Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) (No. 2) Bill 2013: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I move this Bill on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Mick Wallace, and the wonderful parents and organisers of the Terminations for Medical Reasons group, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery.

Over the past period, they have waived their privacy to share their pain. They have done this not to gain for themselves but solely to make the world a better place and to stop other people suffering in the way they had to. I recognise the legal input from Jennifer Schweppe, Dr. Ruth Fletcher and Dr. Eimear Spain, whose time and expertise in devising this Bill was provided gratis and for no reason other than to advance the public interest.

I would like to start by sharing an e-mail I received from a concerned grandmother:

Clare, I am in tears typing this as I have just got off the phone from speaking with my son who returned from Liverpool an hour ago, his beautiful wife having had a termination due to fatal foetal abnormalities.   His wife was 6 mths pregnant and could go on no longer waiting for their baby to die in the womb.  What kind of a country are we living in that we expect our young people to suffer like this?  My son and daughter-in-law are 2 wonderful people and to see them suffer so much because of our dreadful laws is appalling.  It is hard enough for them to go through this ordeal, but to have to leave their country to have this termination is awful ... they are both devastated.  Please Clare, for them and people like them, [the law must be changed].

That e-mail was sent to me on 11 February 2015. The young couple in question had made their journey the previous day, 10 February 2015, the day 104 Deputies, including the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, voted down this Bill. That was the last time it was brought before this House. I make that point not to embarrass the Minister or to make a cheap political point, but to emphasise the need to realise that the decisions we make or do not make in here have consequences. Without any shadow of a doubt, another couple will go through the same experience today because of the Government's decision to do nothing in this regard. Another couple will go through this experience tomorrow and more couples will go through it next week. This will go on until we decide to act.

According to the master of the Rotunda Hospital, there were 71 cases of fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis in that hospital last year. Forty-nine of those couples decided to travel, or almost one couple a week. The National Maternity Hospital has disclosed that it sees approximately two people with this diagnosis each week. We know that the Liverpool Women's Hospital has reported that between two and four Irish women are seen in that hospital every week. In other words, our failure to act last year has caused 200 women, their partners and their families to endure what a UN committee has described as "a violation" and "physical and mental suffering". Hundreds more will experience the same next year unless we deal with this issue.

When I proposed this Bill last year, I quoted one of the organisers of Termination for Medical Reasons, Amanda Mellett, who asked the Members of the Dáil to "stop making excuses while women in this ... situation continue to contact us week after week, unsure of where to go or who to turn to; in shock at the extent to which they are abandoned and stigmatised in the wake of the Irish Government's continuing excuse making". Earlier this month, an expert panel of the UN Human Rights Commission, in response to a case taken by Amanda Mellett, found that Ireland had violated her human "rights to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment", breached her "right to privacy", failed to protect her "rights to non-discrimination" and caused her immense "physical and mental suffering". The UN panel has obliged Ireland to provide Ms Mellett "with an effective remedy", including "compensation" and "psychological treatment" and "to "prevent similar violations occurring" by amending "its law [and] if necessary its Constitution".

There is no opt-out from this. We have until 7 December next to respond in detail to the UN expert panel. Contrary to what the Taoiseach has said, this judgment is binding. When we voluntarily signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we agreed to be bound by it. We agreed to accept the interpretation of the covenant. There is no place for us to hide on this issue. I have heard a great deal of talk in recent days about the Constitution being breached, but what about the violation of our international human rights commitments? There has been no substantial talk about that. It is a fact that the Constitution and domestic law can never be used as an excuse for the violation of human rights. In the last Dáil, 50 Deputies wrung their hands and said something must be done. Sixteen months ago, we asked what the Government had done. Sixteen months later, not a single measure has been introduced to deal with these issues. In addition to the expert panel judgment I have mentioned, earlier this year 18 of our peer countries in the periodic review said we were violating human rights, but nothing happened as a result. That was the seventh international hearing at which Ireland was called on to amend its legislation. We have done nothing.

I have no doubt that the Minister will tell us about the citizens' assembly. We hear that people will be able to sit around and talk about these issues for 12 months at that forum. That will be followed by an Oireachtas committee, which might talk for another 12 months. The reality of the Government's approach is that it will be at least 2018 before any referendum is put before the Irish people. That is not to mind all the delays that happened with the Constitutional Convention and anything like that. I am setting out the perspective that will open up if our Bill is not dealt with here tonight. We are not saying the Bill is perfect. It can be amended. We need to do something because the Government is offering nothing in its place. I remind the House of the judgment that was issued by the Northern Ireland courts on foot of an action taken by the Northern Ireland human rights and equality commission against the Minister of Justice there. The courts made it clear that it was not open to the Minister there to avoid his or her obligations under human rights. That option is not open to us here either.

This Bill is incredibly restrictive. For the record, I assure the anti-abortion lobby that it is not a back-door attempt to get access to abortion in all circumstances. We are very prepared to go through the front door to demand access to abortion in all circumstances, but that is not what today's discussion is all about. It is ironic that when we proposed legislation to repeal the eighth amendment, people voted it down, and now the fact of it having been voted down is being used as a reason not to do anything on the matter before us today. I do not think that is good enough. The Bill before the House deals with the real and tragic cases of people who receive the devastating news, usually well into the pregnancy, that the foetus has a medical condition which is incompatible with life outside the womb. This is a medical diagnosis. It is not a legal opinion. It is not a disability. It is something that the medical profession sadly has to deal with on a weekly basis. The only choice people have - perhaps "choice" is a bad word to use in this context - is whether to continue the pregnancy until they miscarry or the foetus dies, or to travel.

Of course, we know that in many instances, people cannot afford to travel. It costs a minimum of €3,000 and up to €5,000. I know of people who got a diagnosis at 20 weeks, but could not afford to travel so had to spend 17 weeks at home waiting until the foetus died. Of course, it goes without saying that those who decide to continue on with the pregnancy - to wait as the people I have mentioned had to do - will be unaffected by this Bill. This legislation seeks to help those who cannot continue and who decide they have to turn off the life support machine for their own mental health and well-being. Our Bill provides that a woman should be entitled to have a termination here in Ireland if the agreement of "two medical practitioners" - an obstetrician and a perinatologist - is acquired. Such a provision has been sought by the masters of the maternity hospitals for more than two decades so that the proper treatment of women in these circumstances can be continued.

While there is no happy ending from this situation, we can make it a little bit less sad by ensuring we step up and help at a time when people are at their lowest ebb and most need that assistance. Against that backdrop, I find the excuses we have heard from those trying to explain why the Government might oppose this Bill utterly sickening and really insulting. We will follow up this point when we sum up at the end of this debate. If the Government really believed the Constitution was a barrier to dealing with this issue, it would come in here today and put on the agenda the immediate repeal of the eighth amendment to ensure human rights are not violated. It would ensure the other rights set out in the Constitution are vindicated. I suggest the personal rights of the citizen set out in Article 43.1 are being violated because of our lack of abortion provision. The Government has not proposed any measures to deal with this. Instead, we are being told that the Attorney General has decided that this proposal is unconstitutional. I have to say that is a pathetic cop-out and an excuse for inaction.

We wrote to the Minister asking him to publish that opinion so it can be assessed and considered. At the very least, that is a minimum because 43 other legal people published a letter the last time around which had a different opinion from that of the Attorney General's. I noted the Minister's response, which he sent this afternoon, in which he said her advice is in line with legal advice received on the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities at the time of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. That is interesting because it confirms to us that that advice was not sought on our Bill, the Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) (No. 2) Bill, last time round or this time round. It certainly would be saying that it was not sought in the context of the violations of international human rights.

Again, we have to return to the simple legal fact that Attorneys General can get it wrong. This Attorney General has certainly got it wrong quite a few times. Other Attorneys General have had a different view on this issue. Other Attorneys General got it wrong before, such as in the X case. The truth of the matter is that regardless of whether it is constitutional, it can only be decided by the courts. It is as simple as that. This Bill is not repugnant to the Constitution. It is not in a sense clearly contradictory. At the very minimum, there is at least an arguable case that it could be possible for somebody diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality to get a termination in Ireland.

How do I know that? I know that because that is exactly the position the Irish State argued ten years ago this week in front of the European Court of Human Rights. Sadly, the European Court of Human Rights agreed because it said the State had put forward a tenable argument which could have been seriously considered by the domestic courts that a foetus was not an unborn for the purpose of the constitutional article. Even if it was, its right to life was not going to be engaged and, therefore, it did not benefit from the protection of Article 40.3.3°. It stated the courts would not operate with remorseless logic. It stated the woman’s case in question was not admissible because Ireland had shown that the remedy was possible in the domestic courts and that she had a reasonable prospect of success against our courts.

Of course, the courts never ended up testing this matter. Moreover, they never will. How in God's name could we expect somebody with a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality - the bottom would have fallen out of their world, particularly if it was a much-wanted pregnancy, and they would be at their lowest ebb - to go into the courts to argue for the right to have a termination at home when they have more pressing things on their plates? That is never going to happen.

