'I will never forget it' - TD recalls grandchild who lived for less than an hour

Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris was speaking in Dáil debate on abortion referendum

Martin Ferris. Photo: Tom Burke

John Downing

Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris has given an emotional account of the birth of his first grandchild who survived for just 58 minutes

The Kerry TD told a Dáil debate the experience had confirmed his view that the Eighth Amendment must be repealed and the Dáil given authority to legislate for abortion.

The Dail will vote on Wednesday on legislation to allow a referendum on abortion take place. Debate on the issue ended late on Tuesday after six-and-a-half hours.

Health Minister Simon Harris welcomed the tone of the debate, adding that it had been conducted by professional politicians grappling with a complex issue.

“What really struck me tonight is that people, with whom I fundamentally disagree with on this issue, and they with me, were grappling to do the right thing,’’ he added.

Mr Harris paid tribute to the contribution of Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris who had shared a family experience.

He said Mr Ferris had brought humanity to the debate.

Mr Ferris told the debate on the abortion referendum that the child’s parents took a chance to continue with the pregnancy even though they were told the baby would not have any independent life.

He said his and daughter-in-law were also warned the baby could die in the womb and the possible consequences and consequences were outlined. “They took a decision to persevere in the hope that nothing would happen my daughter-in-law,” Mr Ferris told fellow TDs.

He said that in 2001 his son and daughter-in-law were expecting their first child.

But four or five months into the pregnancy they were told their baby would not have any independent life.

The suggestion was made that they could go for early inducement or seek a termination outside the country  but they decided to continue with the pregnancy. The baby, Seodín, was born in early 2002 at just  and lived for 58 minutes before dying in her mother’s arms.

“We were all there. I will never forget it because if it went the other way the four children they’ve had since would not be in this world,” Mr Ferris explained.

“So I consider them very fortunate and very lucky insofar as it could have gone terribly wrong. And maybe if an abortion facility was available in this county at the time it might have been different.”

Mr Ferris also said he had heard a woman interviewed on RTE’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday who was in a very similar position to his daughter-in-law. He said that after listening to that interview and the trauma the woman suffered, “any doubts I had were wiped away” that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution should be repealed and the Oireachtas allowed to legislate.

But his Sinn Féin party colleague, Carol Nolan of Laois-Offaly said she believed deletion of the right to life of the unborn would be a “very regretful step and one which we as a society will live to regret”.

Ms Nolan said: “Every child has the basic fundamental right to life and that right is not negotiable” and Ireland should not “repeat or replicate the mistakes of England and other countries where abortion has been normalised.”

Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said Irish society had come “full circle” from preserving “the sanctity of human life” to removing that sanctity for unborn children.

Mr Fleming said the Oireachtas must be empowered to legislate for abortion. “I don’t believe matters of life and death should be solely in the hands of TDs,” he said.

Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae said it was his duty as an elected member of the House to speak for the unborn babies who had a right to continue their journey into this world.

“I believe only God decides when a life should end,’’ he added.