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Friday 26 May 2017

Savita: Diplomats attempt to rescue Ireland's reputation

Ed Carty and Sarah Stack

IRELAND'S ambassador to India is attempting to ease concerns in the country over the death of a woman who was refused an abortion as she miscarried.

Feilim McLaughlin is briefing government and opposition figures in New Delhi as two investigations got under way into Savita Halappanavar's death on October 28 in Galway University Hospital.

Officials in diplomatic circles in Dublin said meetings were planned with politicians of all creeds in an effort to indicate the exact position on abortion in Ireland "in light of strong headlines".

The India Times reported the death of Mrs Halappanavar as: "Ireland Murders Pregnant Indian Dentist."

Mrs Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia.

Her husband Praveen has alleged that doctors refused several requests for a medical termination because the foetus's heartbeat was present.

He also alleged the couple were told: "This is a Catholic country."

In Dublin, Indian ambassador Debashish Chakravarti was brought in to meet officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"There have been contacts with Indian authorities," a foreign affairs spokesman said.

Junior minister Brian Hayes said he accepted that Ireland has suffered reputational damage as a result of Mrs Halappanavar's death.

Two inquiries into the death are under way - one by the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group, due to report n three months, and a second Health Service Executive (HSE) investigation involving an independent expert in obstetrics and gynaecology from Northern Ireland.

A coroner's report will also be handed over to government.

Dr James Reilly, health minister, said the reviews will stand up to international scrutiny.

"I want to take the opportunity again to extend my sympathy to the family of Savita and I know this is an extremely difficult and traumatic time for them, and I don't want to see either of the investigations delay one minute longer than they have to and leave this family in doubt as to what really happened," he said.

"I think we'd all agree they are entitled to know as quickly as possible what the facts of the situation were."

A demonstration by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been expected at the Irish embassy in New Delhi over the controversial death. Mr McLaughlin offered to hold talks with a delegation, where a protest letter may be handed in.

It is understood Indian officials will wait to see if Mrs Halappanavar's husband Praveen returns to Ireland before taking any further action.

Pro-choice demonstrations are planned in Dublin for Saturday, with a march through the city followed by a candlelit vigil at the Dail parliament.

The current coalition government is the seventh to face the contentious issue of abortion and to date none have legislated for it.

Ireland's prime minister, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, committed yesterday to responding by November 30 to a European Court of Human Rights judgment from 2010 calling for reform of complex abortion laws.

He said that was unconnected to Mrs Halappanavar's death.

Dr Reilly added: "What I want out of this is clarity for the medical profession, as to what actions they can take that are within the law in the best interest of patients."

One of Ireland's leading consultants, Master of the Rotunda maternity hospital, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, said he had no experience of confusion among doctors over whether they should act to protect a pregnant woman's life.

India's Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement expressing regret over Mrs Halappanavar's death.

"The death of an Indian national in such circumstances is a matter of concern. Our Embassy in Dublin is following the matter closely," a spokesman said.

"Our sympathies have been conveyed to the next of kin who our Embassy has been in touch with. We understand that the Irish authorities have initiated two enquiries. We are awaiting the results of the inquiries."

The Irish embassy in New Delhi issued a statement to local media to express its "profound condolences".

"An investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mrs Halappanavar's death has been ordered by the health authorities in Ireland and the investigation team - which will include independent external expertise - will be liaising with Mrs Halappanavar's family," it said.

"The Irish Prime Minister and the Minister for Health spoke on the matter in the Irish Parliament yesterday and expressed their deepest condolences to the husband and family of Mrs Halappanavar.

"The Embassy wishes to express its own sympathies to the family at this very difficult time.

"The Irish government, at the highest level, is committed to establishing the full circumstances and facts surrounding Mrs Halappanavar's tragic death."

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