Foot-dragging is no longer an option
Published 21/11/2012 | 17:00
The shadow of Savita hung over the Dail chamber all day. "It's an unfortunate tragedy," said the Taoiseach during the afternoon.
It is, but it's much, much more. It's a shocking shambles, a heart-breaking horror show, a grim reminder of the perils of political prevarication whereby a failure to act for two decades created not only a dangerous vacuum but – in this dreadfully sad case – a fatal one.
It was a day of more confusion – the day began with the news that Savita Halappanavar's husband, Praveen, was unhappy with the fact that three members of the panel assembled to conduct an inquiry into the death of his wife were staff members of Galway's University College Hospital where she had died.
By mid-afternoon, the Taoiseach announced that the trio had been removed.
It was a day of confusing motions and counter-motions from Fianna Fail and the Government in advance of the private members' debate on Sinn Fein's motion calling for the publication of the expert group's report on abortion and for the legislation for the X Case ruling.
At 7.30pm, the chamber was almost empty. Environment Minister Phil Hogan was the sole figure on the government benches, until he was replaced by junior minister Kathleen Lynch and James Reilly; eight Sinn Fein TDs were present, but not Meath East Peadar Toibin who refused to sign his party's motion.
Mary Lou McDonald began the debate, calling for an end of "prevarication" over the issue. "Twenty years of inaction and delay – 20 whole years. That must now stop," she said.
There was a clear effort on both sides of the chamber to keep the tone calm and reasoned while debating a subject which inevitably whips up a maelstrom of emotions. But sometimes the depth of feeling stirred up by 20 years of bitter abortion wars rose unbidden to the surface.
Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell had a stark message, and pulled no punches.
"The only truly culpable people in this whole debate are us – we here in the Oireachtas now and those who went before us because we failed over many years to give legislative expression, or any other expression to a right guaranteed by our Constitution and voted for in successive referenda by the people of Ireland," she declared.
"So if Savita's husband's account of what happened is correct, her death is at our door, our door, nobody else's. I don't want any more deaths at my door," she told a subdued chamber.
Prevarication, foot-dragging and denying the existence of the X Case ruling is no longer an option.