Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

ALT 1
SECTION 1
Atairgeadh an cheist: "Go bhfanfaidh alt 1 mar chuid den Bhille".
Question again proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

As far as I am aware, Senator Dolan is the final speaker.

In the middle of January, I had the privilege to speak on this matter when we had statements and I spoke last night during the Second Stage debate. As a new parliamentarian, I am reminded of the famous words spoken by St. Augustine who said: "Lord make me virtuous, but not yet." We, as parliamentarians, are in the very privileged position of having an opportunity to discuss this matter. This is the real grit. This is one of that family of core issues that parliamentarians in a democracy have the honour and privilege to debate.

Our primary objective, as parliamentarians, is to make decisions that respect and honour the common good. Parliamentarians are required to distinguish between the decision they make at the ballot box and the decisions they make here as elected Members of Parliament. I may have to say I agree with something that I consider to be distasteful or offensive.

Let us discuss the 12 weeks issue. There is no one in the name of humanity, God, Buddha, Allah or anybody else who thinks trying to draw a line after so many days or weeks is something on which one tosses a coin. It is an horrendously difficult thing. Am I happy that we have to debate this matter? I do not think anybody is happy that we must do so. One hundred years ago surgeons could only work with the instruments that were available but they can do more now, thankfully, through improved science, technology, health care, etc.

One can only work with the instruments one has and the knowledge one has. Us folk have the honour and the angst of finishing up to make core decisions. I am absolutely clear that the 12 week business is not a routine, simple matter of whether it will be 11, 12 or 13. It had to be brought down, and if the science had been otherwise, maybe that would be different, and I am sure it will be different in the future. We have to make decisions that, as I said, respect the common good.

Last night I finished by talking about compassion and I was thinking then very strongly about compassion for women and families. However, as was said somewhere else, having reflected overnight and again this morning, and having listened to very moving and sincere presentations made here, I think we also have to have compassion for each other. There is no one here who finds this easy and routine. I feel it in my gut that there are people here who are absolutely struggling and finding it very difficult, and I am not looking at one side or the other. In that sense, we need to be a little soft with each other.

In the early decades of this State women were being brought before the courts and charged, as I understand it, with murder. We brought in legislation, the Infanticide Act 1949, which softened that and it became the crime of infanticide. This was because it stuck in the craw of the barristers, judges, juries and other people that a young girl or some unfortunate woman from Roscommon, Kerry or the Liberties found herself in that situation. There were women charged with murder where no body was presented. We thought we were, and in a sense we were, improving the situation by having an Infanticide Act. We have come a long way since then but, at the end of the day, it still comes down to people having lit their candle, or doing whatever they do before they make a big decision, and reflecting and asking what they understand, having listened to the arguments. As I mentioned in January and again last night, we have tools and instruments now that we did not have to inform us 35 years ago, such as the Citizens' Assembly and the all-party group, and we will have the referendum commission and all of these things, and we have the experience of those 35 years.

I thank all of the Senators for contributing to the debate. It was a somewhat unorthodox Committee Stage exchange but a very worthwhile one. I certainly appreciated all of the contributions and the insights people provided. I will endeavour to give some reflections on the thoughts I have been having as I have been listening to these exchanges. I note there are only three parts to the Bill - the Schedule, which was agreed before we commenced section 1, and the remaining section after this is simply the name of the Bill. Therefore, I presume this will be the last substantive contribution many of us will have a chance to make before, we hope, this Bill leaves the Oireachtas and allows the people to have their say in this regard.

I am particularly struck by the Members who have come here today as legislators and who have suggested there was a better wording, a different set of words they could have proposed, or a different set of circumstances of which they could have been supportive, but who have not tabled one amendment. This is not somewhere we come just to have a chat. This is a legislative Chamber and this is Committee Stage. What we do with the Bill on Committee Stage is that people have a chance to make amendments. If people do not like the wording or the proposition, they have a right to suggest alternative wording. If people think it is going too far, although I am not sure how one quantifies that, they have a right to put down more restrictive provisions. If people think the Government should, must or could do something before this Bill goes to the people, they have had a chance to table amendments stipulating that reality as well.

