Dáil Éireann - Volume 450 - 08 March, 1995

Regulation of Information (Services outside State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.

[442] Kathleen Lynch: I said most of what I wanted to say last night, but I want to put other matters on the record. I referred already to the fact that I was deeply upset and grossly insulted by several of the comments made in relation to this debate. The stupidity theory being put forward by opponents of this Bill that the people did not know what they were voting for in 1992 is deeply insulting to me and to the people in general. The people voted not to limit freedom to obtain or make available in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully obtained in other states. They understood clearly what they voted for. It would appear that they understood it far more clearly than some of the people who are opposing the legislation before us. If the opponents of this Bill think people have forgotten or are in any way confused about what they voted for in 1992, let them look at a report in last Saturday's Cork Examiner which showed, once again, the same breakdown as in 1992. When people were asked whether they were in favour of this legislation, 60 per cent were and 40 per cent were not. That is the result of a recent poll which should be taken note of.

The right of an Opposition party to table amendments to legislation is essential to democracy. That is the role of the Opposition. It is a right that my party has often availed of to great effect in the past. However, I am concerned about the amendments Fianna Fáil is rumoured to be tabling. We have the bizarre situation whereby the people voted for the provision of information, legislation has been prepared putting that right on a statutory basis, and Fianna Fáil is considering tabling amendments which would render meaningless the word “information” in the Bill's title. I referred yesterday to the understandable confusion of the public which Fianna Fáil seemed bent on heightening. That confusion relates to the debate, not to what the people decided and clearly want. What is information in the context of abortion if not [443] names and addresses? Do the Deputies opposite really believe that people voted to prohibit the giving of names and addresses? To argue that the term “information” in the 1992 amendment referred simply to generalities about abortion is to take the people for fools. They are not fools. We may at times disagree with the conclusion the people come to because it is not the conclusion we want, but the people are definite about what they want. Having considered it from time to time, although it may not be my own position. I sometimes agree that the people probably have at heart our best interests as well as their own.

Fianna Fáil's campaign of misinformation and disinformation continues. Last night one of the Deputies opposite informed us that 23 out of 25 women who registered at a British clinic with Irish addresses turned out not to be from this country. This is perhaps the most bizarre allegation in a week of bizarre allegations. Are we seriously asked to believe that women registering at a UK clinic for a procedure which is legal in the UK dream up Irish names and addresses? That takes this debate into the realms of fantasy. We must be careful because there are women listening to us now who are in this situation and who do not want to be pilloried, blackened and labelled. This debate should be dispassionate but should take into consideration the deep passion its subject arouses.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Eric Byrne.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is in order.

Mr. E. Byrne: I take this opportunity of making some comments on this Bill. I will be brief. The cowardice being displayed by the Fianna Fáil Front Bench spokespersons makes me feel the need to drink a glass of water to restrain myself. It is incredible to see Fianna Fáil on the run from former Fianna Fáil county councillor, former member of [444] Fianna Fáil, now leader of Muintir na h-Éireann, Mr. Richard Green. The largest party in the State running in terror from this man and his organisation's political forces and his cohorts in Youth Defence is a sight to behold.

An Ceann Comhairle: We should be slow to refer to persons outside the House who have no redress against accusations made against their good name or character in this House which is a privileged assembly.

Mr. E. Byrne: I will refer then to another political force outside the House led by an individual who is a former member of Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil should now take one deep breath and readmit Mr. Richard Green.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has referred to a person by name, which I deplore.

Mr. E. Byrne: I suggest that Fianna Fáil apologise for having expelled him in the first instance because they are now a party of which he would be very happy to be a full-time member.

I am disappointed also at the collective political silence in the face of the outrageous allegations that the Members of this House can be compared with those who prepared legislation for the Third Reich. The political opportunism of Fianna Fáil has reached the most disgusting level of sheer hypocrisy one could imagine in Irish politics. A judge of the High Court has, with one clean sweep, compared everyone in this House, including the Chair, to the legislators who prepared for the annihilation of the Jews, Communists, Socialists and Catholic and Protestant socially-minded people in Germany.

An Ceann Comhairle: The time available to the Deputy and his colleague is now exhausted.

Mr. E. Byrne: I am glad I had the opportunity to draw attention to the fact that Fianna Fáil seems happy to sit back [445] and make no reply to the outrageous allegations of a man who equated us with Nazis.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: How grateful we are for the excellent, well thought out and major contribution of Deputy Byrne to the discussion on this Bill. It is rather ironic that somebody from Democratic Left, formerly The Workers' Party, should refer to the opportunism of another party.

Mr. E. Byrne: Your Leader has the backbone of a jellyfish.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: One should look into one's own soul and know where one is coming from. If one lives in a glass house one should not throw stones.

In dealing with this Bill we must be mindful of the amendment that is in place and the onus on us to legislate properly and meet the demands of the amendment. Any legislation we introduce must be in line with the provisions of the Constitution. There will be no winners in this debate. We cannot satisfy the demands of either the pro-life or the pro-choice groups. We must be constructive and sensitive in dealing with the Bill.

The view of the Fianna Fáil Party differs from that of the pro-life movement on the amendment passed by a 60:40 majority. It recognises that legislation must be introduced and wishes to ensure — this is the only difference between us and the Minister — that the provisions of the Bill are in accordance with the constitutional amendment and do not contain any flaws.

Before I deal with various aspects of the Bill I wish to state where Fianna Fáil stands on this issue as so much has been written in the newspapers during the past week. It has been stated that the party is hypocritical but nothing could be further from the truth. It has to be accepted that members of all parties have strongly held well thought out views and that a consensus has to be [446] reached. It is the view of the Fianna Fáil Party that legislation must be introduced to give effect to the constitutional amendment.

For many members of my party this is an emotive issue. I recognise, however, that it will have to support legislation — but in line with the constitutional amendment. I hold the view that this Bill is not in line with it.

When Deputy O'Dea was Minister of State at the Department of Health, he did not see a Bill relating to this matter. Deputy Cowen stated publicly that a Bill was not presented to the Cabinet but it was agreed that the Programme for Government would include a reference to a Bill relating to the regulation of information on services outside the State for the termination of pregnancies. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, gave a commitment to the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party that any Bill relating to this matter would be brought before it before being ratified because it was well known that many members of the party held strong views on this issue and wished to have an input.

On the day Deputy Ahern was elected leader of my party when it appeared it would be going back into Government I and many others in interviews with local radio stations pointed out clearly that this issue would cause major problems for many members of Fianna Fáil. Journalists, therefore, cannot have it both ways. The newspapers are suggesting that if the party was in Government it would have no difficulty with the Bill and would support it. There would have been much soul-searching about the Bill before the party would have given its approval.

It is being suggested also that Deputy Ahern should have provided leadership by outlining a definite view on the Bill at the parliamentary party meeting, that he should have subjugated the democratic rights of members of the party and orchestrated its views. Do the newspapers really believe that the leader of the largest party in this country should try to do this on an issue about which members of the party feel strongly?

[447] People have short memories. It is not all that long ago when the same journalists were saying that Fianna Fáil was a party of yes men and women who could blow with the prevailing wind. Now that it has exercised its democratic right to oppose the Bill this is portrayed as being expedient. The party has been consistent in the views it has expressed on this issue.

Deputy Ahern has provided great leadership in not being afraid to allow members of the party to have their say, to point to the deficiencies in the Bill, to make recommendations which would improve it and, above all, to allow the views of constituents to be reflected in the policies being pursued by the party on this issue while ensuring that any legislation introduced is in line with the way the people voted in the referendum.

There is a diversity of views among members of all parties on this issue. Deputy Harte has expressed his view within the Fine Gael Party while I understand the Progressive Democrats are to allow their members a free vote. I strongly hold the view that it would be a travesty if Fianna Fáil as the main Opposition Party was to support the Bill on Second Stage given that it contains many flaws. What would the Government's response be to amendments tabled by Fianna Fáil if it had not pointed to the flaws in the Bill or indicated that it would not be willing to support it on Second Stage unless it was withdrawn to allow the courts to decide certain matters pertaining to it? Would the Government not ignore the amendments and would it have contemplated showing us the advice of the Attorney General?

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): The Deputy's leader was shown that advice this morning.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Would that information have been provided if my party had not signalled its opposition?

[448] Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): There is no vote until tonight.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Would the Minister have considered the question of advertising and the associated dangers or included an opt out clause for members of the medical profession, for instance? Fianna Fáil is serving this House and the people it represents well by voicing its opposition to the Bill which contains many weaknesses and flaws. Two weeks ago the Taoiseach indicated that the referendum on divorce would have to be postponed because certain matters still had to be resolved by the courts. In doing so he set a precedent for the Government. Is it not prudent for Fianna Fáil to seek a postponement on this issue which is dear to the hearts of Irish people?

Mr. Creed: Why did the Attorney General of the Deputy's party not do so?

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: This Bill has only now been presented to the House.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): The Deputy's party agree the principle; why will it not support the Bill on Second Stage?

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: The anti-abortion lobby refer, quite rightly, to the paragraph in the Government information leaflet circulated before the referendum which stated that the provision of information would not allow for abortion and would be non-directive. Fianna Fáil claims that what is purported to be information in this Bill is in fact referral.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): The former Deputy, Dr. John O'Connell, sent out names and addresses.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: “Information” is defined in the dictionary as knowledge whereas “referral” is defined as giving a direction to a person, a place or a thing.

Imagine the scenario in a doctor's clinic if a pregnant woman requires the [449] doctor to be both a medical practitioner and a psychologist. The doctor will outline the preferred options under the Constitution of upholding the right to life. He or she will discuss the possibility of keeping the baby, putting it up for adoption or having the child fostered until such time as the person or the couple are in a position to properly care for it. If that fails, the doctor will then have to go through the process of informing the person about the psychological problems that ensue from abortion. Having gone through that whole process, he or she will then produce a list of names and addresses of clinics.

In regard to the involvement of GPs, the one positive aspect of the Bill is the fact that a person will at least be referred to a high street abortion clinic but, unfortunately, the process of referral will have occurred which, in my view, is repugnant to the right to life enshrined in the Constitution. I am in no doubt that where “information” is referred to in this Bill, it is done in the guise of information but the reality is that it is dealing with referral.

The Minister, in his contribution, tried to reassure members of the medical profession by saying that the procedure would not be different to any other which involves the patient moving on to a specialist. Is it fair to say that instead of “moving on” the words “being referred to” could have been substituted? In so saying the Minister is agreeing with the reservations that we in Fianna Fáil have with the actual interpretation.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): A Cheann Comhairle, would it be in order for me to call the Deputy a hypocrite?

An Ceann Comhairle: No, it would not. It is unparliamentary, Minister.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Then I will not call him a hypocrite.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: That would not be surprising coming from the Minister.

[450] I am at odds with the pro-life movement in its disregard for the will of the people when they voted for the right to information. I agree the people have spoken and that it is the duty of Government to interpret the amendment but that must be done accurately and this Bill does not succeed in that regard. It is preposterous to enact legislation which many people believe will be unconstitutional.

I wish to raise the question of the legal position of GPs. If, under the Act, a doctor gave the names and addresses of clinics in the United Kingdom to a pregnant woman and something went wrong subsequently during the abortion, with consequences for the person involved, would that doctor be indemnified against any claim that might be made by that person?

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): What happens in Ireland at the moment?

An Ceann Comhairle: I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but I do so merely to advise him that some two minutes now remain of the time available to him.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Did I not have 20 minutes?

An Ceann Comhairle: Yes, the Deputy had 20 minutes.

Mr. Flanagan: Like this party, the Deputy would like to turn back the clock on this one.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: I would like the Minister to refer to that because there may be a presumption of constitutionality.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I sent it to the Deputy's Leader this morning. He has full advice on this.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): They do not want advice.

[451] Mr. B. O'Keeffe: The Minister believes that by including provisions in the Bill for counselling the number of abortions will be reduced. That claim must be challenged because the Minister, like myself, will have read an article in one of the Sunday newspapers which gave the abortion statistics for the UK and the United States. Where abortion referral was introduced, the number of abortions increased dramatically and, in the UK, they increased threefold. If this Bill makes abortion more morally acceptable, will there be a dramatic increase, from the present 8 per cent, in the number of abortions?

Counselling is extremely important and I ask the Minister to examine the issue of counselling in the United Kingdom. The Bill will incease the provision for counselling from £70,000 to £200,000 but——

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Is the Deputy for or against counselling?

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: I am very much in favour of it and I ask the Minister to consider putting a support service in place in the UK which will be of great advantage to women getting off the boats who suffer from great depression and trauma. Such a support mechanism would be of great assistance to those women.

Mr. Flanagan: I am not a very good singer but I was a chanter at school and I wish to refer to the verses of a song about which we are hearing so much recently. I know Deputy O'Rourke became quite excited a few nights ago as the strains of “The Man They Call Ahern” was sung to a gathering in Dublin.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: She had very good reason to be excited. The future looks very bright indeed.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I would be glad if the Deputy left me out of it.

[452] Mr. Flanagan: I quote from a cartoon in one of today's newspapers:

He leads the biggest party, its policies and positions, one lot for when in Government one lot for Opposition... His frontbench march you one way, his backbench a-bout turn, you're never sure with Fianna Fáil or the man they call Ahern.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The Taoiseach did not do well by the Deputy.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: I seem to remember the Deputy made some kind of a u-turn. That is why he is now on the backbenches.

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us get away from personalities.

Mr. Flanagan: Is the Deputy admitting a u-turn?

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Is the Deputy one of those trusted supporters who suddenly felt an opportunity arose and that he would follow the road of opportunity?

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy O'Keeffe had a very good hearing.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Arise and follow Charlie.

Mr. Flanagan: Throughout history this country has been famed on the world stage, more than anything else, for our exports. The island of saints and scholars brought education to many parts of Europe and there are hundreds of remarkable Irishmen on the world political stage. Nobody can deny the very valuable contribution of Irish people to international affairs which is recognised around the world. There is not any community in the world which does not boast Irish representation of a positive kind.

There is, however, a dark side to our exports. In the past, our convicts and law breakers were exported out of this [453] jurisdiction to foreign fields. More recently, our jobless people were scattered around the globe as we failed to provide employment for them at home. In some respects, we export our marriage breakdowns by facilitating those who can afford a divorce to obtain one in a foreign jurisdiction and return home to remarry here, a country that bans divorce under its Constitution. One can obtain a divorce if one can pay the dollars in Haiti or some similar jurisdiction and return here as though the marriage was lawfully dissolved and that dissolution will be clearly recognised in this jurisdiction.

More shameful, however, are our abortion exports. At least 14 women each day leave this jurisdiction to terminate a pregnancy abroad. These are the official figures but we all know that the real figures may be much higher. We have formulated a convenient English solution to an Irish problem. This export represents a valve that has allowed us to escape from confronting the sensitive and delicate matter that is abortion. If this convenient escape were unavailable it is certain that there would be back street abortions in Dublin and a great deal of pressure to legalise the availability of abortion in this State. Not only, therefore, do we accept the exporting of our problem but we do so without allowing access to basic information.

By denying access to information we are doing ourselves a disservice as a nation. We have a poor track record in this regard. Renowned books and publications on women's health have been banned and removed from libraries in this State because they contained certain information on abortion services abroad. Women have been forced to rely on an informal network provided by colleagues anxious to help and assist at a time of difficult circumstances. Individual women have been left alone and unaided at a time when they are most vulnerable and in need of help. The moral crisis faced by a woman in such circumstances is, in essence, straightforward. Does a girl faced with a crisis [454] pregnancy spend the first weeks furtively seeking telephone numbers, names and addresses, scraping together a few hundred pounds, and an excuse to slip on a ferry and disappear for a few days? Or can she spend the same time in consultation, seeking advice, guidance, help and counselling of a type that will allow her to form a view and make a rational and informed decision?

The need for proper counselling on a countrywide basis has been recognised in the Government's Bill. I welcome the allocation of almost a quarter of a million pounds for such a service alongside a commitment that this country will at last have a comprehensive family planning service throughout the State, not just in the major urban centres.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this Bill is the fact that its content was sealed with the approval of the people by referendum in 1992. The six to four majority was in favour of the type of information that will be allowed under law following the passage of this legislation. Legislation on the matter of information was promised before, during and after the referendum and this is precisely what the Government is now doing. The then Fianna Fáil Minister for Health, Deputy John O'Connell, said so at the time and nobody in Fianna Fáil, to my knowledge, publicly aired any disagreement with that view.

It is remarkable that one of the major planks against this Bill coming from the Fianna Fáil side of the House is the speed with which it is being rushed through the Dáil — speed on the matter of a referendum which was approved by the people by a six to four majority in November 1992, almost two and a half years ago. The Government is now being accused of proceeding with too much speed by the same party that was the majority shareholder in a Government before, during and after the referendum. I do not believe for one minute that Deputy Bertie Ahern, his Fianna Fáil front bench or his back-benchers are being honest with themselves or with the Irish people when they say this [455] legislation has been brought forward with such haste.

There has been a lot of discussion, debate, agreement and disagreement on this legislation. I recognise the right of the people to inform and enter into discussion with their public representatives on any legislation that comes before the House. However, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, in the course of the referendum campaign in 1992, warned people to vote no because that group feared and opposed the provision of names and addresses and information on abortion. The people decided otherwise and that is accountability and democracy in operation. It is worth reminding ourselves again of the 1992 wording, lest there be any attempt to rewrite it. The public record states that Article 40.3.3º was amended by the addition of the following words:

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.

This is a matter of public record, a matter of fact. It is precisely what was approved in a referendum, a decision not of any one party in this House, nor of any Government or parliament but of the people as a whole in the exercise of universal suffrage.

I wish to acknowledge representations I have received from many concerned constituents and citizens in recent times. I value their views and welcome their advice. I hope I have in most cases allayed their fears and satisfied their concerns. This form of dialogue is fundamental to the democratic process and it is my duty as an elected Member to listen to the views of citizens in the course of forming an opinion as to how best I can make a decision in this House on the matter of a regulation or of any given piece of legislation. However, I regret that not all the people I met with or who contacted me were courteous, civil or rational in their [456] approach. I regret that I have experienced shades of Ceaucescu's Romania and Khomeini's Iran as an unhealthy form of fundamentalism, not for the first time, has raised its unwelcome and frightening head in this State. As an elected representative of the people, I deplore that.

This House has been given a mandate by the people, directly expressed in 1992, to proceed along the lines of the Bill. This mandate includes, as was stated, the right to information to include names and addresses, counselling and advice of a non-directive nature, but not actual referral. Under this Bill doctors may not make appointments or refer women to a clinic. I fail to find anything in this Bill that was not discussed at length before the referendum in 1992, and nothing that was not placed before the people prior to voting. I challenge anybody on any side of this House to say otherwise.

As an assembly we must not impose sectarian moral views on society as a whole as we attempt to do our best to tackle a problem on which consensus is not possible. The passage of this Bill will not immediately resolve the fundamental problem of why almost 100 women each week travel to England for abortions. However, as the Minister has indicated, the Government has committed itself towards researching the problem with a view to setting up education and counselling services that will minimise the need on the part of Irish women to resort to abortion in respect of unwanted pregnancies. A Cheann Comhairle I wish to share my time with Deputy John Browne.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is quite in order.

Mr. Flanagan: We must set ourselves the target of living in a truly pro-life society where human life is respected and protected. We have seen great strides in recent years towards that objective — the abolition of capital punishment and the peace initiative in the North are all pointers in that direction. [457] But a pro-life society would not have the disturbing and reprehensible litany of sexual abuse and incest cases that we see appearing daily before our courts. A pro-life society would not have rape crisis centres being funded by flag-days, pound tickets and other street collections. Sexual abuse clinics in a pro-life society would be welcomed, supported and assisted by the State for and on behalf of the citizenry. A pro-life society would see the acceptance and expansion of the Stay Safe programme in our schools, which unfortunately is the target of opposition by groups who maintain they are speaking for a majority view in the State. Our objective must be to respect all human life. This Bill represents a balance that is worthy of support. Our overall objective must be to reduce the numbers opting for pregnancy termination, a goal which I am sure is shared not only by Deputy O'Rourke but by all of us in this House.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Noonan, on dealing with a problem that was neglected for two years by the previous Government. It was a question of Nero fiddling — Fianna Fáil brought in this amendment and then failed to deal with it. That party is now taking a completely different line which is indefensible.

