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No excuse for delay or prevarication – Ó Caoláin

21 November, 2012 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said there is no excuse for delay or prevarication on the issue of legislation for the X case.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Caoláin challenged those who accused Sinn Féin of being opportunistic in putting forward this evening’s motion.

He said;

“I begin by placing on the Dáil record my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar whose tragic death has moved people across Ireland and across the world.

“I want to refute the spurious accusations that people who have come onto the streets in the wake of this tragedy are opportunists. The same accusation has been made against Sinn Féin in relation to this motion. I think it is a most insensitive accusation. There is no party political advantage in this for anyone. And there is certainly none in it for Sinn Féin. Far from it.

“We do need immediate action. We have waited too long and have not received even an indication or a signal that the Government will legislate. I repeat, will legislate. That intention should be made clear by Government now, here, tonight. The Government’s failure to give that commitment is very worrying. So too was Minister of State Kathleen Lynch’s exhortation that we “let wiser heads prevail”. Is that how she and her Labour party fellow Ministers in Government justified their decision to back James Reilly while their party colleague sacrificed herself on the pyre of accountability and standards in Ministerial office. ‘Wiser heads’ how are you. Leave it to your betters. Such rubbish.

“There is no excuse for delay. We have had 20 years of delay and prevarication. The issue can no longer be avoided. I urge all Deputies to support the motion.”

ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech:


X case legislation PMB – 20.11.12

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson

I begin by placing on the Dáil record my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar whose tragic death has moved people across Ireland and across the world.

I pay tribute also to the courage of Savita’s husband Praveen and family for speaking out about their ordeal in such forthright terms, though the attention this has brought can only have made their time of mourning more difficult. In doing so the family has sought justice for Savita and safety for women who may face similar situations.

It should not take the tragic death of a woman in an Irish hospital to alert legislators to the need to address long identified deficiencies in our laws relating to the protection of the life of an expectant woman. But it has done so. It has alerted the thousands of people who demonstrated around the country in recent days under banners bearing two most powerful words: ‘Never again.’

And the tragedy has again challenged us as legislators to step up to the mark on this most difficult issue. And most difficult it certainly is.

I want to refute the spurious accusations that people who have come onto the streets in the wake of this tragedy are opportunists. The same accusation has been made against Sinn Féin in relation to this motion. I think it is a most insensitive accusation. There is no party political advantage in this for anyone. And there is certainly none in it for Sinn Féin. Far from it.

The opportunist approach, in terms of seeking party political advantage, would be to try to avoid the issue as much as possible. And there is ample evidence of this across this chamber and in the utterances and media performances of some beyond these walls. But we have not done so. In fact, we have long had a policy which calls for what this motion seeks – the introduction of legislation to give effect to the 1992 judgement of the Supreme Court in the ‘X’ case, to protect pregnant women where their lives are in real danger and to give legal certainty to medical professionals.

To restate Sinn Féin’s position for the sake of clarity: Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion. We believe all possible means of education and support services should be in place.

However, in cases of rape or incest, or where a woman’s life or mental health is at risk or in grave danger, Sinn Féin argues that the final decision should rest with the woman concerned.
That said, not all Sinn Féin members concur with that policy. This is a most contentious issue with widely differing and strongly and sincerely held views in all political parties. It has cut across Irish society in a very divisive way on many occasions. That could be and has been used by political parties and legislators as an excuse for inaction. But it was never, and is it not now, an acceptable reason for doing nothing.

During the course of the debate a number of swipes were made at Sinn Féin. I can understand the motivation behind these. After all, if you are being whipped to vote against a motion that you yourself strongly support, you will want to strike out at someone.

So it was with Deputy Ciara Conway’s remarks last night. She conveniently forgot to mention that the Sinn Féin members in the Dáil last April voted for X-case focussed legislation to be processed beyond Second Stage, when she and the Labour Party voted against it.

Our position on abortion in the Six Counties has also been misrepresented. Sinn Féin does not support the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to the North. We say that what is now required there is clear and robust guidance which protects the life of the mother. That position is in line with our party policy, on an all-Ireland basis and in line with this motion. There is no difference in our policy North and South as some have tried to claim.

Others, of course, have been galloping across the media, anxious to be seen, if not heard, talking themselves into knots as they endeavour to avoid the issue.

I believe that the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and the discussion which has followed has opened many people’s eyes to the dangerous reality that the ambiguity in our laws has created.

It was for this reason Sinn Féin brought forward our private members motion. The Dáil needs to reflect in a timely manner the concerns of those who elect us and to address the pressing issues that we as legislators are elected to address.

The motion seeks an acknowledgement of realities.

It asks the Dáil to acknowledge the reality that the absence of the required legislation denies women protection and the right to obtain a termination in life-threatening circumstances. It asks the Dáil to acknowledge also that the lack of legislation creates an ambiguous legal situation for clinicians.

Can anyone here deny, as the motion states, that it is regrettable that successive Governments and Ministers for Health have failed to legislate?

We do need immediate action. We have waited too long and have not received even an indication or a signal that the Government will legislate. I repeat, will legislate. That intention should be made clear by Government now, here, tonight. The Government’s failure to give that commitment is very worrying. So too was Minister of State Kathleen Lynch’s exhortation that we “let wiser heads prevail”. Is that how she and her Labour party fellow Ministers in Government justified their decision to back James Reilly while their party colleague sacrificed herself on the pyre of accountability and standards in Ministerial office. ‘Wiser heads’ how are you. Leave it to your betters. Such rubbish.

The Government amendment fails to give the required commitment and is accordingly deficient and we cannot accept it.

The report of the expert group should be published. Let the legislators and the public see it and judge for themselves. There is no reason why that report should not be published immediately. The cabinet is wrong to suppress it for another week in order to shield itself from public scrutiny. Its deliberations on the report are covered by cabinet confidentiality but in the meantime we all have a right to know the subject of those deliberations.

It is most regrettable that an issue of trust and credibility arose about the HSE inquiry almost as soon as it was established. I do not question the credibility or integrity of any of those named on the initial inquiry panel.

However, the now reversed decision to include three consultants from Galway University Hospital left the process open to doubt from day one. Over and above that consideration, there is a need for an independent public inquiry, separate from the HSE investigation.

Savita’s family have expressed their lack of faith in the HSE inquiry. They have made the very valid point that if they had not spoken out and if there had not been a public outcry then even the HSE inquiry would not have been established.

If it turns out, as it very definitely appears this evening, that the HSE inquiry does not have the co-operation of the family of Savita and access to her medical records, then it will be simply untenable and if it proceeds on that basis, it would have no credibility whatsoever.

One thing is certain. A way must be found to ascertain the facts speedily and with the full co-operation of Savita’s husband and family and with fairness for all concerned – fairness for Savita, - fairness for Praveen, – fairness for the family, - fairness for the hospital staff and fairness for all pregnant women who use our healthcare system. There must be an independent public inquiry and it must be fully transparent. We need that decision now.

It has to be stressed that the experience of the vast majority of pregnant women in our healthcare system is positive and that this state is predominantly a safe place to give birth.

No-one who is calling for legal change denies that. However, the sad reality is that the legal ambiguity around this issue creates an area of danger to the lives of pregnant women and that danger – no matter how small the number of women who may encounter it – must be removed once and for all.

During the course of the Dáil debate on the private members Bill to legislate in line with the X case judgement last April, Health Minister James Reilly stated:

“I wish to meet our obligations, not simply to the European Union but more importantly to our citizens. The Government will take the correct action, based on the best advice available to it, to ensure no woman’s life is ever put in danger. The Government will do this based on information, both scientific and personal, but above all to inform the process and outcome with compassion and respect for the women who must face and endure the reality of the current position.”

That was last April. It is awful to contemplate that it has taken the death of a young woman in tragic circumstances to bring this issue back onto the political agenda.

There is no excuse for delay. We have had 20 years of delay and prevarication. The issue can no longer be avoided.

Ideally we should all move forward together towards the legislation required. This should not be an issue of party political contention and conflict. We had more than enough of that in the past. We should certainly seek the maximum possible consensus in this Oireachtas and outside it. But ultimately it is the responsibility of Government to govern and that is what the motion before us asks this Government to do.

In conclusion, let me restate that the Sinn Féin motion is not about abortion. We are not a pro-abortion party. I am not a pro-abortion Deputy. This motion is about protecting the life of pregnant women when that life is in real danger. It also seeks to give legal certainty to medical professionals.

As a husband and a father of young daughters I do not want my loved ones to ever have to face what Savita Halappanavar has had to face or pay the tragic price that she has had to pay for the failures of successive Governments to act.

Sinn Féin has brought forward this Dáil motion and has encouraged, in a measured and reasoned way, its acceptance and most importantly of all, we have encouraged this Government to act and to fulfil its promises and responsibilities so that the appalling tragedy of the death of Savita will never happen again.

I urge all Deputies to support the motion.

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