Whelehan: 'I did my duty'

The country's most controversial attorney general, Harry Whelehan, has spoken of his regret at the sadness and hurt suffered by the people at the centre of the X case.

But in a new RTÉ documentary on the case that inflamed the nation in 1992, the barrister says his sense of duty to Ireland forced him legally to prevent a pregnant 14-year-old girl who had been raped from leaving the country for an abortion.

The programme will be broadcast tomorrow night.

Miss X was effectively made a prisoner in her own country when Whelehan, acting for the constitution, was granted an injunction preventing the teenager from leaving Ireland for 10 months, until she had given birth.

Former government press secretary Seán Duignan told the Scannal documentary that it was widely believed in the corridors of power that the attorney general should have turned a blind eye to the case.

However, Whelehan tells of how he had a duty to uphold up the constitution and protect the life of the unborn child.

"I'm not prepared to say I regret what I did because what I did I was required to do and I had taken a very high, responsible, significant constitutional position which required me to do that," he says.

"I am not prepared to say I regret having to do my duty. I do of course regret the upset, the sadness and the trauma which was visited on everybody involved but that is something which I can't do anything more about.

"The problem was stark. There was an unborn child with a constitutional right to life. There was nobody to advocate the right of that child to be born other than the attorney general.

"I don't want this to sound harsh but where the mother of the child who is entitled to have its life protected decided to seek an abortion, the only mechanism in our system is for the attorney general to intervene and to make a case for the child to be born alive… I was very disappointed by the level of hysteria. It created an atmosphere which I think was very unhealthy."

The documentary, which will be shown on RTé1 tomorrow night, details how the family of Miss X appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which overturned the court's decision, leaving her free to travel abroad for an abortion. It later emerged that the young girl had had a miscarriage.