Fianna Fáil had backbone at one time but seems to have lost it. Democracy cannot be selective. We cannot have democracy when it suits us, for example, during a general election. We are all delighted to be declared TDs, but it is amazing that there are no resignations from the Dáil when people cannot accept a 60:40 majority on an amendment to Constitution. How can democracy survive if we are so selective? With all due respect to the present soldiers of destiny, they should examine their conscience on this subject. It was the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government — we have been challenged for not explaining the position, but it is unnecessary to explain it to people who are dealing with the matter — who [458] introduced an amendment to Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution stating: “It shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available in this State, subject to such condition as may be laid out by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another State”.

Lest people did not know what that meant, one million booklets published at a cost to the State, were issued to every household explaining exactly the conditions that would be laid down by law. It was stated that the legislation would permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant women information on abortion services available elsewhere. To whom was the Government speaking and what did it mean by telling the people that information on abortion services elsewhere would be available? Was it fooling itself or the public, and is Fianna Fáil still trying to fool the public in the stance it is now taking?

It is appalling that a party which introduced an amendment to the Constitution, held a referendum on that amendment and issued booklets explaining the wording should come in here now to give lectures on abortion. I have no qualms about talking to people who are concerned about abortion. It is up to me and every TD to explain that this is an information Bill resulting from the vote of the people in November 1992. It is unacceptable for Fianna Fáil Deputies to lecture us about abortion, knowing that their party brought in this amendment and asked the people to vote for it. Deputy Noonan deserves to be congratulated on tackling the problem.

The people on the pro-life side were concerned about the amendment and battled against it, as they were entitled to do. However they accepted the people's choice and issued a pamphlet explaining that all factual information on abortion is legal in Ireland. They said all that is forbidden is aiding someone to have an abortion abroad, making a booking in a foreign clinic or supplying the name and address of one. They anticipated that if the “yes” vote won, this is what would happen. We are now [459] being told that people did not know what they were voting for. The Government went out of its way to explain the position, as did the pro-life group, and the amendment was passed. The right to information was agreed to in November 1992. To say that this Government is now introducing abortion is going out of one's way to be as crooked as possible and there is no defence for it.

On the positive side, I welcome the extra allocation of money for counselling. If we can persuade even one person in ten to go for counselling, even if they set out with the intention of simply getting addresses, it will be a job well done. I do not deal with the issue of abortion in a comfortable way. I am tired listening to old men, who unless there is a major bionic change will never experience motherhood, pontificate on this subject. I will never know what goes through the mind of a woman in panic with an unwanted pregnancy. We should leave it to God to judge them. I am tired listening to experts so readily condemning what women do. If these women are encouraged to go for counselling and realise it is not the end of the world, many of them may never travel abroad for abortions. To say that this Bill will provide for a mass exit for abortions is unacceptable. According to statistics, 4,000 to 5,000 women per year travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies. Would it not be much better if we could encourage even 10 per cent of them to accept counselling and stay in Ireland? I again compliment the Minister on trebling the amount of money available for counselling.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I am glad of the opportunity to speak in this debate. I listened with interest to the two previous contributions, much of which was sensible. I do not intend to get into party politics or to start a process of denigration. Like other Deputies, I have received letters and telephone calls and have met people with strongly held views on this issue. I do my best to [460] explain my view clearly and with conviction, but a huge gap remains. It appears that other Members have been on the receiving end of what they term abusive phone calls and letters of condemnation, but my communications on this issue have been cordial and civilised? Everybody is entitled to contact elected Members of the Oireachtas on issues such as this; it is as a result of their votes that we are here — and we in turn are entitled to our view. I would ask people to respect those who hold views different from theirs. Tolerance and the ability to respect other people's point of view is a civilised trait that should be encouraged in society.

It is regrettable that many of us start with the same sentence, as if we were somewhat on trial in this debate, and I too will begin with that sentence. I am opposed to abortion and I note that a great many Deputies felt they should state this. I have never met anyone in Ireland who espoused abortion and I have yet to meet someone who adopts a pro-abortion stance. Abortion goes against my faith, my upbringing, my instincts but most of all against my sense of womanhood. However, my conviction does not prevent me from seeing reality and knowing that women leave this country to have an abortion. The Minister gave the official statistics, in the region of 4,300 women go to England each year to have an abortion but I am convinced the number is far greater. It stands to reason that for every woman who gives her name and address there is at least another shadowy woman behind her who is unable, for reasons we cannot fathom, to give her name, perhaps for fear of being identified or having her history known. That is extremely sad. It is incorrect for anyone to say the statistics are wrong — they are wrong only to the extent that the number is far greater than recorded. That is why I commend the Minister's commitment to major research into the reasons that so many women decide to take that very lonely journey. What never ceases to amaze me is that although it takes two to bring about [461] conception, whether in a permanent or casual relationship usually only one makes that journey. From what I have been told, in 90 per cent of cases it is the woman, locked in her own misery and feeling hurt and isolated who has to make that journey alone and wonder whether she will be able to put the experience behind her. I believe that women never put it behind them because no woman will blithely or lightly have an abortion as it goes against the very nature of womanhood.

Women by their biological make-up are attuned to conceiving, carrying and bearing a child, clearly any woman who then has to decide to have an abortion has to do so in a furtive way and in a bleak and isolated fashion. No woman would lightly seek an abortion as it is an invasion of her body and mind. I trust the Minister will go ahead with this major research as he has announced it publicly in the Dáil and said it will not be put back because the positive aspect of this debate is that we are talking about the 4,500 women who seek abortions.

Apart from letters to the editor and reflective articles in various newspapers when was this issue last debated? The Legislature must have debated the issue at the time of the 1992 Referendum but prior to that the major debate would have been in 1983 when the pro-life amendment was debated. That was a very bitter and divisive debate and I would like to think the outcome of this debate will be more humane.

Many aspects of life will be brought to bear in the major research that the Minister intends to commission. During my time in the Department of Education from 1987 onwards I introduced guidelines for sex education in schools and there was a barrage of objections, for example, that this was not the right time or that there was no need for sex education which would despoil innocence. We persisted with its introduction and all Ministers following me have continued it. Similarly I remember a major policy difference I had with the Church when I introduced the AIDS [462] Awareness Programme in schools, which led to quite a heated debate but when I sat down and talked it out with two bishops of the Catholic education secretariat they saw my point of view. Later with the collaboration of the general secretary of the INTO, Senator Joe O'Toole, I introduced the Stay Safe programme, first on a pilot basis, and then expanded it. The same type of letters were sent, protesting about sex education and AIDS education in schools when the Stay Safe programme was introduced. We were told there was no need for it, that it would spoil young people's lives by giving them ideas that they would never be able to contend with. Sadly, since then there has been an endless stream of reported cases of incest, child abuse and harm to children. I saw a case reported recently where the person said that the Stay Safe programme had helped them to cope yet the same people protest and keep saying that there is no need for such programmes.

Ignorance is not bliss and education on sexuality must be given in co-operation with parents and against the background of giving children confidence. Of course there is the danger that there may be an awakening in a child of something that he or she may not have thought about but is it not far better that this awakening takes place in an environment in which it is explained what lies ahead in life? It is very interesting that parents, with the exception of certain groups, have warmly supported the measures that the Department of Education has taken in this area. Is it not better that we recognise the dangers and seek to explain them to children, not in a sense of warning them off forever but making them aware that the world is composed of all sorts of people and all sorts of situations?

The Stay Safe programme has been extended throughout the country but not every teacher feels competent to engage in the sensitive task of sex education or to teach the Stay Safe programme. Rather than teachers having to participate in the programme it would [463] be far better for principals, as most of them do, to seek a teacher who would be confident in teaching such programmes.

Those whom the Minister will commission to carry out the research will find one of the reasons women feel impelled to go abroad for an abortion is a hang-up from earlier attitudes in society towards unwanted pregnancies. I am glad society has opened up on this issue and State agencies have made provision for single women to have and keep their babies. There was a build up of attitudes towards such matters over the generations. These are deeply rooted and not easily overcome. We must continue to talk about such matters and make people aware of the options available.

It is not only a matter of having sex education and guidance, education on AIDS and stay safe programmes; it is also about people feeling confident about themselves. Much of the trouble arises because single, young pregnant women worry about their peers, their status in society and what other people will say about them. They are not able to tell someone about it. That all builds up, leads to panic and the woman or girl wondering what she can do. She then sees the need to travel to have an abortion and put her problem behind her. Of course it never is behind her.

Deputy Browne said he wished so many men would not speak about the matter. I am anti-sexist and against saying that only a man can talk about this subject and only a women can talk about that one. Yet, in this case, women, have different feelings because of their biological make-up.

We can view the Bill as a positive one if some of the amendments which we will put forward are accepted. I commend the amendment which Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn will put forward on counselling. I know the Minister has made provision to increase the amount of funding from £70,000 to £220,000 but much more needs to be done. That is only the tip of the iceberg. For many [464] years I have made a yearly contribution to CURA. I do not say that to pat myself on the back. I met some people involved in CURA a few years ago. I was convinced they were doing very fine work and signed a standing order. The Minister should put the funding of such agencies as LIFE, CURA and Cherish on a statutory footing and commit further resources to them.

Doctors should have an opt out clause. I am not a professional trained counsellor but over the years I met two women with crisis pregnancies. One was a young girl and the other a women in her forties. They both came to me for advice. I met each person privately and talked the matter over fully with them. I am glad neither of them, although they came to me with the idea of having an abortion, had such a tragedy in their lives. If we can offer women professional advice about having their babies, the facilities which are available to enable them carry and have their children and a climate where the woman and child will be supported and respected and the child loved, that would be a positive outcome. As time goes on and facilities are put in place to enable such counselling to be given, women will feel less of a need to go abroad for an abortion.

