The latest from RCN Northern Ireland

Education & Societies

RCN Northern Ireland 2016 branch annual general meetings

RCN branches across Northern Ireland are holding annual general meetings to review branch activity over the past 12 months, elect executive committees and set  priorities. All branch members are welcome. TThe RCN South Eastern Branch annual general meeting takes place on Monday 10 October at 12.30pm in the Lecture Theatre in the Administration Training Building at the Ulster Hospital. The RCN North Western Branch annual general meeting will be held on Monday 10 October at 2.00pm in the Seminar Room, Ward 42, at Altnagelvin Area Hospital. The annual general meeting of the RCN South Western Branch takes place on Monday 10 October at 7.00pm at Mahons Hotel in Irvinestown. The RCN Northern Branch annual general meeting will be held on Tuesday 11 October at 6.00pm in the Conference Room, Bretten Hall, Antrim Area Hospital.

Nurses voices from the Northern Ireland Troubles

Nurses’ voices from the Northern Ireland Troubles, compiled and edited by Margaret Graham and Professor Jean Orr, and published by RCNi, is available from the Library and Information Zone at the RCN, 17 Windsor Avenue, Belfast BT9 6EE. The paperback edition is available at an offer price of £12.99 (RRP £14.99). A limited number of hardback copies of the book are available at an offer price of £20. Payment can be made either by cash or by cheque, made payable to the Royal College of Nursing. The book is also available at Waterstones in Ballymena, Coleraine, Lisburn and Newry, Easons in Belfast, Craigavon, Derry-Londonderry, Lisburn and Newry, and Carlisle Bookshop in Omagh.

Leading pathologist resigns over Attorney General’s abortion intervention

A leading Northern Ireland paediatric pathologist has resigned in protest at the persistent intervention by Attorney General John Larkin in the issue of fatal foetal abnormality. Dr Caroline Gannon told the BBC this week that “the final straw” was having to advise a couple to use a picnic cooler bag to return foetal remains to Northern Ireland following a termination of pregnancy in England.

Dr Gannon’s resignation leaves Northern Ireland with only one paediatric pathologist. She said that recent intervention by the Attorney General made her position “untenable” and commented:

“I think he (the Attorney General) was the tipping point. The workload we had was manageable but then when these rulings came out, that was the tipping point for me, professionally. I just felt I was acting unethically by taking part in this system where parents are denied a voice in what happened to their baby.”

In 2012, the Attorney General offered to assist the Northern Ireland Assembly Justice Committee in an investigation into the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast. This offer was rejected. Three years later, he appealed a High Court judgement that the legal position in Northern Ireland over the termination of pregnancy breaches human rights law. Earlier this year, he wrote to Traditional Ulster Voice MLA Jim Allister questioning whether a move to permit termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities is compatible with international human rights law.

Dr Gannon cited the example of one couple who wanted a post-mortem examination to find out why they had been told that their baby had a fatal foetal abnormality. She said:

“They’re on their own in a strange town, a strange country, in a private clinic with no support. If this had happened in a hospital in Northern Ireland, midwives would be there, hospital processes would be in place, they could sit with their baby and then somebody else would be responsible for bringing their baby down to the mortuary to ensure the post-mortem is carried out. But they were on their own and they had to organise that themselves and transport their own baby’s body back in a picnic cooler in the boot of the car on the overnight ferry.”

The BBC reported that several people from Northern Ireland have used various modes of transport, including a parcel courier company, to bring home foetal remains. Dr Gannon, who has worked in Northern Ireland for almost 30 years, said she feels that it is “unethical” to work in a system where women and couples are being “denied information and choice”. She concluded:

“I find it very difficult and I cannot reconcile the legal system I am having to operate under with my own personal ethical beliefs.”

Alliance Party leader and former Justice Minister David Ford said:

“The fact Dr Gannon now feels she cannot carry out her duties to her patients is a clear demonstration the law must be changed. I do not wish to see so-called abortion on demand but I do believe the law should allow compassion to women faced with a dreadful diagnosis who feel they cannot carry a foetus to full term.”

Mr Ford announced this week that he is propose a Private Member’s Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly seeking to legalise termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. He told the BBC that women should be able to make their own choice and commented: “What I want to do is exactly what I wanted to do as Minister and was blocked by the Executive”. Meanwhile, People before Profit MLA Eamonn McCann called for the Attorney General to stand down in the light of his intervention in the termination of pregnancy issue. He said:

“Mr Larkin is entitled to his own conscientious beliefs, religious and otherwise. Mr Larkin is not entitled, it seems to me, to go around the world, into European courts and so forth, expressing points of view which reflect his own moral religious beliefs but which cannot be represented as the beliefs of the majority of people in the north. I think he’s gone too far so I think he should leave.”