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Simon Harris today in the Dáil
Dáil Éireann

Abortion dominates Harris' first stint at Leaders' Questions amid calls to scrap 3-day wait

The new Taoiseach was also grilled by Mary Lou McDonald over what the Government is doing for children with scoliosis.

ISSUES RELATING TO abortion care in Ireland dominated Simon Harris’s first appearance as Taoiseach at Leaders’ Questions today, with demands that the current 3-day wait for an abortion be scrapped.

The Taoiseach said the Government has not yet considered this recommendation but that the Cabinet health committee will soon meet to discuss it and the other recommendations of the O’Shea review.

Social Democrats’ leader Holly Cairns, People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith and Labour leader Ivana Bacik all used their speaking time in the Dáil today to raise issues relating to abortion services in Ireland while Independent TD Joan Collins began her speaking time by saying she agreed with the points made by the three women.

The three TDs demanded that the recommendations of Marie O’Shea’s review on abortion services be implemented. 

This came after an RTÉ Investigate’s programme last night revealed that almost 1,000 people in Ireland have contacted a UK service about receiving an abortion abroad since abortion was legalised in Ireland in 2019

Holly Cairns described the RTÉ programme as “harrowing” and “infuriating”. 

She accused the Government of sitting on Marie O’Shea’s report for the last year and said women across the state are paying the price for Government inaction. 

Senior barrister Marie O’Shea was commissioned by the Department of Health to conduct a review on foot of the introduction of abortion legislation. 

Her report was published by the Government last April

As it stands, a person seeking an abortion in Ireland must wait three-days after the initial consultation. 

The O’Shea report recommended that this be scrapped.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Cairns asked the Taoiseach to remove the three-day waiting period; end the criminalisation of health care workers; and provide more clarity when it comes to providing abortions in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities. 

Taoiseach Harris said in response that the bulk of the O’Shea recommendations have “largely been put in place” but that some fall to the Houses of the Oireachtas to decide on. 

He said the Government has “not yet considered” the three recommendations Cairns put forward but that they deserve “serious consideration”. 

He also credited Cairns for framing them in a “responsible” way. 

In response, Cairns said it was very worrying that a year on from the O’Shea review the Government has not considered the recommendations. 

“A year later, that you are considering it now is far too long for the women who are forced to travel,” she said.

Cairns added that the three-day wait “has to go” and that it has “no place in our law or in modern medicine”. 

Scoliosis surgeries for children

Elsewhere, Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald used her slot during Leaders’ Questions to ask the new Taoiseach to do more for children in need of scoliosis surgeries in Ireland. 

She referred to the promise made by Simon Harris while Minister of Health to reduce waiting lists for surgeries to four months or less and said children are waiting in “pain and agony” since that promise “seven long years’ ago”. 

She asked the Taoiseach if he is once again promising that children will not wait longer than four months for spinal surgeries; if he is reinstating the scheme for children to travel abroad for operations; and if Government will fund the second independent opinion that parents are demanding for their children.

The Taoiseach thanked McDonald for raising the issue and said nobody wants to see any child wait in pain for surgery. 

He said the clinical advice remains the same in relation to four months for surgery and made the point that since he made that promise there has been a “significant reduction” in the number of children waiting more than four months. 

He said the pandemic then had a negative impact on progress but that there has been an increase since then in the number of surgeries carried out.

On the first of McDonald’s three questions, he said the target remains at four months for surgery waiting lists. 

On reinstating the scheme for children to travel abroad for surgery he said “yes” and that he believes it is important that it is considered. 

On the independent opinion, he said he will engage with this suggestion also. 

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