IN THE LATE morning of Tuesday, 30 July 2013 President Michael D Higgins signed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill into law.
Though the actual implementation of the legislation remains ongoing Higgins’s signature brought to an end a tumultuous six months in Irish politics. In line with the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the X Case 21 years before, a year ago TDs and Senators legislated for abortion in circumstances where there is a threat to the life of a woman.
It followed a contentious and fraught period that put parliamentarians front and centre of a debate that has divided Irish society for decades.
In recent weeks, TheJournal.ie has spoken to a number of parliamentarians to look back at the events of a year ago. The following is an account, in their own words, of how the Oireachtas legislated for the X Case.
Estimated reading time: 35 minutes (Note: Interviewees’ titles refer to their positions at the time)
The Savita case: “It galvanised an awful lot of young women onto the streets”
On the 14th November 2012, the Irish Times reported on the case of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who had died on 28 October having reportedly been denied an abortion at Galway University Hospital. The facts of the case would not emerge for some time but the headline of the story – Woman ‘denied a termination’ dies in hospital’ - sparked nationwide outrage, protests and a vigil outside Leinster House as TDs debated it inside.
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour TD: “The abortion issue was always there in the background. I suppose the Savita Halappanavar case brought it to the public’s mind but it was something we had been campaigning on for 20 years.”
Fidelma Healy-Eames, Fine Gael senator: “I guess the Savita Halappanavar case drove it into the ether.”
Lucinda Creighton, Fine Gael TD and Minister of State for European Affairs: “I mean obviously that put a huge focus on the issue. It’s kind of sad because that whole issue with her tragic death had nothing to do with this legislation.
“Anybody who reads the facts, reads the reports into Savita’s death knows that this legislation does nothing to address the Savita Halappanavar case and so that was just jumping on a bandwagon and using really tragic circumstances to pursue a cause. I think that’s really unfortunate, it’s not the kind of politics that I’m interested in being part of.
Joan Collins, United Left TD: ”I think the Savita case galvanised an awful lot of young women onto the streets which we hadn’t seen before. I think a lot of the young women thought that you could actually access an abortion over here. They didn’t realise you couldn’t until the whole issue came up, the tragic situation with Savita.”
Áodhan Ó Riordáin: “I think the Savita case made our job easier because there was a real case of a real person, with a real name, and a real face, in an Irish hospital who had been a victim of the uncertainty in Irish law. I think the fact she was not Irish actually made it more poignant because she was somebody who was not Irish but was a victim of the uncertainty that can happen in these tragic circumstances.”
Averil Power, Fianna Fáil senator: “It was dreadful that it took Savita’s death to finally have a mature conversation as a country, but I think that was the catalyst for it. In the immediate aftermath of her death, friends of mine rang me, particularly female friends of mine, and said: ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this can happen in Ireland’. They were really shocked.”
The government decision: “Enda Kenny did his u-turn in December… it was a fait accompli”
Amid a national outcry over the Savita case, an expert group set up to examine a European court ruling that Ireland’s abortion laws were in breach of human rights reported to government. On foot of this the coalition committed to legislating for the X Case ruling on 18 December 2012.
Fidelma Healy-Eames: “The first line of our policy pre-election in 2011 was: ‘Fine Gael will not legislate for abortion’. It then went on to speak about setting up an expert group.
Lucinda Creighton: ”Enda Kenny did his u-turn in December… One thing that both Enda Kenny and [his chief of staff] Mark Kennelly would have said is there are absolutely no circumstances under which we would agree to incorporate legislation for the X case. So the suicide element was not to be included and I was happy with that. I thought that clarified the situation.”
Jerry Buttimer: “It’s a very important topic that has bedevilled Irish politics and Irish society. I think the Taoiseach was right – that it was about clarification and codifying the law.”
Lucinda Creighton: “I had no difficulty in supporting the spirit of the legislation besides the suicide part, but then the Taoiseach went into a meeting with [Tánaiste] Eamon Gilmore. Obviously Eamon Gilmore said: ‘My leadership is under pressure and I need something’.
