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Abortion laws: Irish PM vows swift action

world Updated: Nov 28, 2012 21:37 IST

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has promised swift action over the issue of abortion laws and sought a "calm, rational and sensitive discussion" on it, amid raging controversy over the death of an Indian dentist after she was refused termination of an unviable pregnancy.

However, there was adverse reaction within his own party, with a number of Fine Gael backbenchers complaining that they were being "press-ganged" into moving too rapidly to deal with the matter.

The development came as the report of an expert group, set up after the 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgement against Ireland on the issue of abortion, was discussed at Cabinet on Wednesday and subsequently published online.

The report contained four options for the government, but leaned heavily in favour of a flexible combination of legislation and regulations.

A Parliament debate on the report starts on Tuesday, and Kenny said he would "provide as much time as people desire."

According to The Irish Times, the Prime Minister said that prior to the Parliament going into recess for Christmas "the Government will make its view known, arising from those discussions and our own views, regarding which option it decides to pursue."

From January 8-10 and before the Parliament resumes, the Joint Committee on Health and Children will hold public hearings on whatever option is chosen.

Kenny said "the legislative options will be followed through by the Government."

This appeared to rule out non-statutory guidelines, one of the options listed in the report.

However, when questioned further in the Parliament by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Kenny said, "We have not yet decided on an option."

Responding to suggestions that a legislation might not be ready until the second half of 2013, he said, "This is just not true."

Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton was the most senior critic of the Fine Gael leadership to speak out when party lawmakers were briefed on the report.

Backbenchers John O'Mahony, Terence Flanagan, Billy Timmins and James Bannon were among 12 members who spoke critically.

In an "impassioned" contribution, Creighton insisted that Fine Gael did not have a mandate to legislate for abortion.

Other speakers complained that their votes were being taken for granted by the leadership.

Many complained that the timeline was too tight.

Earlier, minister for health James Reilly told reporters that after the health committee hearings, "we will seek to implement through legislation the decision of the government as quickly as possible."

However, he went on to say that his reference to "legislation" was a "slip of the tongue" and that he did not want to preempt the Parliament debate and Cabinet decision.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said he hoped a "middle-ground consensus" could be reached on the report.

Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain said the report made it clear that primary legislation was required and regulations alone would not suffice.

Irish Council for Civil Liberties Director Mark Kelly said: "The Government must now inform the Oireachtas (national legislature) and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of its precise timeline to enact the necessary reforms."

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said: "This report is undemocratic. It fails to suggest as an option consulting the Irish people through a referendum."

Its statement comes amid controversy over the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar from blood poisoning at the Galway University Hospital on October 28 after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week pregnancy, stating "this is a Catholic country".