An Bille um an Ochtú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1982: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1982: Second Stage (Resumed).

Atógadh an díospóireacht ar leasú Uimh. 1:
Go scriosfar na focail go léir i ndiaidh "Go" agus go gcuirfear an méid seo a leanas ina n-ionad:
"ndiúltaíonn Dáil Éireann an dara léamh a thabhairt don Bhille go dtí go bhfaighidh sí tuarascáil ar an mBille ó Chomhchoiste den Dáil agus den Seanad ag a mbeidh cumhacht fios a chur ar dhaoine, ar pháipéir agus ar thaifid."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann declines to give a second reading to the Bill until it receives a report on the Bill from a Joint Committee of the Dáil and Seanad, having powers to send for persons, papers and records."
—(Deputy De Rossa.)

When I was last speaking on this measure I was voicing my concern at the way this debate had degenerated. The degree of degeneration has been augmented, in my experience, by the hate mail one receives, anonymously or not, when one voices one's reservations about the appropriateness of an amendment to change the Constitution on any matter. It is a sad reflection that when someone voices a clear argument, to my way of thinking an irrefutable argument, against amending the Constitution in this manner, one gets hysterical letters through the post. Those letters are prompted and promoted by the kind of nonsensical argument we have heard from both sides of this House, from people who think the argument is about abortion when it is not.

I put on record my considered reservations to this farce the last day and I do not propose to take up the time of the House repeating them. I want to say loudly and clearly, and to put on the record, the fact that this debate has degenerated to such an extent that nobody knows any longer what precisely we are talking about or, more to the point, why we are talking about it. It has all the hallmarks, regrettably, of a sinking democracy and could be likened to people frantically running around the submerging deck of a Titanic arguing about the exact placement of deck chairs.

We take it for granted in this House that there is an inbuilt and implicit support for the democratic process and that our young people and the young people in Europe will automatically recognise the wisdom, efficiency and justice of a democratic system because it is a better alternative to what Europe has experienced in the past. That is a great and frequently unquantified assertion on our behalf. It is quite clear, given the degeneration of democratic politics in the North, that the sole, sane voice of democratic politics on the non-Unionist side in Northern Ireland is being substantially and consistently eroded by democratic terrorists in the form of Provisional Sinn Féin, with, to quote their own phrase, the ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other.

How can we, as a democratic Assembly, justify our relevance, efficiency or equity if we say to the public, especially to young people, that we are spending endless hours in academic debate in this Chamber about changing the Constitution, which will not have the slightest effect upon the issue about which we are all supposed to be concerned, abortion, because not one single physical change will result in society and the situation of women who find themselves pregnant? We have been blackmailed into changing the Constitution, which will achieve nothing, at a time when our Constitution is crying out to be changed because it is a barrier to social justice in three specific areas. The first is one which is close to my constituency because of the historical nature of the housing stock. We have no statistical figures on which to base our arguments but the consensus is that somewhere in the region of 30,000 people are affected by the removal by the Supreme Court of rent control legislation on the grounds that it was deemed to be inimical to the private rights of property owners and landlords in particular. As a consequence of this, legislation went through this House, the first measure was found to be unconstitutional and the second is currently being challenged by an individual solicitor in this city. As a result of that action at least 30,000 people are directly affected by the way a particular historical group of Supreme Court judges interpreted the property clauses of the Constitution.

If Deputies went to a meeting of the tenants affected by that legislation they would be convinced of the relevance and of the pressing social necessity to redress the balance within the Constitution between the legitimate rights of private property and the need to get a balance for the common good. Where is the amendment campaign to achieve that? Nowhere. The people I am talking about are mainly elderly, single or widowed and on fixed incomes and are literally living in terror. We had the scandal recently in our so-called democratic courts of an 87 year old woman being hauled into the witness box, asked to take the oath and to describe the housing circumstances under which she lived, the income she derived from some pensions and made feel she was a criminal for having lived all her life in the same house which she considered to be her home, a house which the landlord forgot he owned. The Constitution we are rushing to amend is inviolate in this matter and cannot be touched because of the sacred nature of property here.

If we amend the Constitution in relation to abortion it will not make any difference to the 30,000 on the housing lists of local authorities. Land is being sold at a scandalously high price and we do not seem to be able to curb it. Last week, this House agreed to establish a committee to deal with the price of building land. Tomorrow, the Seanad will agree to a similar measure and a committee will be established. Since 1980, the Attorney General's Office, under three successive Ministers for the Environment, have been requested to give an opinion on the constitutionality of measures to deal with the scandalous abuse of land. So far, the Attorney General's Office have found themselves incapable of providing an opinion. Do you know what the guy who is responsible for that file is doing at the moment? He is dreaming up some new wording for this farce. That is what he is doing in a time of economic catastrophe, that is the deployment by the majority democratic forces represented in this House of scarce public skills in the Attorney General's Office. What claims have we on our young people for the automatic and continued support for the democratic process when this kind of nonsense goes on?

Marriages are breaking down in our society and there is no proper or effective legal framework with which to deal with reality, nor the possibility that something might happen in the future, which is the case upon which the pro-amendment people base their claim. They argue it is necessary now to change our Constitution in such a way as to prevent some future body of people introducing legislation. Have we achieved such a degree of democratic efficiency and success in this Legislature that we can afford the luxury of resolving problems which have not yet arisen, when all around us there is a range of problems which are crying out for solutions, to which solutions exist and which ordinary people, who have been made to feel criminals in their own homes, feel should be solved? What kind of a society do we claim as the correct and legitimate heir to the proud republican tradition of 1916 and 1921? That is my cri de coeur to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The argument I make is open and honest. Both parties know they were hijacked by a well-organised and skilful moral blackmail operation at the height of an election campaign. Whatever about conservatives in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, there is no room in my book of tolerance for so-called liberals in both parties who want to be on both sides of the road in this issue. If they exist let them speak freely and openly on this issue. Alternatively, let them show how they can justify the utilisation of this large, elaborate and expensive decision-making machine called the Oireachtas to set in motion in this House and in the Seanad and then with the ordinary people by way of a referendum, a campaign which will not change one comma, sentence, clause or paragraph of any law in the land that currently relates to abortion.

There is no responsive argument to contradict what I am saying in relation to this issue. The only way the supporters of this farce can justify their position is to bleat on as they do about how much they are opposed to abortion. I have not heard any Member speak in favour of abortion. We are all at one on this issue. All political parties have clearly stated that they are not in favour of introducing abortion legislation—end of story. Why are we utilising the time and energy of the Attorney General, who should be doing his job on the question of land legislation instead of trying to do some type of semantic gymnastics to produce a formula of words that will say everything but not mean anything? That is the legal task the Attorney General has been set not just by the Government but by the former Administration also.

The tragedy at the end of the day, as this farce proceeds inevitably onwards to the predictable victory it will have overwhelmingly in the House, is that the more the people who are in favour of the amendment argue for its support on the grounds that it is about abortion the more they build up the view that there are thousands on the island who are allegedly pro-abortion. We will live to learn bitterly that we have created a harvest that will some day be collected by others. The more those who are in favour of the amendment try to force us into the position of saying that we are pro-abortion, which we are not, and the more they try to cast that argument on those lines, when the votes are counted if the logic of their argument is sustained then there will be numbered on this island thousands of people who allegedly are pro-abortion. That is not the case. The irony at the end of this expensive, wasteful and shameful episode will be the creation of a false support in favour of something to which everybody is opposed in overwhelming terms.

It never ceases to amaze me — I make this statement as much about myself as about others — how strong, forceful and full of emotion men can be about a topic which in the final analysis exclusively concerns women and how silent the voices of women have been, in the House and outside, in relation to this matter. At the end of the day I do not think that anything said here will make it any easier for the women who are faced with this horrible dilemma, as many of them have been, and we know that from the official figures. I do not think that what is said today, or on other occasions, will in any way affect the miserable sad journey that so many are frequently and increasingly taking to England or to other countries to obtain for themselves a termination. We automatically and continuously assume in the House that democracy is well rooted in the Irish people, that Irish people believe in our capacity to use it effectively and that democracy is by definition somehow or other a more efficient, equitable and just way of running society. I put seriously to the proponents of this amendment——

That is to the Deputy's own Taoiseach.

The Deputy's party proposed the wording. I very much regret, on his own behalf, that the Taoiseach felt that the Fianna Fáil Party would use it to such an extent as was attempted that he had to accept it.

I want the Deputy to appreciate that it is his Government's legislation.

It is the legislation of the House. It has been moved and accepted by the Fianna Fáil's spokesperson who is sitting beside the Deputy. The wording is Fianna Fáil's. Since the Labour Party have allowed a free vote and since my view is well known on the issue I feel free to speak. I do not have to accept the artificial divide in Irish politics that a Civil War many years ago has thrown up for us.

The Minister of State is a member of a patched-up Coalition.

If the Deputy opposite feels constrained to lock himself into that historical time frame, that is his choice. I am addressing, through the Chair, the Fianna Fáil Party, because they will not even have the luxury of a free vote in regard to this. They, and the ex-Cabinet members of that party, know better than anyone the difficulties encountered by successive holders of the office of Attorney General in relation to the formulation of words that achieves a political objective on the one hand but makes legal nonsense of the Constitution on the other. Fianna Fáil are well endowed with constitutional lawyers who have pointed out all those difficulties. A Member with the eminent experience of Deputy Tunney knows that better than I. In recent times Deputy Tunney has acquired great skills in managing coalition, better than I will ever achieve and I give him that credit.

I thought the Deputy was overlooking the fact that this is a piece of legislation introduced by his Government. The Deputy should proceed on that premise.

I am grateful for the Deputy's insistence in regard to this. I should like to point out to the Deputy that the Government are responding to a piece of legislation which was announced immediately after the Government which he supported collapsed. Therefore, one cannot describe it accurately as being one Government's legislation as against another. It happens to be precisely the same wording as far as we know — this is part of the farce — that was originally formulated by a Government of which he was an active and full supporting Member. In fact, Deputy Woods, who is sitting beside Deputy Tunney, was the Minister responsible for introducing the legislation in the first place. Deputy Woods knows better than I, and many others, the legal pitfalls and mine fields surrounding the wording associated with his Government's attempt to respond to what was nothing short of moral blackmail in this matter.

Why is it that we automatically assume that our young people will continue to give unqualified and uncritical support to a democratic process that is so manifestly devaluing itself in the eyes of everybody else? I regard myself as a rationalist. I am putting forward what I consider to be rational arguments against this amendment. If some Member can refute my arguments, I am open to accept his or her refutation. I am not locked into a prejudicial attitude against them, but I am saying that there is no tangible, logical or rational reason why we should amend the Constitution in this manner. That is a fixed, locked separate argument. On top of that, to my way of thinking it adds insult to injury to think that the entire elaborate process of constitutional amendment is being used in this instance, while I can cite three separate issues where there is a pressing social need and demand to introduce an amendment. There are two separate arguments but one can make the connection in terms of pragmatics between the first and the second.

