Tuesday 19 September 2017

Senators call for investigation into 'illegal' advice at pregnancy clinics

Fiach Kelly and Gemma O'Doherty

THERE are growing calls for an independent investigation into advice given by staff at some taxpayer-funded pregnancy counselling services.

The demands come after the Irish Independent last month revealed staff at some clinics were putting women's lives at risk and breaking the law.

A team of women, some from the pro-life movement, secretly recorded counsellors at 11 locations around the country, and there are now calls from across the political spectrum for an independent inquiry.

Some of the advice they gave was illegal, according to a leading lawyer, and some was medically dangerous, a doctor said.

There were numerous incidents involving the HSE and the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), including at its Dundalk office, when a woman was told she could lie to a doctor about having an abortion, advice that could put a woman's life at risk, according to Professor Sam Coulter Smith, the master of the Rotunda Hospital.

There were widespread calls in the Seanad yesterday for Health Minister James Reilly and Justice Minister Alan Shatter to answer questions on the controversy, which Fine Gael Paul Bradford's called a "possible national scandal".

The HSE has launched an investigation, and gardai in Store Street, Dublin, are also examining the recordings.

Seanad leader Maurice Cummins said he had the utmost confidence they would act if there was anything illegal.

"I am not interested in the HSE being the investigator," Mr Bradford said.

"I want to see the HSE investigated. I want the HSE before the Oireachtas committee.

"I want the Irish Family Planning Association and other clinics before the Oireachtas committee to answer questions.

"We cannot run away from this possible national scandal."

Over a dozen senators raised the issue and Fianna Fail's Marc McSharry said the report in the Irish Independent raised "very serious questions".


"Irrespective of one's position on this issue -- whether one is pro-life, pro-choice, pro-debate -- very serious questions have arisen as a result of the investigative reporting by Independent Newspapers," Mr McSharry said.

"I gather there is to be a HSE review and investigation of this issue.

"In my view it warrants the minister's personal attention and the Government should oversee this investigation.

"Regardless of one's personal, party or moral position on this issue and considering that medical professionals are saying that dangerous information is being provided and funded by organisations and agencies using taxpayers' money, this must be investigated."

Another FF senator, Labhras O'Murchu, said he was concerned about the "low-profile, internal type of inquiry" being carried out and called for an independent investigation.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen also expressed concern about practices which he said were "endangering women's lives".

"I believe we owe a debt of gratitude to Gemma O'Doherty, to the Irish Independent and to the women who carried out this investigation, who have done the State some service," Mr Mullen said.

"I hope we can have the Minister in the House to make an overdue statement and I hope the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children will see fit to ask the most probing of questions.

"There is also the complicating fact that the newly appointed head of the HSE, Tony O'Brien, is a former chief executive of the IFPA," he added -- but there were objections to this observation from other senators.

Feargal Quinn said Mr Shatter should answer questions on it "if a state-sponsored body is accused of breaking the law".

Irish Independent

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