London: Irish President Michael D Higgins has intervened in the row over the inquiry into the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar due to pregnancy-related complications after being denied abortion, saying the probe must meet the needs of her family as also the State.
Higgins' unprecedented move will increase the pressure on the government to recast the investigation in response to Savita's husband Praveen's demand for a full public probe.
The President said the investigation into Savita's death must ensure "above all else" that women will be safer and get the medical services during pregnancy to which they are entitled.
He was responding to questions from local journalists during an official visit to Liverpool and Manchester. The inquiry to come into the tragic death of the young Indian woman must meet "the needs of the public's concern ... the need of the family and meet the need of the State," he said.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE yesterday published the terms of reference of its inquiry and named three new members, two Irish and one from England, of the inquiry team.
These replaced the Galway-based consultants who stepped aside in an unsuccessful attempt to meet the objections of Praveen. The report to be compiled by the team will not identify staff members involved in the treatment of Savita or any other names, according to the terms of reference.
According to the Irish Times, government sources continued to insist that the HSE-commissioned inquiry announced this week, which is to be held in private, would go ahead as planned.
This is in spite of Praveen's refusal to cooperate and a threat of legal challenge by his lawyers if his wife's medical records are made available to the inquiry team.
"If they use those records then I will certainly be on to the data protection office and it may well be that that also involves bringing a court application by way of an injunction to restrain them from using those records," Praveen's solicitor Gerard O'Donnell told RTE, Ireland's National Television and Radio Broadcaster, last night.
Labour Senator Ivan Bacik today said there was a "great deal of disquiet" among her party colleagues about the way the "inquiry has been handled" and the lack of trust which had arisen as the probe unfolded.
It was "very hard to see how inquiry can continue" without the cooperation of the family, she told Morning Ireland on RTE Radio. Higgins' comments were "very diplomatically framed" and "timely," she said.
On the same programme, Sinn Fein party's health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain said Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny should meet Praveen directly and his "wishes acceded to as best as physically achievable."
Minister for Health James Reilly conceded yesterday the HSE investigation could lack a "completeness of information" if Praveen maintains his refusal to cooperate.
Reilly's approach now is to seek an interim report from the investigation team before Christmas and then to decide what further action is needed. Speaking to RTE's Prime Time last night, Praveen repeated his lack of confidence in the HSE to carry out any investigation into his wife's death.
"These people are salaried by the HSE," he said. "They pay them. We think that there would be some kind of bias during the investigation."
He said he and his wife were told by medical staff that a termination on medical grounds was not possible as a foetal heartbeat was present and due to Ireland being a "Catholic country".
"We just can't believe that in the 21st century."
Savita had been 17 weeks pregnant and her husband says she repeatedly asked for a termination but was refused because a foetal heartbeat was present.