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Cormac Murphy: Dail descends into petty backbiting on a solemn day

IT was the big issue of the day and might have been expected to unite the Dail.

A young woman, Savita Halappanavar, had died in what sounds like the most distressing of circumstances and in pain.

And, according to her husband’s account, after being refused an abortion even though there was no hope of saving the baby she was carrying.

But our political leaders got off to the business-as-usual start to their day.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin wanted a non-political debate.

Observers might have been forgiven for pointing out that quite a spell had passed when Mr Martin and his party were in power with not a bill to show on the abortion matter.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams spoke about bankers and the Taoiseach shouted back at him about expenses and ‘barons’.

When the talk did get going about what most others were thinking of today, Micheal Martin commented that the “woman should not have died in this hospital in these circumstances”.

He did not refer to Fianna Fail's failure to legislate in line with the 1992 X case for the best part of two decades.

There was unity in expressing sympathy for Ms Halappanavar and her family.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed that with impeccable timing, a key report – prompted by a European Court of Human Rights ruling on the country's abortion regime – had been delivered to the Department of Health only yesterday evening.

The document has not yet been seen by Health Minister James Reilly, who is in Cork this morning, Mr Kenny said.

“He will read the report, reflect on the report and bring the report to Government when he's ready to do so,” he added.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had planned to speak on the “continuing scandal” of bankers pay and bonuses before he heard of the young woman’s death.

In the light of that tragedy, he said there is an imperative on the Dail to express condolences and solidarity with the woman's family, he insisted.

Mr Adams told Mr Kenny he should bring forward the expert group's report on abortion “without delay”.

“When will the Government publish the report of its expert group and when will you bring forward legislation as promised?” he asked.

In response, Mr Kenny provided much of the same information he gave to Mr Martin - before raking over old coals.

Speaking about bankers' pay, he said it was a matter that's under review with a view to action being taken.

When Mr Adams commented on it again, the Taoiseach said: “You have a tendency to come in here and make all these comments about attitude and everything else. You yourself, Deputy Adams, were a person who drew your expenses for attending at a parliament which you never recognised across the water. So don't come in here with that attitude every day of the week.”

Mr Kenny also attacked Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald who “seemed to say last week” that Sinn Fein only have a regard for “little people”.

“I don't categorise Irish people in any such sectors and maybe you (Mr Adams) might deal with that as a matter of course,” he said.

Such backbiting may have appeared in appropriate to many on such a sad and solemn day. The issues, while important, paled in comparison with the tragedy of Savita's death.