Barry Cowen says decision to back repeal of Eighth Amendment was ‘agonising and difficult’

Leading Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has said his decision to support repeal of the Eighth Amendment and access to abortion up to 12 weeks was “agonising and difficult”.

Speaking during the Dáil debate on the Eighth Amendment, he said that it would have been easier to make a decision if he had not read or studied the material and the legal evidence. But after reviewing the data, “I have to support repeal”.

Mr Cowen described the issue of abortion as a challenge “that has tortured the minds of this nation”.

He said the debate “has often portrayed women in a very negative light”.

It is time for this to stop, to prevent the name calling and judgments, and “to support and protect women”.

The Offaly TD said no one generation has the solution for societal change.

The challenge now is to address the issue of abortion again “in a way that is balanced, respectful, and real”.

“I would rather I didn’t have to do it in my lifetime,” he said.

During the ongoing debate on the report of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, Mr Cowen told the Dáil that since becoming a TD, he had been present as “the State offered apologies to the women of the Magdalen laundries and more recently to Joanne Hayes, the woman at the centre of the Kerry Babies case.

“I’ve only been a TD for seven years and I’ve come to realise the horrors inflicted on women — particularly, and crucially, pregnant women.”

Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said he found it “incredibly difficult” to speak about the subject.

While he accepted it is unlikely the current penalties would ever be imposed on a woman, he said the fact that those “outrageous” penalties were in the law was wrong.

Mr Ó Cuív added: “My knowledge and reason tells me that a 20-week-old baby in the womb, although being nurtured by its mother, is an independent human being.”

Fellow Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien said he was “deeply uncomfortable” with what had been recommended by the committee.

Independent TD Michael Lowry also said the recommendations of the abortion committee were a “step too far”.

The sitting ended in farcical scenes when Independent TD Mattie McGrath suggested the debate be suspended but should continue next week.

This was despite the fact there were over two hours of allocated time left and no more speakers present.

The Dáil was suspended temporarily before it was decided that the discussion would in fact be suspended and it would be left up to the business committee to decide if and when it should be resumed.

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