“Enda Kenny said: ‘Okay, grand’ and changed his mind entirely and decided that Fine Gael would support legislation for the X case which is contrary to what we said we would do in opposition. So, once he came out and made that statement after they met then it was clear. That was that – a fait accompli.”
Rónán Mullen, independent senator: “A decision was taken, it was a political decision, it had to do with the Labour party, it had to do with Eamon Gilmore. He was probably pushing it under pressure from people who turned out not to have great support for him anyway.”
Fidelma Healy-Eames: “I fully believe when I give a pledge it has to mean something, but I also accept that if new evidence comes along and if I change my mind as a result of that new evidence that should be allowed, but that should be explained to the people and the Taoiseach and James Reilly never did explain that to the people. They never changed policy at Fine Gael parliamentary party level.”
Áodhan Ó Riordáin: “I was always very clear in my mind that the way we had to frame it was not on the substantive issue itself but on the constitutional imperative, because if you got into the substantive issue itself you’d lose the argument.
“It was about the Supreme Court judgement, the two referenda in 1992 and 2002, it was about the European Court of Human Rights judgement. So regardless of what piece of legislation we are talking about we have to legislate.”
Áine Collins, Fine Gael TD: “For me, we were in a situation where we had a Supreme Court ruling – which is the same as it being in the Constitution – and we had never put guidelines or regulations in place. For me, for women and as a woman and a mother myself, it was a very important issue.”
The committee hearings: ‘The hearings were part of the government spin’
As part of the drafting of the legislation, the Oireachtas Health and Children Committee, chaired by Jerry Buttimer, undertook three days of intensive hearings in January 2013 where it heard from doctors, legal experts and advocacy groups.
Jerry Buttimer: “I made a decision that I would be the referee. I would be the man in the middle. I wasn’t going to get involved in arguing the case. My job was to allow people to speak, to present their cases and I suppose the committee were very much of the view that it was about hearing from expert witnesses, hearing testimony from cross-sections of people.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “The hearings were not about if we should or shouldn’t legislate for the suicide clause or whatever, it was about how best to do it. To my mind, politically, it needed to be framed that way.”
Rónán Mullen: “The one thing the government was not doing at any stage was listening.”
Jerry Buttimer: “I think to say that government didn’t listen wouldn’t be the case. It was an opportunity for people to engage. Many people were clamouring to be involved… I thought it was a worthwhile exercise.”
Lucinda Creighton: ”I would say that it is very clear from December onwards that the hearings were simply window dressing. It was to tick a box and present the image of consultation and listening to expert opinion, but that never really was the intention.”
Jerry Buttimer: “Who would have thought you’d have a former Supreme Court judge in Catherine McGuinness (below) and William Binchy arguing in the Seanad chamber? That was the one thing I was very much in awe of.”
Joan Collins: ”I think the committee hearings were a useful exercise. What they didn’t do is bring in the women with fatal foetal abnormalities. I think that was a crucial part of the legislation. For those women now they are being forced to travel to Britain for abortions in terrible situations.”
Fidelma Healy-Eames: “I think the hearings really informed me. The one thing that was really impressive was to have expertise at the level that was presented to us come in to the Oireachtas and to hear from all psychologists…
“There was unanimity that if a woman was suicidal in pregnancy that an abortion wouldn’t save her life and that was the crunch piece in the whole picture for me.”
The internal debate: “I saw fear in TDs’ eyes”
As the government moved towards drafting the legislation political parties and intense and fraught internal debate about how they were going to vote.
In Fine Gael there was much attention on the fate of Lucinda Creighton and others who appeared to be wavering on supporting the legislation while Fianna Fáil allowed a free vote after failing to find consensus.
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “You could see very early on that an awful lot of people were nervous about it. You could see across the political parties that there were people who were nervous about it. Nervous about the type of representation they were getting, the type of pressure they were put under. It was probably the topic that politicians like talking about least, because there is no room for nuance.”
