The nature of this legislation and the type of provisions it contains are, in my opinion, in keeping with the rapidly falling standards in this House. That is clearly evident from this morning's performance here. Not alone outside the House are standards rapidly declining, but I have great fears in regard to the continuance into the 1980s of parliamentary democracy as we know it today and have known it in the past. It is no harm to ask oneself if the Government, and indeed the House, have taken leave of their senses to be dealing with a Bill which makes provision for the prescribing of contraceptives, and occupying the valuable time of Parliament debating it at a time when prevailing economic conditions are at such a low level.
If I had intervened on the Order of Business this morning I would have asked the Taoiseach if he regards this Bill as the most important and desirable legislation the Government could present to us for debate. Would not any Government who had a reasonable grasp of the situation have set their priorities a little higher? It must be very clear to every Deputy that the standards of general conduct, of respect for authority and for the person, for the dignity of human lives, are declining rapidly.
In these circumstances one would be pardoned for saying that it is the duty of legislators to legislate for an improvement of our rapidly falling standards. There has not been any widespread demand for legislation of this kind but it has been the subject of agitation by certain liberal-minded people, certain liberal-minded journalists in the Press, on radio and television, all anxious to help to establish a completely materialistic State without any regard for the need to maintain some reasonable degree of moral standards.
When wildcat, crazy, daft journalists put their pens to paper it is to advocate a society in which marriage would be pushed into the background, in which abortion is not to be decried, in which countries are described where economic progress and abortion are portrayed side by side. These liberal-minded journalists think it is part of their modern obligation to pen articles which are evilly designed, an attack on family life and on the family as we have known it.
It is generally recognised—indeed it is part of our Constitution—that the family is the fundamental unit of society, and if we safeguard the family we will have proper organisation, education, discipline, good citizenship and reasonable moral standing. If the family is safeguarded in these respects we will have a healthier community; and a community, like a constituency, for instance, is comprised of families. So also a nation is comprised of families. It has become obvious during this debate that there are public representatives who see nothing wrong in families being fragmented, in couples living together and producing a family but not marrying. I cannot reconcile that kind of thinking with Christian beliefs. Perhaps it reflects modern thinking but it is a type of thinking which represents a serious attack on the family. Therefore there is a grave responsibility on all of us here to safeguard and protect the family unit and not to put it at risk in terms of any legislation we may introduce.
When we refer to the family we think of a unit comprised of a father, a mother and the children that have resulted from the parents union through marriage.
There are safeguards in our Constitution for the protection of the family but the type of legislation proposed here is not in keeping with those safeguards. The Bill must be regarded as being dangerous, ill-conceived and evilly disposed. I am not convinced that the Minister is satisfied that there is a general demand for a Bill of this kind, a Bill in which there is an emphasis on the materialistic, which provides for the making available of contraceptives in certain circumstances. We would all agree that parents have a right in regard to deciding on the number of children they wish to have but there are the natural methods of family planning to assist them in this regard. Instruction in these methods is available as also is direction in regard to any question of theology arising therefrom.
In his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI said that the words of the Church would not reflect the thought and loving care of the Church, who is the mother and teacher of all nations, if they did not sustain couples in the proper regulation of the number of their children at a time when living conditions are hard and press heavily on families and nations. Yet, these same men and women, the Pope said, must endeavour to observe and honour the law of God concerning marriage. The giving of human life, which is a great mystery, might be regarded also as the greatest gift that God can bestow and no one has the right to alter the Divine Law in regard to the giving of human life. The question at issue is not whether the use of artificial contraception is right or wrong morally, because that matter has been decided. Therefore, I fail to understand how men elected to responsible office in public life cannot understand clearly that we are here to legislate for the good of the majority, not for a selected few or for a pressure group.
We are not here to legislate for the provision of contraceptives. The duty placed upon our shoulders by those who voted for us is very clear. We are not here to legislate for pressure groups but for the good of the majority. I doubt whether the Minister for Health can safely say that this Bill, which authorises medical practitioners to issue licences or permits for contraceptives to their patients, married or single, is for the good of the majority.
Is the Minister for Health satisfied with the provision whereby medical practitioners may legally issue licences for contraceptives to patients who may be single, married, under age or over age? As a Catholic member of Parliament, representing a constituency in which the majority profess the same faith, the Minister must be aware that the teaching of the Catholic Church is that artificial contraception is morally wrong and that those who prescribe contraceptives under the protection of the Bill must know that changing the law cannot make the use of contraceptives morally right. What is wrong remains wrong, regardless of what the State says.
How can the Minister for Health feel happy with this Bill when he knows that he is proposing legislation for something that is morally wrong? What is Parliament coming to? In utilising the time of this House for an immoral purpose the Members have lost their senses. The Church, with its experience of 2,000 years, tells us that artificial contraception is morally wrong.
I should like to place on the record an extract from a pastoral letter of the Bishops of Poland dealing with the Christian family and the gift of life, published on 29 January 1979 in the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano:
The document goes on to recall how in the encyclical, "Humanae Vitae" Pope Paul VI called on everyone to defend the holiness of marriage: "This holiness has been violated in more than one family by contraceptive practices. All this absolutely must be avoided today. God does not want you to plan your families in an irresponsible way. The Church of Christ calls you to responsible procreation. You must not be embarrassed by the gift of the life, but you must know how to guide it in harmony with the will of the Supreme Father. But you cannot do this by violating God's rights and besmirching human dignity. The Holy Spirit, from whom all truth comes, has let us know the mystery of the transmission of life in order that every married couple may decide to hand down life in conformity with God's law".
With regard to responsible procreation, the bishops point out that specialist centres for consultation on family life now exist in many areas and that they should and must be consulted. Today no one can hide behind ignorance to justify bad behaviour. That applies to every nation.
I should like to address a few words to the officials of the Department of Health who may have assisted in the drawing up of this Bill while being completely unconscious of what is at stake. I remind them of the statement in the pastoral letter that no one can hide behind ignorance to justify bad behaviour. The last person who could be accused of hiding behind ignorance is the Minister for Health. Legislation of this kind is contrary to the natural law, the Divine Law and the teachings of the church to which the majority in this country belong. The pastoral letter further states:
For this reason we remind you that to have recourse to contraceptives is a serious sin that offends God, destroys the life of grace, prevents access to the sacraments and, even more painfully, wounds the love of the couple.
What greater authority can one quote? What authority have the Department of Health to offer in defence of this attack on human life through the provision of contraceptives?