth amendment; or the evolution of abortion culture in countries in which abortion has been legalised. The Chairman did not point out to the committee the dangers of this imbalance or propose measures to remedy the situation.

Another issue was the human rights case for the eighth amendment. I pleaded with the committee to have someone from the Attorney General's office before the committee to outline this human rights case and defend the status quo. It was an obvious request but the committee completely disregarded it. Of course, it did so democratically using its majority but, in response to what Deputy Rabbitte has said, I appeal to her to continue to seek to hear the voices that were excluded from the committee right from the get-go. I proposed several names who would have articulated an expert pro-life perspective, but this was rejected, even though the credentials of these people were excellent. I made it clear at all times that it was not the job of the pro-life minority on the committee to secure a list of experts who would ensure that all issues were examined thoroughly. That was the responsibility of the Chairman, supported by the secretariat, and I believe that responsibility was not met. An analysis of the invited speakers and the recommendations they made shows a clear ideological preference for legalised abortion among the vast majority. When the committee pre-emptively voted to recommend that the eighth amendment be removed or changed without waiting to hear from all invited speakers, much less a balanced ticket of speakers, there was no opposition from the Chairman on the grounds that this was manifestly inappropriate. The Chairman has repeatedly defended the committee's decision, despite its being an objectively hasty, ill-considered and prejudicial move. In response to what Deputy Rabbitte said, it was not just that the decision was premature; it was prejudicial. It caused other people to lose faith in the process. It was only when Deputy Mattie McGrath and I drew public attention to the biased attitudes and processes within the committee which we believed, and still believe, are there, that the Chairman, backed up by the secretariat, made belated attempts to invite a small number, a token number, of pro-life voices. It should be noted that the number of such people by then proposed was small and tokenistic and would in no way have rectified the imbalance complained of. It is significant that one of the newly invited speakers had earlier been proposed to the committee but that the Chairman, backed up by the secretariat, did not appear to have investigated that person's credentials before removing them from the list. A second invited speaker, from the group Both Lives Matter, had previously been refused on the basis that advocacy groups were supposedly not to be invited. There was therefore a catalogue of failure in trying to bring us the broadest range of credible evidence on this life and death issue. There was the bizarre spectacle of the Chairman publicly defending the committee and admitting not even what Deputy Rabbitte is, interestingly and remarkably, the only person on the committee to acknowledge, that is, that there is a problem in taking a decision before one has heard all the evidence, something that is very apparent to most reasonable people, while the secretariat in the background was running around trying to get a few extra pro-life speakers. It seemed like a damage-limitation exercise.

There has been an effort in the Seanad Chamber and here today and on other days to hold up this committee as a model of impartiality, with Deputy Noone being a scrupulously impartial Chairman. For the record, the Chairman knows well that it gives me no pleasure to criticise aspects of her chairing, but I would have no integrity if I did not say that I have thought that tweeting on this issue, as has been done, was inappropriate. I feel that defending the committee's processes, even in recent days on TV with comments to the effect that most of the witnesses were focused on women's health, does a disservice to those of us who oppose abortion but believe in the right of women to health as a constitutional and natural human right. The Chairman therefore erred in offering so robust a public defence, although I have never believed she ought to have no view on the matters at hand. I was contacted by a person on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly who said that according to Chatham House rules, he could not disclose what was said at the meeting referred to by Deputy Mattie McGrath. However, he asked how could the Chairman of this committee be independent because he heard so much from her at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting. I said in response that I did not know whether the Chairman is supposed to be independent because she certainly had voted on the previous occasion and it was not my awareness that she was supposed to have no view on the matters at hand. However, I do think there was a lack of facilitation of impartiality by her defending the committee's processes so robustly. I do not think that was her role. I revisit this because there has been an attempt to sanitise this committee's very odd choices and processes, not least the decision to recommend against keeping the eighth amendment completely before all the evidence had been heard.

