Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution: Statements (Resumed)

The eighth amendment of the Constitution should never have been part of it. I firmly believe that abortion should not be dealt with in the Constitution. It is an entirely inappropriate manner of legislating for the matter. As the Attorney General at the time predicted, it has created great uncertainty, and it has cost lives. As the former master of Holles Street, Dr. Peter Boylan, told the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, it has caused grave harm, including death.

I will be campaigning on the basis of removing the eighth amendment.

This debate comes after the deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly, and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, the report of which we are discussing today. Gabhaim buíochas leis an tionól agus leis an gcoiste, go háirithe an Cathaoirleach, an Teachta Noone, agus comhaltaí Shinn Féin ar an gcoiste, an Teachta Louise O'Reilly, an Seanadóir Paul Gavan agus an Teachta Jonathan O'Brien.

On the debate as distinct from the issue, many Deputies have stated that they believe this need not be a bitter and divisive debate. I hope it will not be. I know people of integrity, decency and compassion who hold contrary views to me, and to see them denigrated for their views would grieve me just as much as if the position were the reverse. While there is undoubtedly considerable scope for criticising the impact and influence of the Catholic Church on social policy and on health care, people should not be insulted or denigrated on the basis of their religion or personal beliefs. I also hope that we will not witness any more of the cynical attempts to deploy appalling and traumatic imagery to traumatise women such as has been used in the past and, indeed, in the recent past.

It is true to say that we would not be in this space but for the perseverance and determination of repeal campaigners, some of whom have fought the eighth amendment for decades now. If I am frank, I do not believe that we would be doing this now if there had not been such a titanic effort from such people. We should recognise them.

On the issue specifically, I and Sinn Féin support this report. I wish to endorse the recommendations of the committee that the amendment should be repealed, that there should be access to abortion where there is serious risk to the mental health of the woman, to the health of the woman generally, and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality that are likely to result in death before or shortly after birth. I also believe - I should be clear that this is a personal view - that accessing abortion should be lawful with no restriction as to reason up to 12 weeks. I think that is right and appropriate and I hope that the people will vote to repeal.

Deputy after Deputy has spoken of their own thinking and how they have re-evaluated their thoughts on this issue over the course of time. It has become something of a cliché that it has been a journey, etc. Still, I know that I held a position in the past that was not the same as the position I hold today. From as a teenage holding a view that was probably broadly opposed, albeit vaguely, to abortion, to perhaps a position less rigid while at university, the biggest change in my views occurred while I was a member of staff here in October 2012, that is, following the tragic death of Ms Savita Halappanavar. It is fair to say that shocked the nation and it certainly shocked and shook me. Being in this building, I was in a position to attend several of the powerful events and vigils that took place outside the gates. It deeply affected me and it certainly was a landmark moment for me in terms of this debate. Since that time, I have read and thought about and examined this issue. I expect that I will continue to do so.

However, I expect that I will not read or learn anything which is likely to move me from what is now a firm and settled view, that the eighth amendment must go. For a start, it does not work. What is more, I have no doubt that the regime we have had for 30 years now has been incredibly unjust and uncompassionate. Since the amendment, hundreds of thousands of Irish women have had to make that dreadful journey to Britain to get the health care that they could not get at home - solitary, heartbreaking, devastating journeys. Bhí an Taoiseach ag tvuíteáil Dé Luain faoi fheachtas Gaeilge darb ainm #TrasnaNadTonnta. Ní mór dúinn smaoineamh freisin ar na mílte ar sheol an tír seo thar sáile - trasna na dtonnta - de bharr nach raibh cúram sláinte cóir agus oiriúnach ar fáil dóibh anseo. The eighth amendment plainly does not stop abortions in Ireland; it simply stops legal abortions.

However, I believe that for those of us who favour repeal, while recognising the reality of abortion in Ireland, and moving to provide for that reality is a factor in our deliberations, we should not limit ourselves to mere cautious and reluctant pragmatism. It is a factor and the reality that exists. Indeed, it is a reality that restrictive abortion regimes do not mean a lower abortion rate, far from it. However, we should also be able to consider the strong arguments made by medical professionals at length and in detail at the committee, and the effect the eighth amendment has had on the decision-making abilities of clinicians.

We must consider the extent of what we are asking, indeed, forcing, our women - our friends, sisters and loved ones - to do. It is they who should be at the heart of our considerations at all times. We should not and cannot coerce women into parenthood against their will. We have no right. Let us be clear - that is essentially what the eighth amendment attempts to do.

It is a deeply personal choice, one which is undoubtedly complex. The debate creates a great deal of nuance. However, I believe it is a decision that women and their doctors should be trusted to make. In my view, as well as recognising during this debate the reality that exists, we should state firmly and clearly that this is something we believe in - how else do we expect to convince the public? We should state clearly that to repeal is an act of respect and, indeed, an act of love for our women. To remove the eighth amendment from the Constitution is the moral thing to do, it is the ethical thing to do, and it is the right thing to do.

The first political campaign I was involved in was the referenda in 1992. I was the chair of the Irish Society in the University of East London and ourselves and the Women's Society decided that we would come over and play an active role in that campaign. We did so, obviously, because we had strong views that there should not be restrictions on the right to travel or the right to information and because we did not want to see further restrictions to the already very limited access to terminations.

The group was diverse. We were not just young university students. It was a university that had great diversity in terms of age and of region of Ireland that students came from, both first and second generation, and all sorts of opinions. However, something that informed all of us was, as Irish people living in Britain, we had direct experience of the huge impact that being forced to travel to Britain for terminations was having on our friends, on our mothers or sisters, and our neighbours. We saw at first hand the trauma, the stigma and the shame that women dealing with these crisis pregnancies were forced to endure because of the regime that was in place here. Many of us, because we approached this in a human way, came to understand the great complexity of crisis pregnancies, the need for greater compassion, and, crucially, the need to look at all of this from the point of view of the woman.

Unfortunately, in the intervening years much of the debate became polarised and that human aspect seemed to get lost in much of the commentary. On the positive side, there has been very significant change not only in the opinions, but also the mood and the tone of the conversation that we are having. My colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, is absolutely right that the tragic and unnecessary death of Ms Savita Halappanavar was a catalytic moment in changing that. It was not only the events themselves, but the very courageous journalism of people, such as Ms Kitty Holland, who went to great efforts so that we would understand the human cost of the eighth amendment in that particular case.

During the debate around the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, there was a genuine change of tone here in this Chamber, irrespective of the positions that Members took in that debate. My sense of it was that we were having a more considered, more thoughtful and, in broad terms, less judgmental debate which could only be good.

This has continued in the work of both the Citizens' Assembly and the special Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, and I genuinely commend all those who participated in the assembly and the Oireachtas committee. I commend in particular the Chairman of the committee, Senator Catherine Noone, who did an exceptionally good job in very difficult circumstances to produce the report we are discussing. At earlier stages of this debate I listened very carefully to members of the committee, particularly those who came out of that process with views different from those they had going into it. I think this was a result of very careful, very thoughtful deliberation on the information and on the expert opinion that was presented to them.

Sinn Féin, as is known, strongly welcomes the option of straight repeal that the committee report recommends. We are also very supportive of the recommendations on the very sensitive issue of terminations in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality. Those parties that do not currently support unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks' gestation, and our party is one, need to carefully consider the evidence and the recommendations of the two reports. Sinn Féin will review our policy on these issues in advance of any referendum. Like many of my colleagues, I will strongly argue internally in the party for it to move on to support unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks' gestation if for no other reason than the fact that, for example, if one believes that a survivor of rape should not be forced to carry to full term, the only way that person can access a termination is by way of an unrestricted period, in this instance up to 12 weeks. The committee's recommendation in this regard is both correct and compassionate.

I also welcome other aspects of the report - for example, the strong recommendation to end the criminalisation of women who access terminations and to repeal section 22 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. While we talk about the substantive issues in the report, we should not lose sight of those other important recommendations. This is also the case with regard to recommendations on contraception, sex education, obstetric care and counselling, which are really important parts of the work of the committee and of which we should be mindful.

I appeal to all of us - Members of this Chamber and members of the public - irrespective of our views during and after the referendum, which I hope will take place soon, to have a calm and respectful debate. I absolutely respect the right of other Members of this House to hold differing and contrary opinions, but this is such an important and sensitive issue that we must be able to have this conversation in an honest, open, thoughtful and calm way. Furthermore, those of us who want to see repeal of the eighth amendment, irrespective of other differences we may have as to the kind of legislation we will support afterwards, need to unite around that campaign and ensure that the maximum level of unity of the pro-repeal sections of our society is achieved to secure that outcome. I also make an appeal for us to be mindful of the fact that many people are still grappling with these issues and struggling to reconcile their desire for compassion and understanding with strongly held views on the issue of abortion. Those of us who have a settled view and want to see the eighth repealed and a more woman-centred legislative regime put in place afterwards have a job to convince people that is the right course of action. Then, when we repeal the eighth, as I hope the citizens of this State will do, let us ensure we draft and pass the best possible legislation that trusts women and guarantees their right to the health care that they so rightly deserve.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak in this important debate on the eighth amendment of the Constitution. I am very conscious that we are discussing a sensitive and complex subject. I am fully aware there is a wide range of views within this House and throughout our country on this issue but I am heartened by the tone of the debate so far, and I hope it is possible for us to continue to have a respectful and considerate debate. My personal position is that constitutional reform is necessary and I support the repeal of the eighth amendment. I also strongly support a woman's right to bodily autonomy. The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and the Citizens' Assembly before it have shown us a good example in this regard. While the views of their members may have been different, the debate never became personal. Today, each of us is approaching the issue from a position of wanting to contribute to the common good and do what is best for the people of Ireland.

I wish to make one point about the debate on the repeal of the eighth amendment and using Down's syndrome to present one's views. This is very disrespectful to children and adults with Down's syndrome and our families. It is also causing a lot of stress to parents. People with Down's syndrome should not be used as an argument by either side of the debate. It is up to each individual to make his or her own decision as to which way he or she will vote in the upcoming referendum. I ask all sides not to exploit children and adults with Down's syndrome to promote their own views. I speak as a parent of a daughter with Down's syndrome. Our children and fellow parents listen to the radio, watch the TV and read the media articles, and the tone of this debate is crucial. Respect must be top of the agenda.

Before getting into the substance of their recommendations, I wish to take a moment to commend all the members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution on their work and to thank them all for their contributions. Senator Catherine Noone, in particular, must be thanked for her calm and balanced handling of the issue as Chairman. I also commend the chair of the Citizens' Assembly, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, and the members for their careful deliberations and valuable contributions. As we all know, addressing the legal position on termination of pregnancy in Ireland would require a change to our Constitution. Last year, the Government put in place a process to examine Article 40.3.3°. A Citizens' Assembly was established, its first order of business being to consider the eighth amendment of the Constitution, Article 40.3.3°. The all-party Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution was then established by the Oireachtas to consider the Citizens' Assembly report and its recommendations. I note that the recommendations contained in the committee's report represent the views of the majority of members but that there was not unanimous agreement on them, and I respect the views of those who dissented from the final report.

The main conclusion of the committee's work is that change is needed to extend the grounds for lawful termination of pregnancy in the State. In order to effect that change, the committee recommended that Article 40.3.3° be removed from the Constitution. The committee went on to make recommendations as to the grounds on which termination of pregnancy should be permitted in Ireland if Article 40.3.3° were repealed. In the first instance, the committee recommended that termination of pregnancy should be lawful where the life or health of the pregnant woman is at risk, without any distinction between risk to physical health and risk to mental health. The committee recommended that assessments be made by no fewer than two specialist physicians and that gestational limits be guided by the best available medical evidence. Second, the committee accepted that it should be lawful to terminate a pregnancy that is the result of rape or sexual assault. However, there were concerns about the practicality of including rape as a ground in legislation. The committee was therefore of the opinion that it would be more appropriate to deal with the grounds of rape and sexual assault by permitting termination of pregnancy with no restriction as to reason up to 12 weeks' gestation, provided it is availed of through a GP-led service and delivered in a clinical context.

The committee recommended that where the unborn child is diagnosed with a foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth, it should be lawful to terminate the pregnancy, without gestational limit. Where there is a diagnosis of a foetal abnormality that is not likely to result in death before or shortly after birth, the committee recommended that the law should not provide for termination of pregnancy.

This deals with the issue of disabilities also. This is a different recommendation from that put forward by the Citizens' Assembly, which proposed permitting the procedure up to 22 weeks gestation in such cases. I emphasise this because I hope the divergence between the Citizens' Assembly and the committee will help to reassure people about the careful consideration the committee gave to this issue.

In speaking on this point, I acknowledge the statement made yesterday by Down Syndrome Ireland. It has asked that campaigners on both sides of the debate refrain from using people with Down's syndrome as an argument or in presenting their views. I agree that to do so is disrespectful to children and adults with Down's syndrome and to their families. As Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, I echo its call for the tone of the debate to be respectful towards all people with disabilities.