Lucinda Creighton: “It was a hot topic of conversation, really from December onwards. I would have just general conversations, chats in the Dáil bar over a cup of coffee and I would have had some very prominent backbenchers say to me: ‘There’s no way I am gonna vote for this’.
Fidelma Healy-Eames: ”There were three groups [in Fine Gael]. There was people who were happy with it, that wanted it, that were supporting the government’s position. Then there were people that were really betwixt and between and then there were those of us who finally lost the whip on this issue. I think myself that the Taoiseach made a fatal error on this one because he had a phenomenal opportunity in his hand to give those of us who wanted a free vote, a free vote.
Jerry Buttimer: “I suppose many people in the Fine Gael parliamentary party and many people in the Fine Gael organisation were uncomfortable – they had a difficulty. At the beginning when I heard we were going to do something I was unsure, but in my own case – and I mean this genuinely – I reflected upon the hearings, I listened, I read, I consulted, and I wasn’t uncertain at the end because it was about bringing certainty, about codifying the law.”
Lucinda Creighton: “I remember distinctly one particular backbencher saying: ‘If they want to do this by way of regulation, they can do it, but if they try to force us to go into the Dáil chamber and walk through the lobby or press a green button, I won’t do it, under any circumstances.’
He actually turned into one of the harshest critics of me and my colleagues [who voted against the legislation]. So there was a huge amount of absolute and utter hypocrisy, frankly.”
Áine Collins: “We didn’t want to tear the party apart and tear people apart. It would have been more challenging on all of us and everyone in chamber, and when you sign up to a party we know what we sign up for. If you don’t agree, you go independent.”
John Halligan, independent TD: “The memories I have are fear amongst the government TDs. I saw fear in TDs’ eyes. I saw TDs who didn’t want to take part in the debate, would not go on the radio, would not go on the television, for fear of intimidation. They felt that they should shut their mouths on it. Is that the way we want to be as a TD?”
A TheJournal.ie interview with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in February 2013:Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube
Averil Power: ”We held several meetings about it. We did discuss it in-depth as a parliamentary party. People had different views. Obviously Micheál’s position was that he had thought we would reach a consensus on it.
“So we had a number of meetings with a view to achieving that and seeing if that was possible. It then emerged that that wasn’t going to be possible and ultimately we had a free vote then.”
Rónán Mullen: “I think the view that I and other TDs and senators took when we realised that we were not going to be in a majority… was that we have to our job as parliamentarians and fight the good fight and interrogate this and point to the absurdities, dangers, hypocrisies and ask questions and in some cases questions that weren’t even asked in the Dáíl… That’s parliament doing it’s job when even the end result is known.”
The lobbying: “I got death threats from people”
As the debate continued on the airwaves, in the media and across Irish public life, TDs and Senators were being lobbied intensively and many reported unsavoury incidents of being threatened and intimidated.
Averil Power: “I got postcards and letter and things like that. In each case I wrote back to them… We get weird, odd letters all the time in this job. There were some offensive pieces of correspondence. I think it was the government members that were subjected to incredible abuse. People picketing outside their houses. I wasn’t subjected to any of that.”
Jerry Buttimer: “I got lots of stuff, yeah. I got death threats from people. We got an email, one or two emails from people threatening to, basically because I was gay, kill me.”
Áine Collins: “I found it difficult when walking into the office with people protesting outside door. It was my first experience of that being a new politician. It was a bit of challenge.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “People came into my office and sat down with me and told me of their reservations and I didn’t mind. We discussed, we disagreed and they went on with themselves, and that’s perfectly reasonable. Other people were less polite about it. People said things to you or members of your family. But if you’re gonna do it, you don’t do it because it’s easy, you do it because it’s hard.”
John Halligan: ”I was down in Waterford and some woman shook my hand and said she was not going to let go of my hand until I changed my mind while I was standing there. The manager had to throw her out.”
Decision time: “I’ve never really had a serious conversation with Enda”
As the final text of the legislation moved closer TDs and Senators who were wavering on the issue faced decision time and much of the focus was on what Lucinda Creighton would do. But other parties had issues as well.
Fidelma Healy-Eames: “I definitely had one very long telephone conversation with the Taoiseach… I didnt feel that the Taoiseach was listening really. I felt he was talking a lot. He kept going on about codifying the law… I just felt that he was closed. This was a decision long made. This was a red line issue for Labour.”
Lucinda Creighton: “I just had a conversation with him [the Taoiseach] on the jet coming back from the European Council in June, the last one of the presidency. I told him that I wouldn’t be voting for the legislation under any circumstances.
“He didn’t say a lot, he was rambling to be honest. He asked me what voices in my head wouldn’t allow me to vote for the legislation. I don’t know what he meant by that. He talked about women’s lives and codifying the law, as if we’re all out to end women’s lives. It was nonsense, it was absolute nonsense and none of it has been borne out. It didn’t frustrate me because I’ve seen it before. I’ve never really had a serious conversation with Enda, about anything.”
Áodhan Ó Riordáin: “I know one deputy in particular put her own daughter in the situation of the X case victim and said: “What would I do as a parent? Could I be absolutely sure in every single circumstance that I wouldn’t have wanted for my daughter what the X case victim was given the opportunity to do – to travel to England?” She came to the conclusions that No, she wouldn’t. So you could see them changing and you could see them talking to each other.”
Averil Power: “Some members of the [Fianna Fáil] organisation wouldn’t have been happy with how I voted and would have said to me that it will cause me difficulties later, down the line.
“I told them that on an issue like this I could only ever vote for what I thought was right. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself or sleep at night if I felt that I voted on an issue like abortion on the basis of what might be politically advantageous.”
Rónán Mullen: “I was disappointed at the overall at the lack of principled engagement with the issues. Some politicians were good, very courteous about the issue. But other politicians just ran in the other direction and it was for fear you might say anything that might rock their world or their certainty.”
Joan Collins: “I arrived at a decision to vote against the Bill because it wasn’t going far enough. It was something but it wasn’t enough. Even the suicide, the limits around women who are suicidal, that’s outrageous…
“I mean it just didn’t go far enough and they were the areas that Labour had committed to deal with in the legislation. Obviously they were restrained by Fine Gael and what was going on there.”
Áodhan Ó Riordáin: “There was an awful lot of posturing. I mean people who voted against it who were out campaigning for it and then weeks beforehand said it didn’t include fatal foetal abnormality so they couldn’t vote for it.
“But sure it couldn’t include fatal foetal abnormality, it wouldn’t have been constitutional. That’s what the Attorney General said, that was the understanding from the constitution. The likes of the Socialist Party and the independents were voting against this thing.
“I thought that was quite fake and quite grandstanding for grandstanding’s sake because they couldn’t actually bring themselves to vote for something that we had actually delivered. I thought that was quite pathetic.”
The Dáil debates: “They had to let everyone speak”
The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill was introduced in the Dáil on 20 June 2013, kickstarting a marathon legislative process…
Joan Collins: “The Dáil debates were quite dignified, it went on for so long… they had to let everybody speak…. I think it was right to let the debate go. It was right to let everybody have their say on what was obviously the biggest issue at the time. The biggest social issue anyway.”
Rónán Mullen: “I thought there were very good moments. I thought Lucinda Creighton’s speech in the Dáil was particularly fine. There were some very fine contributions on the debate despite the limitations imposed on the process.”Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube
Lucinda Creighton: “I wrote it on the Sunday night and I just wrote it at home on my iPad. I just wanted to make the points. Second stage of a bill like that is an opportunity to make broader points, not just about the specifics of the legislation but also about the context and the broader issue.
“I suppose there were just things that I wanted to get off my chest, that I wanted to put on the record that, you know, people like Enda Kenny didn’t want to deal with.”
Averil Power: “I thought there were a lot of holes in her speech, particularly as a lawyer, not a lot of it stood up. She was bringing up High Court cases that overruled Supreme Court cases, a lot of the arguments didn’t stand up.
“But I still respected the fact that ultimately she could only vote for whatever way [she felt] was right for whatever reasons. Whether I agree with those reasons or not, and I don’t think she should have lost her job over it.”
The late-sitting: ‘I think 5am sessions are not a good idea’
After passing second stage and going to committee the Bill returned to the Dáil for a final debate and vote on 10 July with crowds gathering outside Leinster House and TDs preparing for a late night.Source: AoifeBarryTJ/YouTube
Áodhan Ó Riordáin: “There was a sense of being cocooned inside of here because the huge presence outside from both sides. The pro-life demonstration was quite colourful and quite positive and non-threatening but there was another one which was quite threatening and quite ugly outside the front gates. They had all these posters of foetuses and that was quite distressing. That got a bit nasty towards the end and they’d recognise you and shout abuse at you.”
Joan Collins: “It was just bedlam, it was madness. It was one thing that actually struck me, they had one group on one side of the gates and the other group on the other side. People were shouting things at each other and holy water was getting splashed on me and it was just incredible.”
Rónán Mullen: “I remember on the night there were some of the pro choice advocates saying: ‘We are winning, you are losing’. That struck me as very revealing given what was at stake and given what the issues were.
“I would have thought that if they were happy that the legislation had passed they should be at least mindful that as a result of that some people may lose their lives in the circumstances where they wouldn’t have had to… for people who were glad to see this pass cheering and chanting the potential death of other people – I was sorry about that.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “I think 5am sessions are not a good idea.”
Lucinda Creighton: “Sitting until 5am was unnecessary. It was to make a point, to sort of demonstrate how committed we are to freedom of speech. I thought it was unnecessary.
“We were told that this legislation was urgent, had to be introduced in a panic and yet the regulations were only circulated the other day so the legislation is not being implemented.”
Averil Power: “There was no need for the legislation to be rushed through like that. There was no reason why we couldn’t have sat four more days to finish it through. it seemed to be more about a political decision than anything else.
Jerry Buttimer: ”I understand why the whip ordered the business the way he did. Here’s the deal, you had backbench TDs in some cases having protests at their offices twice a week for a number of months. I think a summer of continuing protests and lobbying would have served no purpose and I do believe it was right to get it done before the recess.”
Lapgate: ‘There was an air of drunkenness in the chamber’
As the Dáil sat until 5am and the bars in Leinster House remained open, there were more than a few TDs enjoying a drink and there was the infamous lapgate incident when Tom Barry pulled his Fine Gael colleague Áine Collins onto his lap in the Dáil chamber…
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “It was a late night and it was an emotional time, we were there till 5am, some people walked around, some people went for coffee, you couldn’t leave the place because there could be a vote called at any time. Some of us got together, some of us had a chat, you know. It was a strange night.”
Áine Collins: “That night I remember sitting down having tea and a Twix bar with Deputy [Simon] Coveney and he was having tea too. I’m not sure what the others were doing.”
Lucinda Creighton: “Any late-night sitting there are people imbibing alcohol in the Dáil bar.”
John Halligan: “If you’re going to go in your car or for an interview with a journalist or if you were going on TV, would you fire down four or five pints? You wouldn’t. But here was a critical debate that would have far-reaching consequences for legislation in the country and people saw fit to go in and down as much drink as they wanted to drink.”
Joan Collins: “There was an air of drunkenness in the chamber, absolutely. I saw one particular person nearly falling down the steps of the chamber and obviously had a few drinks on them.”
Lucinda Creighton: “I was up in a colleague’s office in Leinster House and I think I might have seen something on Twitter [about lapgate] and then they got the video up and we were all watching it – horrified. What do you say?
Joan Collins: “I did see it. I was sitting watching it and saying: ‘What’s going on over there’. I thought it was outrageous, absolutely outrageous.”Source: SineadOCarrollTJ/YouTube
Áine Collins: ”You can’t change it, it happened and I would have preferred if it didn’t happen. I’m sure Deputy Barry would say the same but I can’t speak for him. He apologised, it was unfortunate timing and everything was just unfortunate but we have to move on from these decisions.”
Jerry Buttimer: “I don’t think it was damaging but I think to be fair to the people involved none of them will have treated the matter lightly and it was an unfortunate incident.”
Rónán Mullen: “I mean that was just a TD being idiotic. It always looks awful when politicians are under the influence and acting like that. I mean that’s not what the public expects from them, maybe it is what the public expects, but it’s not what the public wants. But I don’t think it’s what the public expects and I think it’s stupid to be having debates up to 5 o’clock in the morning.”
Joan Collins: “I think it’s wrong to extend the Dáil to those times, there’s no point, there’s no need for it, you know.
“I think it portrayed Ireland in a bad way, that went all over the world, discussing women’s reproductive rights and then you have a male just grabbing a woman… he has to live with that.”
The bill passes the Dáil: “I remember getting upset in my own office’
As the marathon legislative session moved into Thursday, 11 July, and the final stages of its passage through the Dáil, a junior minister lost their job and other TDs got emotional…
Lucinda Creighton: “A lot of my colleagues had voted against the second stage. I didn’t because I felt it was important to go through the legislation and try and change it, try in vain to change it.
“So I voted against an amendment at half nine in the evening, and then that was that. I went over to Enda Kenny afterwards and I shook his hand and I wished him the best of luck with his government and he asked me for my letter of resignation. That was that.
“I was emotional, I was really tired, I’d had a mental six months and I was exhausted really at the whole thing and it was emotional. I was tired and I’ve been in Fine Gael since I was 18 you know that was kind of sad but I didn’t have any anxiety at all. I’d made up my mind.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “I think once we got it through the Dáil we were happy enough. I remember when it was passed, and it was done, there was a kind of a ripple of small applause, but nothing jubilant.Source: SineadOCarrollTJ/YouTube
“I remember when it was done going back to my office and getting upset actually in my own office. I think the Sunday Independent article, the strain it put on my family, the apologies I had to make to people close to me, the emotional rollercoaster that I had been through personally and then knowing that people around you who had campaigned for this for so long, and had been vilified for it.”
Jerry Buttimer: “In hindsight, reflecting on it, my overriding emotion was relief. It was mentally and physically draining because there was a huge, high level of lobbying on one side in particular – the pro life side – and there was a sustained period where there was just this onslaught of advocacy by a group of people and that affected many people.
“How it affected their campaigning, I have no idea. I suppose the bottom line is that government’s must legislate and that’s it, that’s the job of the government.”
The bill moves to the Seanad: ‘I don’t like when emotion becomes part of the debate’
After passing the Dáil and committee stage, the Bill moved to the Seanad where the language used by Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh caused controversy and Fidelma Healy-Eames was one of two Fine Gael senators to oppose the legislation…
Rónán Mullen: “I think there was an awareness that this was a moment in time, this was a step, it was important to fight it, it was unjust legislation but it’s not the first piece of unjust legislation we’ve ever had in this country and it won’t be the last, it’s just a very important one.”
Lucinda Creighton: “I certainly recall thinking that Jim Walsh’s contribution was not the most sensitive.”Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube
Averil Power: “I found it very hard to listen to a lot of that language. Other colleagues got upset about it. [Labour] Senator Marie Maloney got very upset after one of the senators had given a very graphic description and she got very upset because she’d lost a baby, she’d had a miscarriage. I felt that the way that some members approached the debate was disrespectful and it was deliberately offensive and I think it was designed to be offensive.”
Rónán Mullen: “I think what Senator Walsh was doing was exposing aspects of this debate that the government were unwilling to talk about.”
Jerry Buttimer: “I thought they [Walsh's comments] were out of place, I thought they were vile, I thought they were vitriolic, I thought they were sensational headline grabbing and they demeaned the chamber and it didn’t serve them well.”
Rónán Mullen: “I don’t like when emotion becomes part of the debate, I think that can inhibit a debate and in some cases that can be used as a stick to beat other people who you may disagree with and I don’t like that.”
Fidelma Healy-Eames: “I remember there was some family in the gallery when I voted No and to be fair [Fine Gael senators] Martin Conway sat one side of me and Michael Mullins sat the other, and one of them had said to me: ‘Fidelma, remember now when you go to the top of that hill, when you push that button, you could be on your own.’
“I was ready to be on my own and I was so blurred I could not see the screen, and I couldn’t tell if anybody else had voted with me. It’s almost like I went a little bit blank on it. I went around to Paul Bradford [a Fine Gael colleague who also voted No] and I said: ‘What did you do?’ So there were two us which makes it a bit easier.”
Rónán Mullen: ”What we saw in the end was the outworking of a flawed Supreme Court judgement in the X case and it took whatever, 21 years, for that to kind of be given some kind of legislative effect and we’ll have to see what it actually leads to in practice. But it was a bad step.”
Averil Power: “It was a difficult time and I found the debates difficult as well and at times emotional too but I suppose I came out of it having done what I thought was the right thing.”
Looking back: ‘It was wicked’
The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill passed its final stages in the Seanad on 23 July 2013 and was sent to the President. Michael D Higgins decided to convene the Council of State on the Bill before he eventually signed into law.
Nearly a year on, TDs and Senators take differing views on that period in their legislative careers and what it all meant…
Áine Collins: “It feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since. I think it was taken as seriously as it should have been, it was a difficult issue, purely for the obvious reason of the emotion and all the challenges around it.”
Rónán Mullen: “We’re disappointed that Ireland took this step, that our government led us to taking this step but I think people feel it’s a moment in time, it’s a particular phase in a debate that may in the long term go in a better direction in the western world.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: “I think both sides are now at a stage where they may come to a conclusion that we need to discuss the 8th Amendment because the pro-life side never envisaged that the 8th Amendment would lead to this. Of course the pro-choice side have a major difficulty with it.
“So I think maybe we should have a maturity now in public discourse where we can talk about the abortion issue in a wider context and I look forward to that day.”
Jerry Buttimer: “It’s hard to believe it’s 12 months on. The world hasn’t fallen down, we haven’t got an avalanche of people clamouring to come before the expert panel. We haven’t seen the floodgates open, the doomsday scenario hasn’t taken place and I would pose the question what has changed?”
Fidelma Healy-Eames: ”I was disappointed with the lack of tolerance because this is business, this is our business, we’re lawmakers, we legislated, we have to make decisions.
“It’s not defining my whole life, my friendships are important to me as well, but I think it’s very important that people know each other’s value set and a value I put great credence on is the value of human life and the gift that it is. I also believe in being tolerant and I didn’t see that in some people.”
John Halligan: “I think the whole episode wasn’t good for democracy. People think it was but it was overplayed in the Dáil, prolonged to suit the church and the pro-lifers, knowing that they had a majority and those of us in opposition had already said what we were going to say. We had said what we had to say and then all the amendments were just booted down the road without debate. It was wicked.”
Joan Collins: “I genuinely believed that every family has been touched by a situation where their daughter or someone else they know has become pregnant and they have to take decisions. It’s not hidden under the carpet like it was 30 or 40 years ago. It’s out in the open much more so now. Families have to deal with it and deal with it in the best way they can.”
Lucinda Creighton: ”Compromises in coalition are always essential, even though you mightn’t like them. I think compromises on issues of this sort cross a red line that I don’t believe is appropriate.
“I don’t think Fine Gael should have compromised on its values and I don’t think that it should have reneged on its pre-election promise. So I’ve no regrets. I think I did the right thing, I’m pretty happy.”
Interviews carried out individually between 25 June and 9 July by Hugh O’Connell and Michelle Hennessy.
With thanks to Áine Collins, Jerry Buttimer, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Averil Power, Rónán Mullen, Fidelma Healy-Eames, John Halligan, Lucinda Creighton, and Joan Collins for their contributions.
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