To the people in this Chamber and the people in Ireland who have a very consistent view that they do not wish to see any change, I fundamentally disagree with them but I respect their position. To the people who share my view that this is the best way of addressing a very complex and sensitive issue, I look forward to campaigning with them and persuading the people of why we need to do this. To the people in the middle, the people who said they would have liked to have supported something but they cannot support this wording, who would have liked to have done something for fatal foetal abnormalities, or even who would have liked to have done something to make it a little bit more clear for clinicians, as one Senator said, where are their proposals to bring that about? I have now sat through quite a long period of time on Committee Stage in the Seanad, and it has been a pleasure and honour to be here, but I have not received any amendments or proposals. I did the same in the Dáil and I did not receive any amendments or proposals. It is very easy to criticise a proposal. It is very easy to say there is a better idea or a better way but not say what that is. This is something we need to bear in mind.

I would imagine, respectfully, the reason people have not come up with alternative proposals is that it is not very easy to come up with alternative proposals. The Oireachtas committee, on a cross-party basis, sat in a room in these Houses for many months, hearing expert opinion and teasing through all the issues. Many people went into that room not thinking they would come out with the 12 week proposal. Many went into that room wanting very limited change. Some went into the room not wanting any change and some had different views. However, they followed the evidence, and I think that is a credit to the work they did, regardless of the party flag or otherwise that they wear outside of dealing with such sensitive issues. That is a reflection I have. To those who say there is a better way, I say show me. Quite frankly, Seanad Éireann has not produced any amendments to show a better way, and that should be a matter on the record of this House. For people who look back on this debate in years to come, they should note that not one Senator came up with an alternative set of proposals and put forward an amendment to that effect here, nor, by the way, did that happen in Dáil Éireann.

The second issue I want to reflect on is that this has been a respectful debate. Nonetheless, people sometimes tweet me and say I am the Minister for Health so I should be very respectful. I will always be very respectful. However, there is a very big difference between being respectful and campaigning. I will campaign respectfully for the repeal of the eighth amendment. There is a difference between being respectful and being silent.

What I do want to say, because I believe it very strongly, is that for far too long when it has come to societal issues, people have got away with saying something in the heat of a campaign, if one likes, and then not having to back it up when it does not prove true. I was making a little list of some examples while I was sitting here for the last while. When the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was debated in this House and special committee hearings were held in the permanent Seanad Chamber, with experts, clinicians, lawyers and lots of other people in to talk to us, people stood up used terribly crude phrases such as, "The floodgates will open". Those sorts of phrases are on the record of that committee. While I do not have the exact wording in front of me, words to the effect that women will fake being suicidal was the sentiment expressed by many. Now that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is the law of the land, now that annual reports have been laid in front of the Oireachtas and now that this has not happened, does anybody want to say, "Sorry, I got that wrong"?

Another societal issue that we dealt with by way of referendum was the divorce campaign. I was a child and I remember being in the car with my parents and asking them what those posters were about. Members might remember them, the ones that said "Hello Divorce, Goodbye Daddy", the ones that told us we were going to destroy Irish families, the ones that told us kids were not going to see their dads ever again and that Ireland was going to have really high divorce rates. On Friday, 13 October 2017, Patsy McGarry's article in The Irish Times showed the divorce rates for this country being at 0.6% compared with 1.9% for the UK and 2.2% for the USA, and among the lowest in the world. Some of the same people have been involved in the two campaigns, and it is funny how that happens. They said we were going to have this "Hello Divorce, Goodbye Daddy" regime. Do they now want to apologise and say they got that wrong, and sorry about that? What about the ones who said these things during the children's rights referendum? Again, I have to point out that many of these people are the same people who pop up from time to time in each of these campaigns.

What about the people who, during the children's rights referendum when we thought it would be a good idea that our children should have rights in our Constitution, said the State will come in and snatch our children in the middle of the night? They said parents who are under pressure will have their kids taken off them. I think we all know that has not happened. Do they want to say they are sorry and that they got it wrong? What about the former Member of this House who decided marriage equality could end in an end of, or a ban on, Mother's Day? Does she now wish to apologise for her tweet in March 2015?