In my position as Minister of State, I also emphasise that I attach particular importance to the committee’s statement that the State should provide specific resources so there are social supports for parents and better facilities for people whose children have special needs. This is a very important statement in the committee's report. We have to put in the resources for all children and adults with disabilities if we are to live up to the expectations of the committee's report.

The majority of members of the committee accepted the five ancillary recommendations set out by the Citizens' Assembly in its final report. They also made recommendations of their own, focusing on decriminalising abortion, free access to contraception, comprehensive sex education, and obstetric care and counselling. The Government is fully committed to ensuring that all women accessing maternity services should receive the same standard of safe, high quality care. Every woman from every corner of Ireland should expect, and be able to access, the maternity services she needs. The implementation of the national maternity strategy, Creating a Better Future Together, will, I am sure, help this aim to be realised.

Officials in the Department of Health, under the chairmanship of the chief medical officer, have established a group to address the recommendations and formulate an effective and comprehensive response to the issues raised by the committee in its ancillary recommendations. The group will cover the following areas in the Department itself and in the HSE: sexual health, primary care, acute hospitals, disability services and mental health, as well as any other areas subsequently deemed relevant.

I consider myself to be from the tradition of Wolfe Tone and the late Tony Gregory regarding an Ireland of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, with equality and diversity at the heart of our politics. Sometimes we are presented with the most difficult and challenging problems to deal with, areas in which the way forward may not seem clear cut. In these circumstances, I believe our health care professionals are best placed to advise on the optimal treatment options. We should allow them, in consultation with women, to exercise the clinical judgment and highest standards of medical practice which we know they uphold daily.

I stress again the need for all of us to recognise the sensitivities involved and for our discourse to be respectful of differing views and considerate of those who may be affected.

Many disparate views will be expressed in the House and across the nation in this debate. The teacher in me would say a disparate view also exists on the definition of the word "sincere", which we all sign at the bottom of many of our letters. The definition is thought to be based on the Latin sine cera, meaning without wax. This is my interpretation of it. It is believed to have come from the ancient firing of clay pottery, where unscrupulous individuals placed wax in the cracks and sold them as genuine. It is my sincerely held view and belief that regardless of whether one is at opposite ends of the spectrum in this debate or in what I believe is the huge middle ground, the sincere views held by people need to be respected. I am glad that everybody I have heard in the debate has said this, but I wonder.

I also believe that before anybody sets out their views on this issue, it is necessary once again to put the debate in context. Otherwise, the body of what I am about to say could be misconstrued. This context is as follows. In 2016, the Government established, as we in the House all know, the Citizens' Assembly. Its report was discussed at the Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment and a decision was made in the committee to put a question to the people on the eighth amendment. I want to state for the record that I made it my business to attend the launch of the Dáil committee's report to acknowledge the work done by the committee in progressing to what I call a democratic referendum.

It is also important to say it is my understanding that the Government is clearly at a point where it is considering the wording of the referendum, and if we are to believe what we hear, it is having extreme difficulty in considering the most appropriate wording. This wording will eventually be placed on the ballot paper. While we all expect a referendum will occur in early summer, it is my belief that until the wording, and the draft heads of Bills that would be proposed if the eighth amendment were to be repealed, are available the House is talking in a vacuum.

I will now deal with the substance of my belief. I hate labels but, unfortunately, they are being used in the debate. I am pro-life. I spent 35 years teaching. In that 35 years I embraced disability and I witnessed first hand the great warmth, ability and talent of these children and, indeed, the career paths many of them have followed. It is on this basis, and not being overly gospel greedy, that I believe where there is life there is hope and that people can achieve what they want.

People have asked that certain disabilities not be mentioned, and I will not do so, but I want to say I am proud to have seen a child I taught complete a degree at Trinity College, despite the fact that person may not have been given the opportunity to live. When I was a schoolteacher, I debated this issue in sixth class, without expressing my view. The collective view of all children was always what that child said about the opportunity to achieve and to develop his or her talents. It is on this basis I hold a firm belief, and I want it to be respected, in the same way I respect the view of others.

If I thought for one minute that in supporting the repeal of the eighth amendment it would save one life, then I am quite happy with my stance on it. I know there are other ethical considerations, such as cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and where rape and incest have occurred. In all of this, I recognise there will be extraordinary cases, but my belief is we do not legislate for the few but for the common good. The few could be accommodated by better legislation rather than by a broad brush which would undoubtedly sweep all aside. I have a personal view, despite listening to the eighth amendment committee and the Dáil.

There is also a need to provide the medical community with sufficient clarity for it to do the excellent job it does, safe in the knowledge that the State and Legislature is on its side. I have not yet formed a definitive position on these matters and I will take the next period to further explore some of them. For example, although I am not a lawyer, it is my view that with a redrafting of the hippocratic oath taken by medical people, which has seen amendment or is different in many countries, the position of the medical profession could be strengthened in legislation.

The label of pro-life will be put on me but I fully respect the decision of anyone whose conscience tells them they are that other label, pro-choice. I may not agree with them but I respect their opinion on what is a deeply personal matter. I have no intention of telling anyone how they should vote on this matter. In my long period in politics going back over 45 years, I have never campaigned in a referendum as it is the people's democratic right to make up their own minds.

As we all know, a matter like this cannot be squared using the Whip system in political parties, regardless of what party one is from. We all would have differences of opinion in parliamentary parties. Again, the idea of being respectful and being tolerant of other views in the world should be appreciated. There has already been much negative campaigning and I do not want to see a return to the 1983 referendum. We need informed debate and I encourage people, when the referendum commission that is charged with giving a balanced opinion on this begins its work, to read about the two sides of the argument. That is more important than listening to politicians. It is important to remind people to do just what I have said. The commission is charged with giving an unbiased view and opinion that people should respect. The report should be read and digested before negativity enters any portion of the debate. The advertisements on both sides on social media can be bought by virtually anybody and people should be sceptical. Fake news on both sides is not unique to America.

The scenarios will be as follows. If a simple repeal is chosen and passed by the people, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 will remain the law until it is repealed by this Parliament. It would then be a matter for the Oireachtas to decide with what to replace it. I can imagine many long debates on that in future, whether I am in the House or not. If the provisions of Article 40.3.3° are amended, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 remains the law until it is replaced. Of course, if the people vote to defeat the wording of the amendment, the status quo remains.

I thank the House for allowing me to set out my stall to my colleagues and my electorate. It is easy to have differing opinions. As Father Brian D'Arcy stated the other night on Claire Byrne's programme, being good listeners is also important when debating this crucial topic.

I will always remember the first time that I came to grips with what the eighth amendment meant or could potentially mean. Six years ago next month, I received a phone call from a friend to tell me that the lovely wife of a good friend had passed away during childbirth. I was stunned and could not believe it had happened to this lovely man, with whom I had spoken just a few days beforehand. He had spoken of his excitement and anticipation of having a lovely baby. All of a sudden, that was taken from him when he lost his wife. I will never forget a few days later sitting with him, holding his hand and listening to his anguished cries, trying to understand how she had lost her life in childbirth. He was trying to make sense of how it had happened in a modern world and country. His wife was not from Ireland and he had to try to explain to her family, in another language and from another culture, that whereas they thought Ireland was a country that would do its best to care for its pregnant women, children and all its citizens, this had happened anyway. My friend was left a without his wife and their little boy was left without a mother.

That was the first real experience of this issue for me, coming from a pro-life and conservative background. Any debate on the eighth amendment is, was and always will be extremely divisive, unfortunately. We must first think of the women involved with huge compassion. To have any real understanding of what It means, one must walk in the shoes of a woman facing a crisis pregnancy and her partner, or of a doctor or medical professional who must work under conditions that are not always clear-cut. It must be the most cruel and horrific of cases where a woman, hearing the news and feeling joy that she Is going to give birth to a baby nine months hence, then gets the awful and tragic news that the baby is not going to survive past birth. Who am I, and who is anyone here, to tell that woman how she should feel or what she should do? For those women who simply cannot endure continuing their pregnancy, and who go abroad to seek a termination, their sad and tragic stories of trying to smuggle small bodies or ashes home would bring a tear from a stone.

To be the victim of a degrading rape must be horrific and to further discover a pregnancy resulting from that rape must be heartbreaking. Some women carry on and give birth to the subsequent baby, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for the strength of those women. However, there are many in that position who, having been violated In the worst possible way, cannot find a way to carry on that pregnancy. They should not have to sneak abroad. I am against abortion on demand and consider myself pro-life in that I believe every support should be given to a woman with a crisis pregnancy to enable her to continue that pregnancy. I would not advise or suggest a termination in such a case but I feel strongly that I will not stand in judgment if a woman chooses that path.

We are a caring but diverse nation and there can never be a referendum, vote or amendment that will please all. It must be the duty of all of us to protect the most vulnerable in society where possible, whether that is the unborn child, a newborn in pain and suffering, who will ultimately die, or in the saving of the life of a pregnant woman. A change in law, one hopes, could only mean we are moving forward and evolving, yet it remains true that we matter, and we matter for every moment of our lives.

Free will and choice are powerful gifts. One person's wish might be another person's tragedy.

The terms that are used when debating the eighth amendment can be hurtful and insulting to those who are faced with the horrors of losing a child before or after birth. I battle with what I feel is right and wrong. It is wrong to destroy a life, but it is also wrong to refuse a choice to a woman, who is in a crisis situation, about what is right for her. It cannot be right to insist that a woman must carry a child who will not survive or who is the result of rape or incest if that woman does not wish to do so. We must listen to all sides with respect. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, without being labelled pro-choice or pro-life. There are not just two poles of opinion on this, but a spectrum of opinion and thought in the middle. That is where I find myself and I wish to speak for people who find themselves on that spectrum.

I thank the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas committee for their arduous work. I especially thank the women who spoke about their experiences and the medics who gave up their time to speak on behalf of their patients. We must take account of the evidence from the committee hearings. Emotion alone cannot dictate how we deal with this. I appreciate the facts that emerged from the evidence. A constitutional change is needed to legislate for victims of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities and to remove the threat of criminalisation hanging over medics. We hear of the numbers of women travelling across the water for abortions - ten a day - without support or medical help. That is the reality and hypocrisy of this country. We are ignoring that and the fact that women get abortion pills through the post and are afraid to seek medical help if they need it.

We owe it to Savita, Ann Lovett, Amanda Mellet, my friend's wife, Ms X, Ms Y, Ms D and Ms R to do what we can to ensure that the situation they endured will not recur. Again, I call for a respectful and mature debate. We must have a referendum to give the public its say on this fundamental issue. It is wrong that at this point no woman of childbearing age has had the opportunity to vote on our laws. We must have tolerance, kindness and compassion.

I take great issue with the deliberate attempt of some to suggest that babies with disabilities would be aborted should the eighth amendment be repealed. This is clearly rejected by the committee. It is absolutely not the case. As a sister of a much loved brother with Down's syndrome and as someone who has had a lifelong involvement with Special Olympics, working with 180 towns around the island of Ireland to celebrate the abilities and achievements of people with disabilities, I find this misinformation and scaremongering abhorrent. Shame on those in the pro-life lobby who chose to put a photograph of a little girl with Down's syndrome on promotional literature. That is so disrespectful to my brother, who reads the newspapers and follows the news every day, his peers and all the families who have children with Down's syndrome. I welcome the letter from the CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland calling out this low and disrespectful behaviour.

The eighth amendment can be viewed as a massive platform of inequality, given the fact that the last vote on the matter was in 1983. The people whose lives are directly affected today by this amendment did not vote on it. Life has changed, and the world has changed. There are no easy answers to the very difficult questions before us but we cannot continue to export our problems to our neighbours. I believe I have a responsibility to the women who have not yet been faced with these tragedies but who, sadly, will be. I believe I have a moral obligation to help find and explore whatever solutions may be available to avoid or alleviate these women's suffering. That is the reason I support having a referendum and I support repeal of the eighth amendment. However, I oppose abortion on demand and I am grappling with the 12-week rule, which I feel at this point I will be unable to support.

These statements in the Dáil are another important step on Ireland’s journey to reproductive rights. People across the country are looking to the Houses of the Oireachtas to provide leadership on a human rights issue where, until now, there has been none. This is a time for political courage, not political cowardice. I welcome that many Deputies have chosen to participate in these statements. This issue is too important for politicians to shirk their responsibilities. In the coming weeks the public has a right to hear the views of every Member of this House.

It is true that the issues involved are complex, emotive and divisive. However, we now have the benefit of the results and recommendations not only of an Oireachtas committee but also the Citizens' Assembly. As an Independent Minister, one of the main reasons I insisted that we should take the approach of establishing a Citizens' Assembly was that it would provide us with a body of knowledge. That knowledge is now available. It includes the views of independent legal and medical experts and, more importantly, the testimonies of many women. I urge every Member of this House and our colleagues in the Seanad to become familiar with this knowledge, study it and use it to inform voters. There has never been a better time for public representatives to make informed decisions on where they stand in this debate and to begin the process of engaging with voters. As elected representatives we have a duty to outline our positions and how we arrived at them.