It is also the case that our courts have never adjudicated on this. The only way in which they will adjudicate on it is if we pass this Bill and allow the President to refer it on to the Supreme Court for adjudication in this regard. It would be entirely appropriate. There are many different cases that the courts have looked at. For example, there was the tragic case of PP v. HSE where they talked about no prospect of being born alive and things not being exercises in futility. They talked about the Constitution, saying as far as is practicable. If it is not practical to vindicate a right to life, then one does not have a necessity to do so and so on.

It might sound a little ironic, but this is a positive proposal. It is hard to envision something positive in the midst of terribly tragic circumstances. However, there is a significant and genuine desire across society to have this happen. Over 80% of people have repeatedly said that this measure should be introduced. What is the worst that will happen if we pass this? What would be so wrong with doing this? If we are wrong, we will only be in the same situation we are in now. What is the harm? If we are right, then we have the possibility of alleviating some of the pain of some of the people at the coalface of this devastating diagnosis.

Three weeks ago, Fianna Fáil had a Bill in this House dealing with property rights. The Government and the Minister claimed it was unconstitutional. The Minister even tabled an amendment which proposed it should be referred to the committee to deal with its constitutionality. He subsequently withdrew his amendment and allowed the Bill go through Second Stage. It is okay to do it for property rights but it is not okay to do it for women's rights. I find that nauseating. I cannot believe we would stand up in the Parliament and allow that type of attitude to go unchallenged. We cannot prevail over these double standards. There is nowhere for the Minister to hide. It has fallen on his lap. We can do a good thing today by passing this Bill and signalling to people that, at last, we are taking it seriously.

I thank Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. I can assure them I am not looking for anywhere to hide on this issue.

There can hardly be a more difficult situation for a woman who is pregnant to face than to be told by her doctor that her unborn child is not fully healthy and well, is not going to grow to achieve all that every mother and father wishes for their child and, worst of all, is not going to survive. All her aspirations and dreams for her child are taken away, replaced with grief and distress at the very time when she should be facing a future of joy, hope and happiness. What unites this House is the empathy and sympathy we all feel for the couples and families who face these terrible situations. This House has heard heart-rending personal stories from Members who have had direct experiences of fatal foetal abnormalities. I too have met families who have been through the trauma of knowing their baby will not survive and who have had the courage and fortitude to share their stories in the hope of saving other people some of the pain they themselves endured. Only the heartless could fail to be moved.

Life naturally brings with it sorrows as well as joy. There are certain tragedies, however, that make us all feel the same sense of wrongness. The harsh realities of such a situation were made clear for all to see in the recent report from the United Nations Human Rights Committee when it published its view on the complaint against the State brought by Ms Amanda Mellet whose unborn child had Edwards syndrome. As I made clear at the time, I read with a heavy heart the details in the report of Ms Mellet’s experience. Putting aside for a moment the wider constitutional issue involved, the absence of compassion in her treatment by our health service was deeply distressing. I am very sorry that this is how she was treated. Ireland’s history shows that it has been a cold and uncaring place for women and children. I felt the echoes of that when I read that UN view. I will return to aspects of Ms Mellet’s case again later in my speech, but I want now to address the Bill before us.

Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace and others who support the Bill are minded by a deep personal desire to help every bit as much as anyone else in the House. I not only respect their views, I share them. We all want to help. I am in that 80% to which Deputy Clare Daly referred. We want in particular to do something meaningful to help. I know the Deputies too would want this Bill not only to be legal and constitutional but also to have a meaningful impact for women. Anything less would be to give false hope to and pretend we have done something for women who carry these babies and the doctors who care for them.

I am not opposed to the purpose behind the Bill. I will set out in detail the grounds on which it is currently not possible to support it. In doing so, I am fully reflecting the legal advice available to me on the constitutional issues pertaining to this Bill, as per Deputies Clare Daly’s and Mick Wallace’s request, as well as the medical advice I have received from the Chief Medical Officer for the information of the House.

Deputies Clare Daly’s and Mick Wallace’s Bill provides for termination of pregnancy following a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. This is defined in the Bill as a medical condition suffered by the foetus, such that it is incompatible with life outside the womb. The provisions for certification following receipt of such a diagnosis broadly mirror those of section 7 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. The two medical specialists required to certify under this amendment would be an obstetrician and a perinatologist.

This country, and this House, is bound by the Constitution, one which can be frustrating at times. A referendum was held in 1983, resulting in the adoption of a provision which became Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution, commonly known as the eighth amendment. Article 40.3.3° reads as follows:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right of life of the mother, guarantees by its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

This Bill falls outside the parameters of Article 40.3.3° as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Attorney General v. X in 1992, also known as the X case, which held that if it were established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, and that this real and substantial risk could only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy, such a termination was lawful.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was commenced on 1 January 2014. I believe this Act addressed generations of neglect in this House in terms of facing up a Supreme Court reality. Its main purpose is to regulate access to lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the X case and the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v. Ireland case. That Bill was considered and debated extensively in Oireachtas committees, in this House, in the Upper House and probably in homes across the country. I think it was well understood and acknowledged in the context of that debate that this legislation was as far as the Legislature could go in the absence of a referendum. I am sure the House will also be aware that the second annual report on the Act has recently been laid before the House.

Returning to the Bill before us, the Supreme Court reviewed the meaning of the term "unborn” in Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution in the Roche v. Roche case in 2010. On that occasion, Mrs. Justice Denham, now the Chief Justice, stated with regard to the wording of the eighth amendment:

...both language versions refer to birth or being born. Thus the fact of being born or birth is a factor in both versions. The beginning of "life" is not the protected term, it is the unborn, the life capable of being born, which is protected. The capacity to be born, or birth, defines the right protected.

Therefore, in the case of a foetus with a condition that is incompatible with life, but which is capable of being born alive and surviving even for a very short period, such a foetus is protected by Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution.

The Bill put forward by Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace does not define what is meant by "incompatible with life outside the womb". From examining the Bill before us, two possible interpretations appear possible. The first interpretation is that the "unborn" has a condition which is incompatible with life outside the womb but which is capable of being born alive. It is clear that an unborn child who has a capacity to be born alive for a period, no matter how short, is protected by Article 40.3.3°.

The second interpretation is that the unborn has a condition which is incompatible with life outside the womb and has no capacity or capability of being born alive. This is where I move from the legal advice to the medical advice. I am informed by the Chief Medical Officer that the circumstances in which such a situation would arise do not exist in medical practice. It can never be said that a foetus with a fatal foetal abnormality will not be born to live for a short time, even if that is only to be minutes, to draw a breath and to have a detectable heartbeat. If a foetus has the capacity to be born, it has the protection of our Constitution. Any Bill that provides for termination in these circumstances, as this Bill does, would not be constitutional and would also not be medically practicable. Therefore, to introduce the well-intentioned provisions put forward by Deputies Daly and Wallace would require a referendum to amend the Constitution.

It is for this reason I believe the Government’s commitment to develop a consensus approach within a citizens' assembly is the way to move forward. The Government has decided, in view of the programme for partnership Government commitment, to establish a citizens' assembly as quickly as possible and to make recommendations to the Dáil on further constitutional changes, including on the eighth amendment of the Constitution as its first topic. Let me be clear that the citizens' assembly can report topic by topic; therefore, there is no need for the assembly to wait until the end to report on each topic. The first topic it will consider will be the eighth amendment. The issue of fatal foetal abnormalities can and, in my view, should be examined as part of this process and the assembly will also have the support of an expert group to provide it with the necessary legal and medical opinion.

I also have said very clearly that I expect the views of the UN Human Rights Committee will be considered in that context. The Government is very conscious that the lack of access in this country to termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormality is one that has caused significant distress to many couples. I have heard from the Terminations for Medical Reasons group on this issue. I know some of the members are here with us this evening and I look forward to meeting with them in the coming days.

I would like to take a moment to return to the Ms Mellet case. I have been informed by the HSE of the supports available to women who find themselves in very distressing situations. These include HSE funding for the provision of crisis pregnancy and post-abortion counselling and, in many cases, medical examination through the sexual health and crisis pregnancy programme. A woman’s partner and-or family members can also attend these services for support. Approximately 3,000 women attend State-funded crisis pregnancy counselling services for crisis pregnancy counselling each year. In 2015 more than €3.3 million was provided directly to 16 State-funded crisis pregnancy counselling services through this programme. These services operate out of more than 40 locations nationwide. However, when I read the United Nations' views in regard to Ms Mellet, not only was I struck in regard to the issue of terminations, which, whether we like or do not like the situation, is currently a constitutional reality. What was I particularly struck and upset by, as I believe all our citizens were, was the way Ms Mellet was treated before and after by this country's health service. That was what I apologised for. It is simply not good enough. The detail of the UN report shows that services that should have worked for Ms Mellet clearly did not. There is no doubt this added further to a very distressing situation. I am not satisfied to presume that Ms Mellet's is an isolated experience. That is why I have asked the HSE to report to me, before my meeting with the Terminations for Medical Reasons group, on the clinical and counselling services in place to support women and their families who have to deal with a prenatal diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. In line with requests I have received, I am also considering within the law what other services and responses can be put in place to help women in these terrible circumstances.

