On a point of order, is it in order for the Deputy to read from a script?
Statement issued by the Fine Gael Party on Wednesday, 3rd November 1982.
It is decided by precedent——
I assume Deputy Woods is reading from notes.
I will continue from my notes. The approach we are seeing here is similar to the experience in the United States during the sixties. This led to the Supreme Court decision of 1973 that unborn children are not persons, under section 1 of the 14th Amendment. As the Minister has said, this is based on the right to personal privacy of choice whether or not to abort. The American Supreme Court also held that a State may not enact laws protecting unborn children for the period prior to their being viable — that is, able to live outside the mother's womb — which is taken in their context, as between 24 and 28 weeks. There, the professionals of the Supreme Court made a decision, by a majority of 7 to 2, to legalise abortion on demand, the people having no say in this matter. Subsequent decisions have gone much further. Since January 1973, over 12 million abortions have been recorded in the United States. This is the nature of the holocaust there. The present figure for pre-born children killed in the United States is over 1.5 million — this, at a time when only 100,000 children are available for adoption and the number of families or couples seeking to adopt is registered as 800,000.
In the United States there is a growing revulsion against the present abortion practices and an amendment to the Constitution is seen as the only way to prevent abortion. Proposed amendments have taken various forms — one would protect life from the time of conception, while another would permit each state to decide on its own abortion laws. Almost half of the United States legislators have already called for a special constitutional convention to pass a pro-life amendment. There is a considerable movement in the United States as a result of a revulsion against widescale abortion. I could talk for some time from notes and references if Deputy Molony wishes. One case was recently reported of a container which obviously went astray and, as containers can do, became trans-shipped to a wrong destination and left aside. Eventually, that container was found to contain 17,000 unborn babies. That is a matter of record and I could give a good deal more information relating to that case. It indicates the proportions of the holocaust and the business which has developed regarding abortion. Tremendous problems have been created there because of difficulties in relation to burial following the Supreme Court's decision that unborn children are not children. That matter has been decided only quite recently and these children have gone for burial. There are many similar incidents of the horrifying practices which have developed because professionals were given the freedom to decide for all the people at Supreme Court level by a majority vote.
Britain was once constrained, as we are still, by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. However, they now have abortion on demand under their 1967 Abortion Act. Initially, the British Parlaiment clearly intended to limit the situation in which abortion would be available but this has not worked. Between 1967 and 1982, over 2 million unborn children were killed in national health service hospitals and state licensed private abortion clinics. Their annual rate of abortion is estimated at 180,000. One very significant feature of the British system is that 94 per cent of women who attended pregnancy advisory centres had abortions. Nearly 90 per cent of abortions in the private sector were carried out for the mental health of the mother and 99 per cent of these were on grounds of neurosis and transient situational disturbances. In effect, Britain now has abortion for social convenience. In these cases, abortion can hardly be said to provide an emotional cure, but rather a physical one. Therefore, only about 2 per cent of UK cases are as the Act originally intended.
The number of Irish women being referred to the UK for abortion has increased from 64 in 1968, just after the Act was introduced, to 3,603 in 1981. The British figures are particularly horrifying. One would wonder how such a large figure as 94 per cent could end up having abortions.
Journalists do some very good investigative work from time to time. One such investigation was done by Michael Lich-field and Susan Kentish regarding the British abortion business. Their under-cover studies of the clinics and referral centres confirm absolutely the figures originally accepted in relation to the number of pregnant women having abortions. Indeed, they indicate that in many cases there is no pregnancy when these people are sent for abortion. There have been a number of formal investigations, but these were always done with pre-advice on the visit and the questions to be asked.
Many Irish women who go to England are referred there by pregnancy counselling services in Dublin. It can therefore be assumed that a high percentage of counselling sessions would also result in abortion. Perhaps some of our journalists might like to investigate this situation.
On the whole question of abortion internationally, one of the reasons given for abortion and sometimes put into practice by health services in some countries is the need to avoid serious mental or physical handicap. We have a very special regard for the handicapped and their right to life, which contrasts starkly with the approach in some European neighbour states where unborn children known to have serious physical or mental abnormalities are aborted. In statistics, the lower British incidence of such disorders as mental handicap and spina bifida is affected very much by the process of aborting a large proportion of these cases. A classical example of this took place recently in the United States when one of a pair of twins was diagnosed as suffering from Downs Syndrome. What was done in that case was that the medical staff in a special operation pierced the mother's womb and then the heart of the Downs Syndrome child with a large syringe, withdrawing its life fluids causing it to die. Can one honestly say then that such children have no part to play in our lives? If we look at the love and affection which such handicapped children can bring to their families and communities one certainly recognises the contribution they can make to society. One might well pose the question: who has the right to deprive mankind of the literary genius of a spastic like Christy Brown or indeed Christopher Nolan?
Mention has been made of the cost of the referendum by those opposed to it. They maintain that this would constitute a waste of money, arguing that it would be a waste of resources at this time when there is so much pressure in so many areas. Clearly the state of our public finances, as we shall discover this afternoon, is such that every effort should be made to carefully scrutinise public expenditure ensuring that it is justified. As it is, we devote a very large proportion of our collective resources to services for the elderly, for the young and disabled. Through our policies of taxation we redistribute our wealth and resources, ensuring that all can enjoy a decent standard of living. In a way this is a reflection of our basic values and fundamental approach to our community. Our record in the provision of services is as good as, if not in some instances better than, that of other countries economically much better off.
The right to life, then, should rank with other basic rights and should be involved in a similar way in such commitment. Given the importance we attach to this fundamental right, the estimated £750,000 involved in conducting a referendum is, in my view, entirely justifiable. Indeed, through this exercise we shall confirm both now and for the future our adherence to this fundamental principle. In any event the money will be spent on the creation of employment over a short period in printing and so on.
I should make it clear that we in Fianna Fáil regard the provision of support services of primary importance. In introducing this Bill in the first instance it was our intention to effect parallel improvements in the support services available here. We have made some progress in that regard already but we saw the introduction of the constitutional amendment as a time when we should strengthen our approach in that direction. The insertion of the clause into our Constitution is in itself insufficient to solve the problem of abortion in our society. We are all in this House only too well aware of the number of women who have recourse to abortion services in Britain. That is the reason I believe that the passage of this Bill should mark the beginning of a sustained campaign to ensure that the services Irish women need in this regard are provided, that they are not pressured into seeking solutions in abortion clinics in other countries. We must be satisfied that the support services are available to them, that they will provide the most sophisticated assistance, advice and care that can be given.
We are aware also of the great efforts made by the personal social services, both statutory and voluntary in this regard, organisations such as CURA and ALLY to assist women, particularly pregnant women and single parents, in their difficulties. There is an onus on us in this House, particularly in discussing this Bill, to ensure that adequate funds are provided for this purpose. It was our intention to ensure that these services would have the level of support necessary for them to continue and expand their work. Of course material support alone is not sufficient. How many of these women have sought a solution to their problems through abortion, who have been led to do so by the attitudes of families, friends and the community generally. I know, from my own experience and from what we read, that general attitudes in that regard have improved enormously in recent years. A supportive attitude within the community is crucial if we are to provide the assistance needed by such people at that difficult time. Therefore when we assert in our Constitution that we respect the life of the unborn child we must ensure that our actions accord in that respect. There is now an opportunity afforded us all to make that a reality.
A good deal has been said about the wording of the amendment. I am sure this aspect will be discussed further in the course of this debate. When we in Fianna Fáil assumed office the challenge confronting us was to find a satisfactory and acceptable wording for the amendment which would fulfil the promises and pledges we had made in that regard. Of course the previous Coalition Government, in their short period in office, failed to do so. In particular we wanted to draft an amendment which would reflect the values we held in common, which would not alter the medical or legal status quo. That is what we were endeavouring to do. I appreciate that that is what the Minister would like to achieve. We were most anxious also that the amendment would be neither sectarian nor divisive. Naturally, we had to become involved in a great deal of research as to what exactly were the current legal and medical practices. In particular we had to take account of certain operations carried out on mothers whose lives would otherwise be endangered and which might, as a side effect entail a termination of pregnancy.
However the issue is not one of law or medical practice only. What is at issue is the preservation of a fundamental human right: the right to life of the unborn child. Throughout the civilised world it is generally accepted that this fundamental right should be enshrined in Constitutions, or in somewhat similar Bills of Rights. These fundamental rights are to be found in every Constitution in the world and are not merely a matter for legislation. Some criticisms of the pro-life amendment come from sources which are unfamiliar with this approach and where their own country may not have a written Constitution. Britain's position as a country without a written Constitution is fairly unique internationally but the fact is we are an independent State and like all modern countries we have a written Constitution. Fundamental rights are precisely what should be contained in a written Constitution.
The Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church would appear to hold that the right to life of the unborn is a fundamental right. The Minister quoted the Lambeth Conference in 1958. It was stated at that conference—this has been quoted in correspondence from the Mothers' Union of Ireland—that:
The sacredness of life is, in Christian eyes, an absolute which should not be violated.
The necessity in legal terms for particular clauses in a written Constitution is something which may be open to argument. The Constitution applies to the law and not directly to individual cases. One could argue as to the need for a clause in the Constitution requiring collective responsibility of Members of the Government since the two parties at present in Government seem to be determined to find their own way around that. It is easy to see why people who believe in the efficacy of the protection afforded by a written Constitution should be concerned that the right to life of the unborn should be included. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how people can become passionately worked up about the alleged lack of necessity for the amendment. If, as they so often say, all that is wrong with the amendment is that it is not necessary and there is sufficient cover already, why are they so concerned about having such an amendment?
As a party we consulted the representatives of all the Churches in Ireland including the Irish Council of Churches in Belfast. The representatives of the Protestant Churches had initially some misgivings mainly based on a misconception of the Government's intentions. They feared the Government might put forward an amendment which would reflect only the Catholic teaching. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the wording took full account of the Protestant thinking at that time. When the amendment was published we were entitled to believe following these discussions that we had secured the general support and agreement of the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church at the highest levels and either a benevolent attitude or lack of opposition from most of the other Churches. This view was consolidated by a statement made yesterday by a group of Protestant ministers representing four denominations—Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist — and read on their behalf by Reverend Mr. Sidney Garland, Presbyterian Church, Northern Ireland. It was presented at a news conference held by the pro-life amendment campaign in the Shelbourne Hotel. It stated:
We rejoice in the continuing protection which the Pro-Life amendment would ensure for the unborn child. We agree that the unborn as well as the born have a right to life. We accept that the life of the mother is also protected in the wording of the amendment. We reject the criticisms of the amendment put forward in some recent Protestant statements.
We do not accept that the proposed amendment is sectarian. Abortion is not exclusively a Roman Catholic issue. It is a matter of basic human rights. The right to life of the unborn is based on the indisputable scientific fact that human life begins at fertilisation. As Professor Jerome Le Jeune, the world renowned geneticist said: If a fertilised egg is not by itself a full human being it can never become a man because something would have to be added to it. We know that that does not happen. The foetus is a human being. Genetically it is complete. This is not an opinion; it is a fact.
To continue with the quotation of the four Protestant Ministers, they say:
There is nothing sectarian about these facts. The medical evidence concerning the beginning of life does not change whether you are a Catholic or Protestant. We do not accept that the proposed amendment will enshrine the Roman Catholic view on abortion in the Constitution. The amendment is entirely in accord with our Protestant view of abortion. There are differences among Protestants on the issue of abortion. However we believe the majority of Protestants will support the proposed amendment.
They called on us not to be deflected from our common objective but to realise the common ground in this amendment between Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, North and South. They stated:
We call on the politicans and people of Ireland to support this amendment and to say loud and clear both to their own critics and a watching world that abortion is wrong and uncivilised and that social problems are not dissolved by killing. We call also for increased efforts to provide practical and caring support for any woman facing a problem pregnancy.
We do not accept that a pro-life Amendment to the Republic's Constitution would worsen relations with the Protestants of Northern Ireland. In fact this is one area where there is opportunity for agreement and common approach. A recent gallup poll has shown that the views of the peoples of both parts of Ireland very nearly converge on the issue of abortion. It is a fact that Protestants have been at the forefront of LIFE—a pro-life organisation which is growing rapidly in Northern Ireland. LIFE have received public support from politicians on all sides including leading members of the official Unionist and Democratic Parties.
In many respects it is fortuitous that on the eve of the debate in this House these Protestant gentlemen should make their position clear and get away from the suggestion of a sectarian position or a Catholic approach in relation to the amendment.
The amendment does not contain any prohibition. It is stated in very positive terms. Already this has been misrepresented in some of the speeches and communications which have been made. All the Protestant Churches in their discussions expressed relief at the fact that there was no prohibition involved in it. It is difficult to say why so much is made of statements that oppose the constitutional prohibition when no constitutional prohibition is at issue. It is misleading to suggest that it is.
Despite what would undoubtedly have been the wish of the promoters of this amendment and the majority church in this island, there is no attempt in the wording of the amendment to define the moment at which the life of the unborn begins. The amendment does not attempt to make this definition. Most, of course, would argue that it begins at the time of conception, but this is a matter of theological and scientific argument and in preparing the wording of the amendment we felt it was not appropriate to the Constitution to have such definitions.
Reference was made in the wording to the equal right to life of the mother. Many references have been made to fears, whether justified or not, in the Protestant Churches that the right to life of the mother might, if a choice had to be made, be sacrificed to the right to life of the unborn. While many felt that such a reference in the wording was unnecessary because the right to life of the mother, as the right to life of all other citizens, was already very explicitly guaranteed within the Constitution, nevertheless following discussions and deliberations the right to life of the mother was made quite clear in the wording chosen. It is hard to understand why a statement issued by the Church of Ireland on 16 November and interpreted as at least qualified support for the amendment should now be interpreted as opposition to the amendment.
The extent to which this issue has become politicised is regrettable, particularly the sectarian ground on which the argument is being made.
The Deputy's leader wanted to make it an issue in the last election.
The Deputy will have his opportunity to speak in due course. I am not talking about the party political aspect but about the debate which is being developed outside in which the word "sectarian" has been introduced on a political basis as grounds on which to fight the argument. I believe this is intellectually dishonest and politically very harmful.
Some newspaper editors have done service in the past in presenting the ideals of a new Ireland and these same newspaper editors are doing no service now by misrepresenting the nature of the amendment and, by extension, the nature of our country and what we stand for. The battle is not between one denomination and another but between those who want a society which would reflect human and traditional Irish values and those who want a secular society where abortion would eventually be permitted. There are people who make that case. The Minister has referred to groups with whom he would have no particular sympathy because he accepts that there is a political argument. He has made his personal position quite clear.
Various individuals have sought to create the impression that the Protestant Churches were opposed to the amendment. The Evangelical Presbyterian clergyman, the Reverend Sidney Garland, has said: "I am aware that certain Protestant Church Committees have been critical of the proposed pro-life amendment. I would contend that these committees are not reflecting grassroots Protestant opinion in Ireland". It is clear that many Protestant people would support the amendment.
We must not forget that on this island there are some people who would have a political interest in trying to depict this part of the island as a sectarian State. In this respect the behaviour of the Coalition with regard to the amendment is a somewhat unedifying spectacle. In May 1981 the present Taoiseach wished to give his support to the proposed amendment and he went so far as to hound out of his party a vice-president of Young Fine Gael for daring to suggest that abortion might be justified in certain circumstances. The deputy leader of the Labour Party also rushed in to sign an unconditional pledge of support for SPUC. The following autumn Deputy FitzGerald launched his constitutional crusade in terms which many of his own party disowned and which insulted the people and the institutions of the State by calling them sectarian. He is now seen to be hoist with his own petard in this respect. If he was willing to misrepresent some of our existing laws and constitutional clauses as sectarian, then it can legitimately be asked what is so different about the pro-life amendment. Contradictions which come from his political opportunism are now clearly exposed. His reputation and standing are therefore not advanced.
Fianna Fáil gave a commitment to this amendment and if it were not for Fianna Fáil this Bill would never have come before the House. The wranglings and evasions of the Fine Gael Party in the past two years were obvious right up to the party conference last autumn and it was only when we had discovered the solution to their problems that they rushed in to accept it.
The Labour Party are also at sixes and sevens on this issue and the Cabinet itself is divided. It is very strange that the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, who would be primarily responsible for the care of the unborn, should be opposed to any constitutional protection for them. He is also in constitutional contradiction with himself in that as Minister he shares collective responsibility for the Bill while at the same time he is against the Bill. He has explained this away by saying he is in favour of its introduction but not in favour of its passage through the House. I am sure he will have a good deal more to say on this because he has created a very confused situation.
I should like to make some comment on the controversies surrounding press and television coverage. Since the whole question is now a political issue to be decided by the electorate in a referendum, I believe there can be no case for stifling discussion of the matter on any suitable programmes. On the other hand, media coverage of this issue has on the whole been unbalanced in favour of the anti-amendment case. The views of the vast majority of women have not yet been sufficiently presented in any balanced fashion either on RTE or in the newspapers. I trust that now that the debate has begun in the House we will have a balanced presentation in the media and an open debate. Indeed, critics of the amendment are attempting to show that consulting the people in a referendum is almost undemocratic. How can a vote by the people be described as undemocratic? Are many of our so-called liberals anti-democratic or elitest? Surely the putting of an amendment to the people for decision is one of the most democratic steps that can be taken, especially in a country where we have a free and open media.
The opponents of the amendment are using might and main to try to prevent the referendum taking place, or at least to have it deferred. That is obvious in various statements made recently. It concerned me greatly when I heard the Minister this morning suggesting that he was making a very open presentation in which he was committed to the principle but not necessarily to the amendment which he had presented. I do not believe that those who try to make the case against the amendment to the Constitution want popular consultation. My reason for that view is because they know that their views are not widely shared. Fianna Fáil can be proud of its achievement in bringing forward this amendment which has been acknowledged by Fine Gael to be as well worded as possible. As a party we have been consistent in our approach on this matter. Despite what may be said, representatives of all traditions were involved in the preparing of the wording of this amendment. The chosen formula incorporates the views of Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters and does not conflict in any way with true republican principles. That fact should be publicly acknowledged rather than allowing misrepresentation to continue. The thorough consultations that took place before the wording was finalised make it a model for constitutional change for the future.
I have tried to cover broadly our approach when we introduced the Bill when in Government. The Bill is being reintroduced exactly as it was when we put it to the House. I am glad the Coalition have introduced it and I hope that notwithstanding the two-handed approach adopted by the Minister — he said on the one hand that he would consider one situation and on the other hand he would consider another — he will be committed to bringing the Bill through the House as quickly as practicable. I hope there will not be any deferring of the Bill in an effort to put off the day when it can be put to the Irish people. I am suspicious when I hear people introducing the type of measures that have been introduced elsewhere to put off constitutional amendments. When I consider what has happened elsewhere I become fearful because similar processes are being introduced here. I hope the Minister has the conviction to press ahead with this Bill and have it passed so that the amendment can be put before our people with the greatest speed possible. Certainly if he does that, he will have our full support.
Will the Minister clarify two things for me before we move to the next speaker? I always understood that the rules of the House were that a Minister in introducing a Bill to the House recommends it in toto and that such a Bill may be amended in the course of Committee Stage or Report Stage. On this occasion the Minister has introduced a Bill which proposes an amendment to the Constitution but in the course of his speech he has only asked for agreement to it in principle. Therefore, I submit that the Minister is not recommending anything to the House. Secondly, I should like to know if the Minister has an amendment in mind to be introduced on Committee Stage. If he has, it would be helpful for those of us who are interested in this measure if he made us aware of it. It would lead to a more constructive debate.
The Minister wants to have it both ways.
(Limerick East): If the Deputy looks at page 18 of my script she will see my position. On the second question I should like to tell the Deputy that I want to hear the views of the House.
On a point of order, the Minister is simply recommending that the Bill be read a Second Time in principle and in doing so he has indicated that he has an amendment in mind. At this stage the Minister should advise the House of the terms of the amendment he has in mind.
That is not a point of order. I am calling on Deputy Kelly.
We are entitled to an explanation.
The Minister began his contribution by stating that he was moving "that the Bill be now read a Second Time". It is not a matter of obligation for him to qualify that absolutely explicit statement.
