Health Minister Simon Harris has said he has to oppose a bill to liberalise the country’s abortion laws, even though he wants to support it.
During emotionally charged exchanges in a debate on Independent TD Mick Wallace’s abortion bill, Mr Harris said he did not want to give the women of Ireland false hope by supporting a bill that is incompatible with the Constitution.
During his measured and compassionate speech, Mr Harris apologised to Amanda Mellet, the woman who brought her case to the United Nations. He added his voice in support for repealing the controversial 8th Amendment.
“I speak here today as a member of a generation who could not vote in 1983. In fact, I wasn’t even born in 1983. Ireland has changed. Our present law immeasurably adds to the pain of those who make the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. I really wish it was the case that we could change that here today,” Mr Harris said.
“But this House cannot change it. Only the Irish people can, and I hope that the Citizens Assembly will recommend that those of us who were never asked the question, and indeed everyone else, will be given the opportunity to answer it, after a careful, considerate, respectful and informed debate,” he said.
Independent TD Clare Daly, who is spearheading the bill with Mick Wallace, said the opinion of the attorney general should be adjudicated on by the courts.
She was deeply critical of Mr Harris’ comments that the Dáil cannot deal with this, saying this was what they as TDs are paid to do. She said that the proposed Citizens Assembly is an unacceptable delay, saying it will force 200 extra women to “sneak” abroad to have abortions.
Independent junior minister John Halligan spoke in support of the bill, saying the status quo is completely unacceptable.
“I don’t know if the bill is unconstitutional and I don’t care if the bill is unconstitutional. The manner in which women are forced to travel abroad is completely unacceptable,” he told the Dáil.
Independent Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, who has campaigned for liberalising abortion laws, said while she supported the spirit of the bill, she would be opposing it on legal advice.
The Dáil heard a number of very moving personal stories from TDs.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett spoke of the loss of his own child and the trauma forced upon him and his partner. “It is obscene we are discussing this intensely personal tragedy, it is depressing. Just call a referendum to repeal the Eighth now,” he said.
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell was visibly upset as she revealed how her now healthy five-year-old son was born with many of his organs outside his body.
Struggling to hold back tears, she said of the devastating toll on herself and her husband at getting the news at their 20-week scan. She said it is something no woman should ever be confronted with.
Despite that, Ms O’Connell said she fully supports a repeal of the 8th Amendment, but added the Wallace bill would “muddy the waters”.
The Dail will vote on the bill next Thursday.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved