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Friday 27 April 2018

AG warned of 'time bomb' over pro-life amendment

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

CRUCIAL legal advice in which former Attorney-General Peter Sutherland warned against a pro-life constitutional amendment was apparently not passed on to his successor.

Newly-released state papers reveal the incredible pressure both Dr Garret FitzGerald and Charles Haughey were under in 1982 from the pro-life lobby and church groups to honour promises to have the Constitution amended to protect the rights of the unborn child.

The constitutional change that was subsequently implemented is now at the centre of the crisis over the 'X' case. In legal advice submitted to Dr FitzGerald on August 28, 1981, then-Attorney General Mr Sutherland argued against such a constitutional change as unnecessary and "a time bomb which, with changing attitudes, may yet explode in the manner which most of our citizens . . . would deeply regret".

Mr Sutherland added that, in his opinion, such a right was already in the Constitution and, if the amendment was included, he expressed concern over the impact on other unspecified rights.

Seven months later, Charles Haughey was Taoiseach and his Attorney-General Patrick Connolly was drafting the wording of the proposed change.

Mr Haughey's office drafted a two-paragraph memo to Mr Connolly in March 1982, although archives indicate the crucial second paragraph was apparently deleted as per handwritten instructions.

It read: "I should mention that your predecessor in office . . . had reservations about the desirability of a pro-life amendment, and I attach, for your information, a copy of a letter which he sent to Dr FitzGerald in the matter."

On June 14, Mr Connolly submitted his recommendation for the wording of the constitutional amendment.

In an accompanying briefing note, the Attorney-General highlighted several "general observations" in relation to the impact of the change, ranging from contraceptive pills to women who conceive after a rape or babies that are so deformed in the womb they have no hope of survival.

Other documents reveal the enormous pressure both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were under to sanction the pro-life amendment.

Dr FitzGerald felt compelled to write on February 16 to the Little Sisters of the Assumption: "I was very disturbed to learn from you of such malicious rumours concerning my attitude to abortion . . . I would like to confirm unequivocally my commitment to protect the right to life of the unborn child."

Then backbench government TD Enda Kenny also passed concerned correspondence about the pro-life amendment to Dr FitzGerald in November and December 1981. One Limerick priest had even complained to the government about abortion referral clinics in Ireland, suggesting prosecutions should be taken.

Irish Independent

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