Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputies Spring and Howlin. Amendment No.2 is an alternative. It is proposed therefore, for discussion purposes, that we take amendments Nos. 1 and 2 together.
Private Members' Business. - Referendum (Amendment) (No.2) Bill, 1992: Committee and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"(e) a person shall not interfere with or obstruct or impede an elector going to or coming from or in the vicinity of or in a polling station;
(f) during the period commencing 30 minutes before the time appointed for the taking of a poll at a referendum to which this section applies and ending 30 minutes after the close of the said poll, a person shall not, in or in the curtilage of a polling station or in any place within 50 metres of such station, for the purpose of promoting the interest of a political party or soliciting votes for a purpose relating to the Referendum, do any or all of the following things:
(i) loiter or congregate with other persons;
(ii) attempt to induce, by any means whatsoever, an elector to vote in a particular way or refrain from voting;
(iii) display or distribute any notice, sign or poster (other than a notice, sign or poster displayed by the returning officer) or card, circular or other document relating to the referendum; or
(iv) use or cause to be used any loud-speaker or other public address mechanism to broadcast matter relating to the referendum;
(g) A person who contravenes paragraphs (e) or (f) shall be guilty of an offence;"
This amendment is similar to amendment No. 2. I do not wish to spend too much time on this amendment because the wording is self-explanatory. It provides that a person should not interfere with or obstruct an elector going to or coming from a polling station while these referenda are being held in the interests of fairness and democracy.
In the past on issues of this kind undue pressures were brought to bear on electors. This issue is complex and one about which many thousands of people care deeply. It is wrong and inappropriate therefore that undue pressure can be brought to bear on electors. As we are aware, outside this House on Molesworth Street undue pressure has been brought to bear on Deputies. Given that we as politicians are at the cutting edge we can withstand that pressure although on occasion the pressure to which we are subjected is excessive — this will be dealt with in another amendment — but the electors are entitled to be allowed consider and study the issues and make up their minds without being subjected to displays of the lurid material which has been put on display at demonstrations and around this House.
This amendment speaks for itself and should not lead to objections or disagreement. Any reasonable Member will have to agree that it is fair and should be accepted in the interests of democracy. I ask the House to agree to it.
This is an amendment the Minister might well take on board without diluting in any way his or his party's approach to this referendum; in fact I contend it would strengthen their approach.
Amendment No. 2 tabled in the names of members of the Democratic Left differs in some respects from that tabled by the Labour Party in that we propose that people may not encroach for electioneering purposes within 100 metres of a polling station, whereas the Labour Party propose 50 metres. We propose also, in subparagraph (g), a point from which that 100 metres would be measured. A confusion I have often witnessed at polling stations arises when a complaint is received by the Garda that the entrance to a polling station is being blocked, whether the entrance be the gate or the actual doorway to the polling station. As Members are aware, many of the schools in which polling takes place are located in grounds, when there is a constant dispute whether people should be inside or outside those grounds, when all of those weird and wonderful things our party faithful get up during election time.
I have a distinct memory of a by-election in 1982 or 1983 in the Dublin Central constituency when a polling station in Cabra had upwards of 100 people outside shouting and haranguing the trickle of voters winding their way through a narow gap — in fact in most cases they had to force their way through — extremely intimidating for people endeavouring to vote on that occasion. I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would agree with me that in some of our polling stations in Dublin North-West, after 8 o'clock on a polling day, one may find 30 to 40 people standing outside literally shouting at voters as they approach the gate. I do not suggest that all of this is engaged in by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael; my party supporters are just as likely to get in on the act as anybody else if the competition dictates, when one has to be in there fighting toe to toe with the best of them.
Therefore, I contend our amendment would be a worthwhile one to introduce for the forthcoming referendum — given that we can see already the temperature beginning to rise — even if in, say, half a dozen locations nationwide people were to be intimidated from actually going into a polling station, whether they intended to vote in favour or against. Apart from that aspect, I am sure many people will abstain because of the confusion created, particularly resulting from the title on the abortion question ballot paper.
Our amendment also proposes penalties for any breach of the provisions of the relevant section. I contend acceptance of our amendment would be an advance since it is almost a direct lift from the proposal in the Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991 [Seanad] with which the House is currently dealing. I would have to say it is curious, and only came to my attention when I began to examine it with regard to this impending referendum, that the proposal in the Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991, does not relate to referenda but to elections. Even if that Electoral (No. 2) Bill 1991, had been law by now, that section would not apply to this forthcoming referendum. The Minister might accept with some grace — helping to lower the temperature in this House — either of these amendments or, alternatively, introduce another which would carry through the spirit of what we propose here this evening.
Some of the statements made on this amendment are in line with the views expressed by Members from all sides of the House on the Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991, in that they portray the type of ideal circumstances we should like to see prevail at all future elections and referenda.
I might remind the Minister that, on the occasion of the last referