Jan O’Sullivan favours abortion legislation vote

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

LABOUR’S Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan favours primary legislation to better define where abortion is permissible in Ireland, meaning TDs would have to vote in the Dail.

LABOUR’S Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan favours primary legislation to better define where abortion is permissible in Ireland, meaning TDs would have to vote in the Dail.

Reports this week suggested that a group of Fine Gael backbenchers want to avoid a contentious vote in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar after a miscarriage at Galway University Hospital. According to her husband Praveen, she was denied several requests for a medical termination after being told the foetus had little chance of survival.

County Limerick’s Deputy Patrick O’Donovan was among a group of Fine Gael TDs who earlier this year questioned Health Minister James Reilly on whether he planned to introduce legislation which might serve to liberalise Ireland’s abortion laws.

Minister Reilly last week received a report from an expert group set up to examine the legal implications of the European Court of

Human Rights ruling in the C case, involving a cancer patient who travelled to England for an abortion. The court found that Ireland had infringed the woman’s rights because of the unclear position as to whether she was entitled to legally terminate the pregnancy in circumstances where she believed her life was in danger.

Deputy O’Donovan previously told the Leader he did not believe Ireland was bound to introduce legislation as a result of the ECHR ruling, adding he would have “huge issues” with any proposed changes. He identified himself as an advocate of the pro-life position.

Deputy O’Donovan was among a number of Limerick TDs who could not be contacted on the Halappanavar case this Wednesday. It is understood that Limerick TDs have been inundated with correspondence from pro-choice and pro-life campaigners since the story broke last week.

Minister of State O’Sullivan this week said Meath TD Regina Doherty was one of a number of Fine Gael TDs whose position on whether legislation was needed had “shifted” following the Indian dentist’s death.

According to press leaks of the report of the expert groups, a number of options to provide legal clarity are available to Government. These included another referendum, primary legislation and a statutory instrument which could see powers delegated to the Irish Medical Council to better define in what circumstances Irish doctors can carry out abortions.

Minister of State O’Sullivan said this week that she favours the introduction of primary legislation.

“We will take action on this issue, we will provide legal clarity on this issue. It is a very difficult issue, there is a lot of complication on it but we are determined to provide legal clarity,” she said.

“The (expert group) report, I understand, has been seen by the Minister for Health, the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste and I understand that we will get sight of it next week in advance of the cabinet meeting on Tuesday week and we will then make a decision on behalf of government.”

But the Limerick City TD - who sits at but cannot vote at the cabinet table - indicated her strong preference for legislation.

“We are legislators; we have been given the job of legislating. Six governments (since the X case verdict) before us have not done so. We have said we are going to do it and we are going to do it. A number of referenda have not clarified the issue so what we need is legislative clarity,” Minister O’Sullivan said.

County Limerick Fine Gael TD Dan Neville said he could not comment on the reported options as leaked to the press.

“Leaks are leaks and they are always spun in a particular way,” said Deputy Neville, who appealed to fellow parliamentarians to “reserve their judgement and hold their fire until they have read and fully considered the report - the question deserves that”.

“I want to read it and make up my own mind. And I will read it thoroughly as I have an interest in the area. As president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, it is important that I do take an interest in the issue”.

Similarly, Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins said his party’s position was “to wait and see what the expert group’s report says”.