Abortion review fudge – Extraordinary that Tánaiste and Minister for Health unable or unwilling to answer

09 December 2021

Under questioning from Labour leader Alan Kelly, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was unable to provide a clear answer on the repeal review. With the Tánaiste unclear as to whether the decision to fudge the review was brought to cabinet and decided there, Deputy Kelly said government need to immediately outline what is going on with this review.

Deputy Kelly said:

“Following a subpar performance from the Minister for Health in the health committee yesterday, I asked the Tánaiste a very simple question – was this issue brought to cabinet and decided there? He was entirely unable to provide an answer. I’m very concerned that political football is being played with one of the most serious pieces of legislation in this country.

“When this historic legislation was debated and passed three years ago it was the understanding of members that there would be a review of the operation of the Act inclusive of policy. Instead the Minister is only planning to review if it is operating as intended, and not look at the legislation underpinning it. This review won’t consider any policy changes to the Act. It amounts to a pre-determined process and is at odds with previous statutory reviews.

“How can the Minister and government be agnostic on this? Was this a political decision? Was this a decision made at cabinet? We need the government to be upfront on this.

“There are a range of well-known problems with this legislation. We know only 10 maternity units offer full termination services, and very few GPs offer services. It now appears that those are the only operational issues this review can really consider.

“Three years on legislation for safe access zones around maternity hospitals still hasn’t been published. The reality for women is that the 3-day waiting period, and 12 week limit creates serious access problems. In the middle of a global pandemic 375 women travelled to the UK last year. There are real problems with this legislation that the review should address.

“We’ve had many statutory reviews of legislation in recent years that have also looked at the legal framework. The Tánaiste was either a Minister or Taoiseach for those reviews. Why is this review so different? Why the contradiction?

“The first review of the Regulation of Lobbying Act was published in April 2017. It specifically asked how the Act can be improved. The same process was followed with the Gender Recognition Act June 2018, taking on board specifically the views of those affected by the legislation. The same with the Protected Disclosures Act in July 2019. So on the Lobbying Act, Gender Recognition Act and Protected Disclosures Act – three statutory reviews, all looked at the underlying law.

“The question remains – what is the point of a review of the operation of the law on terminations in Ireland if it doesn’t in any way take on board the concerns of those impacted by the constraints of the legislation which could then lead to changes in the Act? What is the point of such a review if it isn’t going to change anything beyond service access?”

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