Stormont abortion working group named

Michelle ONeill released the names after pressure from Mike Nesbitt
Michelle ONeill released the names after pressure from Mike Nesbitt

Stormont’s new Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has released the names of the seven people asked to explore the possibility of abortion for mothers who are carrying unborn children who doctors believe have no chance of survival outside of the womb.

The panel was announced in February at a point where a legislative attempt was made at short notice to change the law to allow for such terminations.

The then DUP Health Minister, Simon Hamilton, proposed the working group which he said could take some time to examine the issue in a more thorough way than MLAs would be able to ahead of a vote which was at that point just days away.

There have since been delays in establishing the panel, leading to criticism, and on Tuesday Opposition leader Mike Nesbitt accused the department of “secrecy” for not naming those on the panel.

After the pressure from Mr Nesbitt, the Department of Health (DoH) released the names of those on the panel.

They are: Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride (chair), Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle, Chief Social Services Officer Seán Holland, Jackie Johnston (DoH Secondary Care Directorate), Hugh Widdis (Departmental Solicitor’s Office), as well as two Department of Justice officials – Brian Grzymek and Amanda Patterson.

A DoH spokeswoman said that the group would report back with proposals to both the health and justice ministers by the end of September.

She added: “It is intended that the group will undertake its work on an outreach basis to engage with women and families directly impacted by fatal fetal abnormality and with health care professionals with experience in this area, including the Royal Colleges.”