‘The HSE does not take a position on abortion’

The HSE as an organisation does not take a position on abortion, says director general Tony O’Brien.

Tony O'Brien

He was responding to letters sent to TDs by a psychiatrist, on HSE-headed paper, warning against repealing the Eighth Amendment.

He told a meeting of the Oireachtas health committee that the individual had been “met with” and would be taken through the “appropriate procedures” about the matter.

The psychiatrist claimed that allowing maternal distress and mental illness as an excuse for abortion is a proven formula for abortion on demand up to birth.

He wrote: “One of the most frequent excuses offered for the introduction of abortion is rape. Apart from the practical impossibility of legally proving this in time to have the baby aborted, there is the wrong of solving one reprehensible crime by adding another one: Abortion does not ‘undo’ the trauma of rape, it adds to it.”

Mr O’Brien was shown a copy of the letter that TDs had received. He said: “The use by an employee, both of our letter-head and our email system, to communicate, not just with members of the Oireachtas, but more broadly, a position, is not in conformity with our policies.”

Mr O’Brien said there is general guidance for employees about not taking part in a referendum, but it is usually issued after one is called, not before.

“This clearly raises the issue of needing to do so more quickly,” he said.

Employees are entitled to hold personal opinions and take part as citizens in the referendum process, but they could not use the corporate identity of the HSE to express their views.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly, who chaired the meeting and did not name the psychiatrist, asked if Mr O’Brien would circulate the HSE’s position in writing to members of the Oireachtas.

Ms O’Reilly said she was “very disturbed” to receive a letter on HSE-headed paper urging her to resist pressure to yield to populism.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he also got a copy of the letter. “It is very important that our public bodies and particularly the HSE, in this case, remain entirely impartial,” he said.

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