In the Dáil recently I expressed my support for a new bill which would make the holding of an inquest mandatory in all cases of maternity-related deaths.
The Coroners Bill 2015, a private members’ bill initiated by Deputy Clare Daly, seeks to consolidate and extend the law relating to coroners, coroners’ investigations and coroners’ inquests including the introduction of a new requirement that an inquest take place in all cases where a woman dies during pregnancy or in the six weeks following delivery.
The Government, represented by Minister of State Simon Harris, has permitted the bill to proceed to Committee Stage which is unusual for private members bills. At Committee Stage the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald intends to introduce significant amendments to the bill to reflect the work already underway at the Department of Justice.
Amending the law so that an inquest is held in all cases of maternity deaths is a very sensible measure which is currently being delayed because of the substantial work involved in overhauling the entire coroner system.
Not only are changes required as to when an inquest is held but changes are also necessary in how inquests are held and the procedures followed.
The treatment of the deceased’s next-of-kin is particularly important. One constituent from Galway who raised this issue with me told of how after a year’s delay the inquest into the death of her mother took place without her knowledge. This, understandably, added to the grief and loss involved.
It is unacceptable for an inquest to take place without informing the next-of-kin. It is my hope that the Coroners Bill, and the Committee Stage amendments, will bring about the necessary changes to prevent this from happening again as well as making inquests compulsory in all cases of maternity-related deaths.
Such changes will benefit the families involved and also the wider society by increasing transparency, openness and accountability in the workings of the institutions of the State.
The Coroners Bill is available at http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/bills28/bills/2015/6715/b6715d.pdf