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Thursday 18 September 2014

Tanaiste rules out abortion referendum despite UN criticism

Published 25/07/2014 | 02:30

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Tanaiste Joan Burton
Tanaiste Joan Burton
Brigid Quilligan of the Irish Traveller Movement and Broden Giambrone of Transgender Equality Network Ireland at the Radisson Hotel, Golden Lane in Dublin yesterday, where the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and civil society partner organisations that travelled to Geneva to brief the UN Human Rights Committee gave their reactions to the concluding observations of the UN committee.

TANAISTE Joan Burton has ruled out a referendum on abortion in the wake of criticism from a United Nations human rights watchdog.

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In a hard-hitting attack on the country's record on women's rights, the UN body said limits on when pregnancy could be terminated were highly restrictive and lacked clarity on the meaning of what was a real and substantive risk to a mother's life.

The UN said the Constitution needed to be rewritten to allow for abortion.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Coalition's plans were to have votes on gay marriage and some other issues – but not abortion.

"The Government haven't considered that. We have set out a number of priorities to be passed by the people," he said.

Ms Burton defended the Government's record in the area, pointing to the X-case legislation passed last summer. She also said the Government had agreed to address a number of Constitutional issues, which did not include abortion.

"They are the referenda which, if you like, have been selected by Government in terms of priority. But I don't know if the panel was aware of or actually addressed the significance of the X case legislation being addressed. But again that is something this Government has addressed, which other governments were unable to address," she said.

But the UN body said pregnant and suicidal women were put through an excessive degree of scrutiny compounding their mental distress if they sought an abortion.

The review said the Government must make these revisions to deal humanely with cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the mother and fatal foetal abnormality. "The committee reiterates its previous concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State party owing to Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and its strict interpretation," the report said.

The UN's damning human rights review reported on 19 issues in Ireland – five of which were specific to the treatment of women.

Its report said there had been a failure to hold prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into the abuse of women and children in Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes.

It also warned there had only been low levels of prosecutions for mistreatment and neglect in the institutions.

The committee also called for a more thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomies carried out on nearly 1,500 girls and women in hospitals between 1944 and 1987.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald made a presentation in Geneva to the UN committee last week.

The minister defended the Government's record.

"In respect of symphysiotomy, the Government has put €34m on the table to help and support women who suffer the barbaric procedure.

"We have no doubt that I, the Government and the Minister for Health in particular will continue to work with the groups who are representing the women," she said.

Responding to the report, Irish Council of Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said the UN had identified a root common cause.

"It is the ongoing failure in our law, policy and practice to respect the human rights, autonomy and bodily integrity of women," he said.

Irish Independent

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