I listened to Deputy McCarthy make a contribution last week on a matter that had little or nothing to do with the proposed amendment: the question of abortion and international statistics and the decision of the Supreme Court in regard to it. If Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael wish to bring in legislation reaffirming their opposition to abortion and confirming the 1861 Act, let them do that. I am clear about the way I would vote in regard to that.

We are doing something different. We are opening a legal Pandora's Box. Every Deputy around the country who has talked to a half-baked solicitor knows that in the opening of that box nobody knows what will come out of it. Nobody can determine the nature of what will come out of it and, most important of all, nobody can respond to the open-ended legal consequences of what will emanate from such a box when finally opened by some action by a private citizen against the Minister for Health, subsequently the Supreme Court and possibly on to the European Court of Human Rights.

I will conclude by saying that we are not doing democracy any service in moving this proposal. All of the political parties, particularly Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, should have the courage and moral strength to stand up to the nation and say, as we have had to say to many economic interest groups, "I am sorry, the situation has changed. We are not going ahead with this for legal and financial reasons and we give a clear assurance that none of the political parties involved in Leinster House propose to make any change in relation to the question of abortion"—and that would be end of story.

We could utilise this time more effectively and efficiently to amend the Constitution in areas that are crying out to be amended and where people are suffering every day as a consequence. If you walk less than half a mile from here on to the first floor of a very inelegant office block building where temporarily the rents tribunal of the District Court is housed, you will see a scandal going on in relation to the operation and administration of landlord and tenant legislation. Such a scandal was inconceivable to the land-leaguers whose centenary we celebrated last year, and to all of the nationalist and republican forces who coalesced successfully in 1918 and 1920 to achieve partial independence on this island. That in 1982 and 1983 a Supreme Court of the Irish Republic would reintroduce under a de Valera Constitution the powers and rights of landlords to exploit their own with greater legal immunity than Mother England ever gave to them is a kind of tragedy built upon a farce, the farce of this debate and this proposal. I regret bitterly that this House and the major political parties have allowed themselves to be dragged in by this small group of people. It is a reflection on the kind of consensus politics we have that this has been allowed to happen.

Finally, I appeal to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that it is not too late yet to find a face-saving formula that will achieve the objective of the pro-life campaign, which is to ensure that abortion will never be legalised in this country on the one hand, and on the other hand not to use that legitimate aspiration shared by the vast majority of people on this island in a crude, savage and weird attempt at amending the Constitution in a manner that will do no good and no justice to the rest of the country.

I listened with some interest to the references by the Minister of State to some of our prevailing social ills. One could be forgiven for forgetting that the Minister of State is a member of a party who are keeping this Government in power. If his party are to continue to keep this Government in power, why do they not insist on the Government tackling these prevailing social ills? I appreciate what the Minister of State said about the time taken resolving this problem, but I point out to him that it is within the power of the Government to put a number of constitutional amendments together to the people by way of referendum, if that is their choice.

Sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, make abortion a criminal offence in effect. That law was passed by a British Parliament but it was carried over into the laws of the Irish State under the provisions of the Act of Union, 1800. The Constitution of 1922 carried over all previous British laws applicable to Ireland into the laws of the Irish Free State in so far as they were not inconsistent with that Constitution. The Constitution of 1922 was replaced by the Constitution of 1937 and the same position prevailed. In other words, all pre-1922 British laws were carried over into the laws of the Irish State post-1937 in so far as they were not inconsistent with the 1937 Constitution. The question of inconsistency with the 1937 Irish Constitution could be determined only if a citizen of the State challenged one of those laws as being inconsistent with that Constitution. Nobody has as yet challenged the validity of sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and accordingly, they are still applicable in Ireland. As I said at the outset, they make abortion a criminal offence and they provide extremely severe penalities for people who have been involved directly or indirectly in carrying out an abortion.

At present, this law which makes abortion a criminal offence can be said to give an unborn person a right to life. This is done indirectly by making it a criminal offence for anybody to take the life or to participate in the taking of the life of a person who is conceived but as yet unborn. This right which the unborn has been given under sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, can be abolished or repealed in two ways. Firstly, it can be abolished by the Legislature. Both Houses of the Oireachtas can by a simple majority pass a law which would repeal sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. Alternatively any citizen of this State can challenge sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, on the grounds that they are unconstitutional, in some way inconsistent with the provisions of the 1937 Constitution.

If the High Court and, of course, on appeal the Supreme Court, found these sections of the 1861 Act to be unconstitutional, then they would automatically cease to operate and abortion would no longer be a criminal offence in this State. Accordingly, the unborn's indirect right to life given by sections 57 and 58 of the 1861 Act would disappear.

However, if the right to life of a person who has been conceived but is as yet unborn were contained in the Constitution, written into the Constitution, then it would require a referendum, that is a plebiscite, in which all citizens over the age of 18 would be entitled to vote to abolish that right. This is precisely what this amendment seeks to achieve. It seeks to incorporate the unborn person's right to life into the Constitution so that that right cannot be abolished, abrogated or changed without direct reference to the people. It takes the decision whether or not to interfere with the unborn person's right to life away from the courts and the Legislature and gives it directly to the people.

On the general level two arguments have been advanced against this proposed change. Firstly, it is said that it will achieve nothing in the sense that it will not prevent one Irishwoman from going abroad to obtain an abortion. Secondly, it is said to be sectarian or divisive. I want to advert very briefly to each argument in turn. On the question of preventing Irishwomen from going abroad to obtain abortions, I have heard statements at pro-life meetings that this amendment will in some magic way prevent Irishwomen from going abroad to obtain abortions. That is nonsense. We all know that the amendment will not prevent one woman from leaving Ireland to obtain an abortion abroad. However, I would point out to the people who make that argument that at no time in the history of the world has one form of activity been universally banned in every country. That is still the situation and will continue to be the situation. Many activities are prohibited by the criminal laws of Ireland but are nevertheless legally permissible in other countries. No one has ever suggested, nor would it be correct to suggest, that we should try to prevent Irish people from going to countries where those activities are legally permissible and engaging in such activities. Irish people are free to do that and there is nothing we can do about it. The only way effectively to prohibit women and girls going abroad to obtain abortions is by a process of education on the evils and ill-effects of abortion. The fact that the proposed amendment would not prevent even one person going abroad to obtain an abortion is totally irrelevant to the issue before us. What is important is that the laws and Constitution of Ireland should reflect the ideals, aspirations and beliefs of the vast majority of the population of this State.

This amendment would prevent abortion ever being legalised in this country, except by direct wish of the people expressed by way of referendum. That itself is a desirable and worthy objective. It is said that the Supreme Court interpret the laws in accordance with changing social conditions. I do not know if it is any part of the Supreme Court's mandate to do so, but I am ready to admit that the Supreme Court have certainly taken into account changed social conditions and attitudes when called upon to make a decision on whether legislation is constitutionally permissible. This applies particularly in relation to policy decisions, and a decision on sections 57 and 58 of the 1861 Act would come into this category. It would be logical to assume that the Supreme Court would not find sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, to be unconstitutional unless they felt that at least a substantial minority or perhaps to accept the decriminalisation of abortion. It puzzles me, however, that some people advance the argument that the interpretation of the will of the majority should be left in this case to the personal decision of five Supreme Court judges. It is a matter so fundamental that people are entitled to be consulted directly.

There are other protections in the Constitution, the importance of which I do not wish to minimise. I speak of such rights as the right to private property contained in Article 43, the right to the inviolability of one's dwelling, the right to habeus corpus. These rights are extremely important and cannot be abrogated or changed without direct reference to the people. Surely the right to life is a more fundamental right. Why should it be possible to abolish this right to life without direct reference to the people when those lesser rights cannot be abolished except by this process?

A second argument against the amendment is that it is in some way sectarian or divisive. I have attended meetings in my constituency held both by those who support the amendment and those who oppose it and I have not heard anyone spelling out precisely what "sectarian" means in this context. My interpretation of speeches by the anti-amendment campaigners is that they claim this amendment would widen the gulf between the majority population in the South and the majority in Northern Ireland and thus further postpone the day of Irish unity by consent. If this is a proper interpretation of their argument, it is strange in the extreme, particularly since nobody has ever suggested that sections 57 and 58 of the 1861 Act are divisive or sectarian.

I cannot see why a change in the method by which sections 57 and 58 can be repealed should postpone for one moment the day of Irish unity by consent. Are the anti-amendment campaigners really saying that the repeal of those provisions and the effective legislation of abortion will be part of the price which this country will have to pay for unity? If that is their argument, it is a price I am not prepared to pay, regardless of when it has to be paid and regardless of the complexion of the Government who seek to introduce it. I am sorry if I am misinterpreting the views of the anti-amendment campaigners but that argument seems to be implicit in their assertion that the proposed amendment is divisive or sectarian.

I refer now to a point of view which was expressed a number of years ago but is heard less often today, possibly because of the economic problem. There is a view that the way to achieve Irish unity by consent is to lower our standards, change our laws and do whatever the other side want. That sort of approach will never win the minds and hearts of the Northern Unionists. The inescapable reality is that the respect others have for us is directly proportionate to the respect we have for ourselves.

Because of internal conflicts in the Fine Gael and Labour Parties, as well as conflict between the two parties, the Government have sought to backtrack from the implementation of this amendment. They have adopted a misleading approach in order to find a way out, but it is also a dangerous approach. The argument being used is that the wording is vague and imprecise and could lead to some unexpected results. There has never been and never will be any written law or constitutional provision that when closely and expertly examined could not be said to lead to some unexpected or unforeseen results. A few leading lawyers will always produce some section or wording which will produce unforeseen results. If we were to carry that argument to its logical conclusion it would lead to some absurd results. It would make this House and the other House redundant as far as our function as lawmakers is concerned. We could not embark on any more legislation except, perhaps, in the simplest form. The courts could no longer make decisions which would in effect constitute rules of law. This would lead to the abandonment of the Constitution because I am sure that any reasonably skilled lawyer could do with any Article of the Constitution what the Attorney General has done with this amendment. A reasonably instructed lawyer could examine any Article and find some word or phrase which, if interpreted in a certain way in a certain context, would give rise to a result which at present seems undesirable.

I find somewhat peculiar the Attorney General's reasoning for urging caution in relation to this amendment. The central argument is that the word "unborn" is not defined. Consequently the courts could take the view that the person who is protected by the amendment is only a person who is capable of being born. I am not a medical expert but the medical evidence is that the foetus does not become capable of being born alive until after 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. That would be a very peculiar interpretation of this amendment if the Supreme Court were ever to take that particular interpretation. The peculiarity of that possible future ruling by the Supreme Court can be seen when we look at what, in effect, the law would be if the Supreme Court interpreted the amendment in that way.

