Thursday, 6 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Second Stage
I thank the Acting Chairman for clarifying the matter. I was here when the Minister made a very thoughtful opening speech on the Bill. He explained that he had to go to Brussels on Council business. It was prearranged, which I accept.
I followed the progress of the Bill in the Lower House very closely. I disagree with Senator Ó Domhnaill in that we will have adequate time to deal with the Bill in the House. We are all committed to examining very closely the legislation proposed. The Labour Party group will be putting forward some thoughtful amendments for the The Minister to consider. It is welcome that he has already taken into consideration the issue we raised at an earlier stage of safe access zones and that he will bring forward legislation in early 2019 to deal with it. I fully support him in that regard because I saw the disgraceful signs outside national maternity hospitals. God forbid that my wife or a daughter of mine would have to pass them to receive treatment in a maternity hospital. I just would not like it.
I, too, acknowledge the people who played a role in ensuring the discussion of the repeal of the eighth amendment was kept very much to the fore, including my colleague Senator Bacik. I also recognise the many very ordinary people who kept the discussion going. Their names will never appear in the newspapers and headlines or on radio shows. They worked quietly. Many of them were members of the Labour Party who, in the 35 years since 1983, worked slowly and diligently to make sure the issue was kept alive and that we would eventually overturn the provision. Criminalising women was one of the biggest mistakes made in the 100-year history of the State. I very much regret that happened.
I do not intend to speak for long because I find this subject quite emotional. I voted against the eight amendment in 1983. I campaigned against it and never believed that in my political life I would be speaking to this Bill. I will talk about this on Committee Stage. Very much as a man, I want to say a few things. I am sorry for the last 35 years of pain to women and their families. I say sorry to the 160,000 women who were forced to travel for healthcare. I say sorry to all of the families who were made to keep this secret and could not talk about it. Truly, as a man, I am sorry. I am sorry for all of the lives lost owing to the lack of proper healthcare. We all know the big names, but there were so many who had to travel to England and probably lost their lives. Women could not come back and talk about their experiences openly. We have met them. It was a terrible indictment of the State, for which I am truly sorry. We can and must do better. When the Bill is passed - I hope it will be passed in the allocated time - I hope we will put women’s healthcare to the fore and make up for what I believe were the horrendous mistakes of the past. I am sorry.