Many people inside and outside of this House have spoken in recent weeks looking for trust on one side and looking to establish how crucial this issue is, and yet they will not be here when it actually counts and we can do something about it.
The Leader of the Progressive Democrats has made a career of espousing liberal issues, at least verbally, and one of their Deputies has been on radio on many occasions in recent weeks congratulating herself for her courage in relation to women's issues. I have to ask yet again where is she this evening and what will she be doing when it comes to voting on an issue that she has given her total commitment to? I notice with interest that the heading on the press release of the contribution of the Minister for Energy this evening proudly heralds a "call for travel and information referendum before June 18." I find that quite incredible and hard to take. I wonder if the Progressive Democrats are being serious. In a short contribution, sharing the time of the Minister of State with responsibility for Women's Affairs, one of their Ministers agreed word for word with everything that has been said by the Labour Party and by Fine Gael speakers in this debate, Deputies Fennell and Shatter and with the contribution made by Deputy De Rossa, but at the last minute explained yet again that for various reasons they will not support the principles of this Bill.
Perhaps it is a reflection on the way we conduct our democracy, but I can see no danger to the stability of Government in relation to supporting this Bill, and I am surprised that the Government party themselves could not accept the Bill in principle on Second Stage. The Taoiseach is on record as saying that he has no wish to preside over a police state and that he has no intention of ever bringing in legislation that would weaken the rights of women. Can it really be the case that the Taoiseach is going to lead his troops, men and women, through the division lobbies to vote down the principle which is up for discussion in the House?
I do not think we should make any mistakes about what is being done here this evening. We have not asked the Government to hold a referendum on these issues immediately; we have not even said that the formula of words we have put forward is the only acceptable formula. All that we have asked is that the Government come clean now, when it matters, on the principles of the Bill which in fairness most Members of the house seem to accept.
Last night in this debate Deputy Howlin, the spokesperson for the Labour Party presented to the House a careful, rigorous and detailed analysis of all the issues that have arisen since the Supreme Court decision in the X case. As far as I am concerned it was the most carefully argued presentation of these issues that I have heard in this House.
He outlined all the options that are available, if we want to do two things: first, if we want to protect in law the rights of travel and information that Irish women are entitled to enjoy as European citizens and second, if we want to address the substantive issue arising from the X case, and the constitutional balance of rights that is involved, in such a way as to protect and preserve the rights of every woman in this country. I do not believe it is possible for anyone to argue that there is a different way of proceeding than the way outlined in this House last night by Deputy Howlin. I believe the injunction in our own Constitution that it is our solemn duty "to promote the common good with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured".
I also believe that if we are to take that injunction seriously, then we, as legislators, have to take our courage in our hands and face up to all the issues with compassion, justice and, most importantly, equality. For ten years we have had a clause in our Constitution which was put there because the people were persuaded that the Members of this House should not be trusted. If we needed any reason for not putting it there we should have established at that time that Members of this House could be trusted and not caved in when the first wave came in during election campaigns. The situation that we are now in, which threatens women and which also — we should be clear about this — threatens the unborn, arises directly from the insertion of that clause in the first place. That was a very serious mistake.
The problem does not arise from Europe. Our problem is not that Europe wants to force abortion on Ireland. Our real problem now is that the Maastricht Protocol, standing alone, can prevent Europe from protecting Irish women. That is the reason in this House last night Deputy Howlin described the Maastricht Protocol as profoundly European and I agreed with him, but as and when this Bill is defeated those of us who believe in the potential of Europe will have to rely on the vague and bland promises of Fianna Fáil in regard to all these issues.
The Tánaiste last night had an excellent opportunity to provide the kind of assurances that we have been seeking Sadly, he failed to take that opportunity Instead he made it abundantly clear, by what he did not say as much as by what he said, that the Government had no real intention of clarifying their future intentions before 18 June and of clarifying them in such a way that there could be no fudge subsequently. Unfortunately, that still exists despite the attempt by the Minister of State with responsibility for women's affairs to say that some work is going on and it might be possible to do this. I find it hard to believe that the change has taken place overnight in that respect.
What this means at the end of the day is that many Irish citizens — especially, though not exclusively, women — will find themselves in ballot boxes around the country on 18 June and they will have questions to answer before they cast their votes. These questions are fundamental: can we trust Fianna Fáil if we vote "yes" to the Maastricht Treaty, and do we believe at the end of the day that they care as much about women's rights as they care about the potential financial benefits of the Maastricht Treaty for this country?
The Minister of State with responsibility for women's affairs in tonight's debate once again relied heavily on the so-called Solemn Declaration as his only form of assurance to the women whose rights he is charged with protecting and developing. I find naivety, innocence or a total lack of political determination in that attitude because he knows, as indeed does every Member of this House and people throughout this country with any degree of intelligence, that the Solemn Declaration has no legal force and cannot ever be used to over-rule an article or a Protocol of a treaty.
I wish there was more honesty in relation to this matter as it has been lackingin toto in the debate on the Treaty. We should at least be honest with the people in relation to the options before them. Sadly, this seems to be the only serious analysis that we can expect. Quite frankly, I think it leaves many Members of this House with serious difficulties in that they are unable to put their hands on their hearts and tell the women of this country that they can trust Fianna Fáil on this serious issue.
On a clear analysis of the Government's record on these and related issues, from family planning to social policy, it does not stand up to the critical test. While many things have been done by Fianna Fáil down through the years which indeed could be described as progressive, the Protocol was the first major flaw and we cannot escape from that. It was undemocratic and it had no mandate from either this House or the people of the country. Like the 1983 debate, it should never have happened or have been inserted by the previous Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Perhaps it would not have been inserted if they had consulted with this House and the views of this House had been made known prior to the signing of the original Treaty.
The response of the Government to the crisis caused by the X case has been confused, muddled, weak and has lacked conviction from day one. That is quite evident, given the attempt by the Government to go in different directions in relation to consulting our European partners. They failed to grasp the issue and they have been in disarray from day one of the X case.
In relation to the bona fides of the Fianna Fáil Party on these issues, there is one glaring example on the Order Paper of the House which has been there since early 1991 after a speech made by the former Taoiseach at the Ard Fheis which seemed to herald a new attitude on the part of the Fianna Fáil Party to social issues — he is gone and the attitude seems to have gone with him — and that is the amendment to the family planning Bill. I think we have had three Ministers for Health since that Bill was published and they do not have the ability, the conviction or the courage to bring that Bill before the House. Since the Fianna Fáil Party cannot bring before the House that simple measure, which is long overdue and which sadly has been neglected, to update family planning regulations, I wonder can they be trusted.
They would have given some assurance to the people, in particular to the women of the country, if they had come before the House; accepted the principle of the Bill. They could have said that, as the Labour Party were not forcing the pace in relation to the completion of the Bill, that they had no problem with it; and that, given the democratic and considered manner it had been presented, they would take it in that spirit and would not oppose it on Second Stage. By so doing they would have given ample evidence to the people that Fianna Fáil can be trusted in relation to their proposals and promises for the autumn but there is a serious worry that they cannot be trusted. I am genuinely worried, despite the slight assurance given by the Taoiseach that he does not want to roll back the rights of mothers, that when the debate opens in the autumn Fianna Fáil will have their own hidden agenda on the subject.