While my views on repealing the eighth amendment are well known and long established, as a democrat I accept that there are those who have a deeply held opposing view. There are Members of this House who disagree with the Citizens' Assembly, the Oireachtas committee and me. I respect those views. When I spoke at Dublin City University, DCU, on the theme "After the 8th: Re-visioning Reproductive Rights" I engaged with some students who did not share my view. As public representatives we must ensure that those who shout the loudest do not hijack this moment and rob the people of Ireland of the discussion which is so badly overdue. It is wrong that hotels, community centres and other venues feel unable to host speaking engagements or debates related to the forthcoming referendum because of health and safety concerns for their staff. Such intimidation, abuse and lack of respect has no place in a modern open democracy.

It is wrong, too, that some media outlets, particularly broadcasters, should feel anxious about discussing this topic because of fears about the regulations on balance and of a deluge of complaints from either or both sides. Stifling the debate does not serve anyone's best interest. It does not increase public awareness or knowledge and does not allow for informed voting. I believe that clear guidelines must be issued to all broadcasters so that every producer, journalist and presenter in the country is aware of what is and is not fair. True balance must not be a crude exercise in clock watching, counting seconds or minutes of air time allocated to each side. It must be based on providing the listener or viewer with informed factual debate and discussion. It must increase public knowledge. I accept that achieving this will not be easy.

A more enlightened, sophisticated and nuanced approach will be required from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and I look forward to those guidelines being produced at an early date.

As a campaigner, academic and the only female Independent member of the Cabinet, I believe that our third level institutions such as colleges and universities also have a role to play. When others feel intimidated and unable to host events, our colleges can fill that important void. Where possible, every third level institution should make its halls, theatres and other facilities available to host events that will increase awareness in the run-in to the referendum.

The Citizens’ Assembly has continued its work since it delivered its recommendations to repeal the eighth amendment. During its most recent sittings, it focussed on the holding of referendums generally and produced recommendations worthy of serious consideration. I look forward to studying proposals for a system of spending limits for political parties, campaign groups and individuals in referendum campaigns and a ban on anonymous donations. It also considered the issue of voter turnout and, again, I am in favour of any measure which encourages people to take part in the democratic process.

However, perhaps the most important vote it passed is a call for the Referendum Commission to give its view on factual or legal disputes that arise during campaigns. The need for such determinations is perhaps far greater for this issue than any other which has been placed before the Irish people. It is time to call out misinformation, lies and any deceitful attempt to mislead people. Attempts to use misleading posters, language or lies to heighten emotions must be exposed and materials which are blatant attempts to shock, traumatise or frighten voters have no place in a proper debate.

Repealing the eighth amendment is a human rights issue. It must be achieved if we are to have a true republic of equals. We must repeal the eighth amendment and not replace it with other constitutional text. I acknowledge that there are some concerns about possible unintended consequences of a simple repeal. I will continue to listen to the views of legal experts and the Attorney General on this matter. If such concerns are thought to be sufficiently serious, we might propose to replace the eighth amendment with a statement that explicitly empowers the Oireachtas to regulate the availability of abortion, such as, "nothing in this Constitution prohibits abortion as provided for by law" or "the Oireachtas is hereby empowered to regulate the availability of abortion by law". However, I cannot and will not support any proposed text that would immunise legislation from judicial review and treat abortion as an almost unique matter within our constitutional system, or a text that would purport to exhaustively lay down the situations in which we may make abortion lawfully available through legislation. The Constitution is not the place to regulate abortion. Most people recognise and agree with that.

What do we want after the eighth amendment? After repeal we will need to replace the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 with a new law designed with the experiences and needs of pregnant people at its heart and which maximises reproductive freedom. It should never be a crime to have an abortion and doctors should be freed from providing medical care in what Rhona Mahony called "the shadow of a custodial sentence". Medical malpractice should be dealt with by the Medical Council. Any non-consensual abortion is an assault. Criminalising abortion hurts women and stigmatises their decisions. Decriminalisation is, therefore, vital. The new law should not demand a pregnant person justify herself or fall on the mercy of a handful of doctors in order to give effect to her private decision about whether or not to remain pregnant. As a result, I agree with the Citizens’ Assembly that abortion should be available on request in early pregnancy and at least until the 12th week. During that time, a woman should not have to justify herself to anyone but, rather, should be able to access abortion pills or surgical abortion on the basis of her decision alone. Women should not be required to undertake mandatory counselling or waiting periods as such rules have been shown all over the world to undermine women’s ability to make and give effect to decisions because they disadvantage young girls, women who do not live close to doctors willing to provide abortion care, women in abusive and controlling relationships and other women experiencing particular vulnerability. Although nobody should be required to undertake counselling, it should be made available to those who wish to discuss their options in a non-directive setting with someone other than their doctors and loved ones.

There may be an argument for limiting access to abortion to some extent after early pregnancy but I entirely reject any suggestion that after 12 weeks abortion should only be available in the extreme, exceptional and deeply difficult situations of risk to life, so-called fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest. As I wrote in an article published in the Irish Independent over a year ago, such restricted grounds would help almost none of the pregnant people in Ireland who seek abortion care every day. We cannot address the socioeconomic injustice of the eighth amendment with such a limited law. Instead, we have to recognise the many impacts of pregnancy on women’s physical, mental and material well-being. Our new law must ensure that whenever a pregnant woman is of the view that continuing with pregnancy would damage her health and well-being, she would not be compelled to remain pregnant against her will. The incidence of abortion later in pregnancy will be rare, as they are now. Even in countries where there is no restriction on access to lawful abortion, so-called late-term abortion is truly exceptional. The reality is that in later pregnancy abortion is almost always the product of terrible circumstances such as a devastating foetal diagnosis, a risk to the woman’s life or an illness so serious that one cannot wait. Late-term abortions are not political footballs to be kicked around in debates but, rather, personal tragedies deserving of our compassion and support. Our new law should recognise that and ensure that women who need a late-term abortion are not forced to run a gamut of endless certifications and qualifications to prove they or their foetus are sick enough to be allowed have a freely chosen abortion.

After the eighth amendment, our revisioning of reproductive rights needs to go beyond abortion. There must be a wholesale review of our systems and practices of maternal medical care, including the availability of foetal anomaly scanning, the freedom to make decisions about labour and birth plans, the physical and emotional impact of how labour is managed in Irish hospitals and the right to refuse consent to medical treatment. We must have a consistent, objective, accurate and unbiased system of personal and sexual education delivered by the State, not by charities and NGOs. We need to make contraception freely available. We must make sex a space free of coercion between sexual partners or between a woman who might get pregnant and the State that might determine her ability to bring that pregnancy to an end. We must make accurate, non-directive information about reproduction and sexual life available to all. We must support people in making choices about sex, reproduction, pregnancy, parenting and what they, rather than we, think is right.

Women know themselves. We know what we can bear and what we cannot. We know the impact of decades of reproductive coercion and the ways in which stereotypes, myths and assumptions about womanhood, motherhood, reproduction and pregnancy have underpinned that coercion. We know that we can bear no more. If we are to be the republic to which we aspire, we must repeal the eighth amendment, make abortion lawfully available and commit ourselves fully to reproductive rights for all.

The eighth amendment to the Constitution was passed in a referendum in 1983 by a 66.9% majority. I voted in favour of the amendment at that time. Article 40.3.3° states the following:

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

A lot has happened since then. The Supreme Court ruling in the X case in 1992 said that termination should be lawful when a women's life is in danger or she is at risk of suicide. In 2013 the passing of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act legislated for abortion in the State for the first time. It provided for access to abortion in Ireland where there was risk to the life of the mother from physical illness or from suicide. In 2016 there were 25 legal abortions carried out in Ireland. More recently the Citizens' Assembly examined the matter and the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution was published in December last year. I thank the Members who agreed to sit on that committee for those proceedings. It cannot have been an easy task and the time and effort they gave is appreciated by all of us.

I would, however, criticise the committee for taking a vote at an early stage to the effect that Article 40.3.3° should not be retained in full. As a result of this, other witnesses then declined to come before the committee. I believe that most, but not all, members of the committee had their minds made up on the issue before the committee commenced its hearings.

The committee voted in favour of allowing terminations if there is a real and substantial risk to the life or the health of the mother and the gestational limits will be set out in legalisation having regard to medical evidence. The committee also voted in favour of terminations where the unborn child has a life limiting condition that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth. In this case there will be no gestational limit. Significantly, the committee recommended allowing for termination of pregnancy with no restriction as to the reason, during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is abortion on demand. The major recommendation of the committee was to repeal the eighth amendment outright. By any stretch of the imagination, what is being recommended is a much more liberal abortion regime which will definitely lead to more abortions in Ireland.

Abortion is a controversial issue and is a very personal one for most people. Everyone has their own personal perspective on the matter, which is informed by their own experiences. I will come to my personal experiences later. For me it is a moral and ethical issue and a matter of conscience. I believe that the unborn child is a human life with inherent rights.

As we begin this debate can I, like others, appeal for respect and tolerance for all points of view. We need a civilised discussion devoid of hatred. Hurling personal abuse at Deputies and Senators does no service to the debate. I believe too that social media, especially Twitter, is no place to debate such a complex issue. We do not need fake news or alternative facts gaining traction during the campaign. Patsy McGarry put it very well in The Irish Times article on 2 January 2018:

Where differences are irreconcilable they should be accepted with the holders moving on, each respecting the integrity of the other. Because it is possible for both positions to be held with integrity, whatever the furious may claim. People of faith, who can be either anti-abortion or pro-choice, should leave the outcome to the electorate and the mercy of God. Non-believers should accept that honestly-held differences may be irreconcilable and leave the outcome to the electorate.

Perhaps this is something we can all agree on.

I shall now turn to the difficult issue of abortion and disability. In Britain, abortion is generally available up to 24 weeks of pregnancy but it is also legal for any detectable disability through all nine months of pregnancy. I was born with the condition known as cleft. I had a cleft lip and palate. This is a birth defect and results from the incomplete development of the lip and palate in the early weeks of pregnancy. The lip and primary palate develop at four to six weeks while the secondary palate develops at approximately nine weeks. The condition requires significant treatment which begins with corrective surgery within months of birth. Several other operations follow in one form or another until the person reaches their late teens or early 20s. It also requires major orthodontic treatment, speech and language therapy, and in some cases the provision of grommets for hearing difficulties. I am grateful to my parents for the time and commitment they gave to dealing with my condition. They never once complained about the ongoing surgery or my numerous trips to the Dublin Dental University Hospital. However, it would seem in Britain, for example, some potential parents see this as an inconvenience to be avoided. In 2016, official figures in the UK showed that abortions of babies with a minor facial deformity nearly tripled in the previous five years. It has become clear that a growing number of terminations are carried out due to cleft. Lives are been ended on the basis of appearance and babies must be physically perfect. This should not be the case in a humane and tolerant society.

We should also examine the situation with regard to Down's syndrome. In the UK, 90% of babies diagnosed with Down's syndrome in the womb are aborted. According to the Danish Cytogenetic Central Register an average of 98% of babies in Denmark who are diagnosed with Down's syndrome before birth are aborted each year. In 2016 in Denmark, 137 unborn children were diagnosed with Down's syndrome and of these 133 were aborted and four were born. We need to investigate further when in pregnancy such conditions can be diagnosed.

In Britain, abortion is generally allowed up to 24 weeks and the conditions I have mentioned can be diagnosed up to this time. I am informed that pre-natal diagnosis is improving all the time and I understand that 3D ultrasound scans as well as cell-free DNA testing are now more readily available. Diagnostic tests can detect Down's syndrome now at nine to 13 weeks, or in the first trimester. Academic studies suggest there is a real possibility of diagnosing cleft in the first trimester, as early as 12 weeks. Even if these tests are only available privately, the technology is improving all the time. Ireland is proposing to allow for termination of pregnancy with no restriction as to the reason, during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. I am aware that an anomaly scan normally takes place at 20 weeks but I believe that we need to consider this much more carefully and be given an objective assessment by the medical profession on the current position.

As a public representative I am fully aware that there is a certain mood for change in respect of our abortion laws, particularly in cases of rape, incest or clear-cut cases of fatal foetal abnormality. For some in the middle ground the current regime is too restrictive. The proposed legislation, however, is too extreme and goes too far. The proposals would introduce abortion on demand up to 12 weeks when we know that a baby is fully formed by this time.

I am also not in favour of an outright repeal of the eighth amendment. If this provision is repealed, we will then be on a slippery slope. If the proposed legislation is passed there will be an almost immediate demand to further liberalise our abortion laws. I can hear the demands already coming from Members on my right to increase, for example, the 12-week limit to 24 weeks. I have observed Government formation on many occasions in this House, particularly coalition Governments. Very often the minority views of a smaller party are put into the programme for Government contrary to the views of the majority.

There is no doubt this would happen in this case in the future. There is a real danger that we would slide into the position whereby abortion is readily available to deal with, for example, gender, disability and socioeconomic circumstances. I do not think most people would want that.

Finally, I would like to speak to the suggestion that the Government is considering inserting a new clause in the Constitution which would give the Oireachtas the exclusive power to make laws on this issue. This is a significant proposal and it should be scrutinised carefully. I would be slow to interfere with the power of the courts to interpret the Constitution. It may be that the courts in the future will further liberalise or restrict our abortion laws. Who knows? The separation of powers is a central principle of our democracy. Therefore, regardless of the substantive issue, if this proposal is part of the referendum question, I would suggest that it should be rejected on these grounds alone.

