By JAMIE SMYTH
THE GOVERNMENT has decided to set up an expert group to examine whether changes to legislation are required to clarify the circumstances when women can have an abortion.
The group, which is expected to be announced by the Government today, will consist of medical and legal experts who will be asked to make recommendations to the Government to ensure Irish law complies with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The group is being set up as part of a Government “action plan” developed in response to a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on an Irish case last December. In this case, which involved a woman with cancer, the court ruled Ireland had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to abortion established in the 1992 Supreme Court X case. This judgment said there should be access to an abortion in circumstances where a woman’s life is deemed to be at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide.
As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated into Irish law, the Government is obliged to remedy any breaches of the convention. Under procedures laid down by the Strasbourg court the Government was given six months to prepare a plan outlining the actions it has taken to execute the judgment and actions that it intends to take. The deadline to send the action plan to Europe’s human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, expires today.
A Government spokesman confirmed last night work was continuing on the submission but could not comment on the detail of the plan.
However, it is understood the plan will confirm a proposal agreed between Fine Gael and Labour in the programme for government to establish a group to address this issue.
In the run-up to the general election, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore disagreed with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s analysis that the European court’s ruling on Ireland’s abortion laws should be looked at by an all-party committee of the Oireachtas. He said the Oireachtas should bring in legislation to allow abortion in circumstances where the mother’s life or health was at risk.
Since the Supreme Court gave the X case judgment in 1992 several different initiatives have been undertaken that have not led to legislation. These include a constitutional review in 1996, a Green Paper in 1999 and an All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in 2000.
Prof William Binchy, legal adviser to the Pro-Life Campaign, said the Government should make clear that the Irish people, not Europe, would determine policy on protecting the lives of unborn children. “It is a misrepresentation to claim that Ireland is under any obligation to legislate to introduce abortion,” he said.