I speak here today as a member of a generation who could not vote in 1983 - in fact, I was not even born in 1983. My generation has never had our voice heard on this issue. Ireland has changed. Like many people, my own views on this subject have changed, the more I have considered this complex issue and the more I have listened to the real stories of people. When we listen to the stories of women who received the dreadful diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality in their babies, there is an inescapable truth. Our present law immeasurably adds to the pain of those who make the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. I really wish and hope Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace accept my bona fides on this and I wish it was the case that we could change that situation here today on the floor of the Dáil. However, being truthful, this House cannot change it alone - only the Irish people can. It is my absolute personal hope that the citizens' assembly will recommend that those of us who were never asked the question, and indeed every other citizen in this country, will be given the opportunity to answer it after careful, considerate, respectful and informed debate. It is for these reasons that I find myself in a position to oppose this Bill because, although absolutely well-intentioned, it is unconstitutional, and I cannot support the Bill at this time. However, I hope mechanisms are put in place to bring about the constitutional change that is clearly needed.

First, I thank Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly for keeping this issue as a topic of discussion inside and outside this House. I am quite sure there are a lot of people who would rather that we were not talking about it and that we were talking about other things, but I sincerely thank the Deputies. I recognise their sincere intent in doing this. I hope the same respect would be afforded back to us in so far as our sincere intent to deal with it is as genuine as theirs.

I am very glad the Minister has made the comments he has to Amanda Mellet. He is right that it is not an isolated incident. One would have to travel far and wide to find somebody from this House who does not either know somebody directly or indirectly who has had to make that awful decision to terminate a pregnancy when they have been given the horrible diagnosis that their baby will not live outside the womb. Anybody who knows someone who has gone through that journey and who has had the most humiliating experience of bringing back their baby in a box in the boot of their car, of bringing the child home to be waked, of being told the child could not be baptised because he or she was dead and of not be able to bury the child properly in the Catholic church will know of the distress and trauma involved. It is not only the experience itself because this hangs over them for weeks, months and, in some cases, years thereafter. One could not but want to fix the situation, which I personally believe is intolerable.

I would like to very clearly state in this House that I would like to see a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and I know exactly how I will be voting.

It is only and simply for the reason of fatal foetal abnormalities and how we treat parents, in particular mothers - no offence to fathers - who have to carry the babies. When we listen to some of the stories directly from the parents involved, I cannot understand how we would not want to deal with this issue.

The time a Bill was before the House previously, when it was brought forward by Deputy Clare Daly, I was in the position of only hearing that the Attorney General had stated the Bill was unconstitutional but not knowing exactly why. I am now in the very fortunate position where I sit at a table at which I hear directly what she has to say. Even if I did not want to believe her, the arguments are so compelling they cause me to think that even if we were to pass the Bill, we would spend years fighting in the courts of the land and it would not change a single thing for the women of Ireland who find themselves in this position.

For me - much and all as I appreciate and respect the principle of the Bill - I will oppose it on the basis that I will pursue the option put before the House through the programme for the Government to establish a citizens' assembly. I cannot tell the House how pleased I was when I heard the Taoiseach state he would bring it forward from the first anticipated meeting in November to an earlier date. There is absolutely no reason, as the Minister said, this issue cannot be dealt with in a relatively short space of time, having given the citizens' assembly and our representatives on it all of the expert advice they need to come to a decision to be brought back to the House. I would love to see this happen before Christmas because there is no reason the Oireachtas committee cannot consider its judgment and opinions early next year. Let us, once and for all, have legislation in the House which suggests we can repeal the eighth amendment but let us very clearly know what we will put in its place to give comfort to the people who would vote against repeal of the eighth amendment today because we do not know what would be put in its place. I have stated this many times and people have replied that we are legislators, that this is the citizens' assembly and we should just get on with it. I do not know, except in instances of fatal foetal formalities, with what I would replace it for women who have found themselves in the unfortunate position of being raped, or pregnant through incest. I do not yet how to deal with this. I might be criticised for saying this because I should know, but I need this space to be able to hear from the citizens of Ireland what they would like to see happen in various situations because it is our country.

I am much older than the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, but I was only a young one on the first two occasions we had a chance to vote on this issue. In a reasonable and respectful society we should want to change the situation which is intolerable for parents whose children have been diagnosed with fatal foetal formalities, but I want to do something real and meaningful which can transpire in a couple of months, as opposed to passing legislation which we expect to be tested in the Supreme Court. I would rather get it right the first time and I would rather do it in the House. That is why I will oppose the Bill. It does not mean that I oppose the principle and it certainly does not mean that I have lost any support for families and parents who have received or will receive a diagnosis. I want to see the period of time during which parents must travel to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham or Wales on a weekly basis to be as short as possible. That is why I will vote against the Bill, but I will ensure the citizens' assembly is established as soon as we can.

A diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality is one of the most tragic any woman and her partner can face. The period during which a woman is pregnant is presumed to be a happy one, filled with expectation that a healthy child will be born after nine months. Being faced with a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality is every parent’s nightmare. While it is still very rare, it is very hard to listen to parents who have been given such a diagnosis and who have to book a flight to the United Kingdom to terminate the pregnancy as there is no chance the baby will actually live when born.

When Deputy Clare Daly published a similar Bill in 2014, I supported it. I fully understand the difficulties certain Deputies and Senators have in supporting it. On this occasion Fianna Fáil Deputies will be free to vote as they personally choose. Some will argue the Bill does not go far enough, but there is an onus on all of us in the Houses to act responsibility and sensibly on this issue. Our approach should not be divisive and should encourage an open debate. There is no point in labelling people who have different views which are deeply personal and deeply held.

I like to think we have avoided the partisan political debates that took place in the House and elsewhere for many years. In the years I have been in the Oireachtas this has been the one issue that has divided people, not only within parties but also in wider society. We must be respectful of people's strong and deeply held views. Sometimes the views held on both sides are too extreme to allow for a calm and rational debate on the substantive issue of legislating for the constitutional right of a woman in this country under Article 40.3.3°, as interpreted in the X case in 1992.

There are some, including the Attorney General, who believe the Bill is not constitutional. Others state it should pass and we should let the courts decide. We all agree this is far from ideal in dealing with such a sensitive issue. It is important to put the debate in its historical context. Once Article 40.3.3° was enshrined in the Constitution, it was inevitable that a court would have to decide how to vindicate the rights of the individuals concerned, namely, the pregnant woman and the unborn. Since the X case in 1992, there has been a lacuna in legislating for what is now the constitutional right of a woman to have a lawful termination where there is a real and substantial risk to her life. There were three referendums in 1992, in which two amendments were passed by the people, while one, on the substantive issue, was rejected.

In 2002 a referendum was held on another amendment which I supported. I consider myself pro-life in general. I do not like to stereotype people or put them in boxes, but I am pro-life in the sense that I believe we should do everything possible to vindicate the life of the unborn. In a case involving the rare diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality, I think it is wrong to send the woman and her partner overseas to have the pregnancy terminated, even where it is clinically recommended. This is an issue that should be dealt with between the woman and her medical experts here. These are, thankfully, extremely rare cases which require specific and special attention.

I do not believe abortion on demand should be introduced in Ireland, but I do believe the majority want the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities dealt with in the Constitution. We face conflicting difficulties when we must provide for complicated medical procedures. I find it difficult to oppose the Bill and will support it because I would not like our clinicians and those who deal with this issue to have their hands tied, whereby the only thing they can do is to tell someone to travel to the United Kingdom.

When we debated the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill in 2013, there were claims that it would open the floodgates. There is evidence that it has done nothing of the sort. As we know, the Government is committed to appointing a citizens' assembly, something which has been mentioned, to report back to the Dáil. Fianna Fáil's preference was for a judge-led commission. We need to allow the assembly being set up to come back within a period of months with its recommendations. Consensus has to be built and we need to be honest and respectful when we are dealing with and debating the highly sensitive, personal, complex, legal and medical matters the issue entails. We do not need extremists on both sides name calling or trying to exact political advantage from the issues involved.

We in this Chamber can amend legislation whenever we want and that is democracy. We can introduce Private Members’ Bills or the Government can bring forward its own legislation. We should not make decisions on the basis of opinion polls, but recent opinion polls indicate there are definite views on making provision for cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest.

I support the intention of the Bill, as I stated, but, as legislators, we have to at least try to uphold the Constitution in our legislative activities. For some Deputies, it is a matter of conscience and they passionately believe the Bill would undermine the right to life of the unborn.

People have formed their views on the basis of their faith or a fundamental view of when life begins. The reality, however, is that every year 5,000 women travel from Ireland to Britain for terminations. We should not pretend that this is not the case. We should show moderation in our use of language when discussing the issue to avoid offending others and be conscious of the need to avoid being judgmental.

While this Bill seeks to deal specifically with fatal foetal abnormalities, which is admirable, I believe an all-party approach on how to deal with this and the eighth amendment is a far better and more cohesive approach. While it may take too long, it will be the better and constitutionally safer way to go.

I do not believe the majority of the people wants the eighth amendment to be deleted and for the issue to be left to the Oireachtas to legislate for entirely. I believe the middle ground of opinion wants to see an alternative wording and that is the exercise that the process now being established should set about carrying out.

