Cuirim fáilte roimh mo chomhghleacaí ó Ghaillimh, an tAire Stáit. This matter relates to the commitment given to tender publicly for what was supposed to be an independent chair for the three-year review of the abortion legislation.
On 8 December, prior to the launch of the three-year review, the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, confirmed publicly, as he had on several occasions, that an independent chair would be appointed to lead the review. In an address by the Minister to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health on 8 December, members were informed that legally the appointment of a chair must go to an e-tender as the cost involved may be up to €100,000. A statutory requirement in respect of appointments costing in excess of €25,000 required the post to be put out to tender, as acknowledged by Ms Geraldine Luddy from the Department. The Minister said that, following advice, he was instructed that, if he were to make an appointment without undertaking an e-tendering process, he would be acting illegally. The Minister also claimed that his Department would issue the tender for the chair on the Government's eTenders website in the coming days, although he later said that he had asked officials to ensure a tender was issued in the next two weeks. He noted that all of this was unfortunate because a number of excellent candidates had been identified and that he "would much rather be announcing a chair today". He later contradicted himself, claiming: "We have also put out the tender for the chair today."
It is interesting that a press release went out that day saying that an e-tender had been put out for the appointment of an independent chair. That was sent to all media but it did not happen. Later that day or, perhaps, later on, another press release was put up on the Department's website, we might say secretly, removing the reference to an independent chair. Of course, that was not circulated to the media.
On that day, Ms Luddy confirmed that the e-tender would go up within a week or so of the date of that meeting of the committee. It was acknowledged by the departmental official that the existing e-tender on the website dealing with the research element was not the tender for a chair. Over the course of December and into January, no e-tender seeking applications for the position of independent chair was posted on the website. An article in The Irish Times on 13 January claimed that "a request for tender for a chair to carry out research into the views of service providers was published last December". That was not the case. The Minister was quoted as expressing his desire that the process to select an independent chair would be got through quickly. He wanted it to be completed by the end of January. However, it was only in response to a parliamentary question on 19 January that the Minister acknowledged that he had, in fact, contacted a small number of candidates and invited them to apply for the position of independent chair. The commitment given and repeated publicly that there would be open recruitment for an independent chair was not fulfilled. It seems it was not intended to fulfil that commitment and nobody was told that was the case.
We now have to say we suspect dishonesty. There is no other word for it. There has been a failure on the part of the Minister and his officials. I have raised this issue several times. People have sought to communicate with the Minister. The Minister of State has very wittily said here previously that she would not be here if there was any good news to give. This is the same thing. The Minister of State and I would both tell our visitors in the Gallery that they are very welcome. If that young man in the Gallery ever goes into politics, I hope he will treat his colleagues better than the Minister for Health is treating us on this issue because this failure to be truthful and upfront is a bad reflection on the Minister and his Department.
A closed number of candidates were contacted. We do not know who they were. Subsequently, it was announced that a person had been appointed as an independent chair. It is vital that an independent chair is somebody who can look at the workings of this abortion legislation from the point of view of those who have concerns. An example of such a concern from a pro-life perspective it that there is not adequate pain relief for late-term abortions. It is appalling to even have to talk about such issues. There are also issues with regard to the rise in the number of abortions. There are also those who favour abortion who would like there to be fewer obstacles to getting abortions. We need someone who does not have skin in the game and yet Ms Luddy said at that meeting of the Joint Committee on Health that it needed to be somebody with a reproductive rights-based approach. All this time, we have had people talking out both sides of their mouths. They have been talking about independence while not acting openly or in a trustworthy way and not communicating that they had changed their mind and were going back on their commitment or that they were never sincere about it in the first place; I do not know which was the case. However, it was done secretly and, in the end, somebody who expressed views in favour of repeal before any of this happened was appointed. It is a shambolic situation and I hope the Minister of State has some answers for us.