I am sick and tired of people-----

The Minister should not refer to people who are not here to defend themselves.

The Minister did not name her.

I did not name here but she was a Member-----

The Minister made the person identifiable.

She is very identifiable.

She is in the restaurant as we speak.

There is a very serious point here and it is not about individuals. When we have referendum campaigns or debates in the House on social issues, people make accusations. When the social issues get progressed and the accusations turn out not to be true, no one ever goes back to an RTÉ studio or the Chamber and asks the person if he or she remembers what he or she said previously. I am worried that some of the same sort of accusations are being made on the proposals we will hopefully put to the people. I want that recorded in the House. I will be holding people to account for the statements they make. I look forward to having an opportunity to debate with them on it.

I agree with Senator Clifford-Lee who made the point very eloquently last night and again this afternoon about the importance of supports for women in crisis pregnancies. I genuinely believe the set of proposals we published yesterday as a response to the cross-party committee's report - this is a cross-party issue - is the most holistic and comprehensive package of supports that has been announced in this area in a very long time. I have listened to Senators who are around a lot longer than me talking about bans on contraception or getting contraception, if one is married, via prescription. Yesterday we talked about bringing in free contraception, providing barrier contraception, having a women's sexual health group and significantly advancing things like counselling, perinatal hospice care, obstetric care and safer sex public advertisement campaigns and sex education in our schools. The Senator makes a very interesting and important point. I hope those whom we respect but disagree with who wish to retain the eighth amendment will join the Senator in her continued advocacy in this area. It should be a cause of concern to all of us that there are some people who seem to want to retain the eighth amendment but do not wish to talk about how to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies through contraception, sex education and better supports in our maternity services.

I thank Senator McDowell. It was an honour and privilege to hear him, as a former Attorney General, as a senior counsel and a former Cabinet Minister give a real insight into the legal issues and barriers presented by the eighth amendment. We have heard a lot from doctors, which is welcome. I hope we will continue to hear from doctors. We have heard of the very significant medical challenges and problems that the eighth amendment causes. That is why I have been advocating for change on those grounds. It is really important as the campaign progresses that we get to hear the legal challenges it poses for women in the country. We all know of the devastating case of a woman effectively decomposing and a doctor and nurses having to help apply make-up to her face to present her in a more compassionate way to her children when they visited her in hospital. They are the legal but very personal difficulties and pain caused by the eighth amendment. I thank the Senator for his contribution. I hope it is widely read and heard.

Senator Leyden made the point that hard cases make bad law. It is a phrase we are all very familiar with. I would argue that bad law can make hard cases. By not facing up to realities and putting in place a proper legal framework, by not addressing it in the Houses of the Oireachtas and by confining it to a line or two in our Constitution, we have dealt with it in a very black and white way and have not dealt with the complexities of the issue. By doing so, we have taken people who are in really tragic and difficult circumstances and have added to their pain and suffering. Bad law can make hard cases. It does not only work the other way around.

A number of people talked about the abortion pill. It might have been convenient to think that abortion took place "over there" in a foreign country, which is a reality for Irish women but it also takes place here in this country through the abortion pill. Senator McDowell outlined the criminal risk, as did Senator Higgins, to Irish women. There is also a very real medical risk. I have met with masters in maternity hospitals who have outlined the risks to me and will outline them to all the people of the country. They are not people who should be defined as pro-life or pro-choice. They are people who run our maternity hospitals and who are responsible for our women and their babies. They are extremely worried about the presentations they see in their emergency departments of people who have wrongly taken the abortion pill and taken it without medical supervision. They know the impact it is having on women's health. As we are discussing this in the luxury of this setting, it is a reality for women presenting in our maternity hospitals today.

