Friday 21 September 2018

Another seven months of going to UK for terminations

Barry Cowen has called for unity within Fianna Fáil. Picture: Frank McGrath
Barry Cowen has called for unity within Fianna Fáil. Picture: Frank McGrath

Philip Ryan and Wayne O'Connor

Women seeking an abortion face travelling abroad for another seven months as the Taoiseach acknowledged it will be next year before legislation is fully implemented.

Leo Varadkar said: "It's important we've to act with haste, but not so much haste that we put through bad legislation."

He told the Dáil: "It's still our anticipation that it will be the end of the year, January 1, 2019, before we have fully given effect to the will of the people, even with the best of intentions.

"The legislation might be through in October-November but it will be January really before we can give effect to the new regime."

Mr Varadkar also said yesterday women living in Northern Ireland will be able to access abortion services in the Republic once legislation is introduced here. He told the Dáil women are already travelling south across the Border to access healthcare. Abortion services will be treated as "a normal part of our health service in a normal way", he added.

Clinical guidelines need to be drawn up and it will be necessary to regulate and license new medicines needed to provide the services.

Health Minister Simon Harris was yesterday authorised by Cabinet to prepare legislation as a matter of priority so it can be debated on the Dáil floor inside the next seven weeks.

The Taoiseach said he was open to the idea of a "discrete move" with cross-party support to immediately repeal the 1995 Abortion Information Act so doctors may refer women to clinics in the UK until new arrangements are put in place.

But Mr Varadkar warned against a "piecemeal approach" that will delay the delivery of the main legislation.

"It would be the same parliament and the same Oireachtas time that would be used up," he said. "It would be the same health committee that would have to sit in session and the legislation would have to go to the Seanad as well. The likely effect of it would be to delay the main piece of legislation.

"We can examine the position in respect of women from Northern Ireland. My initial impression is that this will be treated like a normal health service.

"There are people on the northern side of the Border whose GPs are south of the Border. People from Northern Ireland already come to our hospitals for healthcare. I imagine it will be treated as a normal part of our health service in the normal way."

Meanwhile, a senior Fianna Fáil TD has called for colleagues who opposed repealing the Eighth Amendment to be brought into line, and back the introduction of forthcoming abortion legislation.

The party's public expenditure spokesman Barry Cowen suggested members should vote as a party when legislation is put before the Dáil. Mr Cowen warned against political gamesmanship over the referendum result and said there should be no "back-biting" following the vote.

The Offaly TD's call follows a landslide victory for the Yes side in last week's referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. A large majority of Fianna Fáil parliamentarians were opposed to removing the Eighth Amendment.

The support of TDs who backed a No vote in the referendum will be key to passing the legislation quickly. Many have already said they will not obstruct it, including Independent Alliance Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran.

Most Fianna Fáil TDs said they are now willing to support abortion legislation following the emphatic vote in favour of abortion.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who supported repealing the Eighth, called for unity at last night's parliamentary party meeting.

But Sligo TD Marc MacSharry is understood to have hit back at Mr Cowen and Mr Martin by criticising the party's leadership for not being more inclusive.

Irish Independent

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