‘I very much hope the court strikes down the 2021 abortion legislation’

As the mother of a child with Down’s syndrome, living in Northern Ireland, I am completely appalled at the way in which my daughter and I have been treated by Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis. Their conduct has moved me to apply to intervene in the upcoming legal challenge against the Abortion Northern Ireland Regulations 2021, and I am delighted that the court has granted me permission to do so.

It would have been completely wrong for Messrs Johnson and Lewis to impose laws on Northern Ireland that afforded unborn babies with non-fatal disabilities less protection than non-disabled babies of the same gestation. Unbelievably, however, they brought forward regulations that actually allow terminating unborn human beings, including past the stage of viability right up until birth, precisely because, and for no other reason than the fact that they have a non-fatal disability. It is extraordinary that any government should have introduced such discriminatory and eugenic legislation in 2020. What is more, they asked the UK parliament to adopt it within two weeks of 75 out of 90 MLAs rejecting this legislation even while the subject of abortion remains devolved.

Brandon Lewis, however, has now made things much worse. Not content with giving government sanction for discriminatory and eugenic legislation, he has now taken to himself, through the Abortion Northern Ireland Regulations 2021, the power to actually ensure that abortions are commissioned within the context of what the 2020 regulations allow, including for non-fatal disabilities like Down’s right up until birth.

It is bad enough to take action to allow others to engage in discriminatory and eugenic practices. It is something else for the British government to actually intervene on a devolved matter to take to themselves the right to commission discriminatory and eugenic practices because, very properly, the Northern Ireland health minister has refused to commission abortions on this basis.

Some might say, well perhaps doctors won’t actually use this freedom to abort right up until birth. In response to that, however, two points must be made. First, I know of a lady pregnant with a Down’s baby who was repeatedly offered an abortion by clinicians in England, including at 38 weeks gestation, shortly before birth. Second, even if the secretary of state was more selective in his commissioning in Northern Ireland, it would not change the fact that he has introduced a law that says not only that it is okay to terminate someone just because they have a non-fatal disability like Down’s right up to birth, but that he wants to take to himself the ability to commission abortions on this basis. Just think about the message that that sends.

Last month the actor Tommy Jessop, who has Down’s syndrome and recently appeared in the popular BBC crime drama Line of Duty, said: “I want to see people with Down syndrome treated equally with others before and after they are born. We are the only group of people in the UK where people try to end our lives before we are born just because we have Down syndrome. This is not fair.”

My daughter is shielded from the psychological scars of what the law says because she is too young to process their implications. But I know that at some point she will become aware and I am deeply concerned about the impact on the way she sees herself with respect to her own mental health. In this context, as a responsible mother, I can no longer sit back. I look forward to intervening in the upcoming case and I very much hope that the courts will strike down the 2021 Regulations. They have no place in Northern Ireland – or indeed anywhere else – in 2021.


Co Derry

What would an EU army mean for Irish neutrality?

As we see in our own divided country “there is a more dangerous side to the EU”. This was a quote in Patrick Murphy’s article (June 26). He wrote briefly about a newly established European Peace Facility which is a European military arming programme in which the Irish government is part. It has the potential to fundamentally reposition Europe’s involvement in, and approach to, peace and security around the world with potentially lethal consequences. It is nothing less than a second-class membership of Nato. An over-reliance on the use of force as the principal means of conflict resolution may, itself, create and perpetuate a cycle of violence.

There have been periods since the adoption of the 1937 Constitution whereby members of the Irish government have been seeking to undermine our neutrality. Past governments  have all tinkered with our neutrality policy. They have made some ambiguous statements at various times. One in particular was made by Seán Lemass in 1960, before the Irish EEC application, when he stated boldly: “There is no neutrality and we are not neutral.” A strange comment from the then leader of the Fianna Fáil party. It is however a habit of Fine Gael ministers in particular to use strong language towards those who are upholding the national ideals and the Constitution. No doubt there are those strongly opposed and ignorant to our neutrality policy and are in effect urging the pursuit of a policy which is unconstitutional.

Being Irish we must stand up for the European idea of a unified and free Europe without borders as expressed by the EU motto ‘United in Diversity’. It’s our duty to protect this diversity. However, we in Ireland may well have to reconsider the question of our membership should it be used to destabilise our neutrality policy. Currently there is nothing in the EU treaty which involves us or commits us in any way to a military alliance or to future participation in any defence system. All national governments have self interests as part of their foreign policy decisions. I see nothing shameful in Ireland refusing to participate in a war that is not a decision of Dáil Éireann but is a decision of those who control the military alliance. These alliances are normally transient and decisive. If we are to continue with the militarisation of the EU and our government supporting the dissolution of our neutrality, the question needs to be asked: Are we heading towards an EU army?


Templeogue Dublin 6

Being in nature nourishes the mind

Jane McClenaghan recommends “mindfulness” and writes that “being in nature has been shown to help with feelings of stress and anxiety as well as helping to lift mood”  – Take a breather if you are feeling burned out (Weekend July 3).

The pandemic and its associated restrictions have left many people in need of specialist mental health care. Virtually everyone, however, needs to take additional steps to support their mental health at this time, even if they do not suffer from depression or anxiety.

Diet, lifestyle and exercise are all important, but it is especially useful to spend more time close to nature, observing the natural world and feeling our place within it. Simply being in nature nourishes our minds, restores our sense of balance, and connects us with our environment.

This is both a humbling and an elevating experience: humbling because everyone is small in the forest, and elevating because once we are in the forest, we are part of the forest, which is magnificent and huge.

So are we.


Professor of Psychiatry, Trinity College, Dublin