I support the Bill. I am completely happy that the Bill in its present form is a sound Bill which has quite properly emanated as a result of the Supreme Court ruling on the McGee case. The Supreme Court ruling was incomplete. The Minister for Justice in his opening speech referred to this. The Supreme Court judgment did not resolve the position concerning the sale of contraceptives nor did it comment upon the position of single persons in relation to contraceptive devices. The Minister took the right lines in respect of both those points. I believe that if the question of the sale of contraceptives had been put to the Supreme Court for a ruling it would have been a natural corollary that contraceptives should be available on sale as well as being reasonably available to married couples.
The question of the single person's rights have also been commented on by the Minister. He said at column 290 of the Official Report of 4th July, 1974, referring to those who oppose the Bill:
... also argue however, that there is a right, natural right in favour of single people to have access to contraceptives. I do not accept that there is any such right because that implies a right to fornicate and in my opinion there is no such natural right. I am well satisfied that the principle of restricting contraceptives to married persons is the proper one.
I think the Minister's comments are quite correct and sound and I should like to place on record that I would oppose any move to allow contraceptives to be freely available to single people. I do not think it would be morally right, I do not think it would be right in the broader Christian sense. It certainly would not be in keeping with the traditions not only of the Catholic Church but also the traditions which have prevailed in other Christian Churches.
I believe the Minister has approached the whole subject quite correctly. This Bill can certainly be described as a regulatory Bill in so far as it puts the whole question of the manufacture and availability of contraceptives under the Minister's control and it is basically control by a system of licensing. The system is quite straightforward. The dispensing of contraceptives is by licence. Recognised people—chemists—will control the dispensing of contraceptives. I agree that there should not be a requirement to display a marriage licence every time one wishes to buy contraceptives. I believe the Minister's approach is quite correct. He has not required the marriage licence to be produced. The spirit of the law is just as important a deterrent as a system of fines or a system which requires a lot of overseeing by the Garda. It would be obnoxious to require marriage licences to be produced. The law is there not to be avoided or flaunted or got around but to be observed and obeyed. It is the spirit of the law that is important. The most effective law is one which people want to observe rather than one which people will look for ways to get around.
It has been said that the Government are introducing this Bill to pacify people in the North of Ireland. I would completely reject that approach. I think it matters not one iota in relation to the reunification of Ireland whether or not this Bill is passed. I think it will make a small impression if it is passed. If it is not passed I think it will make a larger impression, in so far that those in the North who want to will throw at us that we are a Rome-ruled country and that we are reactionary in thought. I do not think that in the context of Northern Ireland this Bill is very important.
The question of abortifacients has also been dealt with in the Bill, and quite correctly. I am against abortion. Abortion is anathema to the people of Ireland and I would certainly vote against any law that would allow abortifacients to be used. The Minister has, in section 7, provided for a committee to advise the Minister on what is or is not an abortifacient. I would not condone abortifacients or any type of structure which would allow abortion in my country. The Opposition would like to make little of this. I think their approach is quite invalid.
I would like to deal with the Bill in general at this stage. We can deal with it in detail on Committee Stage if the House allows it to go to that Stage. On the principle of parliamentary democracy the House should permit the Bill to go to Committee Stage for debate in detail. The whole question of availability of contraceptives, as I have already said, has been decided on by the Supreme Court. It has done so in line with the Constitution. I want to quote Article 41.1.1º which states:
The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.
That is a very wise pronouncement of the Constitution and one with which I fully agree. It sets the family up as a natural unit in our society.
The father and mother of a family are, to my mind, the guides of the destiny of the family. I feel they have fundamental rights in relation to the size and the timing of their families. It is interesting to note that Article 40 of the Constitution comes under the general heading of Fundamental Rights and that Article has the additional heading of Personal Rights. I feel the husband and wife have a superior right in this matter and I do not think that we in Parliament should, as we have been doing since 1937, be dictating to fathers and mothers in relation to their families. This is not our duty. It is acceptable in democratic countries that there is such a thing as fundamental freedoms and personal human rights. I sincerely believe we should not interfere with these rights, as we have been doing since 1937. It is interesting to note that the Constitution, under which the matter has been dealt with, was written by Eamon de Valera. Would he not be pleased to know that his Constitution allowed contraceptives? I wonder if it is in keeping with his thinking?
I believe in fundamental human rights being respected by Parliament. We have not respected up to this fundamental human rights in a number of areas. The Supreme Court has now ruled in relation to the Constitution of 1937. We are now rectifying our statutory position. This leads me to a criticism of the Fianna Fáil Party. The Government parties decided there should be a free vote because they feel this is a matter of personal conscience and is one on which Members, not only on the Government side, should make up their minds. As a member of the Council of Europe, where fundamental rights are respected more than in Ireland, I take exception to the attitude taken by Fianna Fáil on this Bill. I would like to quote what Deputy Colley said in Vol. 274, column 350, of the Official Report for 4th July, 1974, when he spoke on this Bill. He stated:
We think this legislation is unworkable, illogical and in some areas potentially dangerous. We think that an alternative approach which would be far more satisfactory is available to the Government. We do not believe and we do not accept that we, on this side of the House, have any obligation whatever to discharge the Government's duty and we do not intend to do that.
The Supreme Court decision put an obligation on all of us in Parliament to rectify the situation which the court found wanting.
Most members of the Opposition party who spoke have accepted there is a priority need for a rectifying Bill to take into account the decision of the Supreme Court. They have agreed that such a Bill as this is necessary but they have stuck their heads in the mud and refused to approach this Bill as proper democratic parliamentarians should. I accept that members of the Fianna Fáil Party are entitled to criticise the Bill. They are entitled to criticise it severely if they wish and can justify themselves. I would like to refer briefly to two suggestions made by the opening speaker for Fianna Fáil, Deputy O'Malley, when he suggested there might be gombeen men licensed to dispense contraceptives or that the whole matter should be handed over to the health boards to manage. He also said there might be private importation on a large scale in order to bind the House to the wishes of the Supreme Court.
That type of attitude is disgusting and is not worthy of a spokesman of the Fianna Fáil Party who should have been able to put up a far more beneficial and constructive suggestion than that a Minister for Justice, no matter from what party, would licence gombeen men down the country to sell contraceptives. What right would any person in any health board have to decide whether family A and family B have or have not the right to contraceptives? What kind of a system do Fianna Fáil expect would arise if all families who wanted contraceptives wrote to the Minister? We would want the Civil Service staff raised by 50 per cent to cope with this ludicrous suggestion by the Fianna Fáil spokesman on this Bill.
I suggest that Deputy Colley is wrong when he says they do not believe and they do not accept that they on the Opposition side of the House have any obligation whatever to discharge the Government's duty and that they do not intend to do that. I accept it is not an Opposition function to discharge the duty of a Government but it is the function of the Opposition as parliamentarians to be a constructive Opposition and to play their part in the processing of legislation which comes before the House. It is very much their duty to come to terms with the Supreme Court decision.
This leads me to the conclusion that the Fianna Fáil Party met and said: "Yes, we know amending legislation is necessary and yet it appears the Government parties have decided not to put on the Whip because they feel there are personal conscience problems involved. Right, we will do our business. We will defeat the Government in the House". That ended their approach to the Bill. Their attitude is to defeat the Government in the House. If such a defeat comes about and if such a victory comes about tonight for the Fianna Fáil Party will it be a proud victory for them or will it be a Pyrrhic victory for them?
My feed-back from discussing it with ordinary people I met in the streets in my own constituency is that the attitude being taken by the Fianna Fáil Party on this matter is not going down well at all. They are being seen to neglect their duty as a constructive Opposition. They are frightened to face the fact of a Supreme Court decision and they are prepared to allow the floodgates to be opened to contraceptive devices coming in to letterboxes throughout the country.
This will be the effect of defeating this Bill. This will be Fianna Fáil's Pyrrhic victory. This will be the glorious defeat of the Government. The Fianna Fáil Party will have permitted a flood of contraceptives to be available to all and sundry in our country irrespective of age, marital status or whatever. That will be the victory. If the Bill is defeated, I hope Fianna Fáil will be able to explain their position to the people.
There is need for the regulation of this problem. There may even be valid criticisms of the Bill. Possibly there are minor rather than major defects in the Bill, but the seriousness of the nature of the subject under discussion to my way of thinking obliges the Opposition party to put down proper amendments which they feel are necessary to rectify the position. It has been made quite clear that the Government side would consider in depth any amendments put down.
This question is of far more social significance than political significance. The Opposition party are making a grave mistake in not fulfilling their obligations, not as being the Opposition but as being part of the parliamentary process when legislation is required to correct problems which arise in our society. I disagree with those who reject the decision of the Supreme Court and say they will vote down any attempt to rectify the situation, as Fianna Fáil have done.
We have a serious social problem. As the Minister pointed out, there is a black market in contraceptives. There is a serious prospect of this black market intensifying if this Bill, or if a Bill, is not soon enacted. In that sense I feel disappointed at the attitude of Fianna Fáil. We have made it quite clear that this is not the type of legislation on which we will go to the country. This is social legislation of vital interest not in a party sense but in an all-party sense. People are not expecting party political affiliations to show themselves.
I am sorry if I have emphasised the position of the Opposition party but I feel they are wrong and that they are making a mistake. There is still time for saner minds to overcome the party's obsessiveness with opposition. I firmly believe that this is the wrong type of opposition for our Parliament and the people will not look on it with favour.
I do not wish to go into the Bill in detail. I will have a few points to make on Committee Stage. The Bill deals with what to me is a very important matter, a fundamental human right, and it does so in a traditionally Christian way. I support the Bill.