Sunday 22 July 2018

Taoiseach's 'jaw-dropping' interview linked rape trial with abortion referendum

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar risked affecting the rugby rape trial by referencing it in a radio discussion on the abortion referendum.

Mr Varadkar sought legal advice after an appearance on Newstalk’s ‘The Pat Kenny Show’ on March 9, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Mr Kenny was forced to interrupt the Taoiseach on two occasions as he brought up “a certain trial happening in Belfast”. The experienced broadcaster was quizzing Mr Varadkar on why proposed laws to be brought in if the Eighth Amendment is repealed do not deal specifically with rape or incest.

“I’m thinking, you have a child of 12 years of age who has been raped by her father, her uncle or whatever. And of course the child may know nothing about the idea of pregnancy or whatever.

“And at 16 weeks it becomes apparent there’s something very wrong. What then?

“Where you have both rape and incest?” Mr Kenny asked.

In response, Mr Varadkarsaid it was “one of those difficult situations”.

“That’s where you’d trust doctors. There’d be two doctors in that case assessing the impact that would have on the physical and mental health of the young woman. It would be a decision made by her and her doctors.”

He said provision to allow women access to abortion pills up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy would “deal with that issue”. Then Mr Varadkar added: “I won’t speak about it in any detail, but I’m sure we’re all following a certain trial happening in Belfast, you know a rape trial happening in Belfast at the moment.”

A clearly uneasy Mr Kenny immediately cut across the Taoiseach, saying: “Well, we have to leave it to the jury to decide the outcome on that.”

However, Mr Varadkar continued to make his point that if rape was a specific ground for seeking a termination “can you imagine putting women through something like that,or anything even vaguely approaching that?”

The presenter again interrupted to try to steer the Taoiseach away from the Belfast case into more general terms, saying court cases would not be a practical way of deciding if a rape was committed when dealing with the issue of abortion.

The Taoiseach said: “You couldn’t use the courts but you’d still have to have some sort of process and I think you would be revictimising women to ask them to come in to maybe a panel, maybe a garda, a doctor, a lawyer and tell her story and they would then decide probably whether it’s true or not. I think that would revictimise women.”

Eventually, Mr Kenny shut down that element of the conversation, saying: “We’ll leave the Belfast to itself. That will resolve with the jury in time.”

It is highly unorthodox for a senior politician to publicly comment on an ongoing court case, albeit in a different jurisdiction.

Sources say Mr Varadkar did not intend to use the rape trial as a logic for introducing abortion up to 12 weeks, but it came to his mind as the coverage was very prominent at the time. They noted he did not say anything that pre-judged the outcome of the trial.

Mr Varadkar was speaking from Cork, where he was attending an event linked to Project Ireland 2040.

It is understood his office consulted a lawyer afterwards who said the comments would not affect the trial – but advised it would have been better to use the phrase “alleged rape”.

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach declined to comment on the interview when contacted by the Irish Independent yesterday, after the jury had delivered its not guilty verdicts. Newstalk sources said they found the Taoiseach’s comments as “jaw-dropping”.

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