The horrific story of a young Cork woman forced to travel alone to the UK for an abortion and return with her dead baby in her car led to Simon Coveney’s recent U-turn on termination, he has revealed.
The Tánaiste had expressed major concerns about his own Government’s legal proposals, but now insists that it was the story of a woman from Cobh who led to his dramatic change of heart.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Coveney has also, for the first time, accepted responsibility for the recent debacle which saw his proposal for a two-thirds Dáil majority requirement to change any future abortion laws slapped down within 12 hours of being floated.
“It would have been better if it wasn’t handled the way it was. I take some of the responsibility, I am not going to apportion blame to other colleagues. It was a distraction we could have done without,” he said.
The Tánaiste has said how the experience of the woman, recounted to him a few weeks ago, convinced him the country’s laws have to change and led to his dramatic turnabout: “There was a moment when my perspective changed. It was a moment when a young woman from Cobh came to see me and very politely asked to see me in my clinic in Carrigaline. She just wanted to tell me her story which was an incredibly powerful one involving a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis.
“It involved her having to travel on her own, having to bring the body of her child in a tiny coffin on the back seat of her car on a ferry. She was incredibly dignified and polite.
“It wasn’t an anger. It was a sadness that someone else would have go through this. And she was asking the question, was this what we wanted when we changed the Constitution in the 1980s? So, I made a commitment to her that I would think about that and try and find a way to ensure the State could respond in a far more comprehensive way,” he said.
In respect of his proposed requirement for a two-thirds Dáil majority to change any legislation on abortion, he accepts it was a major blunder: “It was incredibly frustrating that that distraction happened because we had worked so hard over the previous four months to make all these other changes which are now part and parcel of the proposal.
“But the two-thirds majority thing created such a distraction and all that we were looking at was ways in which there would be a permanence to the new legislation. That this wouldn’t be an opening of the door that would keep opening, that once the legislation was agreed that would be it and it would not be easily changed,” he said.
“So it was in that context that we were looking at multiple ideas including this two-thirds idea, which gathered pace over a 12-hour period. There was never a definitive proposal on the table going to Cabinet, there was a conversation going on about options.”
But he conceded it was floated by his office and shot down very quickly: “I accept that. This was floated as a way of trying to reassure people that there could be a bit more permanence than there normally is around legislation. It kind of got legs and we couldn’t pull it back in again. It was frustrating by the time we were properly assessing it, it was already over the front pages in the newspapers. I think the real frustration is that it missed the other substantive changes that were agreed, but it became the sole focus when the opposition said it was unconstitutional.”
Mr Coveney said he will be one of the voices ensuring that any legislation introduced is not some kind of dramatically liberal regime. ”Quite the opposite in fact,” he said.
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