Another thing I have found surreal is that some of the people presenting as experts before this committee have, frankly, been involved in taking people's lives in other jurisdictions. When one thinks about it, it is not normal in these Houses to have people before us as experts who have been in the business of taking people's lives. I know some Members of these Houses may have been in the position of taking people's lives but they generally deny that they were ever involved in such organisations. That is an aside.

Will the Senator stick to the point, please?

Some witnesses would not even say whether or how often they had been involved in taking other people's lives. There was a remarkable tendency for people who, the public might think, favour just limited abortion from an expert perspective not to want to limit the scope or the definition of the disabilities involved. They did not want to see things confined to so-called foetal cases, although we should all reject such disrespectful terminology, and they did not and do not want time limits. Their spoken or unspoken demand in their supposedly expert testimony has been for abortion on request. We heard no evidence from physicians who believe that the eighth amendment and current legislative provisions have actually hurt their ability to give optimum care. The witnesses did not point to a single case in which they had given less than optimum care because of the eighth amendment. There was no victim of that less-than-optimum care supposedly being provided under the eighth amendment, according to their testimony. There was no evidence of any initiative under the criminal law to constrain doctors who gave good health care, including in cases in which it was impossible to save the life of the unborn child. We had all this talk of chilling effects, criminalisation and doctors not being able to give good health care without any single such case. This is why there was a dishonesty in the invocation of the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar. What the inquest clearly showed was that the doctors failed to treat that unfortunate person because it was not apparent to them that she was physically ill or that there was that risk at the time. That is there in black and white in the incest. That is why it was so wrong to suggest what they suggested, and it really showed that they did not have cases to which they could point to show that the eighth amendment is not helping doctors keep the balance right because there are two patients-----

For the Senator's own sake and the sake of clarity, it is important to note he said the word "incest" instead of "inquest".

I thank the Chairman. I appreciate that.

I noted the comment about Denmark. So much could be said about that. It is not just the Irish Government; Deputy McGrath at first in his comment was too charitable to the Danish ambassador. The Danish ambassador did not point out that 133 scanned babies were aborted with Down's syndrome, compared with four who went on to be born.

I never said it was government policy; I said it was the policy of the great and the good. However, Denmark has led the way with its scanning of children with Down's syndrome and it is simply disingenuous not to say that it is the preferred policy. Perhaps we can leave that for another day.

On the question of criminalisation, it is interesting that the same people who opposed looking at the Citizens' Assembly's report, despite the fact of it being in the mandate that was given to us, nonetheless have wanted to open up the question of decriminalisation even though the Citizens' Assembly chose not to deal with that. "Hypocritical" might be too strong a word, but certainly "inconsistent" is not. In my view, there has been a great deal of hypocrisy about criminalisation. I wish to say on the record, and I probably speak for Deputies Fitzpatrick and Mattie McGrath, although they can speak eloquently for themselves, that I would never want to see women targeted by the criminal law in what are already very difficult situations. However, the criminal law does not exist just to put people in prison. It exists to prevent certain behaviours that can hurt people themselves or others. In fact, to my almost certain knowledge, no woman has been criminalised in this jurisdiction. In abortion jurisdictions, including Britain, abortion remains a criminal offence.

Looking at this from the point of view of women's health, to suggest that it would be a good idea to remove the legal prohibition, backed up by a theoretical criminal sanction that does not operate to be targeted at women, would do no service to women's health. Of course, it would be a rogue's charter for those medics and semi-medics who have no problem carrying out abortions.

On the subject of the right to health, does the baby not have a right to health too? Is it not the case that our medical practice, which has always been among the best in the world, shows that the protections which always existed even prior to 2013 to allow doctors to engage in life saving treatment have been used by doctors to protect women, even sometimes involving losing the baby? Is it not the reality that the threat to a person's life does not have to be imminent? Is it not the reality that the law is protecting medics in their decisions? The evidence of that, and they were unable to show to the contrary, is that the law has not come after them and their judgments have not been second-guessed. We have been fed a great deal of rhetoric about fear of criminalisation but no evidence that it has ever happened. Is there anybody so blind as those who do not wish to see? Unfortunately, no committee member ever conceded that the baby's health is something that ought to be protected.

On the question of trusting women, I like to think that I trust men and women equally in the society in which I live. The reason we have laws of any type is that we back up trust with precaution. That is the reason to have laws, when one thinks about it. Has Deputy Kelleher an interest in exploring whether the eighth amendment saved lives? The elephant in the room is the apparent massive disparity in our abortion rate and that of Britain. Senator Gavan constantly tried to say that we do not know what Irish abortion rates are. However, if we are honest, the most active abortion campaigners have not tried to claim that we have abortion rates that are in reality comparable to Britain's. Our rate is about one quarter of its rate. This committee was never interested in saying that we should look at whether laws prohibiting abortion have a protective effect. Instead it listened to abortion proponents such as the Guttmacher Institute try to tell us in general terms, without looking at Ireland and Britain, that criminalisation of abortion does not reduce rates. The evidence to the contrary is as plain as the noses on our faces.

Senator, it is also plain that you have had over double the time of anybody else.

I am nearly finished if you do not mind indulging me. This might be the last chance-----

I am happy to. I just wished to point that out.

I appreciate that.

Again, very little attention was paid to mental health or to the fact that in Britain the vast majority of abortions take place on the mental health ground. However, we heard clearly in the committee that there is no evidence that can be adduced that abortion improves women's mental health. If anything, there may be a low to moderate risk of adverse mental health consequences for women in certain cases. I have always been careful to neither overstate nor understate that. How remarkable that the committee did not scratch its head and wonder whether that meant that talk of mental health grounds for abortion might be a denial of women's welfare or that there should be informed consent about possible risks to mental health associated with abortion in certain cases. That is a massive fact when one considers that most abortions in Britain take place on the mental health ground. We never talked about informed consent or anything like it.

Deputy Rabbitte raises a human concern in hoping that no woman in a vulnerable situation who had made the mistake of importing an abortion pill would be criminalised in the context of seeking medical help. Surely it would be possible to enact legislation that no person would be criminalised for seeking medical help consequent on their having undergone a procedure that was itself against the law. One can protect the unborn fully in the law and one can keep abortion against the law to protect women and children, but one can still ensure there is a legal guarantee that no woman, young or old, seeking medical help would ever be chilled out of doing that because the doctor would have to report in some way. Again, the committee was not interested in examining this. That does not point to the need to legalise abortion. It points to the need to ensure that women get medical help. They are always the vulnerable ones in the equation. It is the medics or those who provide abortions whom the law should always target. One could pass that type of legislation. It is one of the many things we never discussed because nobody was interested.

Incidentally, on the subject of trusting women, do I trust abusive boyfriends who might pressurise their pregnant girlfriends? I do not. That is why it is not just about the trick question of whether one trusts women. I trust women and men, but I also believe the law has a role in protecting people from things that might hurt themselves and others.

Finally, if anything I have said here, and I do not presume that it is the case, strikes the members of the committee as something they are either hearing for the first time or that this committee never really considered, I ask them sincerely to suspend their judgment on this issue until they have looked at these issues in the round. It would be too easy for members of the political parties, in particular, to find themselves locked in by a party whip or by their previous comments into supporting something on which, on closer analysis of the issues we did not discuss, they might be open to changing their minds. I address that to them quite sincerely as somebody who also tries to keep an open mind but has tried always to see that there are two lives to be protected.

Thank you, Chairman, for the leeway.

I commend you, Chairman, for the manner in which you have chaired the proceedings in difficult and trying circumstances. It had not been my intention to address remarks directly to any person, but since that is happening we all might as well lash into it.

Senator Mullen said that if we were hearing anything he was saying for the first time that perhaps it would give us pause to think. Of course, we have heard it. We have heard it comprehensively challenged, contradicted and debunked by the simple facts. We have not sought evidence from pro-abortion campaigners. We have heard from the masters of our maternity hospitals, the men and women we trust to look after women, our daughters and friends. We have heard from the people who are at the coalface of looking after women. They have told us clearly, in a way one could not misunderstand or misinterpret, that the eighth amendment is an impediment to them doing their job. Professor Malone, Dr. Peter Boylan and Dr. Rhona Mahony said so. The evidence is already there. It does not suit the narrative put forward by Senator Mullen, which is reminiscent perhaps of what people were saying in 1983, but we have moved on. That is clear.

