Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ministers order HSE to speed up abortion report

Tensions within the Coalition over the latest controversy but no plans for a referendum

JOHN DRENNAN 
and PHILIP RYAN

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo credit: Frank Mc Grath
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo credit: Frank Mc Grath

HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Joan Burton are piling pressure on the Health Service Executive (HSE) to speed up its report into the treatment of the young woman at the centre of the latest abortion controversy.

Tensions are also mounting in the Coalition over the abortion issue in the wake of the case of the asylum seeker, with calls from within both parties for more changes to the law.

In Fine Gael, there are calls for legislation to allow for abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. On the Labour Party side, there are warnings of "trouble" with divisions over how to proceed on the issue amid demands for a referendum.

Mr Varadkar said he wants a speedy explanation to the abortion crisis.

''I am keen to have the HSE report sooner rather than later," he told the Sunday Independent.

However, the minister said that legal concerns may delay the report.

"Anyone who is referred to in the report has the right to see it first, which will determine the final date of publication," he added.

Ms Burton wants an interim report ready for the Cabinet meeting in the first week of September.

"The Tanaiste believes it essential that this report be conducted as a matter of urgency," a spokesman said.

The anxiety for a speedy settlement was echoed privately by other Cabinet colleagues.

"The last thing needed here is the typical HSE response of six months to set up terms of reference. This needs to be resolved quickly, people want answers," another minister said.

"This debacle is a HSE blunder. People are regularly sponsored in circumstances such as this to go over to England. It's a regular affair, it just happens under the counter so to speak."

However, even liberally minded ministers admit there is no appetite to reopen the abortion issue.

''Enda would love us if we came and said: 'The last bill went so well, let's have another episode five months before the election.' It's just not politically feasible," a cabinet minister told the Sunday Independent.

However, pressure is growing over the treatment of women who are are diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormality. It is believed that in three-quarters of such cases, the women subsequently travel abroad for abortions.

Fine Gael TD Catherine Byrne wants legislation in this area. Ms Byrne said she suffered miscarriages in the past and thinks it is "horrendous" that women are forced to go to Britain to get terminations when they know the baby will not survive.

"I have spoken clearly to Enda about this before as a mother and as a woman who has had miscarriages in the past. I know about the devastation of miscarrying, but to be told you have to carry a baby which you know will not survive outside the womb is horrendous," she said.

Fine Gael TD Liam Twomey also said he would be in favour of legislating for abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest, but he would not support a "liberalised" abortion system.

"We need to keep the politics out of this or we will never have the issue resolved. If we start getting hounded by pro-life or pro-choice groups for the next six months nothing will happen," he said.

Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell said the events of last week prove a new abortion referendum is needed.

"The events are an abomination, delivering a 25-week old child from the womb. This current legislation is forcing doctors to do things that are anathema to their instincts to do no harm."

However, no one on the Fine Gael side of the Coalition is calling for a referendum to be held in the lifetime of this Government.

Within the Labour Party, there is disappointment among backbenchers at newly appointed ministers who previously supported calls for an abortion referendum, but who are now backing off.

Labour TD Anne Ferris said her colleagues were "kicking the issue to touch" by calling for the next government to hold an abortion referendum.

"God knows what the make-up of the next government will be. We should call the referendum next year and let the people have their say. I think it is clear what the people want," she said.

Despite the perception that Labour is united in being a pro-choice party, the issue may also pose Ms Burton with serious internal difficulties.

Labour Party chairman Jack Wall warned of a split on the issue. He told the Sunday Independent: "There are those like myself and Willie Penrose who would be totally opposed to any new referendum. When it comes to the other side of the party there are so many new hands on deck, as ministers, that might stymie a lot of the pro-choice side, but those outside who didn't get ministries may cause trouble."

Sunday Independent

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