The result of that interpretation would be that for the first 28 weeks of pregnancy the unborn child would be protected by sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. That legislation, so far as it related to the first 28 weeks of pregnancy, could still be changed by legislation and the Government would not have to go to the people by way of a referendum to bring about that change. However, so far as sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861 applied to the foetus after 28 weeks of pregnancy the abolition of those sections or any change in them would have to be referred to the people by way of a referendum. That would be a highly illogical and unreal situation.

I am sure that no properly instructed Supreme Court could interpret this amendment in such a way as to give rise to such a misleading, illogical and unreal situation. Even if it did the position would then be that the unborn child is still protected in the same way as it is protected now up to the end of the 28th week of pregnancy and it would be protected by the law, copperfastened by the Constitution, after the 28th week of pregnancy. The protection of the child who is conceived but is as yet unborn is somewhat strengthened. It is in no way weakened and, consequently, I cannot understand the Attorney General's argument in this context. He has also argued that the words "with due regard to the equal right of the mother" in the amendment can give rise to a situation — we are talking about very exceptional circumstances — where a doctor would not be permitted to intervene to save either the life of the mother or the life of the child in a situation where it had to be one or the other. That situation is governed by medical ethics and medical ethics are part of the natural law. The Attorney General, Mr. Sutherland, should know better than anybody else in the House that the natural law is superior and antecedent to all positive law. Consequently, no problem arises here.

Deputy Shatter made a few interesting remarks in the course of his contribution which I read carefully. He said that the word "unborn" was wide enough to cover children who had not yet been conceived. Accordingly, if the amendment not only protects the right to be born after being conceived but in fact protects the right to be born and that right includes the right to be conceived, then the right to the availability of contraceptives, which was established by the Supreme Court in the McGee case and incorporated into legislation in 1979, could be challenged. That was Deputy Shatter's viewpoint.

One could ask oneself if this is really a realistic argument. It seems to me there are two fundamental objections to it. The McGee case decided that the right to the availability of contraceptives was implicit in the Constitution as it stands. It is not a right expressed in any Article but it is a right implicit in the Constitution as it stands. We must ask ourselves would the Supreme Court be inclined to interpret a subsequent amendment to the Constitution as being directly contrary to a right, which the same Supreme Court had found to be clearly implicit in the Constitution as it was before the amendment?

As Deputy Shatter pointed out, there are a number of possible logical interpretations of the word "unborn". Consequently I cannot see why the Supreme Court would take the one interpretation which would directly conflict with the right which it had already found to be implicitly in the Constitution.

The second objection I would have to Deputy Shatter's argument is from a reading of the amendment as a whole. The amendment refers to the equal right of the mother of the unborn. Consequently the unborn person, who is being protected by the Constitution, is envisaged to have a mother. Can it be said realistically that a person who is not yet even conceived has a mother? I suppose it may be a possible interpretation but it is one which is highly unlikely to be taken. Deputy Shatter said also that since the Constitution has been found to be a vibrant, living, legal document many rights have been found to be implicit in the Constitution, which were not foreseen at the time it was drafted. He stated that many such rights may also be found to be implicit in this amendment, which were not foreseen at the moment when it was being drafted.

The Minister of State had a rather similar argument when he referred to a Pandora's Box which could be opened at some time in the future and at this point in time nobody knew what would be contained in it. That argument is nonsensical. Since the Constitution is a vibrant, living, legal document many rights which were not expressly stated have been found to be implicit in it. I am sure that many others will be found to be implicit in it as social conditions and economic conditions change. If Deputy Shatter's argument is taken as a reason for rejecting this amendment then, in effect, we should abandon the entire Constitution now because many things may be found in the future to be implicit in the Constitution as it now stands which are not foreseen at the moment. Therefore, the argument does not get us anywhere.

There is one point, however, on which I would like to record my agreement with Deputy Shatter. I am of the opinion that if this amendment, as presently worded, is adopted then the Supreme Court will at some time in the future—I am inclined to think it will be the more immediate future—be able to conclude from it, in conjuction with some other provisions of the Constitution, that there is an absolute right to life for everybody in the State, whether born or unborn and that right to life enjoys absolute protection even against the State itself. This would involve the Legislature being forced to abolish capital punishment. I would enthusiastically agree with that development. It would be very desirable.

I want to come back to the point that we can do anything with the wording of any legislative provision if we examine it sufficiently closely. If you take the words "defend and vindicate" the right to life of the unborn in the amendment you could argue about those. For example, we presume that in order for the right to life of the unborn to be defended or vindicated abortion will have to be a criminal offence. What sort of penalty would be necessary in order that we could say that the right to life of the unborn was defended and vindicated by the law prohibiting abortion? Would 14 years' imprisonment be sufficient to vindicate the right to life of the unborn? Would ten years be sufficient, or even a year, or would such vindication require 20 years? We can do anything with the wording if we examine it closely enough. If the Supreme Court were to interpret the wording of the amendment at some time in the future in the way in which the Attorney General has envisaged, the court would be going out of its way deliberately to decriminalise abortion. Any court at any time can twist the wording of legislation or the wording of the Constitution so as to make it mean what the court wishes it to mean. We trust our courts not to do that but is the fact that the courts can act in this way at any time a reason for our attempting no longer to make written laws? I do not think it is.

I have something to say about the campaign being waged on each side in respect of this amendment. Although I am a member of the Limerick Pro-Life Society I am prepared to say that the tactics adopted by both the pro and the anti people have been deplorable. I have been both sickened and disgusted with this situation and I condemn in the strongest possible terms the tactics being used by both sides. However, while I disagree with some of the tactics being adopted by the pro-life campaigners, their basic motivation is sound. It is the motivation of the anti-amendment people that I question seriously. The immediate and almost instinctive response of the anti-amendment campaigners to the amendment is that it will not achieve anything. On many occasions in my own life, both in a personal and in a professional capacity, I have found it necessary to advise people that certain courses of action they wished to take would not achieve any objective but having offered that advice I did not go out of my way to work day and night or to generate a lot of publicity or enthusiasm to stop those people from acting as they wished. It is extraordinary that the anti-amendment campaigners have invested such a colossal amount of energy, enthusiasm and finance in order to prevent something which they believe will not achieve anything. Consequently, their motivation must be seriously in doubt. As time goes on their statements and to some extent their membership, if examined closely, may indicate something more sinister than simply protecting the Irish people against themselves.

As the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment has said, there are many social problems facing us and there are many antiquated laws which need to be updated and in some cases abolished. There are many thorny issues that need to be tackled. I urge the people, particularly the anti-amendment campaigners, to devote some of their energy to changing and updating those laws which have caused a great deal of hardship, misery and suffering to many Irish people.

Deputy O'Dea has referred to the campaigners on both sides in regard to this amendment and he tells us that, as seems to be the position of other Deputies also, he is involved in the pro-life campaign. At the outset I wish to make it clear that I have not been involved in the campaign one way or the other outside of this House. The decision I have taken has not been taken in response to any campaign but simply on the question of the issue as I see it and my decision has been to oppose the amendment. In the course of this debate I consider it necessary to explain the stand I have taken but before doing that I wish to comment on the contributions that we have had so far in this debate, many of which I have listened to.

From the position that has been adopted in the debate it seems to me almost obligatory when speaking on this issue to preface one's remarks by stating a case for or against abortion. Those who oppose the amendment, either in an organised way or on an individual level, emphasise repeatedly that they see no contradiction in doing so while at the same time opposing abortion. This is a valid argument and one that is crucial to any objective debate on this issue. The emphasis of many Deputies speaking in favour of the amendment has been on the issue of abortion. In many cases they have concentrated on the issue of abortion on demand. I do not see the issue in those terms. I see the primary question as being one of amending the Constitution and of why it should be necessary to do so in this instance.

Our law ensures that abortion is not available in this State and no objective observer would suggest that Irish courts would at some time in the future facilitate the introduction of abortion on demand. Furthermore, for those thousands of Irish women who take a decision in conscience and who find it necessary to go to Britain in order to have abortions, the amendment will change nothing. Surely, then, the issue is far more complicated than simply the question of one's moral stand for or against abortion. There are other considerations that are of importance to all of us as well as to this institution but before referring to those considerations I wish to draw attention to one other point. Having said that I am opposed to the amendment and that I will be voting against it, I am conscious of the fact that regardless of how I make use of the debate here to articulate my views, my stand, as well as the stand of any other Deputy who opposes the amendment, will be construed at least by some as adopting a position in defence of abortion. But I do not intend to be influenced by the atmosphere of moral intimidation surrounding this issue. There are people in our society, both inside and outside this House, who have in the past politicised this question and thus abused what is a sensitive moral issue. One Deputy, who made a very excellent contribution earlier in this debate, said "If I were to vote against it or abstain, it would instantly be misconstrued, sincerely and accidentally by some, but I have no doubt unscrupulously and maliciously by others". I have no doubt that there are a great many Deputies who are fearful of being misconstrued, maliciously or otherwise, who are being deeply influenced by that fear and are refusing to speak out against this amendment and against those forces behind it. I must admit to sharing that fear. That threatening cloud has overshadowed from the very beginning what has been termed a pro-life campaign.

I share Deputy Kelly's disgust "that the leaders of the two big parties should have felt compelled in the heat of an approaching election to give an undertaking in a matter so serious as amending the Constitution". That draws attention to a very important question. Why this urgency — one might almost say indecent haste — with which the referendum is being pursued? Why, amid such desperate social and economic difficulties, should we have a most costly referendum on a matter which is already more than adequately catered for in the law of the land? No responsible Government would, of their own choosing, be so wasteful of time and money when all our efforts should be concentrated on the massive problems of unemployment and growing social inequality. The only reason — and I emphasise the word "only"— that a referendum is proposed on this issue is because a small, unrepresentative group, using as its modus operandi political and moral blackmail, trapped the main party leaders into an ill-advised and hasty promise prior to an election, at a time when they were at their most vulnerable.

This surely elicits a serious question: can anybody agree that this is the way to initiate proposals to change the Constitution of the State? If we are to have a referendum to change the Constitution, then we, the elected representatives, should examine, discuss and agree, calmly and carefully, changes that are urgent and necessary to achieve social advancement for our people. Surely that is the criterion for such a referendum, not the abuse of the democratic process whereby politicians are trapped into a hasty commitment on a highly emotive and sensitive issue by a group of individuals with no mandate whatever.

Any Government which do not stand firm against such intimidation must accept the charge of moral cowardice. It is ironic that when vital questions are raised in this House — for example, the Kenny Report on building land — we are told that this would be difficult to implement because it might prove to be unconstitutional. We then set up a Dáil committee to look further into the question and, hopefully, the issue goes away. It never dawns on us that perhaps that is an urgent question which necessitates constitutional change. There are indeed many other examples of positive changes which could be made if the political resolve existed. The problem of marriage breakdown has been the subject of Dáil questions and has been referred to a Dáil committee. This widespread human predicament, for which the existing law does not provide, is apparently not as urgent as the pro-life amendment, as it is called. I hope that the Minister will explain to the House how major social problems such as those which I have mentioned, which clearly require remedial legislation, can be set aside while a meaningless and unnecessary referendum is thrust on the people. Is it intended to divert or sidetrack attention away from those vital social questions by plunging the country into a pointless emotional crusade? That may not be the intention, but it will certainly be the end result.

Another bewildering aspect of this referendum is its sectarian nature, the most ready reply to which charge is that it is not sectarian, despite the fact that all the Protestant churches — Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland — have stated publicly their opposition to the amendment. Surely, its introduction can only widen the gap between the majority and minority churches and, inevitably, between North and South. This is all the more bewildering since the Taoiseach has been foremost in promising a constitutional crusade designed, in his view, to produce precisely the opposite effect — that is, the bringing together of the different traditions. How can he reconcile his stated aim of national reconciliation with this narrow, sectarian, unnecessary amendment? That is something which I hope we will hear explained to the House. So blatantly sectarian is the amendment, and now with the public opposition of the Protestant churches, there is a strong case for arguing that the proposed amendment is repugnant to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of conscience. As the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral said so succinctly recently: "You have a right to your opinion and I to mine, but to enshrine one particular denominational opinion in the Constitution is sectarian."

Yet a further contradiction which should not go unnoticed is that, in the midst of cut-backs and calls for financial stringency, an estimated £1 million is to be spent on the referendum. Surely that is an unacceptable extravagance? If the Government were to allocate that money to Women's Aid, or to a special project for itinerant children, that gesture would be far more pro-life than this amendment will ever be. It is noteworthy that the budget included an allocation of around £½ million to be set aside for a new agency to combat poverty — this paltry sum to combat poverty throughout the State while twice that sum is to be literally thrown away on a referendum which will change nothing, will not improve the quality of life of one single child in this State. There cannot be any justification for such extravagance.

I can see no intrinsic value in holding this referendum. The only possible justification would be if there were a clearly defined threat to the existing law. If there were a strong lobby calling for abortion on demand and a degree of sympathy in the House to such a lobby, then a referendum would be justifiable. There is no such threat and, indeed, no possibility of that being the case in the foreseeable future. It is evident that the vast majority of the people I represent are opposed to abortion on demand.

If this referendum were necessary to uphold the present position, then I would certainly vote for it. However, by any stretch of the imagination the referendum cannot be seen to be necessary at this time. To say that it is now necessary to change the Constitution is as inaccurate as the term "pro-life" itself. If those who have spent so much time and effort orchestrating this campaign were genuinely pro-life, then they would take up the cause of the poor and underprivileged and mount a campaign on behalf of the homeless and the jobless, against the inequality and poverty that brings so much suffering to so many of our children. Any SPUC member or pro-life campaigner who does not have a record of work on behalf of the poor must be open to the charge of hypocrisy.

Should this amendment be passed then the State's guarantee to protect the life of the unborn inevitably will become as meaningless a phrase as that contained in Article 41, which recognises the family as having imprescriptible rights superior to all positive law. As one of our most prominent historians, Dr. F.S.L. Lyons, points out, here the reality does not approximate even remotely to the ideal — children still go hungry and mothers age prematurely, rearing large families in desperate housing conditions.

On the other hand it is significant that many of those individuals and organisations who oppose this amendment have been prominent in seeking social reform to make life more tolerable for the oppressed and disadvantaged. I do not think the same can be said of the SPUC people, as they call themselves. Indeed, one lady Deputy on the Government side of the House, who has been prominent in her association with SPUC since its foundation, sees no contradiction in being associated openly and unashamedly with class-based campaigns against the building of corporation houses in middle class areas and more recently against the Howth hostel for homeless children. I find it exceedingly difficult to understand the logic of that Deputy's concept of the term "pro-life. Although I accept that I may have chosen an extreme case, those double standards must necessarily be reflected in the entire so-called pro-life campaign to a greater or lesser degree.

As a society we tolerate the extremes of wealth and poverty in which at least a quarter of our people suffer the most acute deprivation. We now wish to declare to the world that we respect the right to life. As a representative of communities where poverty is a part of everyday life, I could hardly support such hypocrisy. When we have a Constitution which guarantees the right of every family to a home, the right of every adult to a job and every child to a full and meaningful education and to health services, then our Constitution will be pro-life.

The proposed amendment will not achieve anything positive, only an implied negative smear on those Irish women who make what must be a most tortuous decision. I will have no part in any such smear.

I made it clear some time ago that I am not particularly enthusiastic about this amendment. I said that, if there was a free vote on this amendment, certainly I would be voting against it. I made it clear at that time, and do so again, that a free vote can only operate when it is free all round, when the Whip is lifted on all parties and when all parties agree that a question is left emphatically to the individual decision of the Deputy.

That is not the case in this debate. At the outset, may I say I will be voting with my party in favour of the amendment in line with the commitment given by my party in the general election. I regret that this is so, because if ever there was a case for a free vote in this House this is one. I have no doubt that, if there was a free vote, the referendum would be held, that there would be in this House a sizeable majority voting out of conviction for the holding of this referendum. If there was a free vote I believe that vote would more accurately reflect the true feelings of people in this House on the question of whether or not this referendum should be held. Certainly it would be a much more accurate reflection of what is the true feeling in this House.

It would also be very much in line with what I believe is the true feeling in the country, not on the question of abortion — because if ever there was an issue on which there is almost universal concensus it is against abortion — but on whether or not it should be necessary to hold this referendum. Anybody here who reflects what she or he hears knows that throughout the country the people are divided on whether or not there should be a referendum. We Deputies come across it each day. I come across it talking to students. I come across it in my constituency, in the pub. I come across it talking to old people and young people, men and women. We all know that people are disagreeing on whether or not there should be a referendum. They are doing this calmly, in good faith. They are doing it without abusing each other's motives. They see it as an issue on which it is possible to have honest doubts as to whether an amendment is a good thing at present or ever. It is possible to disagree without being bitter about one's opponents without casting doubts on their bona fides, without thinking that anybody who opposes the holding of a referendum is in some way ambivalent on the basic question of abortion.

That is the position in the country. That is how people see it in urban and rural Ireland and across all age groups. All of us who go to meetings, as all of us do in this House will see first of all that very many people are not particularly turned on by this whole issue anyway; but those who are are much more open-minded in their approach than is the official party line in both of the major parties in this House. It is a question on which there is room for honest doubts and disagreement. It is a pity that in this debate we here cannot be as open and as honest as are the ordinary people outside the House. It is a pity also, and I regret it, that we in this House have allowed what is an extremely important and sensitive moral issue to become a political football and, in some cases, though happily in very few, to be used to denigrate the integrity of opponents or used for immediate political advantage.

I have listened carefully to most speakers in this debate and have read what everybody has said. I would say that the tone of the debate has been at a very high level: for the most part the tone of the debate has been one of tolerance and of at least attempting to understand the case even if one did not necessarily agree with it. A lot of the credit for this must go to Deputy O'Hanlon, the new Fianna Fáil spokesman on Health, who set a very balanced and dignified tone for this debate.

I would take certain exception to what Deputy O'Dea said. I do not belong to any group. I make up my mind on this matter as best I can. I have written to both sides, I have talked with both sides and have read what I could. I believe that no side has a monopoly of intolerance or bigotry in this matter. There are extremes on both sides. But I regret very much that Deputy O'Dea felt compelled to bring into question the good faith of the vast majority on the anti-amendment side. No less than those on the pro-amendment side they are trying to be honest, and trying to speak with conviction on what to all of us is an important and central question. I am sorry he saw fit to cast doubt, indeed almost to introduce an element of smear, on some of those people, especially since they are not in a position to reply under the privilege of the House.

I want to outline the reasons why I am most unenthusiastic about holding this referendum. Like Deputy Gregory-Independent and Deputy Kelly and many others who spoke, I am very unhappy about the way in which this amendment came about. As is now well known, commitments were given without proper debate, without proper thought, and without proper consultation. They were given without the type of reflection which should always precede any change in the law, and which most emphatically should always precede a change in our basic law, the Constitution.

We all know there were election pressures. We all know there is a degree of distrust between the leaders of the two main parties in this House which probably has not been equalled since the first decade of the State. Perhaps in part that explains why the party leaders were so quick to rush in. Perhaps it explains why there was not fuller consultation on a matter which should never have been agreed to at such short notice and without a proper, full debate.

During the election campaign those of us who had doubts should have come out and said so. I expressed my reservations to people who spoke to me. I said there was a commitment to the holding of a referendum and that commitment would be honoured. That is the position today. Those of us who had reservations were caught up in the rush of events. I am not apologising for that now. I am not particularly proud of it but it happened. We were afraid that what seemed to be a peripheral issue, a red herring, would become a central issue in the campaign, and the main thrust and the main concern of the election would be side-tracked.

I agree emphatically with Deputy Kelly that all parties in this House should have a self-imposed embargo on commitments made, as he said, in the octave of an election period when groups find political parties at their most uncertain. All politicians are like this. There is no point in people on the opposite side adopting a holier-than-thou attitude. All politicians are nervous before elections. Pressure groups know they have politicians in a vulnerable position. That was never more true than over the past year or two, given the record of political instability and the fevered atmosphere of Irish politics during that time.

This pressure group exploited that situation brilliantly and effectively. I do not blame the pro-amendment people for having done that. They saw an opportunity. They were deeply concerned to get their point of view across and to achieve an objective, and they used that opportunity brilliantly. They did it effectively and in good faith, and that is why this House is having a debate today on this amendment.

I am unenthusiastic about holding a referendum on this amendment because of the principle involved in the way it was rushed into the House. My second reason for my lack of enthusiasm about this amendment is that I feel very deeply we should not change our Constitution until all other means of achieving the desired objective have been explored. There is no urgency at present about this question. There is no case before the High Court let alone the Supreme Court to change the law on abortion.

As Deputy John Kelly, who is the foremost constitutional expert on this subject, pointed out changes in the Constitution do not take place overnight. There will be at least a year's notice, and perhaps two years, while the process works its way through the legal system. As he also pointed out, the entire ethos of our courts system is very different from that of the other legal systems cited by those who fear, and perhaps fear very genuinely, that they could wake up in the morning and find the law has been changed. That will not happen. The process is much more lengthy and the ethos of our courts is very different.

There is no urgency, no pressure about this. There is no immediate threat, no immediate danger. For that reason, the whole question should have been examined much more carefully and at greater length in the normal legislative process. Normally when we face a difficult question we set up an all-party committee. We know that in changing the Constitution there should be as wide a degree of consensus as possible. We know the matter should be fully examined, all the possibilities should be studied in detail, the best possible expert advice should be got not outside the House but inside the House. That is why we have all-party committees. That has always been the approach to changing the Constitution. At least there is a proper in-depth examination and a major public debate beforehand.