However, I wish to address some issues that arose during the proceedings of this committee. It is not long since I was elected and many members of the committee are also not long elected, so I took the liberty of looking back over committee proceedings from previous Dáileanna. It is most unusual for people to sit right up beside witnesses in that way.

In fact, I did not see any examples at all. The pathetic attempt to intimidate people who give of their own time to come in here to give us evidence and facts was shameful.

Could I raise a point of order?

It was utterly shameful that happened.

I will come back to Senator Mullen.

The opportunity was there on more than one occasion for people to come in and sit here but they did not take it. That did the people whom we asked to come in and give us evidence a great disservice.

It is also regrettable that the night we heard from Gerry and Claire from Termination for Medical Reasons that the three people who call themselves the cheerleaders for pro-life - it is not a term that I use but they use it - were not here for whatever reason. Had they been here they would have heard some very compelling evidence given by people from the heart.

To be fair, Senator Mullen was here.

I believe you will give me an opportunity to respond in a moment to two wrongful accusations.

He was here but he did not wait to interact with them.

I do not think it would be appropriate-----

That is fake news from Sinn Féin.

I have the floor. Thank you, Chairman. I also think that what we strove to do at every single committee hearing was to hear evidence and facts. We have spoken to medical professionals and legal experts. The facts might contradict the narrative put forward by some people but they are the facts, just as the representatives of the Danish Government have sought to put the facts on record. Most Irish women have had the personal experience of travelling to England either with a friend or themselves and given an English address. One could not possibly know how many women travel to England but we know it is in the thousands. We cannot say that Irish women do not have abortions. They do but they just do not have them here. They go abroad for them. One cannot adduce that we have a very low rate of abortion because the facts do not stack up.

The most compelling evidence that I heard was that which was given by the masters of the maternity hospitals, in particular Professor Malone, who to paraphrase him, said the eighth amendment prevents him from providing a full range of health care services. All the evidence we have heard supports the repeal of the eighth amendment and that is Sinn Féin's position. We believe that repeal simpliciter is the best option. It is the simplest option and the one which will create the least amount of uncertainty down the road.

Unfortunately, I was unable to be present for the entire debate as I had to speak in the Chamber. Senator Gavan and others mentioned the people who campaigned in 1983. I mentioned my parents and other very brave people who like them were the subject of quite disgraceful and disgusting intimidation at the time. They predicted all these issues. We can say now that they were right when they predicted the complications that would result from inserting an issue relating to women's health care into the Constitution. Thankfully, we will now have an opportunity to put that right but that will not be for us to decide. It will be for us to decide as an Oireachtas if the question is asked. The committee has made a decision with regard to not retaining the eighth amendment in full. That could mean doing something else with the eighth amendment. If anyone had a compelling argument to make with regard to retaining it or strengthening it then they could have come in and made it. We would have heard it. The simple fact is that any person who has an argument to make in that regard cannot stack it up because if he or she could stack it up he or she would have come in here. We gave every single person a very fair hearing. We heard the evidence and if there is evidence there – I stress "evidence" not opinion – then that could have been brought to us. If there are people outside this room who believe they have evidence for the retention of the eighth amendment – evidence not opinion – then all those people could have come before us. I think they know that their opinion does not stack up and would not stand up to scrutiny. That is why it was easy to blame the committee and to point fingers at us to say that it is biased, which it is clearly not, because a range of views have been expressed by all the members of the committee.

We have the aide-mémoire which tells us clearly what we are supposed to do. We are here to assess and review each of the 13 reasons recommended by the Citizens' Assembly and I think we have done that. We have heard evidence and it is a fact that not one medical expert who appeared before us endorses the current system. However one believes it should be changed, it is open to us to have the discussion but we did not hear from any one person who said let us retain the status quo because it is doing a good job. I am talking about medical and legal experts. What we heard was evidence from medical experts and legal experts all of whom support a change and repealing the eighth amendment.