I will pick up on a point Senator Noone made. I will not get involved in individual party politics or the business of internal matters of any political party. I have been around long enough to work out that is not a good idea. I am very happy for people to call these Government proposals. They have come through the Government and been published by the Government. They did not just drop on the table of Government. They are proposals that have been supported by the leaders of all political parties in Dáil Éireann and by the health spokespeople of all political parties in Dáil Éireann. When people talk about the Government as a minority Government it is absolutely a statement of fact. I presume if Deputy Micheál Martin was the Taoiseach and Deputy Billy Kelleher was the Minister for Health, considering they have outlined their support for these proposals, they would be going down a similar route. I do not say that to be partisan; I say it to try to provide assurance to the Irish people that the people who hold office now or who would like to hold office have a similar view on this because we have all examined the issue. I thank and commend the courage of political leaders in all parties and the health spokespeople I have the honour of working with on this matter.

I will clarify for the record of the House that the general scheme of the legislation has been published. It is available for all to view on the Department of Health's website. I hope it will help to inform public debate. We have a duty as a Government and Oireachtas to have it there to help inform the debate. I echo the point that was made earlier in the debate by Senator Bacik that if the people vote "Yes", the Bill will go through the same level of rigorous Oireachtas scrutiny, pre-legislative scrutiny and hearings that all other legislation goes through.

Senator Leyden said he had great sympathy for the obstetricians and gynaecologists and that we should provide them with guidelines and clarification about the eighth amendment and how it really works. In meeting representatives of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and meeting the masters of our maternity hospitals, I know that what they certainly do not want from politicians is sympathy. What they really want is for us to do our job. We should not suggest there is some nice glossy document we could publish with the Department of Health logo, that would in any way help a rape victim in this country who finds herself pregnant, that would in any way help a family experiencing a pregnancy with a fatal foetal abnormality, that would in any way help to make it safer under the eighth amendment for a person to take an abortion pill in this country or that would in any way reduce the exodus of Irish women from our country abroad.

I will make a final point and then sit down. I struggle as someone who was not around at the time to get my head around the issue of how the Irish people voted for the right to travel. I understand it was a very different time and was probably done for good reasons and probably from a sense of humanity. It seems like an alien, bizarre and somewhat hypocritical concept - people were against abortion but only against it here. They were okay with it being outsourced once it is done over there. If it was men's health care we were outsourcing abroad, would we have dealt with this issue an awful lot more quickly? I do not accept it is just a woman's issue because those of us who are men have a duty to challenge ourselves and ask what we would like to happen by way of support if it was our wife, mother, daughter, sister or loved one. If this little island of ours was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no near geographic neighbour, we would not have been able to ignore this issue for all these years. The word "luxury" is insulting to those who had to travel but we would not have the political convenience of turning a blind eye and saying abortion does not happen in Ireland but that it does happen to Irish women. It will continue to happen to Irish women. It happened before the eighth amendment and it will happen after the eighth amendment. The only difference is it will happen safely, in a way that is compassionate and regulated and in a way which a woman will have the support of her doctor.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. Before I put the question, I would like to thank all 21 Senators. I acknowledge that it ended up being a case of Second Stage coming into Committee Stage but I think I tried to treat everybody fairly and allowed everybody as much time as they wanted. Some people spoke for up to 26 minutes and others made a contribution of about two minutes.

Some made none.

And some made none, Senator Norris. Everybody is equally as valued as everybody else.

There is a first time for everything.

And some who listened to everything that was said.

Indeed, Senator O'Donnell. I thank everybody for their latitude with me and equally the latitude that I gave everybody. We have a number of questions. The Schedule has already been agreed.

Cuireadh an cheist.
Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 39; Níl, 8.

  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Dolan, John.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ruane, Lynn.

Níl

  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and Catherine Noone; Níl, Senators Gerry Horkan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh leis an gceist.
Cuireadh an cheist, “Go bhfanfaidh alt 2 mar chuid den Bhille”, agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh léi.
Question, “That section 2 stand part of the Bill”, put and declared carried.
Aontaíodh an Réamhrá.
Preamble agreed to.
Cuireadh an cheist, “Gurb é an Teideal an Teideal a ghabhann leis an mBille”, agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh léi.
Question, “That the Title be the Title to the Bill”, put and declared carried.
Tuairiscíodh an Bille gan leasú.
Bill reported without amendment.
Cuireadh an cheist, "Go dtógfar an Tuarascáil anois", agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh léi.
Question, "That Report Stage be taken now", put and declared carried.
Tairgeadh an cheist: "Go nglacfar an Bille chun an breithniú deiridh a dhéanamh air."
Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I wished to contribute on Report Stage, so I would like the Cathaoirleach to clarify how I might proceed. Are we still on Report Stage?

Report Stage has technically been passed, but the Senator can contribute on Fifth Stage before we conclude.

Cuireadh an cheist agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh léi.
Question put and declared carried.
Cuireadh an cheist, "Go ndéanfar an Cúigiú Céim a thógáil anois", agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh léi.
Question, "That Fifth Stage be taken now", put and declared carried.
Cuireadh an cheist: "Go rithfear an Bille anois."
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 40; Níl, 10.

  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Dolan, John.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and Catherine Noone; Níl, Senators Gerry Horkan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh leis an gceist.

When the Minister comes back, I will allow one Senator from each group to speak for a short while. As this has been a long debate, it makes no sense to open a full discussion once more. I promised Senator Mullen that I would allow a comment or two. We will proceed when the Minister comes in.

I will not take long. Issues come up in the course of an important debate like this. It is important to put one or two things on the record. Many of us here know each other for a long time. We get on and we work at getting on as politicians must do. Obviously, this is one of the most serious issues that can ever come before a parliament. This is not the big issue, in some ways, because the people will get their say. The great achievement of the 1983 amendment was that abortion could not be legalised in this country, as had happened in other countries, over the heads of the people. If this referendum passes, I believe we will be in a truly awful situation. People will be under pressure to vote away the right to life of unborn babies with no health benefit for women, just a massive loss of respect for the human dignity of unborn children.

Senator McDowell was eloquent, as he always is. He is always worth listening to. He made an excellent prosecution case against the eighth amendment. Like a bird flying on one wing, he did not make much of the case for the eighth amendment, nor indeed did the Minister make much of it. Not much was made of it during the hearings of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The main thrust of the case for the eighth amendment is that we are talking about a human child. Senator McDowell spoke about the difficulties of ascribing personhood, but what is a person when one thinks about it? Does a person need to have personality? Do newborn babies have much personality?

Do old people with Alzheimer's disease have the same personality as they did when they were in the full of their health? I can tell the House that in many cases-----

We cannot have a substantive Second Stage debate at this stage.

Sure. I understand.

The Senator is being allowed to make some brief comments upon the conclusion of the Seanad's consideration of the Bill.

I understand, although I did ask whether I could contribute on Report Stage. I will keep it brief. The point is that this is not just about a human embryo. It is about a human being at the right stage of development for him or her. Given that it is proposed to allow abortion without restriction at 11 weeks, it is interesting to note that babycenter.com, which is a website for expectant parents and not a pro-life website, says that at 11 weeks:

Your baby is almost fully formed. She's kicking, stretching, and even hiccupping as her diaphragm develops, although you can't feel any activity yet. Your baby is the size of a fig.

Is that a person? Abortion on demand will, in effect, be permitted at 20 weeks on a British-style health ground because "health" is largely undefined and largely exploited where it is used as a ground. No distinction is made between mental and physical health. According to the same website:

Your baby can swallow now and his digestive system is producing meconium, the dark, sticky goo that he'll pass in his first poop - either in his diaper or in the womb during delivery. Your baby is the size of a banana.

Is that a person? Attempts have been made to blame the eighth amendment for various inconsistencies and alleged cruelties, but there will always be complexities with a law of any kind.

We heard about the complexities but we did not hear about all the lives that have been saved and how Ireland's abortion rate is so low, counting those who go to Britain tragically for abortion, compared with all the lives destroyed in the case of the unborn and many others ruined by abortion in abortion jurisdictions. The Government parties never talk about that and that is why their approach to the referendum is like a bird flying on one wing. They are not interested in the hurt that abortion causes and the betrayal that many women who have had an abortion feel. They are not interested in the credible evidence that mental health should not be invoked as a ground for abortion because, if anything, mental health issues can arise in certain categories of person where abortion is involved.

Reference was made to prosecutions. Senator McDowell said they could happen. We have a law that respects women under which there has not been prosecutions. The housemates who reported the young woman in the case he cited in Belfast were traumatised by what they had experienced and they felt victimised on social media. What they saw was an identifiable unborn child who was clearly much more developed than the ten to 12-week pregnancy stage. That is how the law operates in that there are sometimes exceptional cases and it needs to be ensured people do not do something that is dangerous for themselves and for others. Our law largely has been about targeting those who provide abortion but treating those who make the regrettable decision to have an abortion with respect and sensitivity. Nevertheless it is not the decision that does justice to all the parties involved.

I hope the Minister and fellow Ministers will debate this issue face-to-face respectfully and in equal time with people who know their facts as well as them and who will challenge them about the injustices of the law that the Minister proposes. One-on-one interviews on Newstalk will not cut the mustard. We need equal time in the media in order that the problems with this unjust proposal to remove rights from the unborn baby are ventilated and the reality that in Ireland we are consistently up there with the best in the world in maternal care is outlined. That is also part of the fruit of the eighth amendment and there needs to be much more honesty about that than there has been to date.

I welcome the passing of the Bill on behalf of Sinn Féin. I also welcome the respectful tenor of the debate on all sides and I hope that will continue in the weeks to come. The debate has built on the joint committee report and the work of the Citizens' Assembly. There is a broad recognition in society that we have to tackle these difficult health issues, particularly for our women, once and for all and it is important that the people will have their say. I look forward to Sinn Féin being front and centre of the campaign but it is incumbent on all of us to put our party badges to one side for the next two months and to work collectively and constructively with our colleagues in the trade union movement and Together for Us to ensure a better day for the women of Ireland.

I welcome on my behalf, and on behalf of some members of Fianna Fáil, the passing of the Bill. I thank the Minister for spending many hours in the House today and yesterday. I also thank my party colleagues who contributed on both sides of the debate for ensuring that it was very respectful and that both sides were listened to. Bunreacht na hÉireann is a living document that belongs to the people and I am happy that this question will be put to them to make a decision after 35 years.

I ask those who are interested in the debate to register to vote and to use their vote and to take their time to learn the facts from both sides in the debate. There is a great deal of information available and they should take time to sit down and learn it. I also thank my own party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, for allowing a free vote, which ensured that we respected each other and that there continues to be no divide within the party as the debate progresses. I thank, in particular, the men in this Chamber who will vote to trust the women of Ireland. It is important that men speak out on this issue and that women's decisions on abortion are made in conjunction with their families and medical professionals. I look forward to voting on the question.

I welcome the passing of the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party and I commend the Minister and his officials on all their hard work in getting it to this Stage. We should not underestimate the significant achievement it has been to get the Bill through both Houses. Some years ago, many of us would have thought that was not possible. Those of us who will advocate for a "Yes" vote have an intense campaign ahead but there will be a great deal of support from politicians from all parties and none. Many current and former Oireachtas Members met this morning to show support for repeal and for the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The number who turned up and who will campaign for a "Yes" vote demonstrates that we, as legislators, recognise the need to face reality.

The one common theme that has emerged from the contributions of those who oppose the Bill in the many hours of debate in the House is a denial of the reality of women's lives and health care needs, a denial of the hypocrisy of Irish law, which facilitates women in travelling abroad but refuses them medical treatment that they need here, and a denial of the harm and damage the eighth amendment has caused women over the 35 years of its existence. It is not good enough that the retention of the amendment would continue to make women collateral damage and it is not good enough in a republic of equals 100 years after women secured the right to vote that we should retain it. I look forward to working with the Labour Party, Together for Yes and with all those who will campaign on a cross-political basis to secure a "Yes" vote in the referendum at the end of May.