We have plenty of time for that approach. There is no immediate threat. Yet no attempt has been made — not even a start was made in this House — to examine the present situation, to ask ourselves if the existing legislation, the 1861 Act, is in danger of becoming outdated or needs to be strengthened. We made no attempt to see in what ways our social services or our educational services could be improved to prevent the very thing we are talking about, that is, to prevent people having to seek abortions.

We did not begin to examine those questions. There is a whole range of allied aspects of this matter which we as legislators, we as the elected Parliament, should have examined. We should have sought the best possible advice to see if the law was working and whether it needed strengthening. Then in here we should have examined in detail whether there was a possibility at some stage in the future of this legislation being found unconstitutional.

That debate should have taken place in the calmness of a committee of the whole House, away from fevered political activity, away from the pressures of elections, away from the immediate concerns of this House. That would have been a simple process. That is the way it should have been done. That process was not engaged in and it reflects badly on this House that it was not done. On the few occasions in our history that we changed our Constitution, we did not rush lightly into changing it. We did not say it must be done as quickly as possible, that there was not time for a full debate, that we would not utilise the existing process of examination and the existing means by which parliament itself could strengthen the legislation or find out what difficulties or weaknesses existed in it.

Everyone in this House, from whichever party, surely has sufficient respect and reverence for our Constitution to agree that changing it is something which should not be undertaken lightly or in a hurry. We should approach changing our Constitution at a much slower pace and only when all other devices have failed. The case for immediate change and an immediate referendum has not been made. We have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities in this House of strengthening the legislation and achieving the objective all four Deputies sitting in the House want to achieve. I am certain all four of us are at one in the objective we wish to achieve. We are sitting in a sovereign parliament but the initiative did not come from us. It was not set by the political parties but from pressure from outside groups. As a parliament we have ceded a certain amount of our respect and sovereignty in not standing up and doing it our way. Any other approach represents a partial abdication of our responsibilities. I am speaking about the way in which this Bill came before us. It may be that the end result will be that we will see the referendum on the same wording but let us do it in such a way that the self-respect of the House is not damaged.

In the twenties the founders of the State took the view that the Constitution should be easily amended. If 75,000 people signed a petition requring a constitutional change a referendum would be held. This was in tune with the thinking at the time that democracy should be made as accessible as possible. That device was abolished in 1928 because the Government of the day saw that there was a clash between the sovereignty of the Government and easy access to referenda. This abolition was opposed by Mr. de Valera at the time but in 1937 when he drew up his own Constitution he made no attempt to introduce this popular initiative. He saw clearly that there could be a clash between the two different concepts of Government. This clash is best illustrated in the experience of modern France where Charles de Gaulle, who hated parliament and parliamentarians, consistently used the referendum as a weapon against them and played down the power of parliament. He did this with purpose and with considerable success.

Mr. de Valera with wisdom saw that easy access to a referendum could undermine the position of parliament since parliaments from time to time have to make hard decisions and take unpopular measures. One of the reasons for a five-year parliament is to protect it from the fury of the people. Mr. de Valera, who spoke so strongly on this issue nine years earlier, made no attempt to have easy access to a referendum. In fact he designed his Constitution to ensure that referenda would be initiated by parliament. The practice through the years has been that a referendum is not undertaken lightly and the pressure for one comes from within the House and not outside.

There are some who feel that this is a bad system and that the Constitution is too remote. Some would like to see us going back to the system which operated in 1922 but which was later abolished. When this referendum goes through there will be a move back to the old position and there will be pressure from outside to hold referenda on a wide variety of issues, some of which have been mentioned. We are setting a precedent in that the House is responding to outside pressure. I am not judging whether this is good or bad. Perhaps it is good. There will be other pressing and important issues on which constitutional change will be demanded and it will be hard to answer the arguments put forward. If ACRA say there should be a referendum to abolish ground rents it will be difficult to deny them the right to hold a referendum. If the divorce action group say they have reliable information that over 50 per cent of the people believe that divorce is a constitutional right and that the Constitution should be changed in relation to the whole concept of marriage and divorce can we say that they do not have a right to hold a referndum? If some group say that the concept of Irish neutrality must be enshrined in the Constitution as something that is unchangeable for all time and they say they have survey data which shows that 75 per cent of the people want this, can we say they cannot have a referendum or that the changing of the Constitution must begin in this House? Perhaps we should go back to the 1922 model of the Constitution and encourage direct popular democracy. It would make our lives much easier. We would not have to make hard decisions and we could blame the people if things went wrong and say: "You voted 60/40 in favour of a particular issue".

There is an important precedent being established in so far as changing the Constitution in future is concerned. Perhaps that is good but let us be clear that we are now inviting other groups to have an equally legitimate case to say: "At least give us a chance to let the people speak directly on this matter." It will be hard to resist some of the cases which will be made. For these two reasons I am unenthusiastic about the referendum — the way in which it was initiated and the danger I see to the constitutional practice involved.

I do not believe that the proposed wording is sectarian. The word "sectarian" is used too loosely in this context. There is a certain amount of woolliness on the part of those who oppose the amendment and this charge has been unjustly thrown at many of those who support it.

I have certain mild criticisms to make on the role of the Protestant Churches in this matter. A certain amount of confusion was caused by the early statement of the Protestant Churches that they did not see anything wrong with the wording proposed. Later they said they had difficulty with it. Like politicians, I understand that they had the same pressures of time in this regard but I would have preferred if they had been more authoritative on the matter. A certain amount of confusion is laid at their door. I have not been fully convinced by all of Dean Griffin's arguments. Some of what he has said could be termed sectarian. I do not think the wording is sectarian but this is the first time in our history that we are rushing forward with a measure about which most of the Protestant Churches and those of the Jewish faith have reservations. That those reservations should be expressed publicly should give us some cause for thought.

On the question of sectarianism, much was said about the intolerance of Northern Protestants and what right had they to lecture us on the creation of a tolerant society. To argue along these lines is to go for a wrong but easy answer. We do not take our standards in this House or this country from bigotry. We do not compare ourselves to those who have disgraced the name of tolerance and religion in Northern Ireland over the decade. We are a proud and independent republic. We have always prided ourselves on respecting the rights of minorities. We do this because it is right. We do not do it for any other reason. It is not to impress the people in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.

For that reason the reservations of the Protestants and other groups have to be taken very seriously. For that reason, if for no other reason, we should take our time and make sure everything has been fully discussed, because no matter what we do here it will be seen by our enemies in Northern Ireland as wrong. We cannot change that, so let us make it clear that, when we say we are worried about the reservations of Protestant leaders and Protestant churches, we are worried for the right reasons — because it is the right thing to do and is part of our tradition and if we do not do it the word "republicanism" has no meaning. If we can do that we can reassure the many Protestants in Northern Ireland who are kindly disposed to this part of the island that this is not the case of a majority steamrolling minority groups into submission on a sensitive moral issue. In many ways that is how it has been represented, and we can reassure the many Protestants in this part of the country who are worried that this is not the case either.

When I made my maiden speech in the Seanad it was on a constitutional crusade initiated by the Taoiseach, Deputy FitzGerald. I thought the idea of a constitutional crusade was a good thing, an exciting innovation in Irish politics and I still think so. After 40 years of the present Constitution, excellent in most respects, we have reached the stage where a comprehensive, objective, free-ranging review would be good for all of us and for the Constitution itself. Any change in the Constitution at the present time should be part of that overall review.

I mentioned earlier that there is no pressure, no urgency, for this new legislation. There is no case before the High Court, let alone the Supreme Court. If we are talking about changing the Constitution there is every case for bringing forward this pro-life amendment and making it part of an overall, constitutional review where the full working of the Constitution would be examined freely and objectively. I regret that rushing forward with this referendum is going to blunt the impetus for other necessary constitutional changes which I believe are urgently needed and highly desirable — not to impress the people in Northern Ireland but because there are aspects of our society and Constitution which, in the interests of all the people, deserve to be looked at carefully, if not to be changed.

On the controversy of the wording of the amendment, I was very pleased to hear Deputy D. Andrews, whom I regard as one of the most thoughtful humane members of the Opposition, make a plea for an agreed form of wording. Deputy D. Andrews no more than many people must share the deep sense of unease felt by so many eminent lawyers and doctors who have told us the present proposed wording is inherently dangerous, and that there are implications and consequences which could be the exact opposite to what was intended by those most in favour of the amendment. I am not one to rush in when doctors and lawyers are discussing matters which very often are above the heads of most of us. But if eminent disinterested lawyers and doctors tell us, out of public duty and concern, that the wording is defective and could have consequences which would be the exact opposite of what was intended, the least we owe them is to take what they say seriously, listen to what they say and try to get a better form of wording. I am worried by the insistence of some of those pro-life people that the present form of wording is perfect, cannot be improved on and that we are insisting that this from of wording go ahead. Let us take pause on this matter and get agreement. If we are going to have wording it should be possing to discuss this matter away from the party whip and get the most acceptable form of wording possible. This is a matter on which, as Irish people seeking the same ultimate objective, it is almost obscene to talk in terms of rigid party lines, with one group having a monopoly of wisdom or right on this question.

I regret that this amendment has come before this House the way it did. One consequence of this campaign may well be, as the eminent Dominican, Dr. Fergal O'Connor, pointed out at the end of an extremely thoughtful essay, to promote an increasing awareness among people of abortion and create what he called an abortion mentality. I hope he is wrong, but he is one of the most prophetic people I have met and I am afraid he may be all too right, that the end result of the debate may be very different to what was intended by those who initiated the campaign.

I regret, as did Deputy O'Dea and others, some of the language that has surrounded the debate, especially the too easy branding of those who were anti-amendment as pro-abortion. Those who have indulged in that practice did not do themselves or their cause any good. The campaign in this House has been an honest one, but outside I am afraid some of the tactics used by people on both sides have often fallen far short of truth and honesty. I regret the way we have rushed into this whole question of constitutional change when there was no immediate pressure or external threat. This is a matter which requires and deserves calm deliberation and the least we can have is the fullest possible consultation with all interested groups. I regret that we have rushed in without taking enough time to examine fully the views of all minority churches. I also regret that we may do our well deserved tradition and reputation for respecting minority points of view harm from which we will not easily recover. I regret too that so sensitive an issue, on which there is almost certainly national consensus, has been used in some cases for narrow political ends, which reflects no credit on those who so used it.

It is clear we are going to have a referendum because the majority view in this House is that there should be one. In that case let us put aside party differences, put our heads together and, without bitterness, get the best possible form of words. Let us raise the debate both here and outside the House above party differences and show greater tolerance and understanding so that, when the tumult and shouting have died down and when whatever bitterness there is dies away, we can get down to the much more fundamental and important task of trying to eradicate those conditions which have made abortion such a dreadful scourge in modern society. Then at least we will be talking in genuine terms about a proper pro-life amendment.

I am sure that here or elsewhere we are familiar with the speaker who gives an assurance as to brevity and then burdens his listeners with thoughts which take an hour or two for revelation. I assure you that I will be the exception to that and I hope I will be finished within 15 minutes.

The proposed legislation comes before us from the Coalition Government. I wish to remind the Minister of State, Deputy Quinn, of that fact. Its history is well known. It arises from the concern of some people in the community as to the position of the unborn and to the uncertain and delicate position which exists in the Constitution in respect of the unborn, a position as delicate and uncertain as its own existence. Most people, having become aware of that position, alerted me and representatives of other parties to the situation and I had no hesitation in accepting their reminder. That represents the total blackmail and hijacking that the Minister of State, Deputy Quinn, talks about in respect of my position. Other people can speak for themselves. I have sympathy with the people concerned and have no hesitation in indicating to the House that it will be my pleasure to vote for the amendment.

Deputy Manning spoke about agreement with regard to the wording. A form of words had been agreed upon by the former Government, after consultation with the best legal brains available to them. The form of words was agreed, presented and subsequently accepted by the present Government. That agreement is good enough for me. It may not be good enough for other people, that is their entitlement. Deputy Manning also said that some legal men are not as happy as others with the wording. This, inevitably and unfortunately, has been the history of legal men since I first became acquainted with them. There will never be unanimity among any group of legal men on any point so I do not think we should spend too much time in providing for the unlikely eventuality of every legal person being unanimous about anything, especially the matter that is before us.

To say that there are politicians and Taoisigh-designates who would, on the eve of an election, present themselves to the public without giving full thought to what was promised, especially on such a serious matter as this, and to excuse them then subsequently for having done so is a reflection on and an insult to every politician in the House. I do not want to appear sanctimonious but I would not do it. I am here since 1969 and I have been lobbied prior to elections by different people and organisations. Before the last general election a half dozen of my constituents asked me to sign a document that would protect the workers in Ranks bakery. I said that because I could not predict what was going to happen in respect of the bakery I was sorry I could not put my name to any promise. I do not wish to present myself as being holier-than-thou but, generally speaking, although there may be exceptions, as in every other profession, politicians do not yield to every pressure put upon then. The Deputy spoke about other people who are concerned about certain matters and that we are setting a precedent. Let them press their problems. It is a matter for this House to decide whether or not their entitlement is as forceful or as meritorious as they advocate and, that having been done, we are obliged to represent those people. We are not here to resist them. We all take support, consolation and direction from our constituents, and from people in other constituencies. It would be wrong to give the impression that legislation can only emanate from the combined thoughts of those who are elected here and that we should never be receptive to suggestions from anybody outside this House.

It was accepted by the last Government that such an amendment was desirable. There was agreement as to the form of words, accepted by the present Government. I recollect that when the Taoiseach was asked about the unexpressed position of the Labour Party and the position in which he would find himself if he were Taoiseach living up to the promise which he had made of having this introduced before the end of March, he said there would be no difficulty at all, that even in circumstances where the Labour Party might not support it, as was their right, the Fine Gael Party, if Fianna Fáil supported them, would be able to put it through.

I regret that Deputy Quinn is not present. Did he express the reservations which he made here today prior to the last general election? Did he say all the things he is saying here? When, subsequently, he was privy to whatever negotiations took place prior to the establishment of the Government, did Deputy Quinn indicate that he was unhappy and unprepared to serve under the Taoiseach whose Government would introduce this legislation? If he said he did then my opinion of him, and respect for him, would be greater but if he did not then I must attribute to him the hypocrisy he presumes to attribute to other people. My position in this has been consistent but I do not think one should look for any great credit because of that.

As I see it, everybody in Ireland is anxious that the position of the unborn should be protected. How one can move from that position into an area of alleged sectarianism, bigotry or the freedom of Ireland I find difficult to accept. If the freedom of Ireland depends upon, in the minds of some, the murder of the unborn then it is a freedom I never want to see. If members of other religions or beliefs feel as keenly about this as some of their presumed spokespersons would indicate, I am surprised. In my constituency there are many people who differ from my religious beliefs but they have not expressed their concern to me in the fashion that was expressed today. I do not think there is anything sectarian or over-zealous in the matter of religion for me to say that I have an interest in and am concerned for the protection of the unborn. How can anybody argue that that is a sectarian statement? Contrary to the present fashion in the matter of religion and what I see as an effort or a tendency for whatever purpose to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, I believe the need of the times in which we live is religion in action, not a watering down of everything to a point where nothing exists at all. In this regard I may be arguing against the fashion of the moment but I would like to see everybody as convinced about their beliefs as I am about mine. I do not wish to impose my beliefs on anybody. I have never done so and I never will but I hope all people will be as happy about their beliefs as I am about mine. I do not propose to make any apologies for my beliefs and I do not believe members of other Churches would respect me if I did so.

I have moved slightly into the area of religion and accepting the thwarting of the Minister of State in the matter of this being sectarian. I know I should not do that but on the other hand the time has come when I do not have to be making apologies for our beliefs when nobody can demonstrate to me that my beliefs are in any way prejudicial, injurious or insensitive to my neighbour. If that proof is given to me I shall readily withdraw and apologise. We get respect from those who differ from us in accordance with the way we practise, not what we say. This alleged concern for the members of other religions is not as sincere as it may seem. That is as far as my sympathy will allow me comment on it.

Deputy Manning said we were being rushed into something. I do not have any great feeling of being rushed. It is possible that Deputy Manning feels he has been rushed but we have been dealing with this for some time. The matter has been before the people for a year or more. I do not see any great element of undue expedition. The point has been made that outside groups are showing an interest in this. There are groups on either side and that is their entitlement. I would not be critical of any person or group if they feel they should apply themselves to follow a particular course legitimately. That is their entitlement. We have too many people practising subversion, vandalism and many unwelcome and unnecessary measures. It is heartening and wholesome to think that there are people who will apply themselves to having changes brought about in a fashion which is their entitlement and which has been provided for.

"Ordinary people outside" is a term I would never use. Apart from other considerations it presupposes that the person who uses that term considers himself or herself in some extraordinary fashion. We are all servants of the people outside. We must keep reminding ourselves of that. I was quietly amused to hear Deputy Gregory in a very conservative fashion — it reminded me of a form of conservatism that is long gone — questioning the right of people outside to lobby him about anything. I do not think Deputy Gregory accepts that premise as applying to everybody.

His membership of the House has probably arisen from the fact that he was prepared to act as the spokesperson for people in his constituency and achieve for them material gains which were their entitlement but were denied to them for a long time. That was his entitlement and his response to the will of a certain group of people. All credit to him for that. He acted perfectly in doing that. However, having done that it is strange to hear him suggest that I, or any other Member, should give a deaf ear to those with whom we may have a certain sympathy or a certain affinity. The inconsistency of that does not appeal to me. The inconsistency of the Minister of State, Deputy Quinn, does not appeal to me. He criticised all and sundry for being emotive about this issue and went on to say that Members on this side of the House — I suppose he included his constituency colleagues, the Taoiseach and Deputy J. Doyle — were being hijacked, blackmailed and intimidated to indulge in what he called a farce. That was the commentary of Deputy Quinn on the Taoiseach who appointed him and on his colleague who has the pleasure, honour and privilege of representing the constituency that also sends Minister of State Quinn here. He went on then to what I call a rather illogical point where, while being critical of what has happened here, he criticised the Supreme Court and the Constitution. He criticised the Supreme Court for interpreting the Constitution in a fashion which was prejudicial to tenants in certain houses in this city. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot on the one hand criticise the Supreme Court, criticise the Constitution and allege a certain disregard on the part of the rest of the Members of this House for what I would suggest are more pertinent, more important matters and at the same time point the finger at people, Members of this House, who are taking a certain action prompted perhaps by the wisdom of the seanfhocal "Ní hé lá na gaoithe ..." so that we can protect the unborn in this country. If what we are doing had been done by people on whose behalf Minister of State Quinn speaks in connection with his interests on behalf of the tenants of those landlords, then the problem and the injustice to which he refers would not have arisen.

You, Sir, did not occupy the Chair when I promised the Ceann Comhairle that it was my intention not to speak beyond 15 minutes. I calculate that 12 minutes have now passed and I propose to stay with my promise, for what reasons I do not know. Perhaps it is (1) to avoid repetition (2) in deference to a discovery which I have made about myself that my initial decision may be superior to my reason and if I were to move into the field now of the men with long gowns and wigs as described by Pádraig Pearse and into the field of words, my reasoning may detract from what I think is the justification and correctness of my decision and my pleasure to vote for this amendment. Contrary to what my colleague, Deputy Manning, would say, the sooner that opportunity comes to me the better. In the hope that the words presented will be the words decided upon by the last Fianna Fáil Government, accepted by the present Taoiseach, voted on by people in the last election, the sooner that wording for the promised amendment comes the better I will like it.

At this stage on both sides of the discussion almost everything that is meaningful has been said. At the outset of my contribution I want to make a comment on those both within and without this House who have seen fit to criticise the Taoiseach for having committed himself to including the promotion of this constitutional amendment in our election policy document. I am certain, and the evidence of volumes of correspondence I have had in relation to the issue prompts me to say, that if he had failed to recognise this issue as of paramount importance to the Irish people he would not be Taoiseach today. That commitment being given, it is essential that it be honoured to the letter. The pro-life amendment is about preventing legal abortion, that is the direct killing of unborn life, for as long as the people of Ireland wish the existing ban to remain. It has no other objective. The passage of the amendment will confer on the most defenceless group within the human community the same constitutional protection as all of us as citizens enjoy.

In the submission of the barristers against this amendment, which document was circulated to all Members of this House, they claim that the first and most obvious thing which the amendment would effect would be to acknowledge that for practical purposes in law it confers the right to life on the unborn, that there is no such right in common law nor was such a right ever conferred or acknowledged by statute. Following traditional Christian theology, Common Law distinguishes between moral and thus the legal status of the foetus and that of the child. I say to our learned friends that it is precisely for that reason that this amendment is vital.

Mr. William Binchy, writing as chairman of the life, education and research network in the booklet Abortion Now, answers them more eloquently than I could because of his legal expertise. He says that abortion raises legal issues of profound significance which go to the very heart of our legal system. The present law is governed by the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and it is important to look briefly at the two central provisions of that 1861 Act. Having regard to their importance they merit quotation in full. Section 58 provides:

Every woman, being with child, who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, and whosoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall unlawfully administer to her or cause to be taken by her any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable be kept in penal servitude for life...

Much talk has taken place about these two sections and I would wager that many people do not realise what the sections are saying. I have not heard the submission of all who have come to this House and if somebody else has seen fit to record this I can only apologise for repeating it, but it is important that on record in this House should be precisely what we are talking about. Section 59 of the 1861 Act provides:

Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor,

Thus the Act never speaks of abortion. Instead it refers to miscarriage, but for practical purposes the terms are interchangeable.