I congratulate Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly for having brought forward this legislation again and having kept the issue at the top of the political agenda. It is one of the biggest priorities we will face here as legislators and I say this on behalf of my party. I am conscious that we broach this topic a few short years after the initial Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was introduced. I get a sense from all Deputies who have spoken in the debate that they agree that we need to move on quickly. It is remarkable that despite the issue of abortion being a regular feature in public debates and media coverage, it has taken this House more than three decades to deal comprehensively with the ramifications of the eighth amendment.

I recognise, like many other Deputies, the divisive nature of the debate surrounding this issue. It is, however, an absolutely necessary debate and it is our duty as democrats to address the obvious human rights concerns surrounding this issue, regardless of how sensitive they are and that they will bring tension. We should not and cannot shy away from this critical issue any longer. It would be immoral to do so. I found the debates surrounding the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill a few years ago to have been carried out in this House with a basic degree of dignity and respect for the views of others, which I welcome. I hope and believe the debate we have here and the one that will follow, through various media, will be conducted in the same way, namely, with dignity, regardless of the various personal feelings of Deputies and public representatives on this highly sensitive issue.

I am proud that we in the Labour Party can say we opposed the introduction of the eighth amendment into the Constitution in 1983. I cannot remember the referendum either because I was only eight. We were the first major party to call for repeal of the eighth amendment in recent years, in recognition of the profoundly negative effects it has on the lives of Irish women and the chilling effect it has on our legislative process. Furthermore, I am proud that the Labour Party in government was the first since the introduction of the eighth amendment to grasp this thorny issue and deal with it in law. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, passed by the previous Government, in no way solved all the issues. That is why we are here again today. It did, however, go as far as constitutionally allowable in providing for medical terminations of pregnancies where the pregnancy endangers a mother's life, including through the risk of suicide, acute physical or terminal illness or an emergency situation. Under that law, such pregnancies can only be terminated by a medical professional in a controlled medical environment. This made legal and moral sense and was a crucial step in the right direction.

The Labour Party wishes instinctively to support the Bill introduced by Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly. We believe that where a foetus has been diagnosed with a terminal medical illness, a woman, in consultation with medical professionals acting in her best interests, should have a choice to end the pregnancy so as not to prolong the grief and agony she undoubtedly must endure.

In this year's general election, Labour campaigned specifically on a pledge to hold a referendum on the eighth amendment during the course of the Government. Unfortunately, however, we did not receive a large enough mandate to enter government and I fear that, as a result of this exclusion, the current Administration is pushing the can down the road a little more. We regret this, but if we are to go through a citizens' assembly and I have no doubt that we are, I share and welcome the comments of those who have said that the assembly will be brought forward in order that this issue can be dealt with more quickly. That is absolutely necessary.

While we support the premise of the Bill and did previously, we must also be realistic. I was a member of the previous Government during which time we were advised by the Attorney General that the amendment proposed in the Bill was unconstitutional. This position has not changed and, as Deputies, one of our first duties is to uphold the Constitution. The eighth amendment created a legal position whereby all external attempts to end a pregnancy were deemed illegal and the right to life of the unborn was given equal weight to the life of the mother. The only reason we were able to introduce the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in the first instance, in addition to great political will on behalf of my party, was a loophole created by the Supreme Court's judgment in the X case and the people's refusal to overrule that judgment in two subsequent referendums. There is, unfortunately, no such loophole to exploit which would allow us to legislate for terminations of pregnancies where a fatal foetal abnormality has been identified, however much we wish that were the case.

With this in mind, while we will definitely not vote against the Bill, unfortunately we cannot support it in this format. We express our absolute sympathy with all those who find themselves in such a situation and we reaffirm the Labour Party's aim to continue to fight to ensure these women's rights and their basic dignity are vindicated very soon. I hope the next time such a Bill comes before the Oireachtas, it will be debated in a different way and we will collectively support it. As progressive Deputies in this House, we should refocus our attention on forcing the Government to hold a referendum on the eighth amendment in order that the issues of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies that have come about as a result of horrible circumstances such as rape and incest may be dealt with on the floor of this House. It is inexcusable in 21st century Ireland that we force a medical specialist to operate with a scalpel in one hand and a copy of the Constitution in the other.

In light of the recent decision by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union, there is a very real possibility that the journeys undertaken by so many Irish women seeking abortions for different reasons each year could become ever more precarious for those forced to undertake them. What effect will this have, and how will it be judged in the courts? We do not know the answers to these questions. We do not even fully know all the questions. To criminalise and exile these women is unacceptable, and we in the Labour Party restate our support for the repeal of the eighth amendment and, in the aftermath of its repeal, a common-sense legislative or constitutional programme, or both, allowing for abortion in certain circumstances, with defined limitations and in line with best medical practice.

As a nation we often look back with shame on issues such as the Magdalen laundries and the abuse of children in industrial schools. We must recognise that although we have come far, we are in no way the country we have the potential to be. I believe that as we do now in regard to past wrongs, so too will our children and grandchildren look back on this period of history with great shame and remorse and we must change this. I have no doubt they will not be able to understand why none of us could legislate on this basic civil rights issue and why the current Government took so long to deal with it. Please, let us deal with it soon. Let us deal with it in the coming months as part of what is being put forward by the Government, if that is the chosen option.

We should remember and reflect upon the circumstances of every woman in this country as we seek to address the consequences of the eighth amendment and as we fight for its repeal. That is the Labour Party’s view and we look forward to a day when we can return to the House to debate this topic without the spectre of constitutional limitations, when our only guiding principle should be what is in the best interests of women.

The parameters of the Bill are extremely narrow. We seek to legislate to allow abortion in cases where two specialist medical practitioners - an obstetrician and a perinatologist - have deemed a foetus to be incompatible with life. We are not talking about life-limiting illnesses or disabilities, but foetuses which are incompatible with life. In June 2013, there was letter in The Irish Times from a group of 43 lawyers and law lecturers, who set out that it was entirely possible to legislate for fatal foetal abnormality without changing the Constitution. According to the group:

It is possible to interpret Article 40.3.3° so that the “unborn” that is protected therein does not include those foetuses with fatal abnormalities. The Irish courts have not considered this legal issue and there is no binding precedent excluding such an interpretation.

Ireland is just one of two EU member states that do not allow for legal terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. The fact that the question of allowing for abortion in such cases has never been assessed by the Irish courts means women are, by law, required to carry to term, and give birth to, a foetus which will never be born alive.

The question of constitutionality has been raised by many Government Deputies in regard to the Bill, and the opinion of the Attorney General in this regard was trotted out as an excuse for Government Deputies to vote against Deputy Clare Daly’s Bill last year. There are two very serious problems with this. The first is that the opinion was never published, and we have never had a chance to assess or debate it. The second is that it is only an opinion. Only the courts can find something to be constitutional or not. If constitutionality is the only reason Deputies have for refusing to back this Bill, they should allow it to be assessed in the appropriate manner, by the courts. If the courts find it is unconstitutional, we will be in the same situation as we are now.

We, too, have sought legal opinion and I have been told that for Government Members to keep repeating that the Bill is unconstitutional is highly inappropriate. Under the separation of powers doctrine, which is enshrined within the Constitution and forms the backbone of our democracy, only the courts can interpret legislation. Article 15 provides that only the Oireachtas has the power to make laws and Article 28 sets out that executive power can be exercised only through the Government. Each of the three bodies has sole independence and power in its own sphere and cannot encroach into the sphere of any other. This system of checks and balances, this separation of powers, is supposed to mean no one body is too powerful and it prevents over concentration of power in the hands of one body.

It is all the more inappropriate if it can be shown that the legal advice the Government is relying on from the Attorney General's office, that our Bill is unconstitutional, does not relate specifically to our Bill and is outdated and, possibly, obsolete if it was provided in 2010. Under Article 15, the Oireachtas cannot pass laws that are “repugnant” to the Constitution. However, given the disagreement among legal academics and barristers on whether fatal foetal abnormalities can be legislated for, the question of constitutionality is at the very least arguable, and the Bill cannot be said to be repugnant to the Constitution, which would be a piece of legislation that is clearly and undeniably unconstitutional.

The Constitution has been referred to many times by judges and academics as a "living, breathing document". It is intended that judges have the power to interpret the meaning of the Constitution to reflect the society of the day. Society has changed considerably since 1937, and indeed since the eighth amendment was introduced in 1983. It is time we gave the Constitution a chance to catch up.

The recent examination of the Amanda Mellet case by the UN Human Rights Committee, UNHRC, was the first time any international court or human rights body has found that the criminalisation of abortion is, in itself, a violation of human rights. The UNHRC found that even though the State did not directly inflict harm on Amanda Mellet, its neglect and abandonment of women in this situation, who are left “isolated and defenceless”, moves situations like hers out of the realm of guiltless tragedy and into the responsibility of the State. In forcing her to travel, depriving her of material and emotional support and appropriate care during and after the abortion, the Irish State added to the heartbreak of carrying an unviable pregnancy, violating her right to "protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" detailed in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. The State also violated her rights to privacy and bodily integrity under Article 17 of the ICCPR. According to the committee, “requiring the author to carry a fatally impaired pregnancy to term only underscores the extent to which the State party has prioritised ... the reproductive role of women as mothers, and exposes its claimed justification in this context as a reductio ad absurdum".

