Tuesday 16 July 2019

Woman in first abortion case fails in claim for compensation

REBUFF: Deirdre Conroy said it ‘felt like another blow’. Picture: Fergal Phillips
REBUFF: Deirdre Conroy said it ‘felt like another blow’. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Government has refused compensation to one of three Irish women who took international cases challenging the State's abortion laws - even though it has paid €30,000 to the other two.

Deirdre Conroy took the case D vs Ireland after she was forced to leave the jurisdiction to terminate her pregnancy following a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

Her case was dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights because she had not exhausted her legal options in Ireland. But subsequent cases taken by two women with the similar diagnosis, who were also forced to travel, resulted in the United Nations ruling their rights had been violated.

The Government made an ex-gratia payment to Amanda Mellet and Siobhan Whelan of €30,000 last year and in 2017.

Ms Conroy, a candidate for Fianna Fail in the local elections, said she asked Health Minister Simon Harris to extend the gesture to her.

In her letter she said: "It remains a fact that only three women challenged the State outside our jurisdiction due to fatal foetal abnormality, and the other two women have been compensated because their situation was brought to the Government's attention in public. I am making my request in private, for the present."

Ms Conroy added: "It was a very polite letter saying would you mind, please, treating me the same way."

The State has offered her counselling via the Health Service Executive - but nothing more. "I am disappointed. It felt like another knock," she said.

Ms Conroy was a mother of two young boys in late 2001 when she and her then partner learned she was expecting twins. The life-changing diagnosis followed in January 2002. One twin had died inside her and the other would likely not survive outside the womb. She left the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast with baby Tom wrapped in lilac crochet blankets in a small white coffin.

An art dealer and architectural consultant, with a client list that included millionaires such as Johnny Ronan, the late Cathal Ryan and Michael O'Leary, she said: "You can imagine, discovering that under our law that I was a criminal to be terminating, I didn't want anyone I know."

She kept her experience secret from everyone bar those closest to her while campaigning anonymously. She wrote an open letter under the pseudonym Deirdre de Barra and took the first case to Europe as D. Although it did not succeed, it paved the way for future challenges.

In despair at the death of Savita Halappanavar, she revealed her identity in 2013.

Ms Conroy retrained as a barrister and has written reviews for this newspaper. She has run free legal-advice centres in Crumlin, which fuelled her decision to run for election.

She said: "It was the first time I realised I can talk to strangers and I can help… I thought I'm wasting the experience I have. I would rather be out there, helping people."

Fianna Fail would appear an odd choice for Ms Conroy as most Fianna Fail members voted No, according to an RTE poll on the referendum in May.

She said she wanted the support of a political party but felt rejected by Fine Gael.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin's compelling explanation ahead of the referendum on why he had changed his mind on abortion also resonated with her, and, she added: "Fianna Fail need women."

She will contest Kimmage Rathmines ward and focus on the impact of the bus corridors on homes and on architectural conservation.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News