I have tried to give my opinions and experiences in a practical way. Women do not go lightly to have an abortion. They are fragile, vulnerable, isolated and alone. I hope this will mark the beginning of a climate in which there will be kindness shown to and certainty for women with crisis pregnancies who wish to have their babies here. I hope the counselling services and other measures promised by the Minister will come to fruition.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment as Minister for Health.

Mr. Creed: I congratulate the Minister for Health on bringing in this very reasonable Bill. It acceptably treads the line between the two constitutional provisions on this matter.

[465] Since Article 40.3.3º was enshrined in the Constitution in 1983, in excess of 50,000 women felt it necessary to leave this country on a trail of misery to terminate their pregnancies. Throughout the debate and the constitutional and legal arguments and word games that have taken place, we have constructed ourselves into a society where such women felt they could not carry their babies to full term. It is a shocking indictment of society that the concern expressed during the public debate has not manifested itself in a tangible way so that women feel they can carry crisis pregnancies to full term. In that respect this Bill is to be welcomed, this being the first time we have approached this problem in a person-centred fashion. No longer will we be caught up on constitutional and legal word games, by and large, meaning nothing to the public. Rather we are endeavouring to clearly recognise the immediacy of the problems confronting women with pregnancies they feel they cannot see through to full term. The commitment implicit in this Bill and the moneys pledged by this Government, in excess of £200,000, to ensure that any woman in a crisis pregnancy knows she has some counselling available to her and she can talk through this crisis is a very welcome development.

It is interesting to note that the research referred to clearly indicates that the vast majority of Irish women who feel they have no alternative but to terminate their pregnancy in the United Kingdom have not had any counselling and that, of those who have received any a large proportion return and see their pregnancy through a full term. In that sense, the departure in this Bill from talking about the issue of crisis pregnancy in constitutional/legal terms to talking about it in terms of counselling, in a patient-centred approach, is very welcome.

It is my firm belief that this Bill is the result of a constitutional obligation placed on successive Governments since 1992, that its provisions clearly outline [466] the legal position of the two provisions in the Constitution, one, the guarantee of the equal right to life of the life of the mother and the unborn child and, second, the public's demand for information.

It is important to outline the series of legal developments that led to the introduction of this Bill. In 1988 and 1989 the Open Door counselling centre case, the Dublin Well Woman Centre case and the Grogan case were heard by the Supreme Court. At that time counselling bodies were issuing names and addresses and the Supreme Court found this was at variance with Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution. Subsequently a case was taken by those to the European Court of Human Rights which found the decision to be in breach of Article 10 of that convention. There the matter rested until the X case, as a consequence of which the Government of the day decided to put three referenda to the people — on the right to travel, on the substantive issue and on availability of information.

In regard to the referendum on availability of information it is interesting to note that the pamphlet issued by the then Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government stated:

Previous court decisions had laid down that disseminating such information about abortion is unlawful. Following the X case it would be lawful in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the expectant mother but only in those cases. The European Court of Human Rights has recently found the present restrictions to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. This will also be resolved by the amendment.

Therefore, to argue now that people did not know exactly what they were voting for in that referendum is somewhat disingenuous since the pro-life campaign and the then Government were the two main protagonists, arguing for different results. It is interesting to note what the [467] pro-life movement had to say in November 1992 on the information amendment. It lobbied, as it is democratically entitled to do, for a “no” vote, believing, and I quote from the pamphlet they produced:

The word “information” means assistance and advice in obtaining abortions, abortion referral and advertising. At present all factual information on abortion is legal in Ireland. All that is forbidden is aiding someone to have an abortion abroad, making a booking in a foreign clinic or supplying the name and address of one. This amendment would make it legal in Ireland to assist in the destruction of an unborn child abroad. It would also eventually legalise the advertising of foreign abortion clinics in the Irish media.

While that is not a fair legal interpretation of what “information” meant in the context of the amendment, it clearly recognises that the endorsement of that amendment would lead to names and addresses being made available.

Anyone who saw a clip from an RTE “Prime Time” programme on Thursday last, of the then Minister for Health, Deputy John O'Connell, state clearly, within the context of the 1992 information amendment that its endorsement would mean the availability of names and addresses, will have been confirmed in that interpretation. The main protagonists in that campaign were the pro-life movement for a “no” vote and the then Government advocating a “yes” vote. The result was a clear victory for access to information on services legally available in another State. Within the context of the outcome of that referendum it is my belief that the Government has introduced a Bill the provisions of which are in keeping with the wishes of the people reflected in our Constitution.

I represent a constituency that in 1992, voted against travel, against information and against the substantive issue; I understand there were four such [468] constituencies. I have had numerous contacts with my constituents and with people from outside my constituency. With the exception of two in recent weeks. I found all to have been quite courteous and firm in their convictions about what they believed to be the present position. We engaged in an exchange of opinions, some going away dissatisfied with mine but, in the case of others. I was able to outline what I believed to be the legal and constitutional obligations on the Government.

One point made to me repeatedly by my constituents was that, because they had voted “no” to all three referenda and, within the context of the provisions of this Bill, specifically against the availability of information, in some way I should feel obliged to vote against this Bill. The reverse logic was not applicable in their view, that all of the remaining 37 constituencies, and their elected Members, should feel obliged to vote for the Bill. The Constitution does not allow for regional opt-outs; there cannot be a different constitutional application to the constituency of Cork North West, or to any other whose voters voted against the three referenda. In constitutional terms I feel obliged to take into account the nationwide result and approve legislation which is in accordance with the wishes of the electorate.

In the course of representations made to me by constituents much concern was expressed about referral, in which respect I want to draw a worthwhile analogy. For instance, if a person goes to a general practitioner in need of urgent medical treatment or procedure, in turn requiring consultant medical opinion — whether it be a triple heart by-pass, orthopaedic surgery or whatever — and the general practitioner produces a list containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of ten or 20 consultants qualified to carry out the required medical procedure and says: “That is as much as I am prepared to do for you, away with you”, such a patient would rightly feel that that was not what they had expected of their general practitioner in referring them for [469] further medical attention. In normal legal circumstances I understand “referral” is taken to mean one's general practitioner establishing direct contact with the consultancy service of which the patient is in need.

Within the context of the Bill, and the counselling to be provided, if a woman decides to opt for an abortion and her general practitioner or counselling agency is in a position to furnish her with names, addresses and telephone numbers, her general practitioner will be prohibited from establishing direct contact with any of those agencies.

It is important also to outline the provisions in the Bill as most people who made representations to me on this matter were not familiar with the contents of the Bill and had not read it. They were reacting to a well orchestrated centralised campaign which stirred up fears among people genuinely opposed to abortion, most of which were unfounded. Those people did not understand that this Bill is derived from the people's expressed wish to have access to information. This Bill sets in context the legal manner in which such information may be imparted. It is not possible for a counselling agency to counsel solely on abortion. If they counsel on that option, they must also counsel on alternative options. There is no obligation on any counselling agency to counsel on the option of abortion. In that sense the Bill is well crafted and goes as far as is legally practicable in the context of the Constitution.

It is not understood that none of the 14 sections of the Bill refers to names and addresses. The right to such information emanates from the 1992 referendum. The Government of the day recognised that and campaigned for it on that basis.

I am confused, as I am sure are most observers of this debate, as to the exact position of Fianna Fáil. We are being asked to wait for the outcome of a court case which is pending to have an injunction lifted against the Dublin Well Woman Centre providing names and addresses. While Fianna Fáil believe we [470] should defer the Bill pending the outcome of that case, it was in Government when the case was listed and its Attorney General, who had an obligation to defend the Constitution, did not see fit to oppose the application by the Dublin Well Woman Centre to lift that injunction. That is a clear indication that we are still dealing with a slightly constitutional party in Fianna Fáil. Dr. John O'Connell was Minister for Health in 1992 when the amendment on information was put to the people. It was clearly outlined on RTE that the amendment would mean access to names and addresses.

The Constitution provides for the separation of powers: the Legislature legislates and the Judiciary adjudicates on its propriety in the context of the Constitution. We are obliged to legislate and we will be informed in due course if legislation is found to be at variance with the Constitution. Some weeks ago Deputy O'Donoghue, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice, indignantly lectured the Government about its failure to legislate, the Government and the House having been reprimanded by the courts for their failure to amend legislation governing the media coverage of incest cases in the courts. The Judiciary was correct and we were remiss in our duties in that regard and I am glad the Minister for Justice is moving to redress that. It is illogical for Fianna Fáil and Deputy O'Donoghue to argue that we should wait until we are further reprimanded by the courts before introducing this Bill. There is no guarantee that the case before the courts will resolve the issue. As the case is being dealt with in the High Court it can be appealed and thereby further postponed.

I am deeply disappointed with the attitude taken by the Fianna Fáil Party in this debate. It is obvious that during the interregnum before the coming into power of the present Government, the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Health, Deputy Woods, was clearly aware of what had been agreed or proposed in negotiations between Fianna Fáil and [471] Labour. There was an agreement on a much more liberal and possibly unconstitutional interpretation of what was meant by the 1992 referendum on information. I am satisfied the Minister has found the correct balance between the two provisions in the Constitution, the people's expressed desire to protect the right to life of the unborn and their wish to have access to information about services legally available in another jurisdiction.

Mr. M. Ahern: I congratulate the Minister on his appointment as Minister for Health. It is a tough job, but the Minister is used to opening cans of worms. He did that in the early 1980s and he has been handed another one on this occasion.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on a most divisive and contentious issue, not only here but worldwide. Abortion is an issue which raises the temperature because it relates to life. On the whole the debate here is carried on in a civilised manner, but unfortunately some people on both sides have extreme views and overstep the mark. Their behaviour cannot be condoned and must be condemned.

In the final analysis the judgment of what is right or wrong will be made by God. Individuals must act according to their conscience, but they must take the necessary steps to ensure their decision is based on an educated conscience, not on feelings or emotions. That especially relates to those of us who make laws. Across the world today nations that espoused abortion as being the ultimate right are having second thoughts. The misery of abortion has finally been recognised. The damage it has wrought on individuals, families and society has hit home. Attempts are rightly being made to roll back those mistaken decisions. An overwhelming majority of the Irish people, spanning all creeds, classes and sectors of society have expressed their abhorrence of abortion and the abortion culture. The passing of [472] the referendum on information is being interpreted by some as giving the go-ahead to abortion as long as it does not happen in Ireland. In 1992 the then Government in the leaflet distributed to all households specifically stated that the giving of information did not equate to referral. Many who voted “yes” for information at that time did so on that understanding. It is patently incorrect to say that the 60 per cent who voted for information were in favour of referral.

