The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children yesterday considered in private a written request from Labour senator and lawyer Ivana Bacik to hold public hearings on the matter.
Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer said afterwards it was agreed to put the matter on the committee’s agenda but he stressed no decision was made as to when the issue would be discussed or in what format.
“The committee has put the issue on the work programme but it’s a very sensitive matter and there are different viewpoints and it does require a thorough discussion so we will discuss at a future date how we go about that,” he said.
The committee has a full schedule up to Easter and beyond but it is thought hearings could be pencilled in to begin in June.
The move follows the defeat in the Dáil last week of a bill proposed by Independent TD Clare Daly which would have allowed for terminations in Ireland in cases where a foetus had no prospect of survival.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said at the time that the Government’s legal advisor, the Attorney General, had concluded that Ms Daly’s bill was unconstitutional and would require a referendum, something he would not consider in the lifetime of this Government.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar also said it was a matter for the next Dáil.
Supporters of Ms Daly’s bill, however, questioned the Attorney General’s advice and said her written assessment should be made public.
The AG’s written advice could prove useful to the Health Committee but it would be a precedent if it was to be made available outside the Cabinet and it is expected the committee will have to start from scratch in considering if there is a way of drafting legislation without resorting to a referendum.
In her letter to the committee, Ms Bacik said she believed a way could be found to legislate without changing the Constitution, “albeit that it would have to be highly restrictive in nature and could probably only apply to cases where there was no prospect of the foetus being born alive”.
Terminations For Medical Reasons, the group representing parents who have travelled abroad for terminations when their unborn babies were diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality, said it was unsure if it would attend hearings if invited.
“It’s a little too late because this could have been achieved by passing Clare Daly’s bill,” said spokesman James Burke.
He said the issue was being pushed on to the next Dáil because any proposal that might come out of the committee’s discussions would face another long journey through the legislative process and would have no hope of being concluded before the general election.
“There’s no way of knowing who might form the next Dáil or what their priorities will be so it’s just very disappointing for us that the opportunity wasn’t taken to deal with this,” said Mr Burke.