As is the case for many others, this is not the easiest issue for me to address. However, I am proud to stand here and say my few words in favour of the pro-life position while acknowledging that there are difficulties. I have met pro-choice and pro-life people. However, this evening I checked with my constituency office and was told I had received in excess of 400 emails from within the constituency and that 3:1 were pro-life. When we say that to people who may not agree with our side of the argument, sometimes they say that these people do not understand. I would say that many of those people have a better understanding of the situation than others. Another point that has not been mentioned much in this House or the media is the number of young parents who have strong pro-life views.

Sometimes it is not the popular thing to stand up and say that. However, I think many of those who have taken this stance in this House and in our parliamentary party are quite brave. Never in my political life did I choose just to go with the flow. I often got myself into trouble at political meetings because I refused to go with the flow on several issues. Nor will I just go with the flow on this issue.

The importance of life is particularly close to my heart as is the importance of the phrase "unborn child". This phrase is taken out of nearly everything now and the unborn child is hardly ever referred to. Within my own family circle, I have a grand-niece and a nephew-in-law who have disabilities and I could not describe to anyone in this Chamber the joy that those two individuals bring to our family circle. It is a joy that no one else in the family could give. I watch two young mothers who struggle virtually every day with the State, which failed to give proper attention and care to people with disabilities. These women fight so hard for those kids and at times they are so stressed because of what they have to do. At times I do not understand how they continue to survive. However, they do, and their resilience is something extraordinary to watch. Those people tell me that they feel their story does not get a fair hearing in the media.

I welcome that in this House everyone seems to understand other people's viewpoints and that we are having a proper discussion. However, my personal view is that, as Deputy Haughey said, we are going down a very slippery slope if we go with the committee's proposal on 12 weeks.

There was an article in the Irish Independent in May 2016 by Tracy Harkin. Tracy Harkin belongs to a group called Every Life Counts. I ask everyone, irrespective of what side they are on in this debate, to read this article. I will not refer to the person to whom she refers in the article because names of families have been used too often in the debate over recent weeks and I do not think they were consulted. Therefore, I will not use the name to which she refers. In this heart-wrenching article she stated that she had listened to a certain person, who was speaking to midwives in Trinity College, state that the fact a woman could be made to carry a pregnancy to term in a case of fatal foetal abnormality was an outrage. She continued:

I thought of my nine-year-old daughter [whose name she gives but I will not say here] whom I hugged and kissed that morning as she set off for another school day. I thought of how beautiful she looked as she giggled and waved excitedly at her little brother and sister through the bus window.

She goes on to talk about her child's condition and how serious it was and she says that to her "fatal foetal abnormality" is an ugly phrase. I have made the point for a long time that, rightly or wrongly, there seems to be an insinuation that every foetal abnormality is fatal. That is not the case.

An actress on "Coronation Street" recently told her story on "The Ryan Tubridy Show". She spoke about how she was told by her medics that her baby was dying in the womb at 22 weeks and how she was advised to abort it. However, she did not and she went to term. She spoke of how much it meant to her that she did go to term, how she had a little ceremony for her baby boy and how she could now visit the boy's grave. I think that is a crucial point, irrespective of what side of the argument one is on.

The point I want to make is that we hear a lot about the stress and trauma of people who may have to go to England for an abortion. The stories are terrible. They are heart-wrenching stories. However, I have met people who have had abortions who said to me, "Please, try to stop someone else having one." Many people regret it very much. There is more need for education and help. I listened to Deputy Jim O'Callaghan strongly state on a number of occasions in this Chamber that he is concerned about what might happen to those with Down's syndrome. Deputy Haughey spoke about new technology and how it can be assessed at a very early stage that an unborn child has Down's syndrome. I heard Deputy O'Callaghan speak about his concerns and I take heed of what he said.

There are many questions which are unclear and not answered. My personal position is that I am fearful, as Deputy Haughey said, that we are on a slippery slope if we go down this road. It is also important to point out that a number of GPs in my constituency rang me and expressed serious concern about the removal of the eighth amendment and what might happen afterwards. If anyone does not trust me, I have their names but I will not mention them here. Those people exist, however, and it is only right that I would mention that in the Chamber.

Before I conclude, I will raise one further point which is not getting any attention in this debate.

Irish nurses and doctors who, because of their religious views or for other reasons, might not want to facilitate abortions have not been consulted. That also needs to be considered. I have made my case. I feel strongly about it but I respect everybody else's point of view. I have met pro-life and pro-choice people in my constituency. Some people do not agree with me. That is fair enough. I am very much in favour of a referendum. This is definitely an issue that should go to the people and they have the ultimate say. I am glad so many people are participating in this debate, making their views known and being honest and upfront. There are many people who feel they have been left out of this debate.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue of great importance this evening. The eighth amendment to the Constitution recognises the equal right to life of both the mother and the unborn child in the womb; and it creates a legal right to protect that unborn child, as far as practicable. I believe that it has saved thousands of lives since it was introduced in 1983.

I appreciate that this is a difficult issue to discuss for many people, probably the majority of people, including myself. There is a need for respect and reasoned debate from both sides. Many families are divided on this issue. I have never hidden my pro-life position; I made it clear throughout my election campaign and have spoken about it in this Chamber, on national television and in newspapers since my election. I am in favour of retaining the eighth amendment in its current form. I do not support a proposal which would legalise abortion on demand in Ireland. Like the majority of Irish people, I find the concept of late-term abortion particularly horrifying, and could never support the recommendation of the Oireachtas committee which proposed legalising abortion right up to birth in some cases.

Abortion has been a divisive issue for years. I do not take issue with a people's stance on this provided that they are open, honest and do not shy away from making their voice heard. As my colleague, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said last week, "If you don’t stand for anything, you will fall for everything." Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion on this topic, however, sometimes this is not always the case. People who hold a pro-life opinion are often ignored, and put down by the media and by campaigners who do not share their opinion. I hope that each Deputy will make his or her position clear on this issue. Everyone needs to stop hiding behind the ditches and make his or her position clear one way or the other.

The whole process enacted by the Government in the lead-up to this referendum has been questionable to say the least. The establishment of a Citizens' Assembly was unnecessary. We, the elected Members of Dáil Éireann, are the real, representative citizens' assembly. The Citizens' Assembly put together in Dublin Castle was not fully representative of the Irish people with several counties having no representation whatsoever. The farcical nature of the assembly is not the fault of its 99 members but of those who argued that just 99 people should be asked their opinion. No opinion poll would be taken seriously if it asked just 99 people for their opinion, and only 88 members of the assembly voted. The economist, Moore McDowell, writing in The Irish Times, said that the sample was just too small, and that another 99 people could have given a totally different answer. "A sample of 100 from the voting age population, even if properly selected, has a very wide margin of error," he noted.

The formation of the Oireachtas joint committee was also skewed, and this was often highlighted by my colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath. The committee's formation was clearly biased both in its membership and in who it invited to appear before it. The committee invited 24 pro-repeal witnesses and only four pro-life ones. Many of the witnesses who favoured repealing the eighth amendment were proved to be abortion rights campaigners such as the Centre for Reproductive Rights, a group which on its website appealed for donations to help overturn Ireland's right to life for unborn children. Other witnesses included a representative from the biggest abortion clinic chain in Britain, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which performs tens of thousands of abortions every year. One might as well expect Philip Morris to be a neutral expert on the subject of smoking. I would imagine most people would agree that abortionists are not neutral on the subject of the eighth amendment. I was disappointed to hear the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and other Members of the House raise the tragic cases of Ann Lovett and the Kerry babies as a reason to push for repeal. These harrowing stories had nothing to do with abortion, and every decent person will grieve for the injustice perpetrated and for the lives lost on both occasions. There is no tragedy made better by abortion, it does not introduce compassion where needed or support where that is required. These cases happened in a different Ireland, at a time when pregnancy out of marriage was frowned upon, a time when there were no services to offer families who encounter an unplanned pregnancy. I believe that if we offer abortion instead of real support, services and compassion to pregnant mothers, we are failing those pregnant mothers and their unborn children.

During his speech last week the Minister for Health also read statistics on the number of women from Ireland who travelled to England for an abortion last year. Unfortunately, the Minister left out some other very important statistics, such as those which tell us that one in every five babies loses his or her life to abortion in Britain. England is not unusual in that shocking abortion rate, as many other European countries also have abortion rates of approximately 20%. I do not think it is the way we want to go in this country. It is not the way we have to go. It is not progressive. It is not modern. There are other ways that we can support women and families facing difficult situations. Abortion is not something positive. Abortion ends lives, it does not save or improve them. The Minister also left out the facts about how babies with disabilities are hit hardest. In Britain, 90% of babies with Down's syndrome are aborted. Denmark is now aborting 98% of babies diagnosed with the condition, and in Iceland the rate is a heartbreaking 100%. Dr. Peter McParland, of the National Maternity Hospital, told the Citizens' Assembly that not one baby with Down's syndrome had been born there in the previous four years. I am very concerned about these babies diagnosed with disabilities and how their rights will be affected if we repeal the eighth amendment. At the moment, they do not receive any lesser protection than anyone else and I want our law to stay this way. I know some people have been trying to ignore the issue of disability, insisting that repealing the eighth amendment would make no difference to these babies. It worries me because babies with any disability would be at increased risk if the eighth amendment was repealed. Ireland has changed. It can and should rise to the challenge of offering a better answer than abortion. It can and should embrace both lives. I want Ireland to continue to protect the lives of our unborn children. In the past week, many of my colleagues failed to address the second person affected by abortion, the child in the womb. Every woman who becomes pregnant has a right under the eighth amendment to have her life protected, and has a right to whatever services or medical treatment she needs for whatever arises in pregnancy.

Sadly, many Deputies in this House seem to have no regard for the preborn baby, and some even believe that the baby has no right to life until that child is born. That is not a view shared by the majority of Irish people.

The committee also recommended legalising abortion for babies with a life-limiting condition, using the offensive and misleading term "fatal foetal abnormality" to describe these children. I was shocked in particular to see the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, using that term, despite the fact that the HSE recently revised standards on bereavement care and recognised that it is not the correct medical term to use. I am saddened to hear from parents in Every Life Counts, an organisation which represents parents whose babies died from life-limiting conditions, that the Minister has refused to meet them several times.

Last week, I received this email, as did all Members of the Oireachtas, from a man I did not know but who wished to share his story. This is a story that we do not usually hear, and with his permission I want to read an extract of it.

My wife and I were parents of a baby, who died at eight months old. She had what some people refer to as a fatal fetal abnormality, though we never thought of her in that way. I do not pretend that her brief life was without difficulties, but she had the living experience of being devotedly cared for by her loving parents and the enjoyment of her siblings. She, at least, had the opportunity to live her life to the full; that is only what we all aspire to.

I found this story deeply moving, as are the many other testimonies from families who explain their being supported so that they could pour a lifetime of love into the brief few hours or days with a baby after birth. It gave them tremendous healing. I remember reading a letter in the Irish Independent from a woman in Meath whose baby son lived very briefly after birth, and how she said that what sustained her after such a terrible loss was the knowledge that he never did anything to hurt her, and she never did anything to hurt him. I note that Cork University Maternity Hospital seems to have an excellent support system for parents who are told their babies may not live, and that it has published research showing that most parents under its care do not seek abortion. Its model of care is obviously helping families, and we need to listen to parents and wrap them and their babies in compassion at such a difficult time.

I come back to the email we all received where that parent said that the opportunity to live a life is something we can all aspire to. There are many similar stories, if the media would allow us to hear them. There are many stories about the life-saving effect the eighth amendment has had on people the length and breadth of our country.

Much of the discussion around repealing the eighth amendment is about the availability of illegal abortion pills and how we must legislate for abortion as both the pills and the procedure are going to be carried out anyway despite the illegality. I believe that this is flawed logic. We do not and would not apply similar reasoning to illegal drugs simply because people use them anyway. The truth is that we do not really know how many women are using abortion pills because the figures the Minister and so many others in this Chamber are relying on are coming from research carried out by those who provide abortion pills, who are hardly neutral researchers. However, if even one woman is using them, it is a cause for concern and we need to address this by increasing supports and awareness. To the best of my knowledge, the Minister for Health has not commissioned a nationwide awareness campaign informing women of the dangers of taking abortion pills without medical supervision. It seems to me that such a national awareness campaign surely should have been rolled out by the Government when the danger of taking abortion pills was under discussion so frequently in the media. Furthermore, it is extraordinary that Members of this House took it upon themselves to distribute abortion pills illegally, despite warnings from the then master of the Rotunda that these actions could endanger the lives of women.

I cannot accept the committee’s recommendation to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks. The committee also wants abortion legalised right up to birth on undefined physical or mental health grounds. This is a very extreme and cruel recommendation. Like some of my pro-life colleagues before me said, I believe that life begins at conception. There is no other point where we can say that our life begins. This is my belief and it always has been and it always will be. By just three weeks' gestation, the baby’s heart has begun to beat, a fact denied at the committee, but which can be found in almost all medical textbooks. At four weeks, the baby’s arm buds begin to develop, and at eight weeks the baby is fully formed. By ten weeks, the baby’s fingerprints and fingernails are starting to emerge. These facts alone provide enough reason for me to know that aborting that very child that I have described above, at 12 weeks' gestation, is ending a human life.

I find it extraordinary that the Oireachtas committee did not hear any evidence from an embryologist regarding the development of the baby in the womb. Modern technology has given us an extraordinary window to the womb and to the humanity of the baby, and it is a real shame that some people refuse to look at that evidence. As the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see. Similarly, the committee did not discuss the alternative of adoption in any meaningful way. I find this difficult to understand. Surely it should have been a priority to examine life-affirming alternatives to abortion. It is rare for babies to be adopted in Ireland. There were just five domestic infant adoptions in 2016, for example. Is this not a discussion worth having in three months of committee meetings? It is a real pity that we do not have a report before us from this committee that considered all of the aspects of this issue instead of just picking and choosing which ones were important and which did not make the cut in the eyes of the organisers.

The most obvious people who were not allowed to speak to the committee are all the people who say they would have had an abortion in Ireland if it was available here. Instead they found support and help in this country and now they have a child who they love. There is no mystery about these people. We all know who they are. We all know people who got pregnant and who maybe took some time to get used to the idea of having a baby. Maybe they thought about travelling for an abortion but because it was not easily available here, they had the time to think about it some more and that time was enough for them to change their mind and have a baby instead of an abortion. We had the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and there was no room for families who say the eighth amendment is the reason their child is alive today. Part of me thinks that the real debate we should be having today is why the committee overlooked people like that who are so important.

There are many different estimates about how many lives the eighth amendment has saved. In reality, it is probably impossible to know the true figure. Does it really matter? If there was only person, one child, where it could be said for definite that there would have been an abortion but because abortion was not available in Ireland, the mother could not go straight to a clinic in Dublin and the extra time was what she needed to change her mind, should that not be enough for us? We know these families are out there. We know their children are alive. Nonetheless, I am confident that the public does not want to see abortion becoming available in Ireland when taking these facts into account.

I believe that part of my job as a Deputy is to protect and serve my constituents and all citizens in every possible way. My record will prove similar. I worked and fought hard with Vera Twomey so that her little daughter Ava could return from the Netherlands and avail of the medicine she so desperately needed here in Ireland. I have travelled, organised, highlighted and assisted dozens of Irish people to avail of cataract operations in Belfast under the cross-Border health care directive because they have been failed by our Minister for Health and the HSE time and again. I have spoken to and raised the issue of cystic fibrosis patients who were unable to afford the Orkambi drug before the Government finally accepted it into our health budget. This medication can literally save lives. I, along with my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group, tried our hardest to relocate the national children’s hospital to a place where it would be easily accessed by children from throughout the country and an area where there is space to expand and have bilocation of maternity and children’s hospitals rather than an overcrowded city suburb. Just last week, I stood with members of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, Age Action Ireland and many others outside the gates of the Dáil to call on the Government to restore the old age pension to its pre-2012 levels and allow our elderly live comfortably.

My record since being elected to the Dáil a year and a half ago shows that I respect and fight for the betterment of all people at every stage of their life, regardless of any disability or illness. I believe that it would be hypocritical of me if I remained silent on this issue and, by doing so, played a part in legalising abortion in our country. It would be hypocritical of me if I did not stand up for the most vulnerable and voiceless of all humans in our society. It would be hypocritical of me if I did not try to protect the most basic human right of all, which is the right to life of an unborn child. Without this right to life, all other rights are meaningless. I hope those who disagree can respect my opinion, as I will have to respect theirs. I also hope that the people will retain the eighth amendment, which underlines a truly compassionate answer to difficulties arising for women in pregnancy.

I have to take issue with this and previous Governments taking the moral high ground on care for women because when we look deeper into their records they leave a lot to be desired.

Last week we saw the appalling travesty of justice in the Kerry babies case where the State, by its actions, destroyed Joanne Hayes and her family. We have to think of the hepatitis C scandal where women were seriously injured as a result of receiving contaminated blood transfusions. Our State fought those women all the way, even when some of them were on their deathbed.

We should look at the way this State treated Vera Twomey and her fight for medicinal cannabis for her daughter, Ava. She was almost left to die in her fight to give her daughter the right to a normal life, in the end the State forcing her to go abroad for a cure.

We have seen many reports from the courts about children being seriously damaged during birth yet the organs of our State fight the parents all the way, and in doing so cause much hardship to these families. We should look back at the Government which put severe hardship on mothers and families with the savage cuts in child allowance some years ago. Yesterday, the Government was forced to yield to the pressure to redress the unfairness women were suffering as a result of a Labour Party Minister imposing totally unfair cuts in 2012 on women who had stayed at home in a caring role to care for their children and their relatives. Yesterday's decision has gone part of the way to resolving this issue but full justice needs to be given.

Just before Christmas a constituent in west Cork had a very sick baby in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. I went to be with that family on one of the days and when I looked around I saw the incredible staff fighting to bring back to health these stunning children, and their parents fighting day and night to keep their children alive. It made me think how precious the life of a child is.

Again, I plead with all to show respect to everyone on this issue, as I have done through the years. I will not vote for a change to the eighth amendment as it has and will, if left unchanged, give full protection to the unborn in this country.

Given there is nobody here to fill the slot from the Government side we will go to Sinn Féin to fill the next slot. Deputies Peadar Tóibín, David Cullinane, Dessie Ellis and Denise Mitchell are sharing time.

This is an enormously difficult topic. There are many difficult, tragic situations facing mothers, fathers and children every day that cause enormous stress and strain in their lives. Our approach to these families, our friends, relations or neighbours should be founded on compassion. We need to ensure that every support necessary is found to help these families.

I have colleagues who are pro-choice and while I disagree with them fundamentally on this issue, I know that for the majority of them their perspective is motivated by a desire to help in massively difficult situations.

My party, Sinn Féin, believes that the eighth amendment should be repealed and that abortion should be made available in certain circumstances where there is life-limiting disability, rape, incest and a threat to the mother's life and health. I have a different view from my party's on this issue. Over 100 years ago, through the Proclamation, republicans from around the country set forth a progressive view of a new independent Ireland and at the heart of that Proclamation was the objective to cherish all the children of the nation equally. This objective is also at the heart of my viewpoint.

I believe that the debate on the eighth amendment is the most important human rights debate of our generation. In the upcoming referendum, each citizen is being asked an extremely serious question, one that will radically change the nature of who we are as a people and our core values. First, the life of the mother in all cases must be protected. On Committee Stage of the abortion Bill in 2013, I asked the masters of the maternity hospitals who were present if they were aware of any mother who lost her life due to the eighth amendment. They all said "No". I would not support any law, be it in the Constitution or anywhere else, that did not guarantee the life of the mother.

It is important also to note when we discuss this issue that Ireland has one of the best records on maternal mortality in the world, better than many countries where abortion is provided. For me, the unborn child is a living individual human being. She is the weakest and most vulnerable of all human life. She has no voice, but currently within the Constitution she is protected by the eighth amendment. Human life is the most valuable thing we have. Without it, you, me or the unborn child has absolutely nothing. What is at stake in the forthcoming referendum is the existence, the lives and the potentials of tens of thousands of individuals for the next 50 years.

Every human being, by definition, should be entitled to human rights. Human rights, by definition, are universal. If a human right is withdrawn from a sector of humanity, it is no longer a human right but it is a sectoral right. In Britain, one in five pregnancies ends in abortion and since abortion was legalised in Britain, there have been nearly 9 million abortions. It is estimated that already this year, internationally there have been 2 million abortions. To most people in Ireland, these are frightening figures.

Ireland's story is radically different. First, the abortion rate in Ireland, even if we take into consideration the abortion pill, is at a 30-year low. One in 20 pregnancies in Ireland end in abortion. In Britain, it is four in 20 so if we bring the British culture and the British law into this country, three out of 20 pregnancies that would reach full term here would no longer reach full term. Over generations, that is hundreds of thousands of lives saved by the eighth amendment.

One of the major difficulties I have with abortion is how it affects minorities. If someone is from a minority sector of society they are far more likely to be negatively affected by abortion. Last year, I met Karen Gaffney. Karen has a disability and she spoke eloquently about her real fear that people with her condition would almost be, in her words, eradicated before birth. Today I spoke with Anne Traynor, a mother of a child with a disability. She told me her fears with regard to the upcoming referendum and what it would mean for children like her own.

Around the world there are organisations such as Don't Screen Us Out. We should think about that for a second. These are people with disabilities setting up organisations to ask us not to screen them out of society. That is an incredible thing that will happen in our generation. In countries that have removed the right to life there are shocking rates of abortion among people with disabilities. In some cases, 90% of children who are diagnosed with a disability while in the womb are aborted. It is expected in some of these countries that there would be no children born with these certain disabilities in the next 20 years. Shockingly, in the Netherlands, the Minister for health was asked a question and she responded by stating that if freedom of choice results in a situation that nearly no children with disabilities are being born, society should accept that. Obviously, for the individual child concerned, the result is catastrophic but societies will be radically poorer if we lose our rich diversity of humanity.

Life-limiting disability is a heartbreaking diagnosis for any parent to get. Most unborn children who receive that diagnosis lose their lives either before birth or afterwards, but there are exceptions to that. One was mentioned earlier. I had the chance to meet a wonderful girl called Kathleen Rose Harkin who has trisomy 13. Diagnosed in the womb, her condition would be described as a foetal fatal abnormality, yet she is ten years old today. I believe that Kathleen Rose Harkin should have an equal right to life as everybody sitting in this Chamber today. I have asked doctors if it is possible for the doctor to declare that an unborn child would not make it through the birth and live outside of the womb, and they all said "No".

In the Citizens' Assembly we saw something startling. The assembly members decided that depending on whether one was able bodied or, in their words, had a non-fatal foetal abnormality or had a fatal foetal abnormality, one would have a different time limit with regard to abortion. They defined three different categories of human beings with three different legal rights to life. That is a polar opposite of what equality means.

The issue of gender-selective abortion has not been discussed properly in this debate. It is estimated that 100 million women are missing in the world due to gender-selective abortion or infanticide. In countries such as China, Britain and the United States, some parents, for economic, social or cultural reasons, seek sons and therefore abort their unborn baby girls. Abortion also differentiates against minorities. More African-American babies are aborted than are born in New York city. In the United States, if someone is from an ethnic minority they are far more likely to be aborted.

In a country which shouts that black lives matter, their population is being seriously skewed by the number of abortions in that community.

Abortion also discriminates against the poor. In the USA an unborn child is far more likely to be aborted in a poor family than in a rich family. Some 75% of unborn children aborted in the United States are to mothers from poor or low-income backgrounds. If the Government really seeks to help women, targeted funding to lift families out of poverty, child care services and a decent living wage for working mothers are pivotal.

The abortion debate in Ireland focuses only on the law, which is a massive mistake. In all the talk about choice we are ignoring the economic factors which make so many women believe they do not have a choice both here and elsewhere. I strongly believe life should not just be for the rich, the fortunate, the planned or the perfect. We all live under the same sky and are responsible for each other, no matter how frail, small and vulnerable we are. Surely, we must fight to have a society which leaves no child or mother behind.

We have heard many arguments in the Chamber in the past few days about pro-repeal and anti-repeal positions. Everyone's position should be respected. I understand fully that this is an emotional issue for many. My party has a clear position on the eighth amendment which is that it should be repealed and replaced with laws which provide for terminations in certain circumstances. I have a different view. I am and always have been pro-choice. The 1916 Proclamation promised to cherish all of the children of the nation equally, but it must be remembered that the women of Ireland who are in the majority also need to be respected. Their rights need to be respected. We must have equality in health care between women and men in the State, but we will not have it as long as the eighth amendment is in place. A woman should not lose the right to health care simply because she is pregnant. Under the eighth amendment, women lose that right when they become pregnant.

I trust women to make decisions that will affect them. The eighth amendment does not. We must be very clear in all of the hysteria that will flow from this debate. While I respect opinions on all sides, I have heard some extreme views from some in the Chamber and others outside it. We should be very clear that no woman in the State will be forced to have an abortion; not one, not ever. Irish men can hold whatever opinion they want on the issue of abortion and they are entitled to their opinions. However, it is not something that will ever affect their bodies. It will never affect mine. As such, the only issue about the repeal of the eighth amendment is whether I trust women to make decisions that will affect them. Do we in this House trust women to make decisions that will affect them? I trust the women of Ireland to make decisions that will affect them. For that reason, I will vote to repeal the eighth amendment. I will campaign to have it repealed and will stand shoulder to shoulder with all of the women in Ireland who want to be treated with respect, who want equality and choice and control over their bodies. That is what we should do.