I hope Deputy Kelly has the answer because the Minister spoke with tongue in cheek.
The Bill looks like generating a great deal of feeling and, naturally, offers to the Opposition an opportunity, as they see it, to shift difficulties which they have been labouring under, and still are, somewhat out of sight and replace them, in the focus of media attention, by the difficulties of others. It is because of that that I should like to make it clear now how I intend to vote on this Bill and why. The majority, as I understood it, even the unanimous judgment of my party, was in favour of amending the Constitution in the sense which the Bill represents. It causes me no difficulty of conscience whatsoever to accept that majority judgment and I propose to follow it and be part of it. I intend to support the Bill for that reason; but also for another reason: although I have reservations about the mode by which the Bill has reached the House, and the political background to the entire movement which achieved a response at Government level, if I were to do anything else but support it — if I were to vote against it or abstain — it would not represent my true feelings on the subject. That is quite apart from the fact that, were I to do anything else, it would instantly be misconstrued, sincerely no doubt by some people, and accidentally by others, but also, I have no doubt, unscrupulously and maliciously by others.
I feel a certain diffidence which it would be seemly in every Deputy to feel in laying down the law or being part of a debate which lays down the law on moral issues. None of us is perfect. I must confess to a feeling of distaste at hearing somebody express positive moral injunctions, particularly when they are ones which in the nature of things he is never going to be called upon to decide whether to obey or disobey. But at the same time I find the termination of a pregnancy by interference, I find abortion a revolting and horrible thing. It is easy to be revolted by the sins of others, particularly when one is in the nature of things in no danger of being tempted oneself. It is easy and cheap, and I do not want credit from anybody for saying that I find abortion revolting.
Accordingly, if I were to do anything but support this Bill, it would misrepresent those feelings and disguise them. I see no reason to do that.
Before I go any further, having made that as clear as I possibly can make it, I want to protest against the way this issue has been politicised. I heard Deputy Woods beginning to utter a similar protest and, when I checked him on the grounds that, above all people, he and his party were the least well entitled to make such a protest, he appeared to shift his ground.
We were consistent all along.
I regard the way in which a delicate moral issue has been politicised as disgusting. I regard it as disgusting that the Leaders of the two biggest parties should have felt compelled — I will not say by any ill-intentioned threats; it would be quite unfair to any group to say they were compelled — in the heat of an approaching election to give undertakings about a matter so serious as amending our Constitution.
I regard it as disgusting that the Leader of the party opposite, at the outset of the November 1982 general election, should have sought to fight the election on that issue. At one of his opening press conferences he said he intended to make this an issue, and it was only when he discovered that neither the press, the people or his political opponents were interested in making it an issue, that he dropped it. He was willing to make it an issue — and let me say this — not because I believe he is particularly, or peculiarly, or uniquely interested in this matter, but purely because he thought it might be a means of embarrassing political opponents.
To make a political issue of a legislative proposal in regard to land ownership, or free school transport, or something of that kind, is fair game I suppose. To make a political issue of something like this is a disgusting operation. It would have been beneath our political leaders in the twenties, the thirties, the forties, the fifties and the sixties. In the days when John Costello on one side of the House and Eamon de Valera on the other side were in confrontation on a wide range of issues, I do not believe for a moment that either of those gentlemen would have stooped to indulging at political level in a debate on a matter of this kind.
The fifties were very pious days. These were the days when I was a student and first became interested in watching and reading about politics. Mr. de Valera and Mr. Costello were intensely devoted and loyal Catholics. I do not think their personal practices need to be brought into this, but marginally I might be allowed to say that both were known to attend Mass and receive Communion daily. In those days that was, and still would be regarded as, a fair and genuine index of one's devotion to one's church if one was a Catholic.
Neither of those gentlemen would have stooped to trying to batter the other over the head by alleging, or allowing it to be supposed by the simplest and most backward supporter or potential supporter, that the other was in some way dubious on a serious moral issue, that in some way he could not be relied on to do the right thing. That would have been so far beneath John Costello that he could not even have seen an argument like that. I believe the very same was true of Eamon de Valera.
I can say the same with equal emphasis about the leaders on both sides who came after them. I believe the same was true of Sean Lemass as it is of Liam Cosgrave. The same is true of the leader of this Government who did not set out to make this an issue in the 1982 election. If I had been in his place in the heat of an election on which a great deal depended, and forced to deal on that basis with people I knew were unscrupulous rogues, I too might have been rushed into a decision or an undertaking the objectives of which I might heartily agree with, as I do in this instance, but the modalities and methods by which it was arrived at I think were unwise and not necessarily in the public interest.
It is a dreadful reflection on the degeneracy of the way in which politics is now conducted that, with all the other things we might have done with the Constitution, we now find ourselves debating this Bill today for no other reason than that a well-meaning — and I concede that 100 per cent — concerned and anguished lobby came forward within the visible octave of an election in 1981, and again in 1982, and extracted from party leaders what ultimately amounted to a commitment on an ultimatum to which there was a date attached, if you do not mind.
I have said — and I hope I do not need to say it again — that the right to speak the truth and not be misrepresented is, in its own humble way, as absolute as the right to life. I hope that truth in its own important way is as sacred as the right to life. The right to speak the truth as one sees it is entitled to respect even from those who do not agree with your vision of it.
I have said — and I do not want to go on saying it — that I abominate the idea of abortion. I never would support the repeal of any legislation which forbids it. I deplore it, and anything useful I could do to prevent people from resorting to it I would do. I say that in one breath but, in another breath with which the first is perfectly consistent, I protest against the political mechanisms and the methods by which this legislation has reached us here today.
I could not but be nauseated as every decent person in the country was, no matter what their view on this amendment, at the sight of some Deputies whom I will not name because I do not particurly want to wound them, who went out of their way in the recent election campaigns to try to pretend that a vote given to Fine Gael was a vote for people who were unsound on an issue of this kind. I remember one western Deputy in particular, a man I never knew to make a speech inside or outside this House, except perhaps at his own church gate, who went public on this issue. He is a nice man to meet, and I have no personal quarrel with him. He never gave me any cause for offence; but it is a sad reflection on politics that a representative of the Irish people should put himself before the notice of the public for the purpose only of suggesting what he must have known as an untruth about his opponents in another party.
Deputy Woods made a couple of points in which I must concede there was some substance, but he was very careful to steer away from the one point which would have interested me, namely: Is it necessary to amend the Constitution at this time in order to achieve the objective of the right to life, which he so eloquently described and clearly supports as I do myself? I do not question his sincerity; but I listened in vain for this in his speech. Where was there any reference in his speech to the legal emergency in this country — do not mind Arizona or New Jersey — which calls for this constitutional fire brigade action we are witnessing here today?
If I get heated or rhetorical on this subject, I hope it will not be taken by anybody inside or outside the House as detracting from the seriousness with which I made my opening remarks. It is perfectly possible to be bitterly against something and, at the same time, resent seeing it turned into a political football and even the Constitution dragged into it in order to do down opponents or because one party are afraid the other will tell lies about them. We are reduced to a pitiable condition here.
The situations which Deputy Dr. Woods was describing in the United States and elsewhere I am sure are a matter of great anguish to people in the United States and elsewhere who share his and my view about the sacredness of life. But is it possible to conclude that merely because something happens and is tolerated in the United States it is necessarily going to happen here? No one in this House is more open than I am to the fact that we tend to take our tone from abroad, but there is a big difference in many ways between the culture, ethos, society and traditions of the United States and those in this country. It is an enormous country with a great variety of facets, and nowhere more so than in the legal field. In some states there is no death penalty, in others they have the death penalty. In those states that have a death penalty, they administer it in some by lethal injection and in others by a firing squad — for which citizens are permitted to volunteer! Citizens volunteer to be on a firing squad in the state of Utah. What is law in one state is not law in another.
What is more important still, what the American Supreme Court says one day, it can say the exact opposite to the next day. Perhaps that is an extreme instance, I suppose there is not actually an instance of them changing their minds literally overnight and I do not want to say anything offensive about an august institution in a friendly state; but it has been the case in this century that judgments of the United States Supreme Court have been described disparagingly, not by Irish people but by Americans, as being like one-day railroad tickets, good for that day only. The Supreme Court has changed its mind on a number of occasions on a number of issues, and everybody knows the political dimensions of the American Supreme Court. People are able to list the judges there in terms of whether they are liberal, left-wing, right-wing or associated with the President who was behind their nomination.
In the United States of America the Catholic population, although on the east coast in particular a very important political element of the population, is a minority element. It is a social minority as well as a numerical one, or was for a very long time. There has only been one Catholic President in 200 years. There is rarely more than one Catholic judge on the Supreme Court of nine. Where is the similarity? It is a country of very diverse ethnical origins and economic complexion. To say that merely because a thing happens in America one day it is going to happen here the next may be true on the level of pop music or the level of technology, but it most assuredly is not true on the level of ethos, legal or cultural. That this House should be stampeded into something which it would not spontaneously have done, merely because this hare has been raised by some people outside, well though they undoubtedly mean it and sincerely anguished although they undoubtedly are, is a pitiable reflection on the way we do our business in politics here generally and in this House in particular.
I would like to make a suggestion in regard to the conduct of politics here in future. That the parties should agree with one another, naturally not in writing but as a matter of honour — a gentleman's agreement with one another — that once it comes into the octave of an election — that is a curious expression as I always understood that octaves are time after rather than time before — within visible distance of an election, parties should close down on the reception of representations. It is not right that people should be asked to make up their minds when they have a lot of other things to think about under pressure of political ambition, of having to make serious decisions about their programme, under all kinds of pressure, not least of which is physical fatigue. That parties should submit to political pressure is lamentable but, since they do not seem to be able to stand up to it, the right thing to do is for political parties to make it clearly understood that when they produce a programme at the outset of an election campaign it is for the people to take or to leave. That does not imply a lack of sympathy with the people behind a particular movement or lobby, not in the slightest degree, but there should be an understanding that, after a certain moment has arrived, all representations are to be put on the long finger until after the election.
I realise it is pathetic I should be even talking like this. We are all supposed to be adult men and women and have a bit of backbone and strength of character. We should not require rules and conventions to protect us from ourselves but, apparently, we do; and there should be a convention that lobbies are not entertained, except to tea, after a given time from the moment an election comes into view. There is plenty of time between elections to make points of view known and plenty of time for a party or parties to consider those matters maturely and decide what is the right thing to do. It is regrettable that parties should be pressurised or forced, by fear of the unscrupulousness of their opponents or fear perhaps of the simple-mindedness of people who will misconstrue outside even without one's opponents encouraging them to do so, to take steps which they otherwise would not have done. If they had the backbone they had in the twenties, thirties and forties it would not be necessary to say all this but the backbone of political parties has been whittled away, softened by the way we organise our politics that I am protesting about this last while. Until we decide what this whole game is about, what our objectives are and organise ourselves accordingly we are going to get worse and worse and go further and faster downhill.
How serious are the apprehensions in regard to what our Supreme Court may possibly do? The only clues which are available as to the Supreme Court's attitude towards this matter are contained in two cases, the cases of Mrs. McGee in 1974 and a case called G. — it is an abbreviation of a name for reasons of privacy — G. v. An Bord Uchtála, the Adoption Board, a few years later. I think that was in 1980 but I have not got the exact date. In both these cases Mr. Justice Walsh spoke on this very point in terms which are quite unambiguous and I will read them to the House. I am going to quote from the later case — G. v. An Bord Uchtála which is in Volume 113 of the Irish Law Times Reports. Mr. Justice Walsh spoke in both these cases; and it is true that, inasmuch as what he said on this matter was not squarely in issue in either of the cases, what he said can be regarded as an obiter dictum, in other words it does not bind. Obiter dicta in cases of this importance are not lightly uttered, they are regarded as being the next best thing to a binding authority and are freely cited in court by counsel. They are treated for all practical purposes as though they were authority, even though they do not have a status in the ordinary hierarchy of binding precedent that we respect here.
I also want to say, if I may be permitted to do so within the rules of the House, that of all the judges in the Supreme Court there is none whose influence has been so powerful over the last 20 years as that of Mr. Justice Walsh. I say with respect — I am not supposed to have any opinions about it — there are instances in which the Supreme Court as a single court has handed down judgments where it is not visible whether they are majority or unanimous judgments, judgments which have been delivered by Mr. Justice Walsh himself. Clearly the judge who speaks must belong to the majority — it would be perverse and cruel to ask a dissenting judge to read the majority judgment of his colleagues — and I have no doubt that Mr. Justice Walsh not only physically pronounced but also personally wrote a great number of these judgments. I also have no doubt, so far as it can be said with respect to all the other members of the court in the last 20 years, that there are very few whose authority would be regarded as being as weighty as his. This is what he said in the case of G. v. An Bord Uchtála:
The right to life necessarily implies the right to be born, the right to preserve and defend, and to have preserved and defended, that life, and the right to maintain that life at a proper human standard in matters of food, clothing and habitation. It lies not in the power of the parent who has the primary natural rights and duties in respect of the child to exercise them in such a way as intentionally or by neglect to endanger the health or life of the child or to terminate its existence. The child's natural right to life and all that flows from that right are independent of any right of the parent as such. I wish here to repeat what I said in McGee's Case (at p. 312):
... any action on the part of either the husband and the wife or of the State to limit family sizes by endangering — or destroying human life must necessarily not only be an offence against the common good but also against the guaranteed personal rights of the human life in question."
I interpreted that as meaning — I think I wrote something to that effect — that the right to life already mentioned in Article 40.3 of the Constitution included the right of an unborn child not to have its existence terminated.
