Tuesday 15 October 2019

Lise Hand: Ministers drag heels as two-decade wait for action ends

Health Minister Dr James Reilly
Health Minister Dr James Reilly

Lise Hand

IT was the year that Bishop Eamon Casey's love affair scandalised a nation, when Taoiseach Charlie Haughey's hands were finally prised from the levers of power, the Democratic Left party was born, and boxer Michael Carruth won gold at the Barcelona Olympics.

And 1992 was also the year when the Supreme Court ruled that a 14-year old pregnant rape victim would be permitted to travel to England for an abortion.

It's now 2013. And yesterday evening, after more than two decades of prevarication and cowardice by successive governments, there were last-minute delays to publishing the draft of the Protection of Maternal Life Bill.

All eyes were on Government Buildings. The eyes of the pro-choice camp, the anti-choice camp, the eyes of Fine Gael and Labour TDs, of clerics and civil liberties groups, the eyes of women and men who have taken sides in or fought in the abortion wars since the first outbreak in 1983 when the first of a series of referenda was held.

The Taoiseach and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton were due to attend a jobs announcement in the Westbury Hotel, the sort of rare good-news event which the Government usually goes to town on. But then word circulated that the event was delayed by an hour as the Cabinet meeting was still in session. Then it was announced that the meeting was set to adjourn for a few hours and then reconvene at 5.30pm.

Uh-oh. Did this mean that skin and hair were flying across the table?

Eventually, an hour and a quarter behind schedule, Enda, Richard and Simon Coveney filed into the hotel with executives from Glanbia to announce 1,600 jobs in the south-east.

But was there trouble in coalition paradise? A bullish Enda was adamant.

"There is never a problem with this Government. We will face into it and deal with it as you expect us to do," he said, smile firmly in place.

A short while later in Leaders' Questions he was reassuring Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald that the draft bill would be out before the day was ended.

"The Cabinet will resume its work on the matter after a little while and I hope the heads of the Bill can be published this evening," he told her.

Mary Lou was unimpressed.

"I have a worry, which I know is shared by others, that what is happening at Cabinet is a form of posturing, not least from your political party," she warned the Taoiseach.

Over in Government Buildings, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was also making soothing noises about the delay.

"It's just an interesting issue and because of the nature of the issue, most cabinet ministers wanted to contribute and the discussion is ongoing," he said.

"But it will be resolved and it's a very amicable discussion, but it's quite complex and intricate."

There may be harmony within the Cabinet, but there is serious disharmony among their backbench colleagues. Just after 7.30pm, there was white smoke over Government Buildings. The draft bill was on the way, taking its first steps, 21 long years after conception. It was a historic day – in every sense of the word.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss