| 12.6°C Dublin

'I've helped people looking for assisted suicide' - Halligan

Close

Former junior minister John Halligan, who retired this year

Former junior minister John Halligan, who retired this year

Former junior minister John Halligan, who retired this year

Former junior minister John Halligan has revealed he helped people find information about travelling to Switzerland to access assisted suicide - and said he would do it again.

The former Independent Alliance TD, who retired from politics earlier this year, has called on politicians to finish the work he started on a Bill that would decriminalise assisted suicide in specific cases.

It comes as patient advocate Vicky Phelan said the Dáil should have "the balls" to pass a law to allow people with terminal illnesses like her to legally die with dignity in Ireland.

Stalled

In 2015, Mr Halligan introduced the Dying with Dignity Bill but it stalled after the government collapsed the following year. Mr Halligan became a junior minister in 2016 and was no longer able to move his own Private Member's Bill.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny has now introduced the same Bill. If passed, it would give people with incurable and progressive illnesses the right to assisted suicide if they are likely to die within six months.

At the moment, it is a crime in Ireland punishable by a prison term of up to 14 years.

Mr Halligan said he had been contacted by a number of people with terminal illnesses who wanted to access a legal assisted suicide in Switzerland.

"If someone comes to me and asks me to tell them how to get there and how to do it, I will," he said.

At the moment, aiding, abetting or counselling the suicide of another person is illegal. The former Waterford TD said he was not afraid of being prosecuted for passing on information about assisted suicide abroad.

"You can Google it, and all the information is there," he said.

Dignitas, the Swiss non-profit, has been helping to guide people through assisted suicide within Switzerland since 1998.

According to its figures, as of the end of last year, it had 56 Irish members.

Dignitas said it had helped a total of nine Irish people access assisted suicide since 2003.

Mr Halligan, who worked with Fine Gael during the last government, said he believed "conservative elements" in that party and Fianna Fáil would try to block assisted suicide.

"But if there was a free vote, a lot of individual politicians would be in favour of it," he said.

He added that the Catholic Church would also staunchly oppose such a change, and that "religious" arguments would be involved.

"Would a God want to inflict unnecessary suffering on someone? I don't believe in God, but I think that if there was a God, He or She would not want that," Mr Halligan said.

In 2013, the Supreme Court rejected a right to die case from the late Marie Fleming, but the court said that the Oireachtas could pass legislation.

The Green Party's policy on assisted suicide is in line with the upcoming Bill.

Debate

A spokesman for Roderic O'Gorman, the children and equality minister, said any decision would be decided by the Government as a whole. Ossian Smyth, said he was "in favour of sensible legislation to regulate assisted dying."

"A public debate on the issue would need to be had, perhaps through a Citizens' Assembly," Mr Smyth said.

Vicky Phelan said she was totally against referring the issue to a Citizens' Assembly as it could take years before assisted suicide would be legalised.