The committee members hold a range of views. I do not think anyone came with a closed mind. We came with an open mind to hear the evidence and on the basis of that we took a democratic decision. One can choose to believe it was pre-empted but it was a democratic decision of the committee that the eighth amendment should not be retained. I thought that was a positive way for us to start. The overwhelming evidence we have heard supports the repeal of the eighth amendment. I have listened with an open mind to all the options discussed but I have not heard any compelling argument in favour of either inserting something else into the Constitution or in any way, shape or form leaving it in the Constitution. Repeal simpliciter is clearly what the experts advise. It is up to the committee to make that decision but I found what we heard from Gerry and Claire from Termination for Medical Reasons very emotional. I have heard some of those stories before and I think it is true to say there was not a dry eye in the House. People were very emotionally affected by their stories. Many of us were moved to really believe that a change must happen. We cannot keep putting families through that time and again. I will close by saying that I look back on the work my parents and their friends did in 1983 when they campaigned. I say to them and all the people who were involved in the campaign that they were right. They foresaw all the difficulties which we as a committee now have an opportunity to put right. We have the opportunity to say to people that they can now have their say. They can hear the evidence and they can have their say with regard to the repeal of the eighth amendment. That is long overdue. Thank you, Chairman, for the way you chaired the committee. I also thank the secretariat and our legal advisers for the manner in which the committee has conducted its proceedings.

I thank Deputy O'Reilly. Does Senator Mullen wish to comment briefly on something that has been said?

I will confine myself to the accusations made against me and not the substance of what Deputy O'Reilly had to say with which I would obviously disagree. Regarding Termination for Medical Reasons, not only was I here for the entire formal presentation but I spoke to the representatives outside before going in and I passed them a note explaining that I had to leave.

I had to drive to Enniskillen that night and I arrived at midnight. It is most unfair of Deputy Louise O'Reilly to go second-guessing who attended what session. If we were to start that, we would be here all night. I must have been one of the best attenders throughout and the implication that I was not in touch with their particular story is utterly unjust, but also personalised in a way that I have always tried not to be.

The second issue is the serious allegation of intimidation of witnesses. First, my preference for sitting here is my own business. I have been around Leinster House a long time compared with Deputy Louise O'Reilly. Those who have been around as long as I have would be able to reassure her that I am not the intimidating kind. It was never proposed by her that there should be any limitation on the seating arrangements, but since I was again judged in such a personal way, and accused in such a personal way - this is the politics of demonisation from the Sinn Féin Deputy - I can say that was a serious allegation. One would not deny that.

Senator Mullen made some fairly serious allegations against me.

I have not had the opportunity to defend myself.

Senator Mullen made an allegation members of this committee were members of an organisation which took people's lives and I do not know if there is anyone on this committee-----

I did not say on the committee.

I have given Senator Mullen the opportunity to defend himself.

I thank the Chair.

I ask Senator Mullen to sum up now.

I have not made allegations against the Chairman that were personalised or that went to her motivations. I may have criticised her actions, which is wholly different.

It is not.

If Deputy Louise O'Reilly had said that she criticised me for sitting where I did because it could have the effect of intimidating witnesses, that would be an objective statement of her opinion. I would certainly regret it. If anything, I felt it is less conflictual to be opposite. If I had any instinctive reason to be sitting here, it is because I do not like conflict and I have found this committee on occasions unpleasantly intimidating, but I will not accuse anybody of that.

Sorry, that is enough, thank you.

Sorry, thank you. I am sure the Chair must accept that-----

I accept that I have given Senator Mullen so much time.

But I am entitled to take a serious view of being accused of intimidating others.

You are not exceptional. I have allowed Senator Mullen.

I am exceptional in having had to put up with that kind of accusation.

There is a procedure for doing it, if Senator Mullen wants to follow it. We have done it on two occasions already.

If you want to have a conversation, please have it outside. I call Deputy O'Connell.

To start, like everyone else, I thank the Chairman for the way she has conducted herself throughout these proceedings, and especially my fellow committee members from all parties and none who have worked together to come to where we are this evening which, I know, is only one step on the path to where I hope we ultimately end up.

Initially, I would like to speak about rape. I consider rape and incest to be in the same category. The reason I would like to start here is because it is often cited as grounds to allow termination.

Some people seem to prescribe that in their opinion terminations should be allowed in cases of rape and that indicates to me that it is the act of becoming pregnant that qualifies someone for a termination, not the potential life that is a consequence of that act. There is no typical victim and there is no typical scenario here.

In the Irish context, more than four in ten or 42% of women have reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime. The most serious form of abuse, penetrative abuse, was experienced by 10% of all women. Therefore, we are saying that, because these women had a man, and then a pregnancy, forced upon them, by virtue of the suffering that they endured they are deserving of a termination. Why must a woman suffer, be violated and terrorised before people feel compassion for her? If we are going down that route, would people think it suitable that we start inquiring as to the violence of the rape, whether it was committed when she was conscious or unconscious, whether she needed medical intervention for vaginal tears requiring sutures or cervical surgery? Do those on this committee, those outside this committee in the Upper and Lower Houses, and those outside these walls in the real world think that the punishment that should be meted out to someone for perceived recklessness is parenthood? Is that any way to be going on?

Does it give those who want no change comfort to know that no change means they get what they want, and to hell, literally, with everyone else? I wonder does it make them feel victorious - what a victory they have had until now - over women, the power, the control, the pervasive shame, the fear that follows us around into our homes, into our bedrooms and into our hospital theatres?

By a substantial majority, the assembly voted in favour of legalising termination when a woman's life or health is at risk, when pregnancy follows rape, in cases of foetal abnormality, for socioeconomic reasons or without restriction. "Our Constitution [by virtue of the thirteenth amendment] enshrines a woman's right to commit an act which is a criminal offence in her own country, as long as it is committed outside the State. By any yardstick, this is a bizarre situation." These are the words uttered by the chair of the obstetrics and gynaecology organisation in Ireland. What vested interest, other than the health and safety of women and infants, had that man? What bias, other than one towards safe and compassionate medical treatment, could he be accused of? Article 40.3.3° gives rise to significant difficulties for doctors practising in Ireland and has caused grave harm to women, including death. Medical personnel have no difficulties in obeying clear legislation and medical regulation, but they are not trained for the complexities of constitutional interpretation, nor should they reasonably be expected to be.

The eighth amendment has given rise to legal cases, including the X case, the C case, D v. Ireland, the Miss D case, A, B and C v. Ireland, Ms Y, Mellet v. Ireland, and Whelan v. Ireland. These are difficult and painful cases of Irish women and girls who have had to resort to stressful legal processes in the absence of comprehensive legislation on abortion. If the eighth amendment is not repealed, this list will continue to grow and Ireland will continue to be censured by international bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations.

In the case of the risk to the life of the mother, it is provided for in all European countries, except Malta. In the case of risk to the health of the mother, it is provided for in all countries, except Malta and Ireland. Termination of pregnancy as a consequence of rape is available in all countries, except Malta and Ireland. Termination in the case of foetal abnormality is available in all countries, except Malta and Ireland. Termination for medical reasons beyond 12 weeks is available to a varying degree in all countries, except Malta, Ireland and Poland. This is the truthful expert testimony that we have heard at this committee.

We also heard evidence that the rate of women accessing the abortion pill from online service providers is increasing. We were told of the grave concern that doctors have as a consequence of this reality, and the potential harm caused by the use of unregulated medicines by Irish women and girls. It is a matter of priority for the Oireachtas to address the reality of this situation.

We have downright Hippocratic - sorry, hypocritical - laws. Hippocratic is different, if Senator Mullen would not mind butting out.

Deputy O'Connell cannot begrudge me that one.