This Bill, as constituted, assists in procuring abortion. Section 2 states:

This Act applies to information that—

(a) is likely to be required by a woman for the purpose of availing herself of services provided outside the State for the termination of pregnancies, and

(b) relates to such services or to persons who provide them...

That section refers to assistance. This is not what the people want. This is not what the overwhelming majority of Members want but as it stands such will be the result of this legislation.

Abortion, as all speakers so far have declared, is unacceptable. If so, this Bill must be turned down. By accepting assistance, as per section 2, one is acknowledging and accepting the principle of abortion as being legitimate. On the other hand if the Bill is passed, as is likely, the next logical step would be to allow abortion in Ireland, otherwise we would be hypocritical with a capital “H”. This is what some vocal elements want. The pro-abortion lobby has strong backing and support from the Irish Family Planning Association. Its views are clearly presented in its publication “The Agenda for Choice — Achieving Reproductive Rights in Ireland — Goals for the year 2000”. It states that the association gives a special emphasis to maternal and child health through information and access to family planning and safe abortion. Their publication states clearly, on page 6, that their number one goal is:

[473] To promote an environment in which decisions can be freely made by women who have unplanned and unexpected pregnancies.

In the context of abortion in Britain it states:

— Inform women of their legal rights to safe abortions,

— Provide confidential information and counselling on how to obtain a safe abortion,

— Continually improve access to these services,

— Condemn incidents of any political, administrative or social barriers curtailing this right,

— Wherever possible enter into dialogue with political, religious and cultural opinion leaders to liberalise their attitudes towards safe abortion.

The foregoing plainly outlines where the Irish Family Planning Association want this country to go, that is in a direction that is repugnant to the majority view held by Deputies who have spoken so far in this House and by the majority of people in this country. They are putting their views forward on a “drip, drip” basis. The Bill, as constituted, is another step in that direction. It has been construed to aid, abet and assist abortion which I am sure is not what the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, wants. What it implies in the final analysis is that abortion is all right and acceptable but not at home. It is not right or acceptable either at home or abroad. Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution states:

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.

[474] The information referendum added:

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.

The Bill does not give the protection to the unborn which Article 40.3.3º accords it. Giving more than factual information, names, addresses, telephone numbers and information likely to be required by a woman as implied in section 2, weighs heavily against the unborn and is not what the people want. Requiring doctors to provide names and addresses puts many of them, whose ethical guidelines clearly do not support referring a pregnant woman in order that her child be killed, in an impossible situation. Clearly there is a case for conscience opt-out clause. Even though it has been said there is nothing in the Bill which requires a doctor to give the information it has been clearly stated that if he does not he is likely to be brought to court for not providing the information required under the Bill. I understand the Minister is examining this issue and I hope he will table an amendment to take account of the conscience problem which many doctors face.

In reply to a recent question, the Minister stated that 13,500 women went abroad for abortions during the past three years. If this is correct it is a sad state of affairs. It is sad for those who felt they had to take this course of action. I do not pass judgment on any person but in many cases abortion was not the cure for the problem. Psychological scars have been left on many and we cannot and must not ignore the problem as if it does not exist. We must take steps to help those who face what is for them an insurmountable and unbearable problem. Improved funding for bodies such as Life, Cura and Cherish must be provided. Sex education at an early stage must be improved and counselling made more widely available. There is no doubt that many who felt [475] taking the boat or the plane was the only resort would not have done so had they known of the help they could have received. I am pleased the Minister has announced extra funding for counselling services. I hope it is only a beginning and when the Bill is enacted the problem will not be forgotten until some other crisis arises.

What I have found disconcerting during the past week or so has been the distortion, half truths and inaccurate reporting both in the printed media and on the radio of the views expressed by Fianna Fáil TDs. The reporting has been unashamedly biased in a number of cases. Why? The Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, attempted to muddy the waters by stating that Fianna Fáil had agreed a more liberal Bill with Labour, a matter referred to by Deputy Creed in his contribution. Labour has not said it agreed a Bill with Fianna Fáil. I would like to hear the views of the Labour Party as we have not heard it either yesterday or today.

At a parliamentary party meeting in October 1994 the Taoiseach agreed that before any information Bill was published there would be an opportunity to discuss its principles with the Fianna Fáil Party. No Bill came before the party for discussion and the Government fell in the meantime. We read later that agreement was reached on a Bill, during the discussions on the formation of the new Government, between Fianna Fáil and Labour but this has been categorically denied by our negotiators.

Why did the Minister run with this Bill? Why did the press not give equal prominance to the replies to those false allegations? This gives rise to questions about its intentions. Over the weekend the historical role of some sections of the media came to the fore, that is to denigrate and make little of the leader of Fianna Fáil, whoever that may be. This is not anything new. During their time as leader of Fianna Fáil, Eamon de Valera, Seán Lemass, Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds [476] were all castigated and abused, and Deputy Bertie Ahern got the same treatment during the weekend. This is a cross the leader of Fianna Fáil, the largest political party the one which represents the views of the majority of the electorate, has to carry.

When he was leader of Fianna Fáil, Mr. Haughey was repeatedly castigated for allegedly not allowing a full, frank and open debate on certain issues. Under the leadership of Mr. Haughey and Deputy Reynolds, Fianna Fáil Deputies never had their right to free speech stifled. Deputy Ahern, continuing in that mould, decided last week to allow a full, open and frank discussion on this issue at the parliamentary party meeting. This is what democracy and openness, transparency and accountability are about, and Fianna Fáil is not afraid of these concepts. Deputies are elected to represent the views of their constituents and it is not the leader of Fianna Fáil or any one person who decided what the party will do. The silence of some members of other parties and the way in which the Bill is being rushed through gives rise to questions about the Government's policy of openness, transparency and accountability. Has it had a change of heart or has it found it too difficult to continue with its policy?

I wish to nail another widely reported lie, that Fianna Fáil Deputies bent under the pressure of 'phone calls and of statements by certain individuals. All the Fianna Fáil Deputies who have spoken have expressed their views and convictions. I received some 'phone calls but most of the callers were courteous in making their views known to me. As public representatives, it is incumbent on us to listen to the views of our constituents. I categorically deny the reports in the press that Fianna Fáil Deputies were brow-beaten into submission. Over the years I have been lobbied on many issues, for example, the rod licence where protestors cut telephone wires, punctured tyres and physically abused people, the designation of disadvantaged areas, the pupil-teacher [477] ratio, problems in relation to dumps, about which people get very agitated, and hare coursing where the abuse was out of all bounds. There has been no abuse of that nature on this occasion.

Fianna Fáil Deputies represent the views of a majority of the electorate, and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, knows this. That is why he tried to disparage the views expressed by my party. He described the Fianna Fáil position as opportunistic. Is the Government not guilty of being opportunistic by introducing this Bill on the back of the Framework Document and rushing it through the House with undue haste while at the same time apparently muzzling its back-benchers?

It is time to consider another referendum which would enable people to cast a straight yes or no vote on this issue and on the deletion of Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution.

Mr. Shatter: Has the Deputy learned nothing after 15 years? This is pathetic.

Mr. M. Ahern: This Article has caused untold problems since its inclusion in the Constitution. The Bill is both unwise and untimely and will, in its present form, lead to a culture which is inimical to the electorate.

Mr. Shatter: I am proud that in 1983 I voted in the House against the Bill which promoted the constitutional referendum which resulted in the Eighth Amendment being included in the Constitution. I can still recall the silent hostility and black looks of some Fine Gael colleagues as Monica Barnes and I descended the stairs of the Dáil Chamber after that historic vote. We had defied the collective will of party colleagues and ignored the political pressures exerted by the then Taoiseach and Ministers. For a young inexperienced Deputy with less than two years membership of this House it was a distressing experience which I can still recall. As I exited the Chamber the hairs stood on the back of my neck and my knees shook. It would have been so [478] much easier simply to have been part of the crowd.

To the promoters of the Eighth Amendment, Mr. William Binchy, Mr. Desmond Hanafin, PLAC, SPUC and the Fianna Fáil Party, everything was clear, in absolutist terms. Those who said its wording was ambigious, that it might not say what its advocates propounded were labelled dishonest. Those who queried the wisdom of its incorporation into the Constitution were the recipients of hate mail and were labelled abortionists. We are back in that territory this week.

The advocates of the Eighth Amendment said it would outlaw abortion in all circumstances. In the X case the Supreme Court rightly decided — I predicted this in 1983 — that where pregnancy causes a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother it may be terminated. The advocates of the Eighth Amendment said it would outlaw abortion in Ireland. The decision in the X case has determined that where a mother's life is at risk a pregnancy may be terminated in this State, she need not travel abroad. This is also the position where the risk to her life is due to her being suicidal. A woman whose life is at such risk is, as a result of the decision in this case, not only entitled to terminate her pregnancy in this State but has a constitutional right to such medical services in this State as are necessary to effect the termination. Under the amendment, the State is obliged to pay due regard to the right to life of the mother and to respect her constitutional right to bodily integrity.

The advocates of the Eighth Amendment stated that it was not intended to affect the right of pregnant women to travel abroad. In the X case the majority of the Supreme Court held that where pregnancy does not pose a real and substantial threat to the life of the mother she can be injuncted and prevented from travelling abroad. To remove the spectre of pregnant women being incarcerated in this State the right to travel had to be expressly included in the Constitution by referendum in 1992. The [479] advocates of the Eighth Amendment said it would reduce the number of Irish women having abortions in England. In 1983 fewer than 3,000 women resident in Ireland had abortions in England while in 1994 the number stood at 4,500, and it is increasing annually.

The fundamentalist campaigners on this issue have been consistently proved wrong in all their legal and social predictions. Yet they still fulminate in absolutist and self-righteous terms and are given a credibility which they do not deserve. They still stalk this House and cast a shadow over this Chamber which ensures that we continue to fail to address the real human issues which need to be discussed both frankly and openly. As a Legislature, we have to date failed to set our own agenda and, through cowardice, failed to enact legislation to deal with the substantive impact of the Eighth Amendment as determined by the Supreme Court in the X case.

