We will not be the 7th government to ignore X case - Gilmore
15 November 2012
I want to take this opportunity to express my own deepest sympathy to the family of Savita Halappanavar. This is an appalling loss, which I think has rightly touched the hearts of all of the Irish people. It is, of course, true to say that we do not yet know the full circumstances of what happened, but anybody who listened to Savita's husband yesterday has to be deeply concerned by his very dignified and moving account of what happened to Savita.
This is one of those issues where we are all reminded of our duty as legislators. It is not a moment for shrill voices. It is a moment for respect, first of all, for a grieving family, for dignified discussion and for determined action.
We have to await the investigations which are underway in regard to Savita's very tragic death but there are issues which we have to address and to which we need to bring legal clarity. It essentially centres around what happens in a set of circumstances where a woman's life is at risk, and where medical professionals may not be entirely clear as to where the lines of their responsibilities and duties lie. These were the issues that were addressed in the cases which went before the European Court of Human Rights, and it was to address those issues that the Government decided, on its formation, that we would establish an expert group, chaired by a High Court judge and made up of medical and legal experts, to look at this issue and to bring to Government recommendations as to what steps we can take.
That group has now reported to the Minister for Health. I understand the Taoiseach and I will receive the report sometime today and it will be considered by Government. It will, of course, be a decision for Government as to whether or not it will be published. There is a timeline that we have to comply with. We are required to make a further report to the Council of Europe by the end of this month and we will comply with that requirement. Therefore, the steps here will be as follows: the report is in, the Minister for Health obviously needs time to consider and to judge what issues he will bring to Government arising from it, it will be considered by Government, a decision will have to be made in respect of its publication and a decision will also have to made in respect of how it is dealt with in the House.
We all need to be clear on this. It has been 20 years now since the Supreme Court made its finding on the X case. It is time, in my view, to bring legal clarity to this whole issue. It was to that end we set up the expert group and we will now deal with the recommendations and the report that it has made to us.
I agree that we should discuss the issue in the House. It should be discussed in a reasoned and informed way. I hope I did not give the impression that the report will not be published. It is simply the case that the Government must make a formal decision to publish the report. I accept that the debate must be fully informed. We must examine the group's recommendations. The group was set up to examine the various options that could be progressed and to view the issue in its totality and complexities. The discussion we will have will be based on the report. The report has just been submitted and the Government must consider where we go with it.
The timeline is that there is a requirement to make a report to the Council of Europe by the end of the month. We will comply with the requirement. What further steps will be taken, how the issue will be progressed and how we will get the legal clarity we must have on the issue will be based on what is in the report. I would envisage that we will have a discussion in the House, if necessary in the Joint Committee on Health and Children. The issue is currently being discussed by the general public in any event. The discussion must be a reasoned, reasonable, dignified one and it must be focused on what it is we need to do to bring legal clarity to sets of circumstances that have been outstanding for a long period that are very real. Although we will not know the full details until the investigation has been completed, we have heard what Savita's husband said yesterday and as legislators we have a duty and responsibility to respond, act and deal with the issue.
My position on the issue is known for a very long time. I am on public record for more than 25 years as to how this issue should be dealt with. There is no doubt about it. It has not always been a popular position or one that has commanded support across all parties in this House. I was deeply disturbed yesterday by what Savita's husband said. I do not think we, as a country, should allow a situation where women's lives are put at risk in this way. We must deal with the issue and bring legal clarity to it.
As the Minister for Health said in the House some time ago, there have been six Governments in this State since the Supreme Court judgment in 1992 and they have not dealt with it. This will not be the seventh. That is why we set up the expert group to guide us. It is not a case of a report on what happened or looking into the matter. Let us look at the terms of reference of the expert group; it was to examine the A, B and C v. Ireland judgment of the European Court of Human Rights to elucidate its implication for the provision of health services to pregnant women in Ireland, to recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgment, taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy in this area and the overriding need for speedy action.
The group has now reported and the report has just been received. Obviously the Government will have to consider what is in the report. We must discuss the issue in this House. We must bring legal clarity to the issue as quickly as possible. As the Minister for Health said in a Dáil debate on the issue some time ago, this will not be the seventh Government to neglect and ignore the issue.
Let us be clear: there is no equivocation here and never has been, as far as this Government is concerned. We made it clear on the day the Government was formed that we were going to address this issue. That is why we set up the expert group, which has looked for additional time to complete its work.
The Government is going to deal with this issue. The report must be considered by the Government. I expect it will be published and that we will debate and discuss the issue in the House. I have stated clearly that we need to bring legal clarity to this issue. We must ensure that in this country no doubt can arise in a hospital in a set of circumstances which puts a mother's life at risk. I heard a medical professional speak about this on the radio this morning. We also need to provide clarity for medical professionals who must make judgment calls on these matters in the real-life situation of a hospital, and must hear the concerns they have about making a decision that may expose them to action if some person disagrees with it.
We must also take into account the ethical concerns that some medical professionals may have about this issue. A range of complex considerations must be weighed up, and that is what the expert group was asked to do. When we set it up we included both medical and legal people so that they could take a totally rounded view. They have now reported and the report will be considered and taken forward. There is no question of equivocation. We need to bring legal clarity to this situation and that is what we are going to do.