Seven members of the Citizens’ Assembly have been removed from the process after it emerged they were brought on board due to their personal connections to a recruiter rather than being randomly selected. The issue was raised with RED C Research and Marketing, the firm responsible for the recruitment of members, which then conducted an extensive audit. The audit discovered that seven individuals had been contacted by phone rather than being recruited door-to-door, and were identified as potential members through friends and family of the recruiter.
In response, the Pro Life Campaign has called for a full and immediate audit of the recruitment processes of the Citizens’ Assembly. PLC spokesperson Dr. Ruth Cullen said: “These developments are deeply worrying and warrant full and immediate investigation. Given the importance of the topics that the Assembly was charged with deliberating on, there can be no delay in bringing this about.”
She continued: “The latest revelations are not the first time that concerns of this nature have arisen. On the very first day of the Assembly, the Chairperson had to issue a statement when it became public that a pro-choice activist had been selected as a member of the Assembly contrary to the guidelines issued to the recruitment company.”
She concluded: “What has transpired brings the entire Citizen’s Assembly process into serious disrepute.”
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has rejected criticism of the Government’s decision to set the digital age of consent at 13 years, the minimum possible for the European Union. Other countries such as France and Germany have set it at the maximum allowable of 16. Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, Mr Flanagan said the Government had chosen 13 as the age of digital consent after consulting with experts. The aim was to achieve a balance, given the different levels of maturity among teenagers. “People shouldn’t be getting hung up on age. They should be looking at the protections available and the threats associated with cyberbullying and grooming.”
UCD is to re-designate more than 170 toilets across the entire campus as “gender neutral” and introduce transgender changing facilities at its sport centre. The move is part of a new university policy to provide a welcoming campus for transgender and gender-fluid students and employees. In addition, UCD is to allow transgender students to change their names on official university award documents and other material without the need for gender recognition certificates.
Minister for Children and equality campaigner Katherine Zappone, who is due to launch the new policy on Thursday, has welcomed the move as another step towards “full equality for all”.
“Our universities are drivers of change, promoters of equality and champions of justice,” she said. “UCD is continuing that proud tradition by providing a welcoming campus for trans and gender-fluid students and employees.”
At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, draft plans for a referendum to repeal the Eighth amendment and legislation providing for abortion were passed by the Government.
The referendum would delete article 40.3.3 and replace it with a text affirming the authority of the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.
The proposed abortion legislation at present would allow for abortions “without specific indication” up to 12 weeks. It will also allow for abortion after 12 weeks where there is a “serious threat” to the life, health or mental health of a mother or where the baby is suffering from a life limiting condition. In those cases, reports the Irish Times, “it is expected no gestational limits will be applied” meaning they may be carried out at any time up to birth.
In the UK, well over 90pc of the almost 200,000 abortions that are performed annually take place under the ‘mental health’ ground.
The State is to argue today that the High Court erred in deciding the unborn has constitutionally protected, personal rights beyond article 40.3.3. Any other legal entitlements of the unborn are dependent, the State is expected to argue, on being born alive. The case will involve potentially the widest consideration by the Supreme Court of the extent of the constitutional rights of the unborn and it will be argued before a seven judge court on Wednesday, presided over by the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke. The appeal is scheduled to run for two days and the Court’s judgement may affect the wording of the planned referendum on the Eighth Amendment.
The High Court’s Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, a one-time Labour councillor and adviser to former Minister Mervyn Taylor, had found that the unborn has constitutional rights in addition to the right to life and is a “child” within the meaning of Article 42A, with constitutional rights the State is required to protect and vindicate. The State, represented by the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice, however, is asking the Court to declare that the unborn child has no rights other than the explicit right to life recognised in article 40.3.3. The State will be represented by a team of no less than six barristers – senior counsel Mary O’Toole, Nuala Butler and Denise Brett, and junior counsel, Simon Mills, Silvia Martinez Garcia and Andrea Mulligan.
A Bangkok court has granted sole custody of 13 children born via surrogacy to a wealthy Japanese heir. Mitsutoki Shigeta, now 28, had hired Thai women in a so-called ‘rent a womb’ scheme to gestate embryos conceived using donor eggs and his own sperm, paying them between €7,500 and €10,100 each. Most of the babies, now around four years of age, were found in a luxury apartment by police in 2014 sparking an international furore, dubbed the “baby factory” scandal. The babies were taken into care, but this week a Thai court awarded paternity rights to their biological father.
“For the happiness and opportunities which the 13 children will receive from their biological father, who does not have a history of bad behaviour, the court rules that all 13 born from surrogacy to be legal children of the plaintiff,” Bangkok’s Central Juvenile Court said in a statement.
Mr Shigeta was deemed the “sole parent” of the children after the Thai surrogates had signed away their rights, the court said.
In Ireland there are legislative plans to enable the practice of surrogacy in this country. While they would outlaw commercial surrogacy, there are no restrictions on those who bring babies into the country acquired through commercial arrangements abroad. Currently, such parents must go to court to sue for parentage rights based on a genetic link to the child. However, a recent court case involved a couple who brought back a baby for whom they had no genetic link. The ruling in that case was never published.