Section 58 provides for two different situations. Firstly when a pregnant woman sets out to bring about an abortion on herself she will commit an offence and where any other attempts to bring about an abortion on a woman that person will be guilty of an offence whether or not the woman is pregnant. Thus a professional abortionist will not escape liability by establishing that, contrary to the belief of both the woman and the abortionist, the woman was not, in fact, pregnant.

The history of the abortion laws in most countries indicates a steady progression. We have heard about the risk to the mother's life, abortion based on the mother's health and finally that abortion should be carried out more or less at the discretion of the mother. Sections 57 and 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, set out the existing law on the subject. These provisions have never been analysed in any reported decision in Ireland so it is difficult to be certain how a court would determine some important questions that would arise. These provisions render an abortion an offence without any qualification, unless the word "unlawfully" is to be interpreted as introducing a qualification. The position of the unborn child under our Constitution is a matter of debate. The Constitution gives no explicit protection to the right to life of the unborn, therefore any protection that may be afforded the unborn child must be implied from provisions which do not specifically address the issue. The matter has not yet been determined in court, so analysis of the problem is necessarily provisional.

Some passing references have been made by one Supreme Court judge in the case of McGee versus the Attorney-General. Mr. Justice Walsh adverted to abortion in veiled terms when he said that any action on the part of either husband or wife or of the State to limit family size by endangering or destroying human life would necessarily not only be an offence against the common good but also against the guaranteed personal rights of the human life in question. He was a little clearer in the case of McGee versus An Bord Uchtála in 1979 when he said that a child has the right to life itself and the right to be guarded against threats to its existence, whether before or after birth. He continued that 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. It should be noted that when Mr. Justice Walsh was making these comments the other judges saw fit to say nothing. His comments were obiter dicta and are not binding on judges in other circumstances or even on himself. To believe because those things were said that somehow there is a measure of protection would be naive. Most of us feel that the Supreme Court would not now be receptive to giving legal entitlement to abortion, but can we be confident that in the future three members of that court or one member of the High Court will take the same stance? We cannot.

It is desirable to refer briefly to the relationship between legislation and the Constitution on the question of abortion. Some people, while welcoming the terms of this amendment as being just and sensible, nevertheless feel that legislation would be a more satisfactory approach. This would be the proper course and the safe approach in a country having no written Constitution or a Constitution limited to the declaration of specific rights without judicial functions of interpretation. Our Constitution is not framed along those lines. On the contrary, we have seen our courts charged with very important and wide-ranging interpretative powers. In the event of a clash between the Constitution and any statutory provisions, the Constitution must prevail and the statutory provisions will be struck down. However satisfactory a particular statute may be thought to be, neither the views of the legislators nor the electorate will be of any avail if the courts take a different view. Whether or not we wish it otherwise, our Constitution is so drafted that the rights of the unborn can be adequately protected only by an amendment. A statutory response would afford no definite protection and, worse, could give rise to a false sense of security. This amendment presents our community with an opportunity to protect the rights of the unborn through our laws. It also forces us to face up to reality. What are the things which have caused people to take this awful step? The passage of the amendment protecting the right to life of the unborn must be supplemented by the social and economic changes necessary to bring about a positive environment for mothers and their children.

In November 1982 the text of the proposed amendment was released. It provided that the State should acknowledge the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right of the mother, should guarantee in its law to defend and vindicate that right. The terms of that amendment met with widespread approval and something of relief, not only from the groups who actively sought the amendment but also from the leading members of the various religious denominations. They included such distinguished Church leaders as the Archbishop of Dublin, the Reverend Dr. McAdoo, and Canon Hartin, both of the Church of Ireland, the Reverend Desmond Gilliland of the Methodist Church, the Reverend W.T. McDowell of the Presbyterian Church, the Catholic hierarchy and the Chief Rabbi.

After several months during which those opposing the amendment argued that the amendment would be sectarian, it is extremely gratifying that the most recent poll taken both North and South of the Border shows that the one issue in our time which is a uniting factor and on which there is more common ground than any other is the desire to protect the life of the unborn. The results of that poll published in The Irish Times show that in Northern Ireland 83 per cent of those polled were in agreement with the amendment, as were 87 per cent of people here. That buried once and for all the red herring of sectarianism. At the outset all kinds of red herrings were used as reasons for not proceeding with the amendment. We have buried the red herring of sectarianism and I think even the most ardent anti-amendment campaigners are now ashamed to make any reference to it because it is so ludicrous.

Science has made great progress in our time. We do not have to doubt the time when life begins. I now refer to a lecture delivered by Professor Sir William Liley, who holds the chair of perinatal physiology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, at the Tiniest Human Conference organised by the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area on 5 and 6 October 1979. He stated:

Our generation is the first ever to have a reasonably complete picture of a development of a human being from conception. It was in 1930 that we first observed the liberation of an ovum from the human ovary. It was in 1944 that under a microscope we observed the union of human sperm and ovum. In the fifties were spelled out the event of the first six days of human development as steps with the conceptus on a prodigious journey. In the sixties there were three further advances. For the first time, not only the diagnosis but also the treatment of a child in the uterus became a possibility. Secondly, we were able for the first time to observe the foetus on its home ground and, thirdly the genetic code was cracked, the alphabet established in which is spelled out instructions which guarantee that each one of us is different from every person that ever was and ever will be. One might have thought that these 40 years of discovery which put an end to centuries of guesswork, that this new information would engender a new respect for life before birth and the importance of this stage of life. Instead around the world we see a systematic campaign hell bent on the destruction of the unborn child for every social and medical purpose.

Twenty years ago abortion was unthinkable in 75 per cent of the world's population. Now, almost 75 per cent of the world's population are living under abortion laws. This plague has spread across the face of the world. Surely it must cry to Heaven for vengeance. If any other living species on this planet was being hounded and disposed of like the human race there would be a cry around the globe that would rend the place asunder. There is a deadly silence. Why is there a deadly silence about it? It is a profitable business. Many of the interests who are promoting the anti-amendment campaign are doing it for profit.

Abortion was introduced in Britain in 1967, in the USA, 1973, France 1975, Germany 1976, Italy 1978, Holland 1981 and the latest victim is Spain. I question Deputy Manning and anybody else who will stand up in the House and try to tell us that there is no urgency and they do not know what we are on about. I suggest they do some reading about the progress of this scourge. It is as plain as a pikestaff to me that time is not on our side.

I was very pleased when I heard my colleague, Deputy Eileen Lemass, refer to Madame Simone Veil, who has the doubtful distinction of having introduced abortion to France, which she seems to boast about. She commented at the European Parliament in February 1981 that all pressures which could be brought to bear on states who did not have satisfactory abortion legislation would be justified. Where would that leave Ireland in the event of a case being brought to the Court of Human Rights? Would those who would be deciding for us be of a similar mind to that of the good lady? After abortion what is the next expediency? When you start to cut out one generation it will automatically affect another. Many countries in central Europe are now seriously feeling the effects of their abortion laws. Last Friday at a medical gathering of doctors from central Europe I was told that in Holland they are now paying women to hurry up and have babies because they will have no workforce in ten to 15 years time. The difficulty is that while you are waiting for the children to grow to maturity and become a tax paying element, which is essential in all economies, there will be many old people who will not have the taxpayers there to sustain them. The next expediency must automatically be the elimination of the old, the infirm and the handicapped. I have seen all this before. Is that what we are trying to offer the unfortunate young generation? I am not interested in it.

I say to those who tell us that we are crying "wolf" to take a look to what has happened around the rest of Europe. With regard to what we have heard about the terrible medical effects and the dramatic cases which people dream up, it is generally an unfortunate teenager who was raped by a psychopath or something horrendous, which none of us has ever heard happen. Dr. Kieron O'Driscoll was Master of the National Maternity Hospital for 35 years and I heard him say at one stage that during the course of his medical career there were 250,000 deliveries and not once did any of his colleagues or himself have to sacrifice the life of a mother for the sake of saving a child. There is ample medical evidence to refute all the claims being made about cancer of the uterus and all the rest of it. Those cases are treated in the manner appropriate to the patient at risk. That is another red herring like the sectarian one which now, I believe, because of the integrity of the people in our medical profession who are standing up and telling those people that they simply do not know what they are talking about, can be shot down also.

Where does that leave us with the critics? They then tell us that the money which will be spent on the referendum in those difficult times could be better spent somewhere else I believe it will cost £700,000. We pay £1 million a year for our lifeboat services, and they, with God's grace, do not have to go anywhere. Are we saying that it is too costly to save future generations for £700,000 when we are prepared to spend that money on the lifeboat services, or are they so bereft of any kind of balance that they are serious about what they are saying?

I have no difficulty in supporting the words of the amendment which are before the House. I accepted them when they were presented and I have since given them a lot of thought. I cannot see that they will not suffice. If they can be strengthened I will be more than pleased. Perhaps a way to strengthen the wording of the amendment would be to insert after "unborn""from the moment of conception". That would copperfasten it. It would leave no doubt in anyone's mind as to what we are talking about. Without intending any disrespect to my colleagues here or to those who have gone before us or those who may come after us, experience around the world in relation to the issue in question is ample proof that neither the courts nor the legislators, nor indeed the Church, have been able to stop the spread of this horror. The only safe custodians of God's noble gift of life are the Irish people. I do not wish either the legislators or the Judiciary to assume this role because, while I have respect for the people who hold office today, there are people in this country even now whom I would not trust with what I regard as being precious. In addition, we live in times of changing patterns in political life.

I am prepared to accept the amendment. If it can be strengthened, so be it; but not strengthened in a way in which it could be given a dual interpretation. What we must have is a singular understanding of what we are trying to do and I pray that for the sake of coming generations the wisdom of this House will ensure that the necessary amendment will emerge.

I wish to put on record my admiration for the previous speaker and for her very obvious sincerity and total conviction in regard to the points of view she has put before us. It was refreshing for me as a new Member to witness this sincerity and conviction on the part of another Member. Deputy Glenn's closing remarks leave no one in any doubt as to where her priorities lie, not only in relation to this amendment but in relation to values in Irish society today.

I wish to add my voice to that of the many speakers from both sides who have pledged their support for the amendment. I am pledged to the wording as put forward, the wording which was put to the Irish people in November last as all-party wording, the wording put forward by Fianna Fáil on their last day in office. Some days late when it looked as if the matter might become an issue in the pending general election, though I do not think anyone wishes that to happen, the now Taoiseach went on record through the media, as did several of his spokespersons, to say that the wording was as near perfect as could be arrived at and that the amendment would not be an issue in the general election. He said also that if his party were returned to office the amendment they would bring before the House would be the amendment as published by Fianna Fáil. In addition, the Leader of the then Opposition said that he had taken the best possible advice on the matter and that this advice indicated that the wording was accurate and correct.

