Working for a healthy Ireland and for equity in our health system

The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill

  • The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill was passed by the Oireachtas in July and recently signed into law by President Higgins.
  • This has been a longstanding policy objective of the Labour Party. We can be proud of our work and see it as a major achievement in Government. However, the debate goes on and we must lead the discussion as we always have in the past.
  • This milestone legislation will provide much needed clarity for women and medical professionals as to the circumstances where a termination is permissible in this country. While limited in its effect, the legislation required protracted work and input, and I was pleased to contribute to this along with my colleague Minister Kathleen Lynch.


GP Care without Fees

  • In the spring I advised the Cabinet that the previously proposed implementation plan for the introduction of GP Care without fees was overly complex, and probably unworkable. At a minimum, this key policy was likely to be further delayed if kept in its current form.
  • Recently at the Cabinet Committee on Health I presented a series of options on the phased introduction of GP Care without fees. These proposals will be carefully considered between now and the budget, when I am confident we can make progress on this important Labour goal.
  • It is my preference that school-going children should be in the first cohort of the population to benefit from free access to GP Care.
  • The provision of GP care without fees is a vital first step in ensuring that healthcare is provided on the basis of need and not ability to pay. It is also an essential element of a radically reformed healthcare system to meet the many future challenges we face.


Public policy initiative on reducing the consumption of alcohol


  • In May I presented a Memo to Government proposing a comprehensive set of measures to address pricing, access, availability and the marketing of alcohol.
  • I am confident that Government will approve the drafting of a General Scheme of a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in early autumn. This will be the first time ever that alcohol is properly addressed as a public health issue in this country.
  • This major public health policy has not been without its critics, especially from the alcohol industry. I do of course appreciate the concerns expressed by national sporting bodies. However, the objective is to tackle the huge economic and social harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in Ireland, and to try to protect our youngest and most vulnerable from alcohol misuse.


Tackling the problem of Drugs

  • I have responsibility also for the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy. Earlier this year I published a set of structural reforms to the management and oversight of the strategy in order to make it more effective in tackling drug addiction.
  • There will be further progress in the autumn on coordinating and stream-lining the structures through which we manage the national strategy. I am determined to ensure that all departments and agencies are working well with the community and voluntary sectors, especially in the light of the many new challenges we face in this area.


There is much that can, and is, being achieved – even in tough financial times.

If we are serious about our policy goals of creating a healthier society, and building an equitable healthcare system for all, the only place to do this is in government.

I look forward to resuming this vital work after the summer break.