I commend the Citizens' Assembly and the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution for the incredible amount of work they did. I remember marching in the 1990s about the X case when a 14-year-old girl became pregnant as a result of rape and was prevented from travelling to England to have an abortion. It was an appalling case which highlighted for many women the reality that they were second-class citizens in their own state. It was a state in which the Catholic Church held sway over society. We need only look at the disgraceful and horrific treatment of women and children who were incarcerated in Magdalen laundries and mother and baby homes to see how the State and religious institutions persecuted and oppressed women.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that somehow we have all escaped this ill treatment and persecution by the State. We have not. The eighth amendment is one of the biggest obstacles the State and we, as women, will overcome on our away to achieving equality. I commend the women who continued the struggle for equality during the decades. It was certainly not an easy thing to do. They were vilified by the media, religious institutions and the political establishment. I also commend a new generation of young women who have taken up this fight. We would not be having this debate if it were not for their activism and campaigning.

On a personal note, my heart goes out to the women from every city, village and town across Ireland who have had to make the lonely journey to England to avail of something which is recognised in most states as a fundamental right. I have spoken to many of them and the way they have been demonised by some commentators and campaigners is shameful. The eighth amendment was inserted into the Constitution 35 years ago and a generation of women of childbearing age have not been given a say on an issue which affects them. It is time to hold a referendum on the eighth amendment. I will certainly vote in favour of the repeal Bill when it is brought before the House and campaign for the repeal of the eighth amendment. It is time the issue was dealt with and the women of Ireland had their voices heard.

For many years, women have not only been written out of our history, they have also struggled to have an equal role in our society. The Proclamation of 1916 was the most revolutionary document of its time. It declared equality among all citizens. Unfortunately, consecutive Governments since the foundation of the State have been extremely conservative. They were also heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and other conservative institutions. Women were treated as second-class citizens and the Magdalen homes were a consequence of that mindset, but we have come a long way since the condom trains to the northern part of the country. Even the acquisition of the morning after pill was outlawed throughout the 1970s and 1980s and as a result, thousands of women were forced to travel to England and elsewhere to seek an abortion.

Women are best placed to make the right judgment and decision when it comes to their health and well-being, rightly so. The first step is to repeal the eighth amendment. What will follow after that will be decided by the people. Sinn Féin, through its membership at Ard-Fheiseanna, has voted on the need for abortion where a woman's life, health or mental health is at serious risk, in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and in cases of rape or sexual abuse. It is clear that society has moved on, as the referendum on same-sex marriage clearly showed. There is an appetite for reform and society demands that the State be in tune with the rights of all of its citizens. We export citizens to access services which many believe the State should be responsible for delivering.

As it stands, the way the Constitution is framed, it constitutes an unacceptable clinical risk for women across the State. That is totally unacceptable and must be changed. I thank the committee and all those who had an input. It was a difficult endeavour. I hope the Government moves speedily to bring forward the necessary referendum. I have campaigned for many years and been on many marches to repeal the eighth amendment and I will continue to campaign in that area. My opinion is different from the party position. I support a woman's right to choice. I will abide by my party and follow what the people have voted for at our Ard-Fheiseanna. That is where we take our guidance from.

This is a really important debate and I welcome an opportunity to make my contribution to it. As legislators and parliamentarians, on occasion we find ourselves with some very difficult decisions that require us to consult with our consciences and to consult with the people whose opinions we value. Those difficult decisions we have to take as legislators must pale into insignificance when one considers how a woman with a crisis pregnancy has to deal with the decision to terminate her pregnancy. The most important aspect of this debate is to try to factor in the women who are faced with crisis pregnancies.

In an ideal world every pregnancy would begin in a loving relationship with committed parents who want the pregnancy to end in the birth of a healthy baby that would be brought into a loving family and be supported. That is in an ideal world. In an ideal world there would be no rape, incest, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, child abuse or fatal foetal abnormalities but we do not live in an ideal world. Sadly, there is rape, incest, child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and fatal foetal abnormalities diagnosed during the course of pregnancies. In that context, in the non-ideal world we live in, it is not for us as legislators to absent ourselves from that reality. It is the burden it brings that will guide me in the decision I will take in the House.

I have been on record for some time now saying I fully support the repeal of the eighth amendment and that I support the recommendations of the joint Oireachtas committee. We cannot take the decision we have to take in isolation. We must look at all the permutations and combinations and all the issues that arise in the non-ideal world we find ourselves in. It is very clear now that for generations over 5,000 Irish women have had, from their point of view, no alternative but to terminate their pregnancies. My views on this have probably changed over 20 or 30 years. When I was 18 or 19 I had a different view. Over the course of my time in public life I have had the opportunity to meet people, women in particular, and sometimes women and men, who have had to deal with a crisis pregnancy, rape, incest or a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. I know of no one, of those who have shared their stories with me, who did so easily or who felt happy at the end of the decision they had to make but it was a crisis and something which they had to do. Unfortunately, in all those cases, the termination had to be procured, either outside the State or through the acquiring of pills over the Internet.

Let us just look at the first instance of those who have had to travel. Can we in any way try to get inside the heads of the women who had to travel, many times alone, to procure a termination across the water? Can we understand the painful and lonely journey they had to make? It was the biggest crisis or the biggest issue in their lives and in many cases they had to do it alone and in shame without the benefit of the support of their doctor or medical people in the State, sometimes putting their own lives at risk in the procurement of a termination. They were not able to remain in the care of a medical team in the UK for a number of days because they needed to be back for work. They needed to try to show normality. They wanted to hide their dark secret. The stories that have been relayed to me have weighed heavily and have assisted me in coming to terms with how we, as legislators, should deal with this. We have to consider the families who have been given a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality who have had to travel to Liverpool for the procurement of a termination, having the remains of their wanted and loved infant returned by DHL or some other means, adding further trauma to the pain they have already suffered. The young women who seek to terminate a pregnancy by obtaining pills over the Internet which will bring on a miscarriage do so in lonely bedrooms or sheds dotted around the country. They do so without the benefit of assistance from a medical practitioner. There is no knowledge of where the pills have come from or the quality of the drugs that have been used to make the pills. There is no traceability or guidance about how they are taken or whether it is safe for someone to take them based on other medication they might be on.

These are all decisions that are taken without the appropriate level of medical care. I can only speak for me. I have an independent voice and I am very fortunate to be part of a party that has the capacity to take decisions independent of the party Whip. I cannot stand over a law or an element in the Constitution that deprives the care and support of the State to women who find themselves in those circumstances. The State, through its laws, should cherish all its individuals equally. Unfortunately in this case, it does not. For the women who have to terminate a pregnancy in the UK or in the loneliness of their bedrooms through the taking of these pills, we have to bring about a change in the law so those women get the same protection as if they lived in another state within the European Union. It is of vital importance that we move hastily to address this issue.

There are real questions and concerns. Some of the language that is being used in this debate refers to unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. I do not see it as unrestricted access to abortion. I have read the report and my understanding is that the recommendation of the joint Oireachtas committee is that these decisions will be taken by a woman in consultation with her doctor. That is not unrestricted or unregulated. What sure as hell is unrestricted and unregulated is the procurement of pills over the Internet taken in isolation and without the best medical advice. We have a responsibility to face up to that reality that exists in this non-ideal world that we occupy. We have to change the laws in a way that meets the needs of the society in which we find ourselves.

We must trust women. We must trust that women, in consultation with their doctors, clinicians and nurses, will do the right thing by themselves. The laws must be there to protect them and I feel that if society has learned anything over the past decades, it is that we must trust women. For far too long, this House and other places were populated largely by men who did not understand or have the benefit of the voices of women. If anything has come about as a consequence of various debates in recent years, it is that we have learned the necessity of trusting women.

I hope that in the coming months we have an open and broadminded debate, that it is respectful, that everybody has the capacity to listen to others but that there is no lecturing or hectoring or attempting to change people's minds. Some people have already come to a conclusion on this and others should not expect their minds to be changed but having an open and full debate might help those outside the House who have not made up their minds to help them come to the conclusion they must before they cast their vote. I intend, where I am asked, to express my views and opinions to assist people and explain why I reached my decisions. If that is considered campaigning, then that is campaigning. If people take something from that, it is well and good. I hope that they will also listen to people of a different persuasion so that they might make their own judgments based on all the information.

The next slot is the Government slot. No one is offering to speak so we return to Fianna Fáil. Deputy John Lahart will speak and is sharing his time.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate today. The eighth amendment to the Constitution, on which, as a young man I cast my vote in favour, has vexed, challenged and tangled the courts and political system of this country for over 30 years. I thank my own party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, for having had the wisdom and foresight some years ago to grasp that the issue of abortion and the right to life of the unborn are matters of conscience for members of Fianna Fáil, and for allowing each elected party member of the Oireachtas the freedom and space to articulate our own position on the matter without being subject to a party whip.

It is worth dwelling on the idea of a free vote for a moment. Free votes are rarely permitted by parties or groupings in either European or Westminster-style parliaments. They are also extremely rare in Ireland with only four free votes identified since 1970. While a free vote permits freedom to exercise one's own view on an issue of conscience, it equally removes the comfort of being able to hide behind a party whip. It places a responsibility on each individual to come forward and state his or her own, position on the issue in question and to outline the reasons he or she has adopted such a position. Therefore, in many respects a free vote is a more challenging prospect for a parliamentarian.

I want to pay tribute to the work of Ms Justice Laffoy and the members of the Citizens’ Assembly for their deliberations on the matter, deliberations which have been thought-provoking and valuable and which have made a significant contribution in the context of this ongoing debate. I know that there are those who feel that the assembly was not truly representative of all the people, or that it did not reflect fully the complex context of the debate. If that is true, and I have spent some time watching the proceedings of the assembly, then the establishment of a special Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment offered the initial opportunity for elected public representatives to consider the topic and hear at first hand the evidence of key witnesses. If the Oireachtas committee can be criticised for not facilitating the widest possible consideration of the eighth amendment, and for some it clearly did not, then the opportunity has now arrived for all democratically elected representatives of the people, from every corner of Ireland, representing every possible viewpoint, to give their considered and informed views on the outcomes and deliberations of both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas committee, and to do so freely and without fear of interference or the accusation of bias on either side. Ultimately, as is proper in a republic, the people will be asked to adjudicate on the matter.

I thank all the members of the Oireachtas committee for their diligence and extraordinary commitment to the work and deliberations of the committee. I want to commend particularly, my own colleagues, Deputies Billy Kelleher, Anne Rabbitte, James Browne and Lisa Chambers and Senator Ned O’Sullivan for representing as wide as possible a range of viewpoints on the matter and specifically for the countless hours they dedicated to attendance at the committee since last September.

Like my colleagues, I have received hundreds of correspondences from constituents on this subject and continue to do so. I have made myself available and responded to those who sought to meet me personally to discuss the eighth amendment over recent weeks and I will continue to do so. I have met them in my office in Tallaght and at my clinics in Rathfarnham, and elsewhere, and I have heard and been touched by stories from both sides of the debate. I have been touched by stories on both sides in my own personal, political and professional life.

Above all, it is important to me that this debate is carried out in a spirit of calm understanding, with respect for divergent views and tolerance. Like many people, I am conflicted by many aspects of the debate. I find it difficult to accept the extremes articulated at opposite ends of the spectrum of discussion: on the one hand the view that completely ignores the unborn and on the other the viewpoint that ignores the rights of women. The Oireachtas committee concluded after its deliberations that some change is needed and after 30 years of divisive debate, it is difficult to counter that argument. It is difficult to counter that argument specifically in the context of rape, fatal foetal abnormality and incest. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act provides protection for women only where there is a real threat to the life of a woman and not to her health, and in the case of suicide. Contrary to the wild assertions at the time of the Act that scores of women would use the Act to spuriously procure a termination, data suggests that approximately 25 terminations have taken place under its provisions. The evidence given to the committee by medical professionals is that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act has created significant difficulties for medical practitioners.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommended that the termination of pregnancy that is the result of rape be lawful up to a 22-week gestational limit. The Oireachtas committee rejected this gestational period and favour a period up to 12 weeks. I believe that it should be lawful to terminate a pregnancy that is the result of rape or other sexual assault, if a woman so chooses. I trust women and I share the committee’s recommendations that it would be unreasonable to insist on the reporting of rape as a precondition for exercising any right to terminate a pregnancy that has resulted from rape or sexual assault and I subscribe to the committee’s view that there is a need to avoid the further traumatisation of a victim of rape or sexual assault.

In the case of foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death either shortly before or shortly after birth, the Citizens' Assembly recommended that termination of pregnancy should be lawful without gestational limit. I am acutely mindful that the issue of fatal foetal abnormality concerns a much-wanted pregnancy and not an unwanted pregnancy. The Oireachtas committee recommended that it should be lawful to terminate a pregnancy without gestational limit where the unborn child has a foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth. I trust women and I share the committee’s recommendation with respect to fatal foetal abnormalities, if a woman so chooses this course of action, and not all women may exercise such a choice. The idea that a woman with a much-wanted pregnancy who is faced with the traumatic diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, who chooses to terminate under existing law has to travel abroad to undergo that termination is repugnant to me.

