Conor Lenihan under fire for calling Savita Halappanavar ‘that Indian lady’

Former Minister Conor Lenihan has been criticised for referring to Savita Halappanavar as “that Indian lady” during a recording of a debate for BBC radio.

Mr Lenihan made the remarks during a panel discussion for the BBC World Questions programme, due to be aired tonight, which included a debate on the Eighth Amendment and also featured Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald.

Yesterday his comments were described as “clumsy and unfortunate for a former minister for integration” by Shane O’Curry of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

Ms Halappanavar, 31, died at University Hospital Galway in 2012, due to septic miscarriage complications.

Her case was raised during the debate which was recorded with a live audience on Wednesday night by NUI Maynooth lecturer, JoAnne Mancini, who mentioned her by name.

Mr Lenihan then said: “We had a dreadful thing here where an Indian lady died on a hospital table because the medical professional couldn’t intervene because they felt this particular wording of an amendment prevented them from what would be a normal medical practice pretty much anywhere else in the world.”

Conor Lenihan
Conor Lenihan

He said action has to be taken on the Eighth Amendment. “This should not and cannot be put on the long finger much longer precisely because that Indian lady died on the table.”

Sinn Féin’s Ms McDonald intervened to say: “I agree with you in terms of Savita Halappanavar.”

Mr Lenihan previously courted controversy over his attitude to immigrants. In 2005, he apologised in the Dáil after telling then Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins he should “stick to the kebabs” — referring to a group of Turkish workers who took a legal challenge against their employer, GAMA.

In 2007, he banned Gardaí from wearing the Sikh turban, saying “if we are to take integration seriously, people who come here must understand our way of doing things”.

Mr O’Curry said the remarks reflect a wider social racism in Ireland where people are often referred to by their ethnicity, but he said tackling open racism and the ensuring equality for women are more pressing matters.

Afterwards, Mr Varadkar said he did not believe Mr Lenihan meant the remarks in a derogatory manner.

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