Monday 20 January 2020

Lise Hand: Budget rumour mill grinds to halt

Lise Hand

NORMALLY there's only one topic up for debate in Leinster House in November. Normally, the corridors of power are overflowing with kites, hints, red herrings, leaks, frighteners, portents, nods, winks and conspiratorial grassy knolls.

These aren't normal times. Instead of the weeks before yet another scarifying €3.5bn Budget being consumed by fevered whispers and debate about cuts and taxes, politicians are reeling under the shadow of Savita.

Yesterday the Taoiseach was in Brussels for yet another (sigh) Crunch Summit, which consists of intense haggling and horse-trading worthy of the Ballinasloe Fair as crucial decisions are made on the EU's budget for the next seven years.

But this didn't get a mention in the Dail during Leaders' Questions yesterday. Nor was there a peep out of anyone during the session on what horrors may await when Michael Noonan rises to his feet in the chamber on December 5.

For the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and the subsequent return of abortion to the centre-stage has transfixed the Government as it desperately casts about for answers to the tangle of tricky questions.

Nor is the opposition any less at sea – all of the Oireachtas is now navigating through uncharted waters.

Those waters became even choppier on Wednesday night when there was a highly unusual intervention from President Higgins who called for "some form of investigation" which meets the needs of the public concern, the family and State.

The pressure is being piled on the Government from all quarters – from Savita's husband Praveen, from our head of state, from the electorate – to find a quick solution to the inquiry impasse. And it was Social Protection Minister Joan Burton who was in the hot-seat in the Dail yesterday morning. "How can the Government continue with this investigation?" demanded Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher.

"The family don't want it, at this stage some of the minister's colleagues don't want it and the President has told the Government it is clearly wrong."

Joan had her own view on Michael D's remarks. She reckoned that they were "considerate, thoughtful, reflective and humane".

The Ceann Comhairle swiftly interrupted the minister. "Under Article 13.8.1 of the Constitution, the President is not answerable to the Dail, and the minister should respect that," he said firmly.

But the President merely got a modest mention in the chamber. The focus of attention was all on grieving Praveen, who had cast doubt over the proposed HSE inquiry by refusing to co-operate with it.

Joan went straight to the heart of a heart-breaking matter: "Let's cut to the net point. This is about the safety and care of women so that this episode or some tragic happening like this does not occur again. It is about the care, protection and safety of women when in hospital in relation to childbirth and pregnancy."

And she was right. So many people on this small island know someone who has felt the pain of the loss of a pregnancy – as Sinn Fein's Jonathan O'Brien so movingly revealed when he told a hushed chamber that he knew "what it is like to stand helplessly by while the life of an unborn child that I and my wife created slipped away".

This is why Savita's story won't leave the political stage. For her tragedy is our tragedy.

Irish Independent

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