This generation, as stated earlier, has had no say on what is a fundamental question of equality - equality of opportunity, equality of participation and equality of access to safe medical services. The majority of Irish people alive today were neither born nor eligible to vote on the eighth amendment in 1983. Even the Taoiseach was only four and a half when the eighth amendment was signed into law.

The final decision lies with the electorate and we must facilitate democracy by producing a report that honours the expert evidence heard by both the Citizens' Assembly and the members of this committee.

The electorate is engaged on this issue. Between ten and 12 members of the electorate per day travel outside this country for terminations. These are not imaginary people. They come from counties such as Galway, Tipperary, Kerry and Waterford. They may be married and in their 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s. They may have children, partners, mothers, sisters, aunties and friends and they all have votes. They may not tell anyone of their decision nor ever send an email or write a letter to a local newspaper. They may never report a journalist to the Press Council or the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, for not discussing abortion in a way they deem suitable. They may never send a miraculous medal to politicians, beseeching them to repeal the eighth amendment. That does not mean that those who engage in such activities are more numerous, important to consider or worthy of representation.

I will be supporting the repeal of the amendment simpliciter and encourage other members to do the same. It cannot contain specific grounds because that would give rise to unpredictable complications, as Deputy Clare Daly earlier said. We must vote on that first to take the next steps forward. I trust women and doctors. It is ironic that the volume of evidence given to the committee by doctors, professors, parents and women leaves no choice but to so do. To say that introducing access to legal termination would create a society in which the unborn would be treated as second-class citizens is an insult to women and medics and shows a total lack of appreciation for the status quo whereby the women of Ireland are second-class citizens in their own country and among our European counterparts. Much rhetoric on this issue concerns why women cannot take responsibility for their actions. What about men? Why can men not be responsible? If a man was held responsible for every unprotected or unexpected embrace and had no choice but to sustain a life inside him for nine months and for a lifetime thereafter, we might have different laws, better reproductive health services and a far more considerate and liberal approach from our legislators. Actions have consequences. Actions by men have consequences for women and actions by legislators have consequences for everyone.

Pregnancies come to an end every day - some in the happiest way, some in the saddest, some tragically, some surprisingly and some alone in secret. Senator Gavan referred to the case of Ann Lovett, who died in a grotto in Longford with her infant boy in January 1984, three months after the eighth amendment was signed into law. It was only in 2014 that a letter written by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh to poet Christopher Daybell was revealed. It claimed that Lovett's sad death reflected more on her immaturity than on any lack of Christian charity. How Christian of him. That poor, frightened, innocent teenager died alone in rural Ireland a few miles from where my father was born in Drinan, County Longford. What did the eighth amendment do to protect her? What has it done since for Ms Y, Ms X and all the other misses and near misses we will never hear about? Why should we ever hear about them? Why should we hear about their sex, their shame, their sin and their suffering? Who are we to say that we, as politicians, know best when all the medical and legal experts one could shake a crucifix at have come before us over the past three months, begging us to be compassionate, reasonable and to legislate for repeal?

I have been surprised by the overwhelming interest and support my office has received over recent years, some of which has come from the most unlikely of places. I hope that politicians of all parties and none will receive the same positive and supportive contact from people in the months ahead because I have no doubt that those who oppose repeal will seek to make their numbers appear larger, louder and more important than the silent majority who quietly exist in our constituencies.

I will resist the urge to respond to allegations that have been made against me as Chair other than to say that all decisions of the committee were made by it as a whole. A roadmap was agreed at the beginning which most members bought into and worked on diligently. We must be very careful not to give the impression that our work here is done. There is still a large amount to do and as much of it as possible will be transparent and public. It is important to say that the committee has not finished its work.

