Monday 23 April 2018

Dáil row over refusal to make AG's advice public

Attorney General Maire Whelan
Attorney General Maire Whelan

Niall O'Connor and John Downing

A political row has erupted over the Government's refusal to publish the Attorney General's legal advice on Clare Daly's abortion bill.

TDs reacted furiously after it was suggested that only members of the Labour Parliamentary Party had received a briefing on the advice provided by AG Maire Whelan.

The issue prompted a row in the Dáil between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and members of the Opposition. The row broke out while Labour TDs and senators were meeting to discuss their voting intentions.

During tetchy exchanges. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin insisted that the advice should be made public, adding that there is Dáil precedent for such a course of action.

However, Mr Kenny was adamant that the Government would not take a similar course in relation to AG Maire Whelan's advice on Ms Daly's bill, which proposed to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. "The bill, as framed, is illegal," Mr Kenny told the Dáil.

Last night, a spokesman for the Taoiseach emphatically insisted that the Attorney General's legal advice to the Government would not be published.

"We won't be publishing the advice because there is no precedent for doing so.

"As the Taoiseach outlined in the Dáil, it's the Attorney General's role to advise the Government in confidence. There is no point in creating a precedent in this regard which could lead to the publishing of the Attorney's advice on virtually every occasion," Mr Kenny's spokesman told the Irish Independent.

Senior Government figures, including the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Joan Burton, were briefed on Ms Whelan's formal advice last week.

And at Labour's crunch parliamentary party meeting yesterday, TDs and senators were told that the bill could not be accepted as it falls within the "ambit" of the Eighth Amendment.

The Eighth Amendment, voted into the Constitution in 1983, acknowledges the right to the life of the unborn as being equal to the mother's right to life.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was "outrageous" that the advice was being withheld from other TDs.

"Quite frankly, it stinks that the Government has refused to show the advice to deputies who were then expected to vote on such an important bill that has an impact on families in such awful circumstances," said the Dun Laoghaire TD.

"There is precedent for such advice to be made public. Therefore, I feel it is unacceptable that the Taoiseach can assert that a bill is unconstitutional but provide no evidence to support that, in a situation where so much as is at stake."

During last Friday's debate on the bill, Mr Boyd Barrett gave a poignant speech about the loss of his daughter Ella, 13 years ago. The child was born with a condition "incompatible with life".

Irish Independent

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