If the wording was accurate and correct in the climate of the run up to the general election, why is the situation any different in the post-election climate? Is it not strange that this change should have come about now? We support the amendment as put forward. It is the kind of positive amendment that was sought in the first instance.

There has been much talk of the legal background to this debate but I should like to touch on the sociological implications of many of the aspects involved. I have been listening to various speakers on both sides in the debate so far, particularly some speakers opposite, and I have noticed that last week and today there is emerging the trend that in some way it is wrong for concerned lobbies to press politicians on any issue but particularly on the issue in question. I fail to understand why concerned lobbies should not press their point. Surely that is what democracy is all about. Is it not for all of us to listen to concerned lobbies, to absorb what they have to say and then to give our findings? Some speakers today expressed the view that there was something wrong in approaching politicians with one's point of view.

I should like to take issue with one of the groupings involved in the anti-amendment campaign and to take issue especially with the terminology as used in their title. I refer to the woman's right-to-choose group. It may sound very liberal and trendy to say that one should have the right to choose, but to choose what? In the case we are talking of it is a question of the right to choose whether one does away with life or preserves life. So far as I am concerned there is no choice in this matter. If one procreates and conceives life within one, there is then no choice. In other words, choice ends when conception occurs. That is a point that must be made clear. The right to choose is not the right to choose to do away with life.

Another point of view put forward by the anti-amendment lobby relates to the financial aspect of the amendment campaign. In common with the previous speaker I fail to see how the financial aspect can impinge on what is such a very important issue. Therefore, the question of finance is no more than a red herring and should be treated as tritely as should those who are putting it forward. How can finance be the consideration when life is at stake, when we are talking, not about people who can protect themselves, but about people who have no way of protecting themselves? We are talking of the child who is at the mercy of the woman who is bearing him.

The sectarian issue has been raised too but, as Deputy Glenn has said, this is one that loses its appeal with each day that passes. The issue in question is the supreme example of what is non-sectarian. It is all embracing. Therefore, the sectarian tag, too, must be seen for what it is.

One aspect of this whole area that has not been touched on sufficiently relates to the need for a change in attitude and in perception towards people with unwanted pregnancies. I have given much thought to this problem and I know that there remains in Ireland in many areas what might be referred to as the lace-curtain twitching syndrome whereby when a young girl or a woman who is unmarried finds herself pregnant there is still an element of castigation towards her. Perhaps this is the climate that forces women to take a certain course. It is my hope that when this amendment has been enacted the vital work that has been put into this whole campaign by lobbies concerned for life would then be channelled into creating a climate whereby such women would have access to excellent counselling services, not only at local level but within the community generally.

In my local authority area we have been enlightened for quite some time on this matter. Why not? It is not benevolence; it is plain human right that an unmarried mother have the right to accommodation for herself and her child. This facility should be more widespread. The community should be educated towards accepting that there are many such cases. Out of this debate on the entire amendment issue might come a more enlightened and caring attitude towards girls and women who find themselves pregnant and unable to cope.

There is an excellent organisation called CURA. I had for a long while felt that they had not publicised their activities sufficiently, but recently on a train journey from the country I was glad to see in the lobby of the local railway station a large advertisement for CURA, giving a private access telephone number and other ways of contacting them. I thought of a young girl boarding the train from the west of Ireland, the midlands, or anywhere else, looking upon this organisation as a lifeline. I would like more openness on this issue. There is no point in pretending that unwanted pregnancies do not happen; they happen every day. This is a fact of life in Ireland.

I thoroughly support this Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. I abhor the tags which have been put on concerned people. One Opposition Deputy said some weeks ago that he found deplorable the attitude of the pro-life campaign people. This is unbelievable. In the European league we are one of the few remaining countries — I know that there is one other — which have kept their sense of values. I would not like any Member of this Legislature to wish to go down the trendy, liberal path. This is a very clear, fundamental and civil rights issue. It is non-sectarian, with no financial implications. The right to life is a supreme right — not the right to choose, but the right to life. Many would-be opponents of the amendment have brought up issues like rape and incest. The child, conceived, not out of love but out of lust or hate, being a blameless separate entity, is as entitled to life as is the child conceived out of love.

In the minds of most of the speakers there is awareness that the problems will not end when this amendment is passed. The minds of all interested people should next turn to the task of ensuring the necessary expert counselling and community and financial support. I would be for strengthening the organisations which give this help and for strengthening the social services concerned.

My mind is clear and unequivocal on this issue. I speak from a very personal conviction and also from my party's viewpoint. I am not blackmailed or boycotted, as some speakers said. I thought about the issue and the important point was the right to life of the unborn child. The wording put forward, which I am supporting, is the ideal wording. I would plead, not for castigation but for compassion in this debate.

It is not my intention to be repetitious. Most speakers have made the important points regarding religious and medical issues. I am availing of this opportunity to put before the House my beliefs regarding the amendment. Having studied all the literature and the cases put forward by the supporters of the pro-life amendment and the anti-amendment lobby, in what has been commonly referred to as the abortion referendum, I have decided to add my voice in support of the pro-life amendment campaign. I support the wording of the proposed amendment to the Constitution as drafted and intended to be submitted to the electorate. However, any replacement wording would not be rejected by me out of hand, but would receive full and adequate consideration. Until a replacement becomes available, I reserve my judgment, but meanwhile I support the existing amendment.

After mature consideration I have come to the conclusion that the life of the unborn child or citizen needs to be more adequately enshrined on our laws. How more fully can that be achieved than by embodying the same right in the basic legal document of our State and nation, the Constitution of Ireland, or — as it is commonly known in Irish — Bunreacht na hEireann? It will thus be ensured that no law can be enacted by the Oireachtas which would violate that right without first going to the people for their verdict. It was the men and women in the street and in the field who gave to us this Constitution. It is to them that we must return if we want to change it. If the people of Ireland speak out in this forthcoming referendum in favour of adopting the proposed amendment, the right to life of the unborn child will be safeguarded in our basic law.

It goes without saying that when the 1937 Constitution was adopted even the most far-seeing eye could not have visualised a scenario in which a single voice, let alone a chorus of voices, would be raised here, some four decades later, clamouring for the right to destroy human life itself at its very source. Sad to say, that time has arrived. It is up to us parliamentarians, Members of the Oireachtas, to demonstrate by our laws that we are prepared to defend the human life of those unborn citizens who have, as yet, no voice of their own.

There are those who would say that abortion is already unlawful in Ireland and is punishable under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, or any section thereof, as a criminal offence and that this, of itself, affords protection to the unborn. With the present national momentum, however, this limited protection could be easily cast aside, perhaps through a successful action being taken in the courts, by which the same Offences Against the Person Act might be declared unconstitutional on some unforeseen grounds or indeed simply through the lack of enforcement as happened in The Netherlands and elsewhere in the case of anti-abortion laws, and has already happened in Ireland in the case of crime and bigamy. I say to the men and women of Ireland that we must stand up and be counted on this issue. Otherwise future generations would be able to castigate us for our failure to act and speak out, thus allowing our nation to follow the example of and go down the same road as that of our neighbouring island.

In England and other countries where abortion has been introduced the roads are strewn with the remains of half-developed bodies, a whole army of would-be citizens. The same could happen in this country if abortion was introduced. We would have the remains of half-developed bodies strewn all over the place. We only have to take a look at the abortion figures in England and Wales for the last year for which statistic are available, 1981, to realise the enormity of its scale — approximately 128,000 abortions were performed in that year, a figure amounting to over 20 per cent of the birth rate of those two countries. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that this could not happen in Ireland. We are already setting out in that direction. Let us now say "no". This is part genocide and cannot be allowed.

On those grounds I reiterate my support for the adoption of the proposed amendment or an alternative amendment providing safeguards. I am quite happy with the present wording. But if a wording is advanced which suits the pro-life people I would be quite happy to support that new wording. However, the amendment, as now worded, suits me and, in the absence of a better one, I would support it.

In supporting this amendment of the Constitution I know I am speaking not alone for myself but on behalf of the majority of my constituents and on behalf of the vast majority of our people. All of us reject abortion as being a terrible crime. I feel honoured to have a chance to express my view in this House on behalf of the people who want us to bolt and bar the door against any possibility that, by mischance or pressure, abortion might be legalised in the Republic.

In affording the people an opportunity of recording their rejection of abortion we are obeying the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution. Abortion is deep-rooted in disrespect for life. The abortion trade is a commercial enterprise yielding substantial profit for its operators. There are pickings to be had by supplying dead, and even live, babies for experimental purposes. The abortion trade exploits the weaknesses, ignorance and downright badness of those who fall into its clutches. This evil trade has been responsible for the deaths of over two million unborn children in Britain. Since abortion was legalised there, by a Private Members' Bill in 1967, the annual number of abortions has been far in excess of 170,000. In the USA the Supreme Court, by a judgment in 1973, made abortion legal. Twleve million American children were killed before birth as a consequence of that judgment. The annual number of deaths of unborn children in the United States is now a frightening 1,500,000. Even a small country like Denmark, with a population of 5 million, has 25,000 abortions annually. According to United Nations statistics over 55 million unborn children are killed annually by surgical abortion. No war has ever recorded such figures or destruction of human life.

It is of vital importance that this Bill to provide a referendum to afford the people the right to insert into our Constitution an amendment protecting the life of the unborn child be passed. It is often claimed that we would be the laughing stock of Europe by inserting this protection into our Constitution but the reverse is true. Many people in many lands would welcome the fact that one country had been able to outlaw this dreadful crime.

As for the claim that it is sectarian, this has been completely disproved by the clergymen of four denominations who have proclaimed their support for a total ban on abortion for any reason whatsoever. It has been repeated time and again by gynaecologists that there are no circumstances in which the life of the mother can be saved only through the direct killing of her child. Why then not add a clause to the amendment stating that no law should be enacted permitting abortion of any unborn child at any time from the moment of conception? Anybody who has studied the question knows that the demand for abortion is the work of a small, vocal group who have the support of a number of people in the media who present their arguments in a fashionable way and ignore or make little of the arguments against abortion. It has been apparent in recent events that the media are more often than not inaccurate in their assessment of events.

This amendment is essential because in many countries legislation, similar to our Offence Against the Person Act, has been overturned by the courts. In America the Supreme Court, on the grounds of privacy, imposed legal abortion on all its states. In Britain a rape case was used by the courts to permit abortion. The same thing would happen here if any hard case was brought to the courts. If abortion is allowed then in effect it means abortion on demand. That is what has happened everywhere that abortion has been legalised.

In passing this Bill this House will do itself an honour and future generations will thank us for having taken the initiative.

In supporting this amendment I might reiterate what the last speaker and others have said here this evening. I welcome the opportunity of supporting this amendment in its original wording. Indeed, I regret the recent change of thinking undergone by the Government in relation to the original wording and which caused distress and anxiety to very many people interested in this pro-life amendment. I was happy last week to hear the Taoiseach say in this House that he expects to have alternative draft wording within two weeks.

Debate adjourned.