Sunday 24 September 2017

Allegations of bias persist as Citizens' Assembly considers abortion issue

Chairperson of the Citizens' Assembly Justice Mary Laffoy Photo: Justin Farrelly
Chairperson of the Citizens' Assembly Justice Mary Laffoy Photo: Justin Farrelly

Alan O'Keeffe and John Downing

The Citizens' Assembly will finally begin discussing abortion today amid continuing allegations of bias in its composition and criticisms of some expert contributors.

The 99 citizens, selected at random to form a cross section of Irish society, will begin their deliberations under chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy of the Supreme Court at the Grand Hotel in Malahide.

Tipperary Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he had no doubts about the impartiality and integrity of Judge Laffoy.

But Mr McGrath said the body did not have any representative from 11 counties and he added that two expert witnesses had already publicly expressed controversial views on abortion and related issues which raised questions about their suitability.

"Citizens from counties Tipperary, Leitrim, Cavan, Louth, Sligo, Longford, Offaly, Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford and Kerry are entirely absent, which cannot be accepted," Mr McGrath said.

Mr McGrath also used Dáil privilege to raise questions about two expert witnesses.

Mr McGrath said former Master of Holles Street Maternity Hospital, Dr Declan Keane, told a constitutional committee back in 2000 that he was dissatisfied that "abortions for fatal abnormalities could not be performed in Irish hospitals".

Mr McGrath said the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities was likely to occur in the assembly's deliberations. He questioned whether someone with a stated view could be an "impartial expert".

Mr McGrath equally used Dáil privilege to question the involvement of Professor Deirdre Madden from University College Cork who was on the commission on human reproduction. The commission's report recommended that "destructive research on human embryos" should be permitted.

A spokeswoman for the Citizens' Assembly insisted both Dr Keane and Prof Madden had been subjected to "robust checks" on impartiality, in line with guidelines voted for by TDs and senators, before they were appointed. She added that assembly members were chosen by the polling firm Red C using census data to balance for age, gender and regional location.

The two-day session will open with a welcoming address from Ms Justice Laffoy.

Various lawyers, historians and medical experts will address the assembly today and tomorrow. Three more working sessions are planned on the issue.

Irish Independent

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