The committee found that the State discriminated against Amanda Mellet both as a woman and on socio-economic grounds. According to Sarah Cleveland, a member of the UNHRC, the criminalisation of abortion amounts to gender discrimination, because it affects a health service that only women need and places no equivalent burden on men. Women who choose to carry an unviable pregnancy to term and deliver a stillborn child receive State-funded care, whereas those would-be criminals who choose to travel for the termination of their already unviable foetus must bear the cost themselves and forgo any aftercare. Tough luck if you cannot afford it.

According to the London-based Abortion Support Network, the economic crisis has made the process of accessing abortions even harder for poorer women. Deputies who hide behind the eighth amendment as an excuse to vote against the Bill, and who then refuse to call for the repeal of the amendment, are shamelessly upholding a system which violates the rights of women specifically, treating them as second-class citizens, completely denying their bodily integrity and regarding them as no more than human incubators. It is the Government’s neglect of its responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens, as highlighted by the United Nations, which allows for this truly appalling situation to continue.

The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, has said he read the UN committee’s report, stating that he found “the experience this woman had, deeply upsetting". He said he had met with families who have been through the trauma of knowing their baby will not survive and had been very moved by hearing of their experiences. He said he wanted the issue to be addressed. I hope he will put his words into action. Although the finding of the UNHRC is not technically binding on Ireland, in line with our obligations under international law, in particular the ICCPR, we are obliged to act on it in good faith to implement the findings of the committee. International law requires the State to provide a remedy and prevent a repetition.

Every day, ten to 12 women and girls leave Ireland to access safe and legal abortions, because if they did so here, they could face up to 14 years in prison. The Irish Family Planning Association found that between January 1980 and December 2015, over 166,000 women and girls travelled from the Republic of Ireland to access abortion services in another country. Ruth Fletcher, senior lecturer in law at Queen Mary University London, holds that restricting access to abortion does not stop abortion; it just makes the experience more harmful. According to Ruth Fletcher:

If Irish society is serious about reducing harm to pregnant women, including the harms of disrespecting their autonomy and bodily integrity, the State needs to change how it thinks about pregnancy and abortion. The recognition of woman and foetus as legal equals has been harmful, and needs to change.

People disagree about abortion and have different views on when life begins. While people are entitled to their beliefs, they should not be entitled to shove their beliefs down the necks of others, especially when it amounts to a violation of their human rights.

I support the Bill. I welcome the representatives of the TFMR group to the Visitors Gallery. It is with deep sorrow that we are discussing this issue again and that the families have to go through this debate again. We have to try to finally deal with it.

The recent HSE report stated that 26 pregnancies were terminated by our health service in 2015. This compares with the 3,451 terminations in the United Kingdom to women with Irish addresses for the same year. That figure is higher if account is taken of the fact that some women do not give an address in the Republic and others use abortion pills procured over the Internet. The number of terminations carried out by the health service in 2014 was similar to 2015, which demonstrates that those of us who voted against the 2013 Act as being so restrictive as to make no difference were right to do so. The Act represented a failure of the previous Government to fulfil any obligation it had in respect of this issue. We continue the criminalisation of medical professionals with a 14-year jail sentence hanging over those who have to determine how close to death a mother is before they can make a decision on whether to terminate. This is repugnant to me and many others.

A pregnant women faced with a threat to her health who has the financial means and the ability to travel will opt do so rather than overcome the difficult barriers put in front of her by the 2013 Act, with limited prospects of securing a termination. The only reason this is tolerated by the people, which has had an impact on the thinking of legislators, is that if one has the money, one can travel. The consequences are dire for those who do not have the money. This could be part of the conversation in the context of Brexit, which was pointed out earlier, in respect of access to travel and access to services in a member state. Brexit could affect a woman's right to travel to England, for example. Some English NHS hospitals are already restricting terminations for Irish women to one per week, while private clinics are unaffordable. We are facing a different scenario, and this should be part of the debate.

The House needs to finally face up to its responsibilities in this area, and a good start would be to pass the legislation and have its constitutionality tested in the Supreme Court. I endorse the points made by Deputy Mick Wallace in this regard. Many legal experts disagree with the advice given to the Government by the Attorney General. With regard to the X case and the right to travel, the Supreme Court found against the then Attorney General. Attorneys General, therefore, are not always correct in their findings. If the Supreme Court were to rule this Bill unconstitutional, that, in my opinion and, I am sure, the opinion of the majority of people, would strengthen the case for a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. The Government parties are hiding behind that. If they believe fatal foetal abnormalities cannot be dealt with unless the eighth amendment is repealed, what is the point of going through a constitutional convention?

TFMR was not invited to the health committee hearings on the 2013 legislation. Its representatives would have had a crucial role to play in that debate. This forced Amanda Mellet to go to Geneva to have her constitutional rights vindicated, and the UN Human Rights Committee said Ireland's position was indefensible and inhumane. The previous Government had to respond to the committee by December 2014, yet there will be a constitutional convention for the next year or 18 months. The Government has to stop this and support the Bill. It should be brought to the courts to have its constitutionality tested. If the eighth amendment needs to be repealed, that should be done. A wraparound scenario cannot deal with the issue we face.

I fully support the Bill. All of us have listened to the horrific stories and experiences of women who have had to travel to Liverpool to deal with the outworkings of a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. That was enough to tell me that the right thing to do is to pass legislation to address this but, unfortunately, that is not enough for the Government parties. They choose to hide behind the Constitution and refuse to deal with the issue by claiming the legislation is unconstitutional. However, the Government cannot make that determination. The Attorney General is appointed under Article 30 of the Constitution as the legal adviser to the Government, not as the determiner of the constitutionality of legislation. A previous Attorney General advised the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the Government that it would be disrespectful to the domestic legal order for the court to assume what would be a domestic court's response to a novel question. However, it is disrespectful for the current Attorney General to the domestic legal order to assume what would be a domestic court's response to a similar novel question. This question has not been tested in the courts, but we are saying that a woman faced with this horrible scenario has to test in the courts. If we had the courage of our convictions in this Oireachtas, we would pass the legislation and have it interpreted by the courts, because judges are the only people who can interpret whether legislation is constitutional. They are the only people who can deal with whether a novel question has to be dealt with and who can interpret the laws of the State in respect of it.

It is disrespectful and disingenuous for Government Members to utter statements that this legislation is unconstitutional. If they were being honest, the best that they could say is that in their opinion it might be unconstitutional. That would change the context of the argument they are making, if they were honest about the legal position in respect of the Attorney General and how legislation can be dealt with. This legislation should be passed. It should be tested, and then we could determine once and for all what is the position.

I wish to share time with Deputies Kathleen Funchion and Richard Boyd Barrett.

Prior to discussing the Bill , the legal issues involved or the arguments that may come up against it, we should pause to consider what is a fatal foetal abnormality. It is important to do this, not least because we are discussing legislation on this issue, but because there is a serious lack of information about exactly what we are discussing. I have seen it in the e-mails I am receiving and I am sure all Members have received the same e-mails. I have heard it in some of the arguments being made against this Bill, but most of what I have heard is a gross distortion of the facts. These fatal foetal abnormalities are not, as some of the e-mails suggest, "babies with disabilities." Down syndrome or cleft palates are not fatal foetal abnormalities. These are not what we are discussing, and shame on those who try to muddy the waters and pretend that we are.

Many Irish women and their partners are informed each year that the foetuses they are carrying are suffering from conditions which make the foetus incompatible with life. Such an incompatibility can stem from a variety of medical conditions which can be diagnosed at various stages during the pregnancy. These conditions mean a foetus will not develop to a point at which it is able to live outside the womb. Depending on the condition and individual circumstances, the foetus may die during pregnancy or may survive until moments after the birth. It does not mean that the foetus will have a lifelong disability or an impaired life. It is unfortunate that we have to keep repeating this. It means the foetus is incompatible with life.

It is also important to highlight the process. Medical practitioners, consultants and experts in this field provide their patients with full details of the condition and the statistics regarding any possibility of survival. Parents are fully informed. They are given full information and this allows them, as responsible people, to make the decision about continuing with the pregnancy. It is important to clarify this.

Passing this legislation, enabling terminations in these circumstances, does not mean that women are under any obligation to terminate their pregnancies. They will be under no duress to take any action they do not feel is appropriate. There will be a choice. Women will choose to navigate these tragic circumstances in different ways. What this legislation will do is give them one more option.

We know from hearing the first-hand experiences of groups such as Termination for Medical Reasons, TFMR, of women who have had to deal with a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis and of the doctors and nurses who work with these people that the woman's suffering is compounded by the fact that when she makes the tough decision to terminate her pregnancy, she is made to feel like a criminal in her own country-----

-----and forced to travel outside Ireland for medical care. When a woman is diagnosed with such a pregnancy, and if she decides that she cannot continue her pregnancy, she is faced with the stark and traumatic option to travel to another jurisdiction and that is an option where the woman has the finances to so do. This is not acceptable.

There are people in the Gallery and outside this Chamber who want this issue dealt with. For the record, I note the Minister apologised this evening but we have an opportunity to ensure that we do not inflict cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on another Irish woman. For God's sake, why can we not take that opportunity? If it should be the case that this legislation is unconstitutional, let the courts decide that. We have had one excuse after another. The Minister has failed women. He has let them down. We have an opportunity here tonight to take a stand and change that.

I commend Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly for bringing this issue forward and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on it. For me, this is about two things; it is about choice and respect. It is about respecting the choice of a woman when faced with the devastating news of a foetal fatal abnormality. It is about respecting her choice to access a termination in that situation. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be faced with that situation and, on top of that, the woman is going through the grief, the whole thought process of how and why is this happening to her, and to her and her partner as a couple. Then we say to a woman that she needs to get on a boat or an aeroplane to get the service that she deserves to have available to her in this country.

We have spoken a great deal about mental health in this Chamber in recent weeks. What about the mental health of women faced with this situation? We need to ensure that women have access to this service in this country. It really comes down to that. It comes down to choice and respect.

For far too long in this State, women's rights regarding this issue have been ignored. On a daily basis, we ignore the women who choose to travel to England to access services that are denied to them here. We need to have a referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment and, subsequently, to have it repealed.

I commend the bravery of the many women who have come forward to tell their stories, which has been extremely difficult for them. We should not put them in a situation where they had to go public and tell their stories in order to get the debate on this issue started in this House. We hear on all sides of the House that there is a lot of empathy for people but really what people want is action. They do not need to hear that we are sorry for their situation. They need to see action but for far too long, we in this State have ignored this.

We need to support this Bill and not pay lip-service to this issue. Action is what people need to see on this issue. We need to support this Bill but we also need a referendum on the eighth amendment and to see it repealed. I urge the Minister and the Government to do the right thing on this issue and to support this Bill.

I thank Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly for bringing this issue forward again, TFMR for its continued campaigning work and the Sinn Féin Deputies for giving me some of their time to speak on this issue. I was depressed walking in here at the thought that we were going to have to debate this issue again. I was even more depressed when I discovered that I did not have any time to speak because the rules for tonight's debate are different from the normal ones. I very much appreciate that the Sinn Féin Deputies have given me some of their time.

I was depressed in any event coming into the Chamber because as somebody who has been through a situation where I lost a daughter to fatal foetal abnormalities, it is depressing in the extreme that we have to discuss this at all. For people who receive a diagnosis that a child they want to have has fatal foetal abnormalities is a cruelty beyond words. I am not a believer in a God but when one gets this diagnosis, one feels as if some malign power has singled one and one's family out for cruel and inhuman treatment because something one desperately wants has been taken away in the cruelest possible way. As it is such an intensely personal thing and one is told that this is a one in 10,000 or a one in 100,000 diagnosis, one feels completely alone and isolated and does not realise that, even though it is rare in a general sense, a huge number of people are going through it. It was only because of the bravery of other people - in my case, I never wanted to speak to anybody about it - and the bravery of families in TFMR that I felt compelled, out of a sense of obligation to them and the courage they have shown, to speak out about my own personal situation. Nobody who has been through this wants to talk to anybody other than their family and friends about it.

It is in that context that there is a certain obscenity in the fact we are discussing this and that the people here in a political Chamber or lawyers have anything whatsoever to do with or say about this intensely personal tragedy. It is a treble tragedy because there is the tragedy of losing a wanted child, there is the tragedy of those who have to go to Britain, go through that degrading humiliation of sneaking out of the country and go through all the awful stuff we know about and there is the further obscenity of our having to come in here and make a case to people to stop this cruelty.

The Government should let this Bill pass because not to do so is to continue this cruel, degrading humiliation of people in the most awful circumstances. If there is a constitutional bar and the courts find that, then let us repeal the eighth amendment straightaway. This issue alone means we have to repeal the eighth amendment and we must do so forthwith.

The next speaker is Deputy O'Connell who has ten minutes. I understand she may be sharing her time with other speakers. Is that correct?

I intend to speak for five minutes. I will share the remaining time equally between the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan.

I appreciate the passion Deputy Wallace has for this Bill. I would like to thank him for having the courage to speak up for the women and men whose lives are forever changed on receiving a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. This is a topic very close to my heart. My husband and I were unfortunate enough to be told our much wanted child had a profound defect when we went for our 20-week scan. The pain and suffering of that time is deeply etched in my memory and the fear of the unknown and the cruelty of fate weighed heavily on our shoulders. Against the odds, the pregnancy continued to term and I was delivered of a child, almost all of whose organs were outside his body. He is now, miraculously, a fit and healthy five year old with a flair for social commentary. That week in which we awaited the results to tell us if he also had a genetic and, therefore, fatal abnormality was the hardest of our young lives.

Before that, I had not needed to pay much attention to the eighth amendment, nor had I been overly aware of the limitations it placed on the people. Call me ignorant, but it had never been on my radar until that point, having spent most of my adult life in the UK where a civilised and compassionate approach to women's health is par for the course. Arising from that personal experience, I have become a more educated, open-minded and informed person and, I hope, representative. It should not require every Member of the House to suffer as my husband and I did to speak for a repeal of the eighth amendment. I would not wish what we went through on anyone. Having met representatives from Termination for Medical Reasons, I know that they also want to limit the suffering of the those who face the same situation.

As we sit here today, people are receiving a diagnosis which tells them to prepare for a death, not a birth, and that their misery cannot be relieved in our country. The inordinate political anxiety that surrounds the repeal of the eighth amendment is understandable, but it takes courage to stand up for what is right, to meet those who have lived the experience and to listen to the medical experts and not some self-appointed moral police who will look down on the rest of us from their lofty perches, terrorising Deputies with threats of hellfire and eternal damnation in the hope that this will cause political paralysis. That is not going to work. As legislators, we must acknowledge that change is happening, that people are calling for it and that the international community demands it. However, it is incumbent on us to vote down this legislation having been informed that it is unconstitutional. As legal adviser to the Government, the Attorney General has made her opinion clear. I understand that legal opinions may differ, but the Attorney General is the person to whom we turn for legal guidance and to ignore her professional opinion would be to do her a disservice.

As well as caring for our women, we must act to protect our medical professionals. The Bill does not prescribe what constitutes a fatal foetal abnormality and there is no definition of the term "incompatible with life". While the eighth amendment remains in place, it presents a barrier to those practising medicine who wish to have clarity regarding care. I have spoken before of my support for the calling of a referendum and to ask this generation of people what they want to do with the eighth amendment. Its repeal is in the best interests of the people, and when the time comes for us to canvass, I will travel the country asking people to support that. The citizens convention, which will be established shortly, will be comprised of men and women from throughout the country and of all ages and backgrounds. I hope the process will be executed in a timely and efficient manner and lead ultimately to a repeal of the eighth amendment. By muddying the waters around the eighth amendment with Bills like this, we risk negatively affecting future campaigns where clear and unequivocal questions can be put to the people.

I thank Deputy Kate O'Connell for that extraordinary contribution and for telling her story as others have told theirs. It is helpful. It is incumbent on us to listen to these stories and to make our decisions in light of hearing them. I also express my appreciation to Deputy Wallace for bringing forward the Bill and to his Independent colleagues, in particular Deputy Clare Daly, who have offered a significant contribution to collective efforts to liberalise Ireland's abortion laws. As an Independent Member of the House, I am in agreement with the Deputies and many other human rights advocates and activists in Ireland and internationally that Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. As I am sharing time, I will confine myself to identifying the three main reasons I will not support the Bill.

I am of the view that we need constitutional change and that without it even a perfected version of the Bill will not provide what women need. Article 40.3.3° would remain in place if we passed this Bill in the next couple of months. We all know that the article reads that "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn, and with due regard ...". As it stands, our Constitution guarantees to defend and vindicate the life of the unborn. That is what it says plainly. If Parliament were to pass the Bill, it would necessarily be challenged by the courts and we would not have the legislative regime whereby pregnant women and medical practitioners could, with care and confidence, terminate a pregnancy in the context of a fatal foetal abnormality.

On the Bill itself, the definition of fatal foetal abnormality refers to a medical condition suffered by a foetus such that it is incompatible with life outside the womb. Early this evening, I spoke to one of Ireland's foremost medical practitioners in this field and in that conversation it was confirmed to me that it is simply not possible for any medical doctor to say absolutely and categorically that a foetus will have no chance of life outside the womb. They cannot say that it will not have life, which is to say that it will not have a heartbeat or a breath outside the womb, even if that breath is only for a few moments or a couple of days. Given that this is the medical reality and given that the eighth amendment protects the right to life of the unborn, any version of the Bill will not provide us with the desired outcome of its authors.

As has been mentioned, we have a citizens' assembly coming before us. I understand that this will take more time and that change will not come about soon enough for many women, but I believe that we are at a point in history where, with that process, we have the possibility and the capacity to change. I will work towards that every moment of the day until it happens.