I very much appreciate all the positive comments that have been made toward me. As regards my attendance at a meeting of committee D of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I take my parliamentary duties seriously and was on that committee before it decided to discuss the topic of abortion. I resisted abortion being discussed at the committee because I thought it was bad timing, to say the least. I was very happy to have the opportunity to hear from certain witnesses from whom I did not hear at this committee. I make no apology to anyone for doing my parliamentary duty on behalf of the people of this State. I travelled to the United Kingdom to hear views I could not hear at this committee. I was glad to do so and apologise to no one in that regard.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the report and recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, a key part of which was constitutional change, but much effort was also made on the form that legislation should take. We must be clear on the extent to which we want a lawful regime. We do not want to hold up a referendum. It is very important that we issue a clear instruction to the Oireachtas and report to it on what the heads of the legislation should be. I am not alone in that belief as most members hold that opinion. We would not be doing our job as a committee if we did not report in a full way.

I know members are in a hurry because of a vote in the Dáil. We will come back to the issue at the beginning of the next meeting as regards-----

We need to address the issue of process.

That should be done today.

This evening.

Members can vote in the Dáil and then return to the committee. Can that be agreed?

If that is not done, we will have this conversation all over again.

I will take the opportunity to say a few words when members return.

Sitting suspended at 7.28 p.m. and resumed at 7.46 p.m.

I do not want to be back here next Wednesday for a three hour debate on what the process should be. The whole point of today was to go through it and try to decide as much as possible or at least members should give an indication of what the process is going to be next week.

I think most members have, in fairness.

The problem is when one does not put it into stone, it tends to go off track.

The Deputy is right.

What is the process? What is the deadline for amendments?

The close of business on Friday is what we agreed earlier.

Will they have to be discussed next week prior to the meeting or will we leave it up to the clerk to decide what the process should be? How is it going to work?

We will circulate what comes in for a start. Then we will email members with a suggested approach.

Are members allowed to put in additional options for module two? I know some people may have other views, but we wanted to put in the option of not having gestational timeframes in legislation. Could we put that down as a possible option?

Absolutely, that can be a possible option to vote on.

Other people may have possible options they want to put in.

Is the Deputy finished speaking?

I think that is the right process because we got an email earlier saying the deadline was Friday. I was not sure if that had been formally put. I agree with the proposal that Deputy O'Brien put around voting on repeal as the first vote, and not the Citizens' Assembly recommendations. I was going to table an amendment in that regard. Is that not being put now either?

I am in the committee's hands but the difficulty that we are in is that some members are not here and-----

I am happy with that.

We can just agree this in principle but allow a dissenting voice on that on Wednesday if people wish-----

To finish, I think people have different views on how we should deal with the second module. We need that amount of time to consider what we want to propose. We have to figure out how we are going to deal with the issue of decriminalisation and what kind of wording we might use.

I put an amendment in on decriminalisation.

All right, that is fine.

When will that be taken?

Next week.

Will it be taken prior to module two or will it be taken as module three? I am just wondering where it fits in.

Maybe it is a legal thing, so we might take it with module one.

We have the suggested roadmap and a verbal proposal to amend that. I gather most people are in agreement with that amendment, subject to what the committee says.

Members can communicate with the secretariat by Friday and then the secretariat can communicate with the entire membership as to what has come in, and how we will proceed. I presume we can send an email to members by Monday at the latest, in advance of Wednesday, and members could make suggestions on that. We can have a discussion for a while on Wednesday. We are going to have at least a half an hour discussion on this.

A half an hour but not three hours.

We are making very important decisions. There is a bit of time on Wednesday. We can spend hours if we need them but I would obviously prefer to get it done expeditiously. I do not want to stymie debate.

Is there agreement that we will conclude on Wednesday regardless of how long it is going to take?

I think that would be a very good suggestion but it is up to the committee to agree that.

It is very likely that we could have several very similar amendments.

We can let the Deputy know that.

Members can withdraw them or amalgamate them.

It is the same as in the Seanad or the Dáil. If there are similar amendments, they are grouped or we agree they are all very similar and vote on them. We will be practical in that sense.

We will send any proposal we have to the clerk by Friday.

Exactly. Is it okay to leave it there for now because I think we have had a long enough afternoon? If members have any questions, please get in touch. We will come back to members with what everybody has sent in on Monday.

We absolutely trust the Chairman and the clerk to do that - no better team.

I thank the members.

The joint committee adjourned at 7.52 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 December 2017.