In 1983 I predicted that the Eighth Amendment would result in endless litigation and in that I have also been proved right. Rather than creating a climate which in a considerate and humane way encourages women in crisis pregnancies to choose options other than abortion, the Eighth Amendment has been used as a constitutional weapon to persecute a suicidal teenage victim of statutory rape, student groups and pregnancy counsellors. It has resulted in a plethora of High Court, Supreme Court and European Court judgments. It ultimately resulted in this State being held in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court. In so far as the Eighth Amendment curtailed access to information, it was held by that court to impose unacceptable and disproportionate restrictions in a democratic society. The impact of the Eighth Amendment on the provision of information resulted in a further amendment to the Constitution, also made in 1992.

[480] The 1992 amendment seeks to ensure that a woman seeking an abortion outside the State can obtain information relating to foreign abortion services and that it is lawful to make such information available to her. What does not appear to be understood is that this provision has no relevance to furnishing information to women whose pregnancies pose a real and substantial risk to their lives. As a result of the decision in the X case, such women are entitled to be provided with the fullest information possible and to be referred directly by either doctors or counsellors for the purposes of a pregnancy termination either inside or outside this State. I shall return to this shortly in the context of the present Bill.

One lesson, if no other, should be learnt by now, that this complex human problem cannot be solved by constitutional and legislative word games. There is no miracle legislative prescription. Is it not time that we called a halt to the never-ending game of political charades Members on all sides of this House play when addressing the issue? Is it not time for us to confront the real problems that arise and recognise their complexity? Is it not time for a majority of us to acknowledge that there are no black and white solutions, but many shades of grey? Is it not time to end political juggling with women's lives and the lives of the unborn? Is it not time for the male Members of this House to stop talking about women in a deeply offensive and insensitive manner? Should we not, as my Fine Gael colleague, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, stated in 1992, bring to an end the disembodied debate about women's bodies? Is it not time also for the self-proclaimed godfathers and godmothers of the fundamentalist storm-troopers to bow their heads in shame and publicly apologise for subjecting our people to more than a decade of sulphurous, divisive and hurtful debate? Is it not time for them to publicly acknowledge that the public campaign mounted by them in the early 1980s for constitutional change has been proved tragically [481] wrong and their constitutional pronouncements wildly inaccurate?

Public pronouncements since the publication of this Bill from those responsible for our current constitutional malaise clearly illustrate their incapacity to come to terms with reality. They live in a fantasy world in which they believe we should all be embraced, where all aspects of human behaviour can be neatly ordered by constitutional words and phrases. Provided their point is made, it is permissible to outrageously distort historical tragedies to recruit to their cause. Sadly, the most outrageous distortion has come from a High Court Judge, Mr. Justice O'Hanlon, who has had a distinguished judicial career, a man for whom I have high regard. His considered reference to the Holocaust in the context of this debate should never have been made. To suggest that a teenage girl or woman confronted by a crisis pregnancy, with which she cannot cope, who escapes the cloud of hypocrisy which hangs over this island to flee to England for a termination is the moral equivalent of Adolf Eichmann is, in the realm of theological or political invective, an outrageous obscenity. Coming as it does from a judge of this country which closed its doors to those both trying to escape from that appalling event prior to the last World War and to those who were its survivors after that war, to put it mildly, the statement was uniquely inappropriate.

Very few people seriously believe that any of the theocratic brow-beating and high moralistic craw thumping in which the fundamentalist campaigners engage has resulted in a single child being born on this island which would, without their verbal threats and histrionics, have been otherwise aborted. What, of course, is unknown is the number of frightened young girls and women who have been run out of this country to the abortion clinics abroad, fearful of discussing their personal plight with anyone first because of the public displays of intolerance and absolutism which have been part of our [482] political and social landscape. What is also unknown is the contribution which the many ex cathedra statements from fundamentalist campaigners have made to the findings in dark laneways and behind hedgerows in parts of this country of the dead bodies of newly born babies, born to mothers so stricken with fear and guilt that they concealed to full term their condition from their families and gave birth alone, unassisted, in the open and without medical help. Does anyone here still remember Anne Lovett?

Section 2 of the Bill states that it applies to information which, “(a) is likely to be required by a woman for the purpose of availing herself of services provided outside the State for the termination of pregnancies, and (b) relates to such services or to persons who provide them”. The Bill essentially seeks to ensure that those who seek abortions outside Ireland can receive information which details the names and addresses of places in which an abortion can be obtained. In this context it seeks to implement the Fourteenth Amendment. It intends to confine discussions on abortion with doctors, counsellors and social workers to the provision of such information which must be “truthful and objective and must not advocate or promote the termination of pregnancy”.

The Minister and others have been anxious to draw a distinction between referral and the provision of information. The Bill, however, fails to draw a distinction between a pregnant woman where there is a real and substantial risk to her life and a woman whose life is not at such risk. In so far as it seeks to curtail referral or advocacy with regard to a woman whose life is at risk, the Bill is constitutionally questionable. In so far as it seeks to prevent the making of arrangements to assist a woman in such circumstances to obtain an abortion, its constitutionality is also suspect. For example, as a result of the X case, is a doctor whose patient has a malignant cancer not entitled to advocate and recommend to her that a procedure which includes, of necessity, the [483] effecting of a miscarriage be utilised by her to save her life without running the risk of facing criminal charges? Is a doctor not also entitled to refer a suicidal rape victim for an abortion to a specific clinic or hospital and discuss her condition directly with those who will care for her there?

Section 5 (a) of the Bill appears to render such behaviour unlawful whether the referral or advocacy applies to a termination within or outside the State. It may be argued that section 2 confines the application of section 5 to terminations of pregnancies outside the State only. If so, it produces the absurd result that it is lawful to advocate a termination within the State to a woman whose life is at risk and unlawful to advocate a termination outside the State to a woman whose life is at risk. The absurdity is compounded by the reality that no services officially exist within this State to terminate pregnancies in the circumstances in which a termination is now constitutionally permissible.

The Minister clearly stated that nothing contained in the Bill renders it a criminal offence to advocate that a person should not terminate a pregnancy. As a general approach, those who seek in a humane, considerate and reasonable way to discourage abortion should not be criminalised, but why should it be unlawful to urge a woman whose life is at risk to save her life by terminating a pregnancy and lawful to urge her to sacrifice her life by maintaining a pregnancy? I wonder if there would be majority support in this male dominated House for a legislative provision which rendered it unlawful for a doctor to advocate to a male patient medical intervention in specified circumstances in which a man's life was at risk. I very much doubt it.

The reality is, of course, we should not be legislating for what people are allowed to say to each other, read or publish. The reality is also that in this day and age any legislation that [484] attempts to do so in so far as it is perceived as a mechanism for social ordering will rapidly fall into disrepute and become irrelevant. This is the age of multi-channel television, satellite stations, the internet and of the widespread distribution of foreign publications. Other than laying a foundation for further litigation, it is difficult to see what this legislation can achieve.

In a democratic society there should be a free flow of information and discussion. It is a legitimate desirable objective, with which I agree, for the State to take reasonable action to discourage abortions. In the realm of discussion and debate this should, however, be primarily in the area of social policy and social intervention and not by the application of criminalising legislation which curtails the rights of freedom of speech and free expression.

This Bill and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution is part of the constitutional legacy of the Eighth Amendment. In this House on 20 October 1992 I criticised the Government for promoting the Fourteenth Amendment without publishing the legislation it envisaged enacting. By doing so and insisting on the referenda on travel and information taking place in a legislative vacccum, it sowed the seeds for the controversy which has arisen on this Bill. Our freedom of expression should not be constrained in this area by constitutional and legislative provision. The Fourteenth Amendment, however, ameliorated the impact of the Eighth Amendment and allows us the opportunity of bringing our laws into conformity with our international obligations under European law. I accept that it is necessary to clarify the position further by the enactment of legislation. Such legislation must be constitutionally sound and should not turn the clock back by making gestures in the direction of those who have been proved over the past 15 years to have been entirely misguided in their approach.

The difficult constitutional framework within which the Bill must operate meant it would not be easy to draft. I [485] expressed some reservations about its constitutionality from one perspective. Its complex provisions relating to various forms of publications, the constraints it attempts to impose on the medical profession and counsellors, its prohibition on the making of “arrangements”, will in the future all provide fertile ground for further litigation and constitutional challenge. Mr. Binchy and his friends are already questioning the constitutionality of even allowing the giving of information of the limited variety envisaged by the Bill. Like the Eighth Amendment, this measure will be utilised by those who believe they have an exclusive insight into God's will, to entrap and persecute members of the medical profession, pregnancy counselling organisations and student groups.

I hope a number of changes can be made on Committee Stage to address the various parts of this Bill that require amendment. I also hope the amendments will not be solely intended to appease members of Fianna Fáil who are again playing political games with this issue for their perceived party political advantage. Many of those in Fianna Fáil who took centre stage in the 1983 debate and who then vilified those who disagreed with them have, in recent days, re-emerged out of the mists of time yet again pontificating, overflowing with constitutional certainties, forgetting that their judgment in this area has proved to be fatally flawed. In the context of that party, we are again “back to the future”.

Irrespective of amendments to this measure, I have little doubt that substantial issues will remain to be resolved with regard to its interpretation, application and constitutionality. Already over a decade of litigation has been spawned by the legal uncertainty generated by the Eighth Amendment. It has given birth to a legal industry. There are substantial grounds for believing that if this Bill is enacted in its present form it will be in breach of our Constitution and of European Union rules which we have a constitutional obligation to [486] implement. It is also certain that within a very short period whether or not the Bill is amended, an individual or a group will launch a constitutional challenge to it. In the circumstances, it is desirable that the President refer this Bill, pursuant to Article 26 of the Constitution to the Supreme Court for determination as to its constitutionality. As this is a matter essentially for the discretionary judgment of the President having received advice from the Council of State. I hope that, if a number of Members of this House express the view that such a constitutional ruling is desirable regard will be paid to what is said and that necessary referral will be made as occurred in the case of the Matrimonial Home Bill, 1993. Such a referral is entirely necessary and desirable so that there can be no future uncertainty as to the state of our legal system and the laws applicable following the enactment of this legislation.