The forthcoming Irish legislation would also not prohibit single men from arranging the creation and surrogate gestation of babies. Likewise, there would not be a prohibition on someone ordering multiple so-called altruistic surrogacies in a move akin to Mr Shigeta’s commercial endeavours, with the sole difference that only “reasonable expenses” could be paid.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he would vigorously campaign for repeal of the Eighth amendment and support a law very like the one in the UK under which the vast majority of abortions take place for ‘mental health’ reasons. One in five pregnancies end in abortion annually in the UK, amounting to almost 200,000 cases.
Speaking on Monday morning Mr Coveney said “this is a two-step process and Ireland needs to change its constitution in this area because it’s too restrictive in terms of what the State is allowed do. If we don’t do that we can’t bring in legislation that we need to bring in to protect women in pregnancy.”
He stated: “I think we have to prioritise the lives and the health, both physical and mental, of women and so we can’t do anything of that if we don’t change the Constitution.”
He has misgivings about permitting abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The Savethe8th campaign assailed his remarks, saying “Simon Coveney is asking the public to vote YES and then to trust him to vote NO. His government has proposed an abortion regime so extreme he says he cannot support it – yet he is asking the public to do just that. The bottom line is that if this referendum is passed, an abortion on demand regime through three months of pregnancy will be adopted by the Government. Simon Coveney wants the public to vote for this legislation, so that he can then cast a protest vote against it. The public will not fall for this trickery. Mr. Coveney is trying to run with the horse, and hunt with the hounds”
The draft heads of the Bill to provide for a referendum on abortion is to be considered by the Cabinet today. The Bill will ask voters if they wish to repeal the Eight Amendment and replace it with a text that affirms the authority of the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion. While the first draft of the Bill will undergo the scrutiny of the Cabinet today, a final draft is not due to be agreed until March 6th. The Government plan on publishing the Bill on March 8th to coincide with International Women’s Day, although that plan will be scuppered if a Supreme Court case on the rights of the unborn is not decided before then, or if the Court renders an unfavourable judgement.
In addition to the referendum Bill, a policy paper outlining the abortion legislation that would follow passage of the referendum is also due before the Cabinet on March 6th. It is anticipated that the bill will follow closely upon the recommendations of the Oireachtas abortion committee which allowed abortion unrestricted up to 12 weeks, and after that on UK-style ground, namely for reasons impacting the ‘mental and physical health’ of the mother potentially up to birth.
The consideration of the draft heads of the referendum Bill will mark the beginning of the legislative process ahead of a referendum, which the Government is intent on holding by the end of May or the beginning of June.
In a sharp rebuttal of remarks by Senator Catherine Noone, the Chair of the Oireachtas abortion committee, the Savethe8th committee ridiculed a claim that no doctor would appear before the committee to defend the Eighth amendment. According to the Irish Times, Senator Noone “revealed the committee could not find a single medical expert in Ireland to argue the case for the status quo”. She was quoted as saying “The committee secretariat were in touch with many people, to my knowledge both suggested by the committee and otherwise,” she said. “Nobody was willing to come forward, none who were experts in this country. There was no single GP who offered, or any way indicated, that they wanted the status quo to remain.”
A spokesperson for Savethe8th, called the claim “utterly bizarre” and pointed to the group Doctors for Life who defended the Eighth Amendment and the status quo in both a submission and an oral presentation to the Citizens Assembly. He also questioned how media in Ireland could report the claim unchallenged, without subjecting it to even the most rudimentary fact-checking. He continued: “Senator Noone’s claim raises serious questions about her command of the facts in this debate, and the coverage of Senator Noone’s claim raises serious questions about internet connectivity across the newsrooms of Dublin”.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, believes the Government’s proposals to repeal the Eighth Amendment and legislate for an extreme abortion regime could fail, unless a lot more work is done to convince the people to pass it. She spoke after a duo of polls showed support for repeal dropping, and the public evenly divided on legislation for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.
Speaking to RTÉ News, Ms Doherty said “Standing right now, if nobody does anything, I don’t think this referendum will pass”. She added: “We need to sell, as advocates of people who want to see the Constitution changed and the 12-weeks imposed, that needs to be sold to people and the reasons why that 12-weeks figure was come at. That needs to be explained clearly to people with reasons and evidence, so there is a job of work to be done”.
The polls published today in the Sunday Independent and Sunday Times both show a drop in support for the Government’s proposal to introduce abortion on wide-ranging grounds. 48% of respondents to the Sunday Independent poll support allowing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, 33% says it goes too far and a further 19% are undecided. The Sunday Times poll shows a broadly similar result. 43% of respondents support the Government’s proposal with 35% opposed to abortion up to three months and a further 22% undecided.
Commenting on the two polls, Pro Life Campaign spokesperson, Dr Ruth Cullen said: “Obviously I welcome the shift in support in a pro-life direction indicated in the two latest polls. As more and more people come to realise what repeal of the Eighth Amendment would lead to in practice, I’m confident the polls will continue to move in the same direction.
“No matter how it’s packaged or presented, repeal of the Eighth Amendment would strip unborn babies of all meaningful protections and lead to abortion on demand similar to countries like England where 1 in 5 pregnancies now end in abortion.
“The point we have been making that there’s no such thing as limited abortion is starting to resonate with voters. This is not surprising as the evidence from other countries on this point is so strong.
“It makes no sense talking about doing away with all constitutional protections for unborn babies through repeal and in the same breath arguing that meaningful protections for the right to life could somehow be provided for in legislation. The vote on repeal is about whether we introduce abortion on demand or not. It is about nothing else.”