I would like to clarify maternal health care outcomes are something any state should give its focus to and we should not link the insertion of the eighth amendment to maternal health and outcomes. It is disingenuous to suggest that it is only because we have the eighth amendment that there has been concern about maternal care. Ireland is concerned about that regardless and, indeed, could do better. Some of the proposals put forward by the Minister will allow us to do better in respect of both maternal mortality and maternal morbidity.

I commend the Minister, Senator Catherine Noone, joint committee members, and ordinary members of the public on the Citizens' Assembly but I would like, in particular, to recognise the women and men who have come forward in the shadow of the debate on the eighth amendment to talk about the reality of their lives and to share deeply personal stories of their experiences in a public space for the public good. Some women made different choices and did not choose a termination. They went forward with a fatal foetal abnormality or had a child at 14 or 15 weeks. Nonetheless, they stepped up as an act of generosity to share their experiences and they said they respected the decisions of others.

The level of compassion, understanding and care that individuals have shown in recognising and sharing each other's experiences has been a testament to society as a whole and I would like to honour that. I hope we can be true to that tone as we proceed. I encourage everyone as we pass the legislation into the public realm to read the testimony to the committee and to look for information and make their decision based on that. I also encourage Oireachtas Members to be vigilant in order that we are not used inadvertently or otherwise to share false news and information to amplify language of hatred or scaremongering, and to be careful in how they engage.

The next debate is the one on data protection and in that regard-----

That is No. 4 on the Order of Business so we will-----

In respect of that, it is important to say we also have responsibilities in how we engage with this to ensure we manage what is often very sensitive personal data in an appropriate way.

We will discuss that with No. 4.

I welcome the passing of this Bill. I thank the Minister and his officials for the work they have done in a very brief period of time. It has been a challenging and intense process. I am very pleased that we are finally at this stage, a stage at which the Minister can say a few words here and then leave this room and make an announcement that the referendum will take place. Getting to this point is a major achievement for the Members of the Oireachtas and all involved in this process. There was a lot of doubt as to whether the committee would report in time and whether the Minister would actually get this process to where it is at the moment. I am proud that we are at this point and that after 35 years of avoiding this deeply personal issue, the Irish people will have their say. I look forward to a factual, considered and respectful debate on this issue.

I begin by thanking and complimenting Senator Noone on her outstanding stewardship and chairmanship of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and commending colleagues in this House and the Lower House on their participation in the work of the committee. As I said previously, the work of the all-party committee illustrates the importance of the committee system in the Houses of the Oireachtas and is something of which we can be very proud. The report of the joint committee is one that was based on reality, not fantasy. As Senator Gavan rightly said, we parked the party ideology and worked in a non-partisan way to do the right thing. The Minister deserves tremendous praise for his stewardship. The Government has recognised the work of the committee and the Citizens' Assembly. That is why we have been debating the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018 in the Lower House and this House. As Senator Noone rightly said, there have been many failed attempts over the past three decades. I had the pleasure of chairing the Joint Committee on Health and Children that dealt with pre-legislative scrutiny before the passing of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. As I said, it is not black and white. We live in the grey and it is about the care of two people. I have never hidden that point. I commend Senator Mullen for his role today and in the committee but it is important that we have a debate that is about the information and what is at hand and not sideshows, as I said earlier.

It is also important to recognise that the Minister came to this Bill with significant support from people like Geraldine Luddy, the Chief Medical Officer and people in the Department and the Minister's office who put in a huge amount of work in arriving at this point. This is not a political issue. It is a deeply personal one. There are many with different viewpoints in particular parties, homes and communities. That is the democracy in which we live. It is a myth to say that the eighth amendment saves lives. It has not. It has caused women to die and suffer in silence. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act and the debate we heard in the committee are proof of that. I look forward to the referendum. I thank all Members of the House and staff for their co-operation. I hope the referendum will be a constructive and sensible one that respects all sides.

I know the Acting Chairman made the point to Senator Higgins but it is worth making the point that those who engage in social media, in particular, should be mindful of what they say and how they say it because in some cases, they are hiding behind a pseudonym or an assumed name. They are keyboard warriors who stand for nothing and, in the some cases, oppose for the sake of opposing. They may have very sincerely held views on this issue but they should remember that people proposing repeal are full of humanity and compassion. They are mothers and fathers themselves.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his chairmanship. I hope we can have a very civilised debate. I thank the Minister, his officials and all Members of the House for their co-operation and courtesy in these deliberations.

There are many people who never thought we would get to this day and there were moments when I wondered whether we would. When the Taoiseach became Taoiseach and reappointed me as Minister for Health, he gave me three tasks. One of these tasks was to provide the people with an opportunity to have their say by this summer. To his credit, he announced that the day he became Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil. There has been collaboration across parties and groupings to get to this point. Only a few months ago, questions were asked about whether the Oireachtas committee would produce a report of substance that we could work with. It certainly answered that question. Would the Cabinet give this the time and attention it did? Would there be a majority in the Dáil and Seanad to at least put a question to the people of Ireland? I think both Houses of the Oireachtas have very clearly answered that.

I sincerely thank those who have worked extraordinarily hard to arrive at this point. It would not have been possible for me to carry out my role as Minister for Health were it not for the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, Geraldine Luddy, who is with me, Ronan Horgan and their teams within the Department - people who have worked on weekends and late into the night and have really gone above and beyond in the call of public service. I thank them for that. I thank my own team of Joanne Lonergan and Kathyann Barrett who have worked extraordinarily hard on this in providing me with all of the support and information to deal with what has been a very demanding Oireachtas and Cabinet schedule to arrive at this point. I thank the Attorney General and his office who have done huge work in recent weeks to ensure we could have a general scheme that has been published on the Department of Health website to help inform the debate because people have an expectation and a right to have that information.

I thank my Cabinet colleagues for dedicating a significant amount of Government time to this, including a number of special meetings. That is the priority we have attached to facilitating a referendum and giving the people of Ireland a choice and a say. I thank Oireachtas colleagues in both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann for the time they have given in their demanding schedules and legislative programme to pass the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018. In doing so, we can now have a referendum. I thank the Oireachtas committee chaired by Senator Noone, all the members of the committee in this House and the other House and the Citizens' Assembly. Both bodies really laid the foundations for an informed and respectful debate.

The referendum commission has a very important body of work to do and I thank it in advance for what it will do. It has been established but it cannot commence its public awareness campaign until the polling order is signed and the referendum campaign proper is under way. The people want to have a referendum commission that can provide them with factual and impartial information. I thank Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy for chairing it and the members of that referendum commission. They have a very important role to play and I hope the people will have an opportunity to hear that factual impartial information. I join with others in encouraging people to register to vote, to vote and to have their say regardless of their perspective. This is a very important issue and people should come out to vote. I would encourage everybody to exercise their franchise.

We will very shortly name the polling date. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will sign the polling order this afternoon. There will then be certainty regarding the polling day, which is good for everybody involved in this referendum in that people can plan the next few weeks and the people can organise practical things like holiday and work arrangements to make sure they can be at home to vote as well. We will see a very big civil society campaign and I think that is very important. I do not think it means politicians can abdicate their role. We have a role to play but we have one role to play. We need to hear from clinicians, women and lawyers. We need to hear from people. We need that respectful debate. I genuinely believe there is a willingness on both sides for that to happen. It is really important that it happens.

As much as I love Members' company, and I hope they love mine, it is very important that we take this debate out of these hallowed halls of Leinster House and actually allow people in towns, villages and homes across this country to have their say. This is a very personal, private matter but sometimes personal, private matters require public support. This is one such issue. I look forward to the campaign ahead.

I hope that we will be back here in the summer able to do our jobs as legislators, standing by women and putting in place a compassionate and sensible regulatory framework for their health care so that we no longer have to have women in crisis pregnancies exported from our country.

I thank the Minister. After five hours yesterday, I did not think that we would spend three and three quarter hours on the Bill today, for most of which I have been in the Chair. I thank all Senators, the Minister and everyone involved in the discussion on both sides for a measured and respectful debate.