This is a challenging issue for people. The people are entitled to be consulted. For most it is a decision of conscience. Our far-seeing Constitution, drafted in an era when dictators were gathering and consolidating ever-increasing powers to themselves, allows the people a significant say on vital matters through the provision of referendums. What is possibly to be placed before the people is a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3°, repeal simpliciter, or to repeal and replace Article 40.3.3° with a clause that empowers the Legislature exclusively to legislate for matters of abortion.

The option to repeal and replace with such a clause was the option favoured by the Citizens' Assembly but discounted on a number of grounds by the Oireachtas joint committee.

I favour the facilitation of a referendum of the people on the matter of repeal and I support a referendum where my vote will be like the vote of any other citizen with exactly the same weight.

I do not want the opportunity of the debate to slip by without commenting on the ancillary recommendations of the Oireachtas joint committee in chapter 3 of its report. These recommendations deal with the provision of the most effective method of contraception, free of charge and having regard to personal circumstances, to all who wish to avail of them within the State. The Oireachtas joint committee is of the opinion that there is a clear link between effective sex education and lower levels of crisis pregnancies. I also support the committee's recommendations that all women should have access to the same standard of obstetrical care, including early scanning, testing and anomaly scans, irrespective of geographic location and having regard to socioeconomic status; improvements should be made to counselling and support facilities for women during and after pregnancy, including post-termination; and perinatal hospice services be made available to women who require them.

I have just come from a parliamentary party meeting which was conducted in an atmosphere of calm, utter respect and understanding of varying views. It is clear that Fianna Fáil, as a party, is a warm place for those with pro-life views and that those views are well represented in our party. Equally, it is clear that Fianna Fáil represents other views, including my own, and emerging perspectives on the subject. This is what makes us a republican party.

I support the repeal of the eighth amendment and I trust women.

The questions being debated are these: should the eighth amendment be removed from the Constitution; and if so, under what conditions should abortion be available in Ireland? I will address each of these but before I do, I would like to recognise that there is a wide range of views, both in the Oireachtas and in the country, and say that I believe those on both sides hold their views with sincerity and conviction. The debate in the Oireachtas has been one of passion and respect and I hope that will continue, here and around the country, in the coming months.

I believe the eighth amendment should be repealed. As for the conditions under which abortion should be available, I believe the committee recommendations have got the balance right and I will speak to these shortly.

At the heart of this debate is a question of control by the State of women and women's bodies and on that question, Ireland has a dark and shameful history. We are becoming more aware of the outrage that was the Magdalen laundries where women were literally incarcerated as prisoners. Those who were pregnant had their babies taken from them, and sold. We are just recently aware of the Tuam mother and baby home and when that report is published, it will detail yet another horrific chapter in the institutional abuse of women with crisis pregnancies in Ireland.

While this level of horror may be in the past, the State still has a long way to go when it comes to equal opportunities for pregnant women and mothers. The survivors of symphysiotomy campaigned for years but were ignored. A pension gap exists for many parents, the majority of whom are mothers who left work to raise their children. Child care costs remain among the highest in the world - a barrier for all parents, in particular, mothers, and affecting their career choices. The rate of enforcement of maintenance payments in Ireland, in the main, required by mothers, is one of the lowest in Europe. Ireland's maternity pay is one of the lowest in Europe. The biggest rise in deprivation during the crash was experienced by lone parents, the majority of whom are mothers.

Then, of course, there is the eighth amendment. Combined with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling on the X case, it means that abortion is permitted in Ireland if there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother. Under any other circumstances, it is a criminal offence with a prison sentence of up to 14 years. This includes cases where the health of the mother could be seriously damaged. It includes fatal foetal abnormality, incest and rape. It exposes vulnerable women in our country every single day.

Earlier today I had the following experience shared with me. A few years ago, "A" was 18 years old when she became pregnant. She was in first year in university and had just moved out of home. None of her school friends was attending her college and none of her family lived nearby. She was in a bad relationship which broke up, with her believing that she was free of him. One night, several months later, he arrived to her house drunk and he raped her. She became pregnant. When she found out, she flew to the United Kingdom. She took a long bus journey and booked into a cheap bed and breakfast. Then, on her own, she had an abortion. She told her friends she was travelling to the UK to visit relatives and she told her family she was travelling with her friends. Later, she admitted that she feared that she would be arrested for what she has done. She would not have been arrested but if she had had the abortion in Ireland, under the current law, she could have received a longer jail sentence than the man who raped her. That is the legal position in this country today. That is what is causing women, such as this one, to go abroad and do what they have to do instead of being cared for here.

The eighth amendment does not prevent abortion. What it does is force women with crisis pregnancies, including those who have been raped, to travel abroad or to order an abortion pill online, which they take with no clinical or social support. What the eighth amendment does is force women with unviable pregnancies to either carry to full term or seek clinical help from another country. Who has the right to force this on women? I do not believe I have that right. I do not believe anyone here has that right. I do not believe the State has that right. The eighth amendment is not fit for purpose. It should never have been put in the Constitution and it needs to be repealed.

Under what conditions should abortion be available in Ireland? The committee is recommending the following: unrestricted access up to 12 weeks, in part to account for cases of rape and incest; where there is fatal-foetal abnormality; and where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother, including both mental and physical health. The recommendation from the committee is that the assessment of risk should be made by at least two specialist physicians.

Some believe the recommendations of the committee do not go far enough. For example, the Citizens' Assembly recommended an unrestricted period of 22 weeks compared to the 12 weeks recommended by the committee. Others believe the recommendations go too far, with some, for example, supporting repeal and abortion in the case of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, but being uncomfortable about the 12 week period.

The committee recommendations have struck the right balance. For example, without this unrestricted period of 12 weeks, it would not be possible to legislate for abortion up to 12 weeks in the case of rape. The reality, of course, is that abortion is already happening in Ireland, unrestricted, close to 12 weeks, via the abortion pill. The committee recommendations would not make abortion more widely available in Ireland. What they would do is allow Ireland provide the clinical and social supports these women need.

There is evidence of other countries liberalising their abortion regimes and ending up with lower rates of abortion, and if that is what we want here in Ireland too, then there are other things we need to do as well as repeal the eighth amendment. We need better prosecution rates in cases of rape. We need better enforcement of maintenance payments.

We need to provide free child care services in colleges and in situations in which mothers need free, decent quality child care to allow them to get on with their lives and have the baby. We need to improve maternity payments. It is outrageous that in a country as wealthy as ours we have some of the lowest maternity payments in Europe. When it comes to pregnancy, particularly crisis pregnancy, the Irish State has a history of trying to control women, and this has led to bad, dark, shameful outcomes, many of which we are only beginning to learn about now. From forcing women to leave work to incarcerating them, to taking their babies away from them, to not providing the care they and their babies needed, leading to infant mortality. This must end. The State must start trusting women and clinicians and start accepting that, between them, they know what to do in these situations.

It is important that the voices of women are to the fore in this debate. Women are still in a relatively small minority in this House. It is important their voices are heard in this House, in the Seanad and across the country. When that debate has concluded, it is my hope that the eighth amendment will be repealed and removed from our Constitution. It is my hope that the recommendations of the committee will be seen in the legislation to be proposed and ultimately passed by the Oireachtas. It is my belief that this will lead to a more compassionate Ireland. It is my belief that repealing the eighth and following through with the committee recommendations would be important steps on a road to a truly equal Ireland.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter and to seek clarification on important questions. Most of the debate so far has come from two opposing sides. There are many people out there who want to do the right thing: they want to give adequate rights and protection to both the mother and the unborn child and do what they believe is morally right and in the best interests of both. The mother and child currently enjoy constitutional protection in respect of equality of life. What we need from this Government at this time are facts and answers to unanswered questions. There are so many uncertainties at present.

Judging from the Taoiseach's recent comments reported in The Irish Times, this debate is all very premature. He stated, "We need to bear in mind that once, or if, the Eighth Amendment is removed from our Constitution, the legislation would then be in the purview of the Oireachtas and this Government does not have a majority in the House". This means that voters, if they repeal the eighth, have no guarantee that the Bill brought forward to legislate for abortion will be what is eventually signed into law. In the same article An Taoiseach also stated the Government could find itself in what he called a "strange position". He went on to say that "other rights to life exist in other parts of the Constitution that might then make any legislation we pass unconstitutional". Surely the advice of the Attorney General now needs to be brought into the public domain as quickly as possible in view of all this. The people need to know exactly what is going on.

There are also many unanswered questions for this Government as to how any legalised abortion would work in practice. Who will carry out these abortions? Will they be carried out in GP surgeries, in already overstretched hospitals or in new purpose-built buildings? Will all this require additional counselling services to treat post-abortion trauma, as takes place elsewhere? Our health service is already grossly underfunded and overstretched, and this proposal will add a whole new dimension to costs and administration. All this needs to be clarified by the Government.

We are debating this tonight and the Government has not yet formally adopted the committee's recommendations. If the eighth amendment is repealed, with what does the Government propose to replace it? If it is the case that the replacement will simply allow an enabling provision in the Constitution specifying that legislation in this area is the sole prerogative of the Oireachtas and not the courts, then the Oireachtas, both present and future, will have complete control over anything to do with abortion. None of us here knows how future parliaments will be composed. Repeal of the eighth will take away from the people forever the existing power and present decision-making on abortion which they rightly hold. Once again, the Government needs to be clear on this and inform the people what exactly it proposes.

Having spoken with people in recent weeks, I understand there is a widely held belief that unconditional access to abortion up to 12 weeks' gestation is actually abortion on demand, regardless of how it is portrayed. This is a cause for major concern among these people, and I, as a pro-life person, cannot support it. I want to make it clear that I totally respect the right of everyone to hold his or her own personal view but I also want to make it quite clear, on the record of the House, that I am pro-life and always will be pro-life and will not support the committee's recommendations. I expect people will respect my right to hold a personal view too. I call on the Government to make its decisions known and to clarify the issues I have raised to enable considered and respectful debate to take place.

I was born in 1983 in the country of the Magdalen laundries, the Kerry Babies case, the case of Ann Lovett and many other horrors. It has been said in the debate that the past is another country, and this is true in some very important respects, most importantly in respect of people's attitudes to these issues. However, in legal terms, that country continues today with the eighth amendment, which reflected and codified that oppression of women which was widespread and is still in our Constitution today. It is still in our Constitution because we have had a political establishment tied to the Catholic Church and very reactionary forces, hypocritically availing of the existence of an English solution, which was absolutely unwilling to do anything to deal with the reality of abortion in this country. That was not just the case in 1983 or throughout the 1980s; it was the case throughout the 1990s, in the 2000s and even a few years ago here, when we and others introduced repeal bills and were met by a wall of opposition and told there was no appetite for change on this issue.

What has changed that now there is very positively a clear majority in the Dáil for repeal? What has changed that the anti-choice voices are now in a relatively small minority in the Dáil, reflected in the fact that only eight Fianna Fáil members could be summoned to their meeting to save the eighth? The crucial thing is the movement that has taken place and which exploded, rightfully, in anger at the death of Savita Halappanavar and repeatedly brought tens of thousands onto the streets in protests that doubled in size yearly. The publicising of the availability of the abortion pills by For Reproductive Rights, Against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity, ROSA, and Women on Web illustrated that abortion was not just being exported, but was also happening in Ireland. With the opening of a discussion in society because of that movement and because of the horrific cases such as that of Savita Halappanavar, public opinion changed extremely rapidly, and young people have led the way in this regard. For example, the recent RED C poll illustrates that 79% of 18 to 24 year olds and 73% of 25 to 34 year olds support abortion on request up to 12 weeks; 67% of people in Dublin across all age brackets support it, but a majority in every area of the country supports it. That shift in public opinion was then reflected in the Citizens' Assembly and its outcome, which was entirely unexpected from the point of view of the establishment. What we have seen in the past week, thankfully, is a dramatic catch-up on the part of politicians in the face of the change that has taken place outside of this House.

It is all those who have fought for abortion rights - those who marched, those who publicised the availability of abortion pills, those who proudly displayed the repeal slogan on jumpers, bags and badges - who have got us this far.

There is a crucial lesson here in terms of winning the referendum itself. It is those forces that got us this far and it is those forces that will win the referendum, as opposed to any establishment politicians. These movements have to lead the referendum campaign and get out there to discuss with people the reality of the conditions facing women, to win the arguments, to win the referendum and to win it by as large a margin as is possible.

There has been a lot of discussion about the need for a respectful debate, and I agree with the need for a respectful debate. The basis of such a respectful debate has to be respect for scientific facts. Those forces of the anti-choice campaign which have their origins in the same forces of religious fundamentalism that fought for, and managed to get inserted, the eighth amendment in the first place, are clearly honing their arguments. They have focus groups and so on. The arguments they have used up to now are not arguments based on scientific facts. They are based on deliberate misinformation. I, and I am sure many other people, have been getting ads on my Facebook feed from LoveBoth, telling me 5,000 lives a year are saved by the eighth amendment and comparing it to other laws which save lives. It is complete nonsense on every possible level. If it were true in the sense they mean it is true, it would mean there have been 5,000 forced pregnancies every year since 1983. That would not be something to celebrate, but it is not true even in the sense they mean it. Ireland's abortion rate is comparable to other countries where abortion is legal. Irish women just have to travel or take illegal but safe abortion pills. As has been mentioned, the Netherlands, which has pro-choice laws, has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world. This brings us to a core point, that abortion is a reality and one can have legal or illegal abortion, or one is in favour of forced pregnancies.

The second key argument the anti-choice campaign will use, which was highlighted very well and deconstructed by Fintan O'Toole yesterday in The Irish Times, is abusing the issue of Down’s syndrome, with misinformation such as that 90% of babies diagnosed with Down's syndrome in Britain are aborted. It is deliberate misinformation because it leaves out the close to 40% of women who choose not to be screened for Down's syndrome. Incredibly, because of misinformation raised at the Oireachtas committee, the Danish ambassador was forced to write this sentence: "It should be noted that it is not the policy of the Danish health authorities to eradicate Down’s syndrome." Of course it is not.

The argument is also utterly hypocritical because many of these people who want to judge women who make personal decisions have voted for or supported the cuts in services for children with disabilities, which means children are on waiting lists for years for access to basic services. We should talk about real choice, which means providing for proper public services, including for children with disabilities.

Those on that side of the argument present their arguments in this way because they think they can work. They also do so because they know that their fundamental views on which the arguments are based are not now widely shared in society. At the root of the viewpoint of those elements such as the Iona Institute and LoveBoth is a religious fundamentalist view. We often hear references from that side that religion has nothing to do with it, but the speeches of those in this House against repeal are very revealing. Invariably they reference God and religion. I have nothing against that, and people have every right to hold religious views and every right to structure and organise their lives in line with those religious beliefs, but they do not have a right to impose those views on others or to have those views reflected in the Constitution of our State and then imposed on all.

This is linked to the issue of conscience that often comes up in this debate. I have to say I find it a bit frustrating that we have all these Deputies, largely men, talking about struggling with their consciences on this issue. A man does not have to struggle with his conscience on this issue. He will never have to make a decision about having an abortion. What it is saying is that his personal opinion, whatever outcome he comes to in terms of his conscience, should have control over other people's bodies. That is linked to a view, perhaps unconsciously or subconsciously held, of women as lesser or as property. This was summed up quite horrifically by the Fianna Fáil Deputy quoted in The Sunday Business Post, saying, "What farmer would abort a calf? You’d always give it a chance to live." I do not presume the Deputy meant any offence, but it is mind-boggling that anyone would say such a thing. Whoever that is is literally comparing a woman to a cow, a human being to livestock. I want to say to that Deputy that those views are utterly out of touch with what people, across age brackets and geography and including men, think. If we look at the opinion poll, men of all age groups in the RED C poll support the right of women to access abortion on request, at least up to 12 weeks. The idea of men telling women what to do or controlling women's bodies is over. In that sense, the movement for repeal here is part of a global movement including #MeToo and #TimesUp.

I want to issue a warning to the Government. Every day that passes before we repeal the eighth amendment and legislate for abortion in this country, ten women are forced to travel to access abortion and five women take abortion pills in Ireland. These women cannot wait. There is a danger the Government is seeking to revisit, and potentially come up with a different conclusion, an issue that was considered extensively by the Oireachtas committee which decided to recommend repeal simpliciter. The Government, together with the Attorney General, does not need to reinvent the wheel. The Citizens' Assembly with its proposal was seeking to direct the Dáil to act to ensure that abortion rights were actually delivered and to immunise any abortion legislation from potential challenge. It had little time to debate the legal options and the advice it received was not fully rounded. The Oireachtas committee, on the other hand, weighed and heard testimony from three legal experts and had its own legal adviser who outlined six possible options. Eventually, the committee decided that legal certainty is not guaranteed with any option but that the potential for a legal challenge post-repeal, on the basis of implied rights of the unborn, was outweighed by the fact that the people would have spoken quite clearly in the course of the referendum and that the dangers of inserting such a clause outweighed the benefit. The dangers are that abortion legislation could be immunised from any potential challenge, even from women who might be victims of it, and that it could be seen by the electorate as setting a dangerous precedent for the separation of powers. The Government would be wise to proceed with simple repeal, as weighed up over months by the committee. If we complicate it by inserting a wording, it opens up a hornets' nest, and potentially could cause a significant and completely unnecessary delay.

I also want to say to those who have said they will not vote for legislation for access to abortion, regardless of the result of the referendum and all parties here, that the debate we are entering into on the referendum is clearly not just a debate about the repeal of the eighth amendment from the Constitution. It will also be about the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee, including 12 weeks' access on request. No party should stand in the way of that.

It is young people who have led the way on this. They will simply not stand any more for a society that oppresses women and that limits personal freedom. They will struggle for this human rights, civil rights and democratic rights issue of the right of a woman to control her own body. They will struggle beyond this referendum to ensure this exists and they will not just leave it there. They will demand sex education in schools that actually informs people about their bodies and which is LGBTQ positive, as opposed to the situation that exists at present, and which recognises, as Alexandra Kollontai wrote, that "sexuality is a human instinct as natural as thirst or hunger". This means an end to church control of our schools. They will similarly struggle for a properly funded secular health care system and separation of church and State. They will struggle for decent public services for people to have decent standards of living, decent wages and decent access to housing, all of the things that are necessary to provide people with real choice.

I will finish with an appropriate quote from the German-Polish revolutionary socialist, Rosa Luxemburg.

She wrote:

When wide circles of society are seized by a sense of injustice ... it is always a sure sign that far-reaching shifts have taken place in the economic basis of society, and that the existing order of things has already come into contradiction with the ongoing process of development. The present powerful movement of millions of proletarian women who feel their political disenfranchisement to be a crying injustice is just such an unmistakable sign that the social foundations of the existing state are already rotten and that its days are numbered.

The days of the backward, Catholic Church-dominated, women-oppressing State of 1983 - in reality, the counter-revolutionary state of 1922 - are numbered.

I am delighted to be given the opportunity to speak on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. That amendment was passed by the people in 1983. I note that I speak as an individual and a Member of this Dáil.

I pay tribute to those Oireachtas Members who participated and gave much of their time to deliberate and compile a report. That is as far as I can go, as the process was weighted from much too early a stage in the direction it ultimately headed. I refer to the motion establishing the committee, which states "the Citizens’ Assembly shall, as soon as is practicable after it adopts its report, forward same to the Clerks of both Houses, who shall arrange for it to be laid before both Houses, whereupon the report shall stand referred to the Joint Committee". There was not enough done to scrutinise that report and consider other options. Perhaps I should have interceded sooner through my party to question the terms of reference. This issue was partially highlighted in the document produced by members on the committee who did not agree with the majority report. A minority report was compiled by Senator Mullen and Deputies Mattie McGrath and Peter Fitzpatrick. They commented on items that were not introduced to the committee. Their report states, "Having regard to the manifest majority in favour of legalised abortion among committee members, pro-life members made it clear at all times that it was not the job of the pro-life minority to secure a list of experts who would ensure that all issues were examined thoroughly." I agree as it was up to those at the top of the table to be impartial.

They should have taken on board requests, unless other members said "No". I do not see that recorded. It was the responsibility of the chairperson, supported by the secretariat. The job of the secretariat was to bring evidence before the committee. Several names were proposed by pro-life members and some of these were rejected, contributing further to the imbalance in the perspective presented. Straight away, the committee seems to have been in much trouble.

To go back a step further, I question the formation of the Citizens' Assembly in that its make-up may not have been representative of the opinions, beliefs and views of people. There should have been a better mechanism to pick the people involved. I am not for a minute condemning the integrity of these individuals but it is about where they come from and their beliefs. From what I saw with the deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly, I would go as far as to say that if we had given them the full text of Bunreacht na hÉireann, it would have come back in tatters.

I completely agree with the separation of church and State but I have comments on what has been said in the past number of days. I am a simple man who holds Christian values. I may not be a continual church-goer but I have my beliefs. I went to a diocesan college of Cloyne, St. Colman's College in Fermoy, and we all remember the speech of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, in the Dáil following the publication of the Cloyne diocesan report. I acknowledge the untold damage that these former clergy did to the church's name. They should have been punished sooner. Every organisation has rotten apples that need to be pulled. In some sporting organisations, some coaches were reprimanded for committing intolerable acts; it brought some sporting organisations to their knees. Every organisation might have bad apples that need to be pulled aside but they should not tarnish the entire organisation.

The Catholic Church is entitled to a view on this matter, as is any other group. We have people who are intent on continually kicking the Catholic Church when it is down but we must not forget those who espouse the true values of the church. I have received representations from other religious organisations that have denounced the report. Let these people air their views without any of the uncalled for condemnation that has come from other sectors of society or politicians who have the privilege to say what they like in this Chamber without fear of repercussion.

I have met a cross-section of people of different ages and status about this matter and there are many different opinions. It is not just about senior citizens. There has been a shout from the left that we must ensure students get a chance to vote. I acknowledge this request and I was a student once but one is entitled to move on in life. I attended Cork Institute of Technology and one could say I was no angel. I was on the periphery of the students' union. I saw people involved in the union who at the time had leftist and socialist views but further on in life, many have views that could be seen as right of centre. College brings that out in students. Those who are 14 or 16 are breaking the law when they have a cigarette or go for a drink. I agree that people should be allowed to vote but this should not be used as a way to get the referendum passed on other people's terms.

There has been much discussion on why abortion should be allowed, such as health grounds, economic and social considerations and incidents of rape and incest. We all abhor rape and incest. Although I do not really know them, I have met in other forums in the company of other politicians people who were born out of rape. They now live a full healthy and hearty life. Some of these people have gone into professions. They are the innocent people.

If I came into the House tomorrow and proposed the death penalty for a rapist or a person who committed incest, the same people here, particularly on the left, would use civil liberties and other issues to condemn me. I respect that women are the big players here. They are the people who carry the unborn and I respect that. They must be given equal treatment. However, looking to the future, are we denying women a chance to come into the world? Are we being selective about what women, and men, will be here in the future? We must give Irish women more support, but I do not see importing England's problem as the solution. We turn a blind eye to that at present. Due to Google, the Internet and other modern technology, we turn our backs. I am not suggesting a complete ban, but perhaps the penalties for people who would do this, which obviously are crimes, should be examined. However, it appears that these conglomerate companies, which provide the Internet and access technology, are the bigger players at present. The Government is even backing down on cybersecurity because these companies have too much power over people's access.

I do not believe Irish people want to see what is put forward here. We must provide better financial measures for single mothers and improve adoption services. We must show true compassion to women in these situations. We must support them in as many ways as possible. At the same time, however, when it comes to bodily autonomy there are two people involved in a pregnancy. A child's heart starts beating at 21 days and we cannot ignore that, whatever the outcome. The United States Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, stated:

The issue of life is not a political issue, nor is it a policy issue, it is a definitional issue. It is a basic core issue that every society needs to answer. The answer that you give to that issue ends up defining which kind of society you have. [...] The right to life is a fundamental one that trumps virtually any other right that I can imagine. Because without it none of the other rights matter. There can be no liberty without life. There can be no Constitution without life. There can be no nation without life. And there can't be other lives without life.

I echo his sentiments.

I hark back to recent comments in the media about politicians being brave when they change from one opinion to another. I respect and acknowledge that. I will not condemn anybody for their beliefs, but I do not wish to have other people condemning those who have a belief. Am I not a brave person for not changing my view?

Am I not entitled to hold my opinion? Everybody who speaks on this issue in the Chamber is brave. However, if one reverses one's opinion we see what happened across the water with the one and only President Donald Trump, who is now very much pro-life. The liberal media appear to castigate him for his change of mind. Can the change of mind not work both ways?

There is more than one view on this issue. There is my view, which is for the retention of the eighth amendment. There are those who want to go the full hog of the report's recommendation. Then there are those in the middle who want various categories knocked out and perhaps to shorten the term. There is no majority at present on this issue. Politicians can say they are on the winning side and have the backing, but there are various opinions among the public. This issue has a long way to go. Where possible, I will ensure that I and the electorate that advocates for retention of the eighth amendment will get fair play in forming the legislation.

I have received emails from people in all walks of life and on all sides of the thinking about where we should go on this issue. I have received them from people who take the same stance as me, but I have to advise them to pull back a little as they could antagonise some people. I would say the same to those who wholeheartedly support abortion. I respect all of their views but I ask them to mind their language.

I will be seeking to retain the amendment. It has served this country well through the years. There will be no winners. Regardless of the result people will still be giving out, whether it is a case of the more I speak for it here or the more I speak against it. I do not know what the right view is on these issues. There was legislation in the House before Christmas and most of the speakers on it opposed the Bill, yet it went through. This is the place for everybody to speak his or her mind, and I respect everybody's view.

I call Deputy Ó Cuív.

I have sat here for almost three hours and there was only one representative of the Government here at all times. There was no representative from the Independent Alliance or the Labour Party and only a few from Sinn Féin. I am calling a quorum.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members not being present,

It does not appear that we will have a quorum and, therefore, I have decided to adjourn the House.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.08 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 January 2018.