It is important in this debate in the media and on social media to note that this has nothing to do with the protection of life as there are some lives that cannot be saved. As we speak here over the next couple of days, some mothers and their partners or their husbands will get terrible news. The news may be that a child or the foetus has trisomy 13 or cystic hygroma, which is foetal chromosomal abnormality, which means that the baby will die in the uterus or die just after birth or that the woman will have a miscarriage. We are saying to those women that they must go through with that and that if they do not, they should leave the country and go to Liverpool or Manchester. That is exactly what we are saying. The majority of people who are saying that are not even female. They are men. They are all men in the church. The majority in this House are men, as has been seen over recent years. This is unacceptable. This is personal to the individual woman.

It is unacceptable and unthinkable to allow complete strangers, individually or collectively, or legislators to make such personal decisions for a woman. This is what it comes down to. I cannot take responsibility for this statement - a woman made it to me.

The time has come to face up to reality. We cannot continually export the country's problems. I do not know whether the Bill is anti-constitutional, and I do not care. I care about the women tomorrow, next week and the week after who will have to get on an aeroplane or ship to Liverpool, Manchester or Newcastle and, as has happened, bring a foetus back in a box in the back of a car. This is Ireland in 2016, not 1920. We cannot continue allowing this to happen. Year after year, we find excuses, legal or otherwise, to prohibit women from leaving the country. People should read the issue of The Irish Times that showed an image of Ireland surrounded by a barbed wire fence and a woman on a ladder trying to get out. This is 2016 and that can no longer be allowed. The time has come for people to stand their ground on this issue. We must do so for the thousands of women who will be affected in the coming years and for the women who cannot wait another six months, year or two years. I have not even begun to discuss women who have been violated and raped. We tell them to go through with the nine months and have their children whether they like it or not. That we allow this to happen in 2016 is unacceptable.

Three Deputies are remaining and I am trying to accommodate everyone. Deputies Catherine Connolly, Catherine Martin and Fiona O'Loughlin are next. Since I must call on the Minister of State at 7.35 p.m., I would appreciate it if the Deputies were as brief as possible.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill. I welcome the Minister's apology for what has happened. However, he must do more than apologise or give empathy and sympathy. There was a duty on him to publish and make available the judgment of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. He might confirm whether he did. He also had 180 days to make information available about the measures taken to give effect to the committee's views and he must show what effective remedy the State will provide. He is under a legal obligation to devise a solution for this matter. Had the Government come forward regarding its obligation under the decision and told us what it was going to do, perhaps I would have taken more seriously its advice that this draft legislation is unconstitutional.

I welcome the tone of this discussion and the rational and reasonable debate. When the famous amendment was introduced in 1983, the Bishop of Galway was Dr. Eamon Casey and the Magdalen laundry in Galway was still open. It was also the year that Sheila Rodgers died in Drogheda. A young, married Dundalk mother of two, she died in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, having given birth to a premature baby. She had become pregnant while receiving treatment for a recurrent cancer. The hospital refused to allow her to stay on the treatment because of her pregnancy. The cancer returned, she died and her baby died. That was 1983, when we introduced the amendment to the Constitution and many lawyers and academics warned that it would lead to significant difficulties.

Of course, problems emerged. In 1992, the X case dealt with the treatment of a 14-year-old girl who had been violated, became pregnant and was going to England for an abortion only for the High Court to seek to do everything in secret and to prevent her from going. The Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and the Attorney General also tried to prevent it. There is not a mother or father in the Chamber who would not have taken her or his 14-year-old out of the country to seek a termination.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court acted sensibly and made a judgment. It deplored the fact that no legislation had been introduced by successive Governments. It allowed Miss X to travel. She deserves her privacy and I am simply referring to the principles involved. The Supreme Court deplored the failure by the Legislature to enact the appropriate legislation, saying that it "is no longer just unfortunate; it is inexcusable". That was 1992. The then President, Ms Mary Robinson, issued a statement on the deep crisis within ourselves. She hoped "we have the courage, which we have not always had, to face up to and look squarely and to say this is a problem we have got to resolve".

In 1992, there was another push for an amendment to copperfasten Article 40.3.3o by ruling out suicide as an acceptable ground. Fortunately, it was rejected by the people. In 2002, a further referendum to overturn the X case - not to deal with the problem or introduce appropriate legislation - was again rejected by the people.

In 2010, and owing to the failure of successive Governments to introduce appropriate legislation, we saw the A, B and C v. Ireland case in the International Court of Human Rights. The court found that Ireland had breached the human rights of a woman with cancer who had to travel abroad to get an abortion. In that case, the woman - C - had a rare form of cancer and feared that she would relapse when she unintentionally became pregnant. However, she said that she was unable to find a doctor who was willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued.

One would have imagined that we would have learned something then, but it took another death, that of Ms Harte's in November 2011. It is worth taking a moment to consider her case. She suffered from malignant melanoma and was forced to go to Britain for an abortion despite being terminally ill with cancer. The hospital ethics committee forum had decided against authorising an abortion on the basis that her life was not under immediate threat and so on. The doctors were willing to carry out a termination, but the ethics committee said, "No". She had to be helped onto an aeroplane, such was her illness, to seek a termination. When she returned, her solicitor took a case and won a substantial award for her. She died a few months later. She left a child behind her because we failed utterly to deal with the legislative situation.

My city of Galway saw the shocking case of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. Her doctors and nurses were acting under an unworkable regime of laws. Besides questions about a lack of basic care and treatment and resources in the hospital, there was an issue with there being no termination. This forced the Government to act in the form of the expert group's report, which was suddenly published and led to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. The Act would criminalise me - I am beyond the age - but a woman would be criminalised and face a long prison sentence, fine or both if she sought to terminate a pregnancy due to a fatal foetal abnormality or any other reason. That is what we have done. "Protection of Life During Pregnancy" is a cynical use of language.

Here we are in 2016 being forced to act because of our obligations under the covenant. The committee went to pains to point out that legislation like the 2013 Act and the constitutional amendment are no excuse for not providing services for women who find themselves in this position. In the case of Amanda Jane Mellet, it was found that there was a violation of her rights under Article 7 of the ICCPR and that her treatment was cruel, inhuman and degrading. Can we stand over that? Her right to privacy under Article 17 was violated and she was discriminated against under Article 26.

Eleven people will have left Ireland today to have an abortion in England. Many of them will have been carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality. Can we stand over that system for the approximately 4,000 women we know about who leave our country each year for England? How could we stand over that in this Chamber?

Would the Deputy like to give way to her two colleagues who wish to contribute?

I did not realise I was sharing time. I thought everyone was being given the same amount of time.

I support the Bill. In 2015, 135 women left Ireland for Britain to terminate a pregnancy on the basis that there was a fatal foetal abnormality.

I welcome the Bill. The Green Party will be supporting it. My colleagues in our Technical Group, the Social Democrats, have asked me to express their support for the Bill but, owing to the change in speaking arrangements tonight, they did not get an opportunity to speak.

Tonight, we have an opportunity, in a small way, to ease the suffering of parents going on an horrific personal journey, a journey with an inevitable, heartbreaking conclusion. Currently, parents facing a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality and trying to deal with this extremely difficult situation have their upset compounded by their being forced to travel abroad, often feeling like they are sneaking away rather than being closely supported by their families in their own country and by the trusted doctors and nurses on this difficult journey with them. This needs to change. These couples need practical support by translating words, however genuine, into doing our utmost to take action. They need the type of support that many of our medical professionals want to give them. Doctors are powerless, however, and the best they can do is refer these couples to foreign jurisdictions.

In this debate this evening, I have heard some legalistic concerns articulated and relied upon as a reason to oppose the Bill. These concerns are largely misplaced because, in some respects, the Bill represents a real response by its proposers and supporters to address truly desperate, dreadful circumstances that they want to see end as soon as possible. It is, in essence, a type of declaratory action taken in the Dáil. If it passes through the Houses of the Oireachtas, there will be a safety valve in place. Our Constitution provides that the President, if he has concerns, may refer the Bill directly to the Supreme Court, which can pronounce on it and, perhaps, lay out guidelines. In doing so, perhaps the Supreme Court could take into consideration the democratic will of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Does the Deputy wish to give way to her colleague?

Yes. I shall speak for just one more moment. We have not seen any detailed or definitive legal opinion published by the Attorney General. Most importantly, no legal opinion has been published by the Attorney General or shared with us, as legislators, to assist us. The reality is that there can be no categorical presumption of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the proposed legislation. In other words, relying upon a categorical or emphatic presumption or assumption would be unwise in these circumstances. Given the choice of supporting this, over which there is a huge question mark, and supporting the parents and bringing an end to their pain, I choose to support the Bill and support the parents.

I apologise to Deputy Fiona O’Loughlin as she has just over one minute.

It is hard to know what to say in a minute on such a complex issue. Luckily, the confirmation of a pregnancy is normally a very happy event filled with expectation, joy and excitement over the prospect of a healthy child. The diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality must be one of the most tragic of circumstances that any woman and her partner may experience. One must walk in the shoes of such a woman or a doctor, who must work under conditions that do not always seem to be clear-cut, to have a real understanding of the complex issues at play and the agony of having to make a very difficult decision, possibly the most difficult decision of one's life. All we are looking for here is respect for that choice and to facilitate it in a humane way. I commend the women who have come forward to tell their very difficult stories. I also commend the bravery of the women who have gone through with births in difficult, tragic circumstances. I respect their choice also. Free will and choice are powerful gifts. One person’s wish may be another's tragedy. What is right for me may not be right for another woman. I have no right to dictate her best option regarding a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. Our approach should not be divisive and should encourage an open debate.

