Abortion review appointee should ‘honourably withdraw’ in light of social media activity, Rónán Mullen tells Seanad

Seanad Leader supports view that chair appointment process should have been more transparent

 

Independent NUI Senator Rónán Mullen today called on the person appointed to chair the three-year review of the abortion legislation to ‘honourably withdraw’ from the role. This was in light of past social media activity tending to show preference for the repeal of the 8th Amendment and the legalization of abortion in the State.

Senator Mullen was supported by the Leader of the Seanad, Regina Doherty, in his contention that the Minister for Health should have kept his commitment to tendering openly for the role and that the Minister should come to the Seanad to address the matter.

Senator Mullen today drew attention to the fact that the Government’s appointee, Ms Marie O’Shea BL, had previously engaged in a pattern of tweets showing a preferred view on abortion. Examples included “retweeting a post in favour of repeal, including the hashtag of the repeal campaign, at the time of the referendum”, and “joining in an online conversation criticising ‘illegal’ No campaign posters on the N11 during the abortion referendum campaign.” Her tweets also disagreed with an intervention of Pope Francis on abortion and supported former President Mary McAleese’s criticism of the Catholic Church on the subject.

“The point is, the moderate expression of all of those points of view is legitimate. But it would mean that the ‘poster’ of such tweets would not be the right choice of appointment for the role of ‘Independent Chair’ of a review of the operation of legislation in such a sensitive area – however decent a person he or she might be,” Senator Mullen said.

“The appointee in this case has engaged in a pattern of social media intervention along the lines that I have described,” Senator Mullen said.

“I therefore say that she should honourably withdraw from the role to which that she has been appointed, that the Government should readvertise for the role of ‘Independent Chair’ by way of open tender process and that the Minister should come before the House now to explain his role and his Department’s role in all that has led to this undesirable situation.”

“The issue is independence, and the perception of independence, and crucial to independence is of course the issue of impartiality.”

“There was considerable support for me in this chamber when I stressed the importance of independence in the role to be filled by this Chairperson.”

“In the past, a judge in this country had to recuse herself from an abortion-related case not because she would have shown bias but because there could be a perception that impartiality could be wanting because of her previous professional role. Like Caesar’s wife, she had to be above doubt or suspicion.”

Senator Mullen had previously criticised the Minister for Health for reneging on a commitment to tender openly for the position of ‘Independent Chair’ of the abortion review.

“I did so because it had by then emerged by way of reply to a parliamentary question that the Department had not fulfilled the commitment but had contacted a small number of persons inviting them to express interest in the position.”

“It did not augur well that the eventual appointment came on foot of such a closed process … an open process would be needed to ensure that the choice made would not just be independent but would be seen to be so.”

Responding to Senator Mullen’s call, the Leader of the Seanad, Regina Doherty said the Minister should have “kept his word” in relation to the commitment given to a transparent process.

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For more information contact Rónán Mullen at 087 2446911