This Bill has been described, using the old adage, as an “Irish solution to an Irish problem”. This is inaccurate. It is in reality an English solution to an Irish problem. It, together with the constitutional amendments made in 1983 and 1992, seeks to maintain a constitutional veil of sanctity and piety over this island which obscures our vision of the many thousands of Irish women who go to England seeking help. We would be better off ending all the jurisprudential gymnastics and reverting to the pre-1983 constitutional position. Then we might be able to address the real social questions that need to be answered. We might also be able to confront realities. On the basis of much that has been said in this House in recent days, there is little hope of that happening this side of the year 2000. In the circumstances, we have no choice but to proceed with this Bill. I hope that its final form will be a substantially amended version of the present form. I await with interest the Minister's response to Second Stage on the matters of concern I have raised. I hope a substantive response will be forthcoming before Members vote on Second Stage.

[487] Mr. Foley: I wish to allocate five minutes of my time to my colleague, Deputy Matt Brennan. I also wish to congratulate Deputy O'Shea on his reappointment as Minister of State. He was most successful as Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture. I have no doubt that he will be equally successful in his new portfolio.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I am not a member of any lobby group and the views I express are personal, dictated by conscience. This is an issue that has divided people all over the world. It is highly emotive and must be treated with the utmost caution. In 1983, the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed the right to life of the unborn. The purpose of that amendment was to prohibit abortion in this State. Subsequently, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments in 1992 dealt with the right to travel and the right to information. These subsequent amendments may not be read in isolation. They must be read in conjunction with the Eighth Amendment.

It behoves us as legislators to consider not alone our duty but our responsibilities to the pro-life amendment. It is the overwhelming wish of the majority of Irish men and women to protect the right to life of the unborn. This is recorded in the pro-life amendment. In effect, our Constitution guarantees to protect the right to life of the unborn. The right to information, also provided for in this amendment, must only be provided in so far as it does not offend against the right to life of the unborn.

As legislators we must give an interpretation of the amendment relating to information that is not lethal to the constitutional rights of the unborn. The present interpretation by the Government does not protect the right to life of the unborn. As a legislator, I must uphold the rights of the unborn as outlined in our Constitution and, for this reason, I must oppose the Bill.

Information and not referral is what the amendment dealing with information provided for. The amendment [488] relating to travel, which is cited in this argument, simply guarantees that there will be no injunctive power, that is, that a woman can travel to another country; it did not create a constitutional right to have an abortion abroad. We cannot and must not provide information that will aid in the destruction of life of the unborn in this country or in another.

This Bill will allow foreign abortion clinics to advertise in newspapers and on radio and television, etc. Firms advertise to persuade people to buy, so is it not naïve to think that this is not promoting abortion? To permit this would be unacceptable. The Bill will allow doctors, etc. to hand out names, addresses, telephone numbers of reputable and safe abortion clinics where mothers may go to have their babies destroyed, hardly safe for the baby which the Constitution is pledged to defend.

This goes far beyond the non-directive counselling spoken of in the pre-1992 referendum booklet circulated by the Government. Doctors will not just provide information but will provide assistance. A good parallel would be a person supplying the name and address of an arms dealer to a potential terrorist, of a drugs dealer to a drug addict or of an angel dust supplier to interested parties. This constitutes assistance and complicity in the crime. Informing a client of how to contact an abortion clinic and giving a patient the name and address of a specialist, even if the doctor does not pick up the phone, amounts to referral as one is assisting the boyfriend or whoever else may be involved in making the telephone call. The Constitution condemns abortion as it involves the killing of innocent human life. It is obvious, therefore, that anyone who gives the names, addresses and telephone number, of abortion clinics to those who may procure an abortion or who facilitates in any way in endangering the life of an unborn child is a party to this crime.

It is only a matter of years before abortion on demand is legalised here in [489] spite of the best efforts of concerned people. The rate will continue to increase until it reaches the level in Great Britain. What is the reason for this? This Bill will have the effect of turning abortion into a morally acceptable option for reasonable people. When abortion was legalised in Great Britain in 1967 its supporters assured everyone that it would be restricted mainly to cases where the life of the mother was at risk or her health could be seriously damaged. The following year there were 23,641 abortions in England and Wales and by 1969 this figure had more than doubled. In 1970 it increased by a further 60 per cent and continued to rise before levelling out at approximately 170,000 in the 1980s. These figures can be obtained from official British sources. Once abortion becomes an acceptable option for reasonable people it is foolish to expect it to become less widespread; the exact opposite is the case. By placing abortion on the same moral plane as adoption or keeping one's baby this Bill will lead to an increase in the figure just as in Great Britain. This might take a few years but it will happen.

In addition, at some stage a smart pro-abortion advocate will declare that we should allow doctors to talk openly to women about abortion as we accept it as part of life. They will ask why we continue to insist on sending Irish women to England and would it not be more sensible and humane to allow abortions to be carried out here. The argument will then be complete. I do not know when exactly this will happen but it will as night follows day. I tremble at this prospect and we have a moral and legal duty to ensure that it does not happen. Ireland is now unique in the western world because of its moral values and ethos. This is a treasure that no one can take from us and the greatest contribution that Ireland has to give to the rest of Europe. We should fight tooth and nail to preserve it and not throw it away.

Although Catholic teaching on the sacredness of life is clear this is not a [490] Catholic or religious issue; it goes to the very foundations of the State. While there is a constitutional right to information it is not stated what information should be provided. The State must not facilitate the destruction of any life. We, as legislators, are bound by the Constitution to have respect for human life.

Last week Deputy Kemmy indicated the Government might be willing to concede on the question of an opt out or conscience clause although doctors had not sought one. Have they been asked? This is a human rights issue and both the mother and unborn child have an equal right to life. On the question of infant mortality, Ireland had a good safety record; the figure is some 4 per cent higher than that in Great Britain due to the high standards of care of our medical profession. Ninety-eight per cent of all abortions in Great Britain are carried out for social reasons or can be described as abortions of convenience while only 0.9 per cent fall within the category covered by the decision in the X case.

I am proud that my party has a policy on abortion: it does not wish to see abortion made legal or abortion facilities made available in Ireland.

Mr. M. Brennan: It is disturbing that over 4,000 Irish women travel to Great Britain each year for abortions. Unless adequate finance is made available for counselling services to provide more assistance for pregnant women this alarming figure will increase. Young women should be encouraged not to have abortions; rather they should be encouraged to have the child and put it up for adoption. Many childless couples would be willing to give such babies a home. This could be achieved through counselling.

I have spoken to doctors who are not willing to give the names and addresses of abortion clinics in Great Britain. The legislation should be changed to allow them opt out. A doctor informed me recently that a pregnant young woman attended his clinic to state that she would like to have an abortion. After [491] she had been counselled over a period of three weeks she decided she would not have one.

If this Bill is passed it will lead eventually to the legalisation of abortion as women will ask why they should have to go to Manchester, Birmingham or London and why abortions cannot be carried out here. That will be the cry from now on. It will be a sad day for the country.

Some politicians have said that the bishops, members of the Pro-Life Movement and a particular High Court judge should not have spoken out about the Bill. There is freedom of expression and if any bishop or any other person of any denomination wishes to voice their opinion they are perfectly entitled to do so. Why should any politician criticise them for so doing?

The amendment put to the people in the referendum in 1992 was not adequately explained. A general election was held on the same day and the politicians were interested only in being elected. The referendum should not have been held on the same day as it dealt with a separate issue. There is a need for another referendum on the question of whether abortion should be made legal to which the answer should be yes or no. That is what we should have, because if we had a referendum at some time in the future asking whether we want abortion in this country, the answer would be a resounding “no”. The provision of information is referral and referral leads to abortion, which is wrong.

This country is at a crossroads. The Bill provides for more than information; it provides for referral for abortion. As far as I am concerned abortion is murder. I ask the politicians of all parties whether they believe they are doing the right thing, in passing this legislation. A letter from one of my constituents, an SRN who worked in England for two years, asked me to stand up for the gift of life and not allow the scourge of abortion to come into our lovely country. That letter was from a woman who [492] worked in England and who saw the results of abortion there.

I feel very strongly about this Bill and I ask all Members of the House to reject it.

Miss Harney: I found the debate on this issue, both inside and outside this House, deeply depressing. As we come to the end of the 20th century much of what has been said in this debate is more appropriate to 17th and 18th century attitudes to women than to what I would regard as the more enlightened and progressive approach I thought most groups in our society would have long since had.

The hallmarks of this debate have not been tolerance, compassion or realism. The debate has clearly indicated that few people trust the judgment of women. Indeed, the way this legislation was drafted leaves a lot to be desired.

I want to contrast the attitude of the Government to the changes in the drink driving laws. After two months in office the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, last night brought forward details of the changes he will make to legislation that only came into effect before Christmas. I must be forgiven for being suspicious when I ask if the Minister, Deputy Howlin, would have put the same effort into bringing forward this legislation. Of course, he would not and did not because for two years in the Department of Health he failed to put any proposals to the Government on this issue. That aside, would the Minister, Deputy Howlin, or any other Minister bring in legislation where the group most affected was not consulted if it involved the construction industry, the farming community or the vintners? There are as many women leaving Ireland every year to have abortions as there are vintners in this country. Yet, they were widely consulted and the Government's response to their concerns was rapid.

The failure of this Minister to consult either the Council for the Status of Women or the Irish Family Planning Association indicates clearly, as the [493] Taoiseach said to me during Question Time some weeks ago, that when the Government was drawing up the Programme for Government, the absence of the provisions on equality was an oversight. Women are overlooked. They are under represented at key decision-making levels in our society from the Judiciary, to senior levels in the medical profession, in politics and in the public service. What we see is what we have in this Bill.

There has been occasions in the past when I found myself in a political party which took a decision on legislation of this type with which I profoundly disagreed. I am now in the happy position of leading a party which allows a free vote but, yet, I found it extremely difficult to come to a decision on this Bill and I will indicate the reasons later. My vote this evening will be merely symbolic because the Bill is illiberal and seriously defective. It is merely a litany of restrictions backed up by criminal sanctions. In so far as the vote this evening is merely symbolic, I have decided to support the legislation after much thought and with great reluctance because I have come to the conclusion that I do not wish to align myself with some of the most reactionary, conservative and intolerant groups in our society. Defeat for this Bill, bad and all as it is, will send the wrong signals to the groups in our society who, for too long, have shown very little concern for women and the born and who seem to take the view that once a child is born, their interest in pro-life ceases.

I want to refer to the attitude of the Catholic Church to this legislation and to the comments of Bishop Magee who said that consideration would have to be given to excommunicating somebody from the Catholic Church who assisted, in any formal way, a person to procure an abortion. That wise commentator, Dick Walsh, said on Saturday that in all the years of IRA atrocities, when some of the most heinous barbaric acts were committed by individuals both here and in Northern Ireland, he never once heard the Catholic Church contemplate [494] excommunicating those people from the Church. Indeed, when that point was raised with the Church, it said such action would be counter productive.

I have never once heard the Catholic Church speak out on men who abuse their children both physically and sexually. On the radio recently, Joe Duffy spoke to two people who talked about the dreadful physical, mental and sexual abuse perpetrated on them by their father over many years. I have not heard anybody in the Catholic Church consider excommunicating such fathers.

Will Bishop Magee, others who think like him, and priests who might consider not giving Holy Communion, re-examine, in a more considered and realistic way, their attitude to matters involving what is broadly called the sex agenda? We live in a country that is not perfect. The headline in this evening's Evening Herald concerns a 12 year old girl who is pregnant; she became pregnant when she was 11 years old. That is the country in which we live and regardless of what laws we have on the Statute Book, there is little point in us pretending that that is not the case.

When I listened to Deputies speak in this debate I wonder if they really live in the same country in which I live. I wonder why they close their minds to the reality of Ireland in 1995. People wonder why there is so much child sexual abuse and why these difficult cases now coming before the courts did not come to light before now. People get away with child sexual abuse because society turns a blind eye, sweeps problems under the carpet and pretends they do not exist. It is not any different with abortion than it is with rape, incest or any of that difficult agenda with which we have failed to deal.

In relation to this Bill, it is worthwhile to examine the history of the family planning legislation. This Bill, in time, will be a mere historical curiosity as the 1979 Irish solution to an Irish problem now is. Since then, there have been many Bills until finally, in the past two years, we brought in comprehensive and progressive legislation. I do not know [495] how long it will take but this Bill will also be a mere historical curiosity as far as the legislation is concerned.

I am not one of those who believe Mr. Justice O'Hanlon should resign because when we appoint persons to the Judiciary, we do not require them to express their views in advance on this area or on public policy generally. It is not a requirement for appointment to the Judiciary although it should be a requirement. I favour the American system because, given the power vested in our Judiciary, it is a matter for the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution. Indeed, the Supreme Court has given us some of the most liberal interpretations possible over the past 20 years. It has been ahead of the Legislature in giving basic fundamental and personal rights to our citizens. I favour an examination of the public policy position of members before they are appointed to senior judicial positions. If we expect judges to interpret our laws and reflect the modern evolving Ireland, it is not right to appoint people whose minds are closed and who are extremely conservative.

With regard to Mr. Justice O'Hanlon's remarks, to equate this legislation and this debate with the awful atrocity that was the Holocaust — perhaps the single worst example of the destruction of human life that has ever taken place in the history of mankind — was most unfortunate and very inappropriate. If the judge had seriously thought about the issue I do not believe he could compare what is happening in this legislation with what happened during the Holocaust. In so far as he has had the courage to express a view, forceful as it is, I welcome the fact that we know what that judge's view is. For the rest of his time in judicial office, which I think is very short, he has obviously debarred himself from sitting on any case that could remotely deal with this area.

[496] In the context of this debate it is useful to examine why we find it necessary to have legislation of this kind. It goes back to 1981 and 1982 when weak politicians, during the three elections in that 18-month period, gave a commitment to what is broadly called the pro-life group, and provisions were written into the Constitution. It is those very provisions that allowed the Supreme Court to let Miss X leave the jurisdiction, to free her from the internment that this State had placed upon her. In their judgment the Supreme Court said: “If it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life as distinct from the health of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible.”

The very clause that the pro-life movement wanted to guarantee that we would never have abortion because they did not trust the legislators in this House — the 1961 Act was not enough for them — allowed the Supreme Court to say that in cases where the probability is that a woman's life is at risk, then abortion is permissible. Indeed, abortion is permissible in this State because they did not say that one had to leave the State in order to have an abortion.

Because that interpretation has now been made and the Supreme Court has decided to adjudicate on the balance of rights between the mother and the unborn, Deputies in this House and others who supported that amendment in 1983 are not happy and they want another amendment. I can do no better than to quote what Fr. Kevin Hegarty, the former editor of Intercom, had to say in last Sunday's Sunday Tribune. He said: “We cannot treat the Constitution as a slot machine which we play until we get the answer we want.” In other words, the Constitution cannot be used to insert provisions that would provide what a small, secretive, powerful and well-funded group wants.

[497] That group has failed to accept the democratic wish expressed by the people in 1992. In a democracy the people are sovereign. The people expressed their view quite clearly in 1992 and there was no confusion about it. The then minority Fianna Fáil Government recommended a yes vote on the three issues put before the people: the substantive issue, travel and information. In relation to what was called the substantive issue, the people rejected the Government's recommendation by 65.4 per cent to 34.6 per cent. In relation to travel the result was 62 per cent in favour, and just 60 per cent in favour of information. The people were well able to distinguish between the three issues. They were able to say no to the first issue in approximately the same numbers as they said yes to the other two. That does not indicate that there was any great confusion. It was quite clear what the people were voting for and we have a duty on foot of that referendum to bring in legislation. I welcome the Bill even though it is defective.

It is important to reflect for a moment on what is often just a statistic in debates of this kind — the 13,000 women who have left Ireland since 1992 to have abortions in Britain. We have a major abortion problem in Ireland. One in 11 Irish pregnancies ends up in an abortion in Britain. If Britain was as far away as the United State and if it cost £1,000 to get there, we would long since have brought in more realistic legislation to deal with our abortion problem. Because it is a conveniently short journey and relatively inexpensive to get there, we have allowed England to deal with our abortion crisis.

It is depressing that those who shout loudest about pro-life and the right to life are those who end their interest as soon as the child is born. I have yet to see them involved with young teenage women who have babies, who are homeless, unemployed, deserted by the father of the child, and perhaps with little support from their own family network. I have yet to see members of the [498] pro-life movement involved in campaigns to do something for those particularly vulnerable women that I often deal with.

We should ask ourselves why so many women leave Ireland for abortions in Britain. In my view it is a decision they make after much consideration but they obviously have to make that decision very quickly. They make it because they believe they have no alternative. Many of them are lonely or isolated, abandoned, neglected, afraid to tell their loved ones, their parents or even their friends. The survey carried out by the Irish Family Planning Association showed that, among the small sample surveyed, at least one third of those who went never told anybody that they had made the journey. They have a weekend off work, a couple of days holidays, they go off on their trip and come back again but get very little help from anybody in this society.

We should be concerned about life and the plight of those women as opposed to the rhetoric that is heard every time we have a debate. It reminds me of the debates on family planning which I read over the last few days. There was always this commitment to encouraging natural family planning and the Government was going to provide funds for the Billings method and so on. That was said to make it look as if the Government was being conservative, reasonable and unbiased, but once the debate was over that was the end of that.

It is much the same in relation to those women. Why is it that we have never found out who goes and why they go? Why have there been no surveys and why has nobody spoken to them? They are not a lobby, they do not ring up their politicians, they are not sending us letters. They are a silent group in our society whose interests should be vocalised in this debate if we really care about life and the plight of our people. As many Irish women leave this country every year for an abortion in Britain as there are vintners in the whole jurisdiction, and we know the response to [499] the cause advocated by the vintners only recently. It is a sad fact.

I am not one who says that men should not comment about these things and I would like to think that I am not sexist or biased. I appreciate enlightened debate with people putting forward their honest points of view. What really appalls me is to hear people say one thing in this Chamber, which down the corridor or in the bar they tell you that they have not said. If their young daughter was raped, was the victim or if her life was threatened, I wonder how many Deputies would not consider abortion as an option. I really wonder how many Deputies could put their hands on their hearts and say that if they were the father of Miss X they would have insisted that she go through with the pregnancy and have the child. How many could honestly say that? It is very easy to be judgmental when you are not faced with the problem that those lonely vulnerable Irish women are faced with.

The Bill is extremely defective and very illiberal. I want to quote what Proinsias De Rossa had to say on this matter — volume 424, column 451 of the Official Report. He said, “The mind set that sees the question of information solely on the basis of how it can be restricted rather than how it can be provided is starting from the wrong end of the spectrum.” I totally agree with him. Here we have a Bill in all its provisions that seeks to restrict information. The whole basis of the Bill is to see how the legislation can restrict the giving of information. In 1992 people sincerely believed that the result of voting for information meant that more information would be given and received. I have no doubt about that. Why is it that when it comes to providing information like telephone numbers there is a big hullabaloo about it? I have telephone numbers here which are widely available in most post offices. If you have the Northern Ireland yellow pages you can get all the telephone numbers you like. What happens on the ground does not [500] seem to matter to some Deputies who want the law to say that they cannot be available. Once the law says it, it does not actually matter what the reality is. That is the sad thing about this whole debate.

Most sophisticated people will not have any problem about giving or receiving information. They will not need to ask somebody how they can have an abortion, they will just go off and make their arrangements. I have to take issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Liz McManus, who said that women do not need to have their hands held. Most women do not, but the young vulnerable women who are going to be affected by this legislation — people like Miss X or the 12 year old headlined in the Evening Herald, young children pregnant at that age — will not be able to make arrangements for themselves.

Given the judgment in the X case and all the compassion that was released at that time when people in this State could not contemplate interning a 14 year old who had been raped, surely in a civilised society we should not be afraid to allow doctors in particular to make arrangements for young, vulnerable people of that age.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.