TYRONE football manager Mickey Harte made an impassioned plea against abortion when he appeared as a surprise guest speaker at a major pro-life vigil in Dublin city centre yesterday.
The All-Ireland-winning manager, who lost his beloved daughter Michaela McAreavey two years ago this month, told the 25,000-strong crowd: "Our focus today is on the need to protect unborn children fully in our laws. We are here to send a message that we care for all human life, from the moment of conception to the last breath of those who enjoy a long life."
His passionate pro-life message was greeted with rousing applause as he said: "I speak to you as an ordinary person, a citizen, a husband, a father. I come from a sporting background, as you know, and I am proud of our sporting traditions. But there is no tradition of which I am prouder than the respect for both women and their unborn children that has been the hallmark of our medical services in Ireland. Ireland, without abortion, is one of the safest countries in the world for a woman to be pregnant."
Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent has learned that staff from Galway University Hospital are likely to be questioned at the inquest into the death of pregnant woman Savita Halappanavar, over claims that they refused her repeated request for an abortion by claiming that Ireland was "a Catholic country".
Thousands of people from all over the country attended yesterday's pro-life rally in Dublin, with more than 100 coaches bussing in supporters from every county in Ireland.
At the same time, a small counter-protest by the newly formed Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), numbering about 150 people, took place nearby. A spokeswoman for ARC told the Sunday Independent: "Our campaign is focused on getting legislation on the X and C cases and repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution."
During the pro-life vigil, Dr Eoghan de Faoite of Youth Defence called An Taoiseach's constituency office and Enda Kenny's voice could be heard asking the caller to leave a message. "Hello Taoiseach, this is the Vigil for Life and I have 30,000 people here to give you a reminder of the pro-life promise you made in 2011," said Dr de Faoite.
The crowd chorused, "Enda, keep your promise."
PLC legal adviser Caroline Simons told the crowd that claims by the Government that abortion was needed to treat threatened suicide in pregnancy had been "completely demolished at last week's Oireachtas hearings on abortion".
She said: "The psychiatrists who addressed the hearings were unanimous that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal ideation."
The claim by Mr Praveen Halappanavar – that his wife's repeated request for a possibly life-saving abortion on her deathbed was denied by hospital staff in Galway who used the phrase that Ireland was "a Catholic country" – captured international headlines.
As was widely reported last week, submissions from hospital staff have confirmed in statements to the inquest that Ms Halappanavar requested an abortion. But it is not clear whether they also confirm the phrase attributed to hospital staff by Mr Halappanavar.
It is understood that an expert review team was also told that Ireland's legislation on abortion was explained to the couple. While the expert review team is focusing strictly on the medical aspects of her care, the context in which she was refused a termination is expected to be more closely examined at the inquest.
At a preliminary hearing on Friday, lawyers acting for hospital staff complained about the selective leaking of their depositions.
They complained that the information was being commented on in an "often misleading way".
On the eve of the inquest, it was reported that Ms Halappanavar's requests for a termination during her miscarriage were confirmed in statements submitted to the inquest.
There was no note of her requests for a termination in his wife's medical records, according to her husband.
The expert review team, appointed by the HSE following Ms Halappanavar's death, is at an advanced stage. The group is expected to report by the middle of next month.
Ms Halappanavar, 31, died in Galway University Hospital on October 28 from septicaemia seven days after being admitted to its maternity unit with back pain.
She was 17 weeks pregnant and found to be miscarrying.
So far the only account of what happened to Ms Halappanavar has come from her husband, Praveen.
In an interview on RTE, he said that in her last days, she was "really in agony".
He added: "Savita asked, if they could not save the baby, could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, 'As long as there is a foetal heartbeat, we can't do anything.'
"Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said,'I am neither Irish nor Catholic,' but they said there was nothing they could do."