I thank Deputy Wallace and his colleagues for publishing the Bill before the House. I thank all the Deputies who have spoken on this issue for their thoughtful and sincere contributions. I hope Deputies Kate O’Connell and Richard Boyd Barrett will not mind my singling them out in appreciation of their sharing of their personal stories. One would have to be made of stone not to have been moved by the tone of their voices when they were speaking and sharing such traumatic experiences.

I wish to add my voice to the concerns expressed by the Minister, Deputy Harris, for pregnant women and their families who must deal with the diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. I heard the contributions of the Deputies with personal experience and those whose constituents have had such experiences. Those who have not had the experience can only imagine the sadness experienced on hearing the diagnosis.

Many of the contributors to the debate suggested that Article 40.3.3° needs to be revisited. They have different views on how to strike the right balance regarding what they would wish to see in any final proposals to amend or remove the eighth amendment from our Constitution.

I wish to respond to a couple of points made. The Government, including the Minister for Health, takes his obligations in regard to the views of the UN Human Rights Committee most seriously. It will certainly be ensuring a response is returned within the obligatory 180 days. The Minister outlined clearly that he is considering, within the law, what other services and responses can be put in place to help women with a prenatal diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. It is important we acknowledge that.

Mention was made of the opinion from the Attorney General. We must acknowledge that the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government. The Minister has fully reflected that legal opinion in his speech this evening. If anybody has not read that, he or she should avail of the opportunity to do so.

The Government’s decision in view of the commitment in the programme for a partnership Government to establish a citizens’ assembly to make recommendations to the Dáil on further constitutional changes, including on the eighth amendment, is the way to move forward. As one heard earlier, it will be established earlier than we had anticipated.

The issue of fatal foetal abnormality and the views of the UN Human Rights Committee can be considered as part of this process. The citizens’ assembly will be set up very shortly, and consideration of the eighth amendment will be the first matter it will be asked to address. It will be given a specific timeframe, as outlined earlier, in which to report back to us. It is for this reason and the reasons the Minister outlined earlier that I cannot support this Bill. We must take the legal advice of the Attorney General seriously and try to do what is best for the women of this country without making any decisions that will cause further difficulties for them. When the decision is made, it should be made with the women at the heart of it. I hope this will be done sooner rather than later.

I acknowledge the apology made by the Minister. It will be important to the individual women, their families and society at large. It is appreciated from that point of view. I recognise from tonight's debate the obvious change that is coming down the track. This is evident from the number of Members present at this hour on a Thursday evening and the cross-party points that have been made.

I appreciate that the sympathy expressed is totally genuine across the House. I do not believe there is any question about that but unfortunately the response put forward by the Government is not urgent enough.

We must be honest with ourselves and citizens. The House would not even be discussing this Bill if Deputy Mick Wallace and I had not been lucky to have it selected in a lottery. That is the truth of the matter. The previous Bill we introduced on this issue was also selected by lottery and since then, nothing has been done to address these issues. As legislators, we are the only people who can address them and what the Government is proposing is not good enough.

There is a consensus across Europe and the developed world, one that has been reflected repeatedly in Irish opinion polls and is an established fact in international human rights law, that terminations of pregnancies in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities must be provided for. I will read part of the Horner judgment in Northern Ireland:

The doctors know when a foetus has an FFA. This is primarily a medical diagnosis not a legal judgment. In those circumstances the doctor can be reasonably certain that the foetus will be unable to live independently outside the womb... There can be no doubt that the mother’s inability to access an abortion in those circumstances constitutes a gross interference with her personal autonomy... But in the case of an FFA, there is no life to protect. When the foetus leaves the womb, it cannot survive independently. It is doomed. There is nothing to weigh in the balance. There is no human life to protect.

Despite this, the violation of the rights of the woman continues and the Government states there is nothing we can do. There was no moral argument put forward tonight against the Bill. What does it say about our society that Deputies Kate O'Connell and Richard Boyd Barrett have to come here and relate their intimate and tragic personal stories on the record and our response is that we cannot do anything?

The Minister states the House cannot change the position. If that is true, we have a serious problem in this country because the job we are paid to do is to legislate. The Government is asking us not to do our job based on the advice of the Attorney General and in the absence of the publication of that advice. It has done so against a clear backdrop in which different advice was given by previous Attorneys General. With one week left before a vote is taken on the Bill, it is not acceptable, transparent or helpful that the Government has not published the advice of the Attorney General. If it is serious about new politics, it should publish the advice. The Minister can waive his rights on this issue and publish the advice, as one of his predecessors, Mr. Barry Desmond, did when he read advice received from the Attorney General into the record. There is nothing wrong with doing that.

The Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty, made the point that she found the Attorney General's advice so compelling that she went along with it. Lucky for her, but if the advice is so compelling, the Government should let us see it and perhaps we will be convinced by it. Maybe the legal experts who disputed the judgment previously will also be so convinced. What does the Government have to lose? Is what we are trying to do not that important? Are we not as entitled as the Government is to examine the facts? I believe we are just as entitled to do so because we only heard tidbits of legal opinion in the Minister's speech, and in saying that I do not intend to be derogatory towards him.

The Minister referred to the definition of the "unborn" and generalities in respect of the phrase we inserted in the legislation on being incompatible with life outside the womb. He drew an inference that this meant that if the foetus was capable of being born alive, even for one second, it would have protection under the Constitution. That is not clear and it is a matter which only the courts can decide. What we know is that the article in the Constitution refers to balancing rights and equal rights. Court judgments on the issue have found that in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality, the balance shifts to the woman and the question of equality, if one likes, is of lesser importance in that scenario because there is no life to protect. Again, the phrase "as far as is practicable" has been applied. This means that just because something is possible, that does not make it practicable. This also needs to be factored in when we are dealing with these types of cases. It was precisely because of this wording that a previous Attorney General gave sworn testimony to the European Court of Human Rights ten years ago in which he stated that the Irish courts could provide a legal remedy and lawful termination in Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Those are the facts and, as has been pointed out, anything else is just opinion. Only the courts can decide. For this reason, it is not legally incumbent on Deputies to oppose the Bill. On the contrary, it is morally incumbent on us to push it further because the sensibilities of the Attorney General are of little concern to me. One of the Minister's party colleagues referred on radio this morning to a Bill she will introduce to reduce the time limit for divorce. If such a Bill, however welcome, were introduced in the House, it would be clearly unconstitutional because the Constitution states that a divorce must be preceded by a period of separation of four years. As such, if the Deputy in question introduced a Bill providing for a reduction in the period of separation, it would clearly be unconstitutional. The fact is, however, that the Bill before the House is not clearly unconstitutional. In fairness, the Attorney General was widely criticised by the Fennelly commission, among others.

I do not accept the point made by Deputies opposite that the legislation would muddy the waters or stand in the way of the repeal of the eighth amendment. I could maybe buy that argument if the Government offered us, in exchange for withdrawing the Bill, a referendum on the Constitution. It it were to make such an offer tonight, we would certainly consider it but the offer in town tonight is that the status quo will continue.

We must return to the circumstances faced by families who are in this position now and women who do not know that they will be in this position next week. Those are the absolute facts. These are tragic consequences of nature and the diagnosis is not the fault of anybody. It is unbearable for people to have to leave the country and it will be our fault if we do not do something to address the issue.

The citizens' assembly is unacceptable. Even if the Government were to speed up the process, it would take at least one year during which at least 200 other women would have to make the journey abroad. I appreciate that the Minister will meet families involved in the Terminations for Medical Reasons group and is examining issues such as the treatment abroad scheme, bereavement counselling and all the basic health care services that these families should be receiving. To be honest, however, these issues are on the agenda because these parents fought and demanded these services in order that other people do not have to endure what they have endured.

The Minister's final point was that only the Irish people can decide on this matter. If he believes that, I can tell him that Irish people would be very happy to deal with it. Will he give them a choice and allow them to do so? Deputies stated they wanted to deal with this issue. Sometimes one has to take a stand, go for it and give a demonstration of intent and solidarity. We have to say to all of those who have been violated by the State that we are on their side, that it is not acceptable that they must leave their families and loved ones and the medical profession that cared for them so well in this country but cannot refer them and must send them sneaking off to a different jurisdiction, and that we will not put barriers in their way. We are legislators and we should grab this issue by the throat and present this Bill. What would happen if we did so? Tomorrow would be much like today, except for those who are at the coalface because we will have made a gesture by saying that we will stand by them.

We heard about other courts adjudicating on this matter. That will happen in any case, but at least the House will have taken a stand on this issue. The Minister has not put forward any valid reason that the Bill should not go through. We owe it to ourselves and the people who have been and will be afflicted by this issue to take this legislation further and herald a new dawn in Ireland for human rights and women's rights.

I remind the Government, and in doing so appeal to its backbench Deputies, that three or four weeks ago, it allowed a Bill it described as unconstitutional to pass Second Stage. My God, it can at least do the same on a women's rights issue.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time next Thursday, 7 July 2016.