Naturally lawyers will differ: they could not live if they did not differ and my opinion is no better than that of the next lawyer. However, I want to state my opinion in so far as a judgment of a future likelihood is an opinion. I think there is not the smallest chance that Chief Justice O'Higgins, Mr. Justice Walsh, Mr. Justice Griffin, Mr. Justice Hederman and Mr. Justice McCarthy will at any time interfere with or strike down the old legislation which penalises abortion. That is a guess based on observing the Supreme Court at work, which is my special interest and hobby. In so far as I can measure these judges—and I know them personally—there is not the slightest chance of it happening. I cannot foresee what a generation of judges will do 30 or 50 years from now. I concede freely to the Pro-Life Amendment group and the other groups who take a very sincere and understandable interest in the matter that they are quite right in saying that public opinion here can change rapidly, and has in fact changed rapidly. The McGee case which was decided in 1973 most certainly would not have been so decided 20 years previously. If the Supreme Court had been asked in 1953 to strike down that section of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1935, one would have been laughed out of court. One would have found it difficult to get solicitor and counsel even to raise such a case. I would not like to be positive about what might have happened had it been raised in 1963. If one were lucky with one's High Court judge—I will not mention names—the High Court in 1963 might have made a decision similar to that made by the Supreme Court in 1973. However, I would not like to guess whether it would have got through the Supreme Court at that time. I admit freely that the climate of opinion changes, and that that is a very good instance of changing opinion which was reflected in the judgment of a court.
I cannot see how fast or how far public opinion is going to change in this matter, but there seems to me to be a huge difference between the matter of contraception and abortion. I am not a theologian or a doctor: I cannot explain the matter in language appropriate to either of those disciplines, but I feel it by instinct. There is a huge difference, and I should not have to waste breath on that proposition. I do not think there is the slightest likelihood in any future I can foresee of the danger which the promoters of this amendment fear will come to pass.
They are afraid that under cover of the privacy of the family, which right has been recognised by the Supreme Court, there might suddenly creep in the idea that if a family's affairs, particularly at this intimate level, are private their right to decide even after conception whether to add to their family or not must also be private. By analogy, that right must extend even to an unmarried mother. I think that is the essence of their apprehension.
Having regard to the present personnel of the Supreme Court and likely personnel in any future we can foresee, my guess is that likelihood is about as great as that they would use the same right of privacy of the family in order to strike down the laws against cruelty to children or against wife-beating. A great deal of cruelty to children takes place in the family—horrible, stomach-turning cases of child neglect and deliberate brutality that one reads about sometimes. I have no doubt that often these cases are rooted in horrible social conditions, and in despair of one kind or another operating on the parents, but so far as the children are concerned the cases are of unimaginable cruelty. That is something I feel just as strongly about as abortion, and I would just as strongly oppose any proposal to change the law so as to make it easier to be cruel to children. However, I do not see any reason to incorporate a special barrier in the Constitution against it, because I think it is just about as likely that the Supreme Court will strike down those laws as that they will strike down the law against abortion.
Knowing what the party opposite are like, I should not have been so amazed at the contribution of Deputy Woods. Nevertheless, I was amazed to hear him criticise the modest and dispassionate tone of the Minister's speech. This is a subject that cries out for modesty and lack of passion, for a calm, dispassionate appraisal, not indeed so far as the emotional revulsion towards abortion is concerned, but for anything as serious as amending the Constitution is concerned. That is exactly what it got from the Minister. I was proud I belonged to his party, and I consider it a model speech in a matter of this kind. Certainly he showed diffidence in regard to the 100 per cent advisability of this form or that form. He was perfectly right to do so, and anyone who thinks that this is a matter where diffidence is out of place is being deliberately disingenuous or does not understand what is going on. Above all, it is not a matter for primitive puffing and blowing, a "we're right and you're wrong" attitude, such as Fianna Fáil have always shown—"We have the republican interests at heart and we never deviated ..." and so on. That kind of attitude is quite out of place in a matter like this. Deputy Dr. Woods, whose title suggests higher education at the fourth level, ought to know better than to wish that kind of talk on the House in a matter of this kind. He should be ashamed of what he said about Deputy Noonan's speech.
Having said that in praise of the Minister, I would like to make one point if he will not mind me doing so, where it seems that the Minister has sold himself short, or got the wrong end of the stick, or maybe I have got the wrong end of the stick. I did not know that the Minister was going to say this until I heard him speak an hour ago: he said that in addition to the Supreme Court striking down the legislation of 1861 there was the danger that we might be held in breach of our obligations under the Human Rights Convention in Strasbourg. Of course that danger exists, as does the danger that we might be held in breach of those obligations by not having a divorce law, and I suppose there are several other things on which we might be at risk in that regard also. However, I understood that it was a principle of international law—I am speaking off the top of my head because I have not had the chance to check this— that an obligation incurred under international law could not be avoided by pointing to one's own domestic Constitution. Of course an instrument such as the European Human Rights Convention is an item of international law. One cannot say to one's partners in an international convention, "We are terribly sorry, we cannot do what you are doing because our Constitution here will not allow us to do it". One's own Constitution may provide cover in a civil action in one's own country, but it does not free one of one's international obligations before an international tribunal.
My point to the Minister, in mild criticism of the way he presented the matter, superb though it was in other respects, is that even if we amend the Constitution in the sense which this amendment proposes, it will not save us from anything in Strasbourg. Even if we were to spell out in even clearer terms our revulsion at abortion as expressed in Article 40, that will not save us from trouble in Strasbourg. The whole point about an international jurisdiction is that it operates in response to general principles, on which the member countries are broadly agreed, and must operate obligatorily whether or not domestic law inside one of the countries would tend in an opposite direction. Therefore, we are achieving absolutely nothing so far as the European Convention is concerned by passing an amendment of this kind. It would be no protection to us. I am not conversant enough with the European scene to be sure of this, but if it should ever happen that the European Convention appears to impose on us an obligation which is repugnant to the great majority of people in this country — an obligation of this kind would come into that category for me and probably everybody else in this House — then it is time to leave the convention, or to derogate from it if it is open to us to do that. It is no use to us any longer if it obliges us to permit abortion. It would be the exact opposite of what we conceive of as human rights if it obliged us to do that; and we can get out of it very simply by packing up and leaving. That would be sad in a number of ways, and I hope we will not be driven to that length, but I would not countenance for a second staying behind in the European Convention with partners who are running a jurisdictional organ which compels me to assume, for so long as I was part of the convention, that people had a human right to destroy unborn offspring. But we are not protecting ourselves from that consequence by amending the Constitution which, unless I am very much mistaken, is not recognised as a defence in international law to the charge that one has breached one's international obligations. As I may be wrong about that, I hope that the Minister will ask his advisers to check on it, because I do not want to make a serious point with such emphasis and end up by misleading him.
The Minister was particularly good in dealing with the objections raised against this amendment by what I hope I am not offending anybody by calling the pluralist camp. They do not impress me very much. Some of the arguments raised against the amendment I would not be associated with under any conditions. An example is the so-called "right to choose". No doubt it may be a repellent spectacle for someone who thinks otherwise to see a man of middle age laying down the law about what a woman ought or ought not to be allowed to do, and I am very sorry if I offend anybody by doing that. However, it may be the duty of any Deputy elected here and offering to speak his mind on something to do that. I do not agree that there is a right to choose in the context in which the argument is advanced. I would concede to a woman the right, up to the moment when a new life begins within her, to choose her partner, her practices with her partner and so on. This is a matter too private, intimate and difficult for the State to stick its nose into. I said that during the 1974 contraception debate here, and again a couple of years ago when we were getting "an Irish solution to the Irish problem". I do not agree with State interference at that level, but when a new life begins — I hope I do not upset the pluralists by saying this — a new dimension enters the question. It is desperately hard on women that it should be so, and if they are in a condition of despair I hope not to be thought short on compassion for that. I can imagine how hard it is and I never would throw a stone at or condemn anyone who makes the wrong decision. However, we must stick to recognising that it is not simply a "right to choose" involving the woman herself but that something further is involved. Another life is involved. I hate lecturing on such things, and I am not going to go on about this, but I do not accept the correctness or honesty of this form of argument.
The suggestion that the amendment or the law here are in some way sectarian is ludicrous, given, as the Minister rightly pointed out, that the same law against abortion is enforced in Northern Ireland. I will take no lecturing from the North of Ireland about sectarianism. I will take no lectures from people who were for 60 years a by-word for sectarianism, bigotry, narrow-mindedness and at whose door, along with that of the British, must ultimately be laid the blame for the blood-shed and horrors that have been seen up there in the last 14 years. Having said that, I have very much the same feelings as the leader of my party, the Taoiseach, in regard to reconciliation with the North of Ireland. He has manfully stood his ground about the way the Irish people must develop if we are ever to have peace. I agree with him entirely on that. He has almost never said anything with which I could feel any disagreement.
However, in regard to the people who argue about the "sectarianism" of this amendment, no one ever really envisaged Irish unity in what would be an undifferentiated, non-federal, unitary state. It is true that The Irish Times was running that theme 12 or 13 years ago with its editor, Mr. Gageby and its principal political commentator, Mr. Healy, who were all-for-one-and-one-for-all boys at the time. They had stepped into the Moses role, they were heavily into prophesy, and anyone who went in for half-way houses like a federal solution was a milk-sop or a “Hibernian”— not to put too fine a point on it, a Hibernian was what they called me — for talking about a federal solution. It was to be all or nothing and if only one stripped away the ugly surface one would see the sound United Ireland heart beating beneath the uniform of the RUC man playing a tin whistle, people buying Peggy's Leg at the Oul' Lammas Fair at Ballycastle, all the fun of the fair and so on. It was blasted away by blood and bombs within a year or two and we have not heard of it since.
The truth, as Deputy Eamon de Valera, Deputy John Costello, Deputy Liam Cosgrave and now Deputy Garret FitzGerald recognised, is that if ever there is a constitutional association between the two parts of Ireland this must come via some tentative arrangement the shape of which naturally I cannot foresee and do not wish to try to sketch out here, but must be something of a federal or semi-federal kind. The whole point about a federal system here or in America is that each federal unit is free on a large range of matters to make its own laws and arrangements, and free within that range to give free play to its own ethos. That is the whole point of it. If we ever have constitutional association between the North and South of Ireland that pattern will be visible. There are people in the North of Ireland — I do not know if they literally represent the numerical majority but they are a large proportion — who regard it as a scandal in the face of God that people should go into pubs and to football matches on a Sunday. I do not make fun of that belief, but I do not share it. I never go to a football match any day of the week myself, but I can see no harm in people going to football matches or playing football on a Sunday, and I can see no harm in them taking a drink any day.
I think the Deputy is digressing from the Bill.
You only recently came into the Chair. In fact, what I am saying seems to me to be very germane to my thread of argument. If you will bear with me for a minute or two I will be back——
The Deputy is developing the question of unity and so on.
No. With respect, I am steering a difficult course here. I would like to recapitulate, if I may have the indulgence of the other Deputies. I support the amendment. I dislike the way it reached the House and the political process by which it arrived. I honestly do not think it is necessary, but to do anything else than support it would misrepresent my feelings about abortion which are just as strong as those of the majority inside the House and outside it. With these reservations and misgivings I will support it. I am now engaged in trying to answer, in the way the Minister also did, but adding a couple of extra dimensions, the argument that an amendment of this kind is sectarian. I am pointing to the North of Ireland and saying that if we ever have a constitutional association with them — it is because of the North of Ireland that this matter has surfaced — it will necessarily be a federal one and that means that in each part of Ireland the majority must be free to imprint to some degree — with respect for the local minority naturally in some degree — to leave the trace of their ethos on the local laws.
I do not see the reason for the sabbatarianism which is such a large stratum in Northern Protestantism. I cannot understand why until lately, if it is not still the case, children's swings are locked up on Sundays in Belfast city parks. That is as strange to me as the habits of Eskimoes or Maoris. Having said that, I take it for granted that in a federal Ireland, if we ever have such a thing, there will be free play for strong local ethical feelings on topics like that, that the Northern majority not be bullied by us even though we do not share them down here. Most Catholics or Protestants down here do not share them. Equally, I do not see that we need to apologise for running our affairs down here in a way that suits us without wishing then to force them on the Northern majority and, of course, with due regard to the real rights of our own local minority. I do not mean even a formal minority, I mean a minority of dissent because we do not all have to be paid-up members of the Church of Ireland, or the Methodist Church, in order to be regarded as part of a minority — one does not have to have a religion to be a minority in the terms of an opinion. Although a majority anywhere must expect to be entitled to leave their trace on the general ethos of this society, including its laws, they have to do that with moderation, restraint and respect for the people among them who disagree. I do not believe on that standard which I am trying to outline here in a few words that this amendment is objectionable. I do not object to it on those lines. I have not got a great deal of patience with the arguments which are advanced about the alleged sectarianism of what we are doing.
The urgency with which we are dealing with this thing is something I must confess I do not altogether understand. I am not exactly sure why we are stuck to a dead-line. If the people outside the House who have received commitments can be convinced from our demeanour inside the House that the Government are serious about going ahead with this measure they might perhaps be willing to allow that a matter as serious as this cannot be accommodated in a time schedule as tight as that. I am saying that off the top of my head. I have no riding instructions from anybody; I am not in cahoots with the Government or anybody else about that; but we may have problems in trying to make a proper job of this Bill and amendment and getting it through this House, the other House and the people before the end of March. I do not see the need for that urgency. I would like to recall that in 1976 — the Minister mentioned this — when an unforeseen situation developed regarding the adoption laws we had a referendum to plug that loop-hole in a very short time. I was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach and I sat at Government meetings at which this matter was discussed. There was absolutely no delay about to bringing in an amendment to the Constitution in order to plug a very unfortunate loophole.
I cannot see why that cannot be done in this particular instance if the case should arise, which I do not expect will arise, of the Supreme Court taking leave of its senses, or going against everything which it has given evidence of so far, and striking down the 1861 legislation. Lay people outside the House may not realise this but the Supreme Court do not just sit at 11 o'clock in the morning one day and say: "By the way, before we start we have an announcement to make. The 1861 law penalising abortion is unconstitutional". That is not how the Supreme Court works, that is not how any court works. In order for this danger ever to eventuate, first of all, somebody has to bring an action. I use the word "action" in the broadest sense. There could be a variety of proceedings in which it could arise, but these are highly public proceedings. This is the same in relation to every court document, from a summons or statement of claim which is open to public inspection in the High Court office. These things do not happen in private.
Let us take, for example, the recent litigation about the rights of homosexuals. That case had a very high profile. The papers reported that the action had been launched. It was also reported in the papers from time to time that it was coming on. It was reported when it was due to start and so on. It started, ran for several days and then there was another long wait until months later before the judge made up his mind. That is quite right, as matters like that cannot be decided overnight. There is another long interval before the thing goes to the Supreme Court; or if it has been before the Supreme Court there will be a further long interval before it is decided. It is not as though any of us will be taken short by the court getting up one fine morning and changing the 1861 law. We will have plenty of notice that something of this sort is round the corner.
I do not want, having said this much, to strike a discordant note and I particualrly do not want to deliver to the other side material for alleging that anyone has cold feet. Suppose there was a feeling — I hope it will be a feeling with some representatives on the far side of the House — that at least there was no need for urgency of a kind that would justify spending this year £1 million or £2 million on a special referendum, not to speak of the general social and economic convulsion that any election day causes in the middle of the week, if there were that kind of consensus there are two ways I can think of by which we could save that money while still doing what this amendment proposes. If I am in a minority of one in proposing it, so be it, but let me just allow these alternatives to surface. Firstly, we could pass this Bill through all Stages in one House and through all Stages but one in the other House and defer the Final Stage in the second House until the autumn when we are very likely to have a Presidential election in any case, which will bring the people to the poles. They could decide, as they have done on several former occasions, to decide two issues on the one day and save the taxpayer that much money by so doing.
The second suggestion, which is more radical, is that we could bring the Bill through all Stages in one House and through all Stages but one in the second House and then let it sit on the Order Paper, in other words, not even proceed with the referendum. I am not actually advocating that. I realise it would conflict with a commitment which the Government gave and which the Opposition gave. I am not advocating it. I am only saying that suppose a consensus were to emerge that this might be a possible way of proceeding, of not amending the Constitution needlessly, then that would be an option also. It has never been done before; I am not particularly keen on the idea but, at least, technically it would be possible.
There is an aspect of this matter that may not be understood fully by the people outside who have promoted the legislation. Unfortunately, they by their action, and the parties by their complacency in agreeing to amend the Constitution in this way, may have done a serious disservice to the cause which these people represent and believe in. I suspect, and each passing day reinforces my suspicion, that there will be a large vote against the measure. That is something I would have considered unthinkable at one time. I would not have considered as much as a 3 per cent vote against a proposal to strengthen the law against abortion would be possible; but for a variety of motives, ranging from those of the out-and-out "Womens-Right-to-Choose" group to people who do not wish to see £1 million of public money being wasted, there is a wide spectrum of opinion coming from various sources but converging in opposition to this amendment. When that front has been formed it will be very difficult to dissolve.
The groups promoting this legislation have created unwittingly what has never existed before, that is, a large secular platform from which in the future repeated attacks will be launched, possibly for the repeal of this amendment. They have created something which I doubt they thought of when starting out. I admit that I had not thought of this either at that time. While I would not wish to put a figure on what may be the vote against the amendment, I should not be surprised if it were in the region of 20 per cent. That would be a huge vote against, on an issue of this kind, in a country like ours. While the amendment is being promoted in the best faith the responsibility for the creation of a secular platform representing a substantial percentage of the population must rest with the ill-advised enthusiasts outside and the cowardice of people inside.
This whole discussion is rooted in concern for the unborn child. What I have finally to say bears with particular force on the behaviour of the people opposite during the past five years, though I am addressing my remarks to all sides of the House: I should like our concern for the unborn to surface in a more concrete and more palpable way than merely changing an Article in the Constitution. I should like us to show concern for the unborn by way of not asking them to pay debts we incur in order to make life easier for ourselves, which is what we have been doing with increasing irresponsibility and recklessness since 1972. Perhaps the oil crisis made our behaviour defensible to some extent until 1975 or 1976 but since 1977 the situation has gone beyond all control. The "current budget deficit" is not simply an economist's stick with which to beat politicians, or to argue about across the House. It is something which in clear brutal language means that we are enjoying today what the unborn will be deprived of tomorrow. That is a valid and graphic way of looking at what we have been doing in this State in the past five or six years.
Again, the blame for that must be attributed to cowardice and to the insane way in which politics here are structured whereby one on this side is reluctant to advocate taxation in case Deputies opposite will try to make one unpopular for that reason and whereby many of them are slow to advocate taxation because of their being afraid of our telling lies about them. Although what we are doing today is a pious exercise by way of protecting the unborn against abortion, we are not protecting them against poverty, joblessness and misery of all kinds in the course of their lives. That is also an aspect that deserves thought on both sides of the House.
I support the Bill as circulated but in common with other Deputies on this side I am concerned about the last paragraph in the Minister's speech where he says that in commending the motion to the House he is doing so on the basis that in approving of the principle of the Bill Deputies would not be committing themselves to the wording proposed now or to any other form of wording. It would appear from that that we are to have an amendment to the Bill as it stands. But if that is the case, it would be very worthwhile having such amendment before us while the Second Stage is in progress.
The Bill is one of the most important pieces of social legislation to come before the House since the foundation of the State. It concerns the most fundamental of all human rights—the right to life. If, as I expect, the Bill is passed the people will be given the opportunity by way of referendum of enshrining in our constitution the protection of the unborn child.
It has been argued that there is no need for the amendment at this time. Deputy Kelly has referred to that but it is recognised that there is not in our Constitution any protection for the unborn child. Article 40 guarantees the protection of the life of the citizen specifically. It has been stated that when the Constitution was drawn up in 1937 it was never envisaged that there would be any risk to the life of the baby in the womb. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, declares every person born in Ireland to be an Irish citizen from birth. In other words, it is only after birth that one has conferred on him the rights bestowed by the 1956 Act. The Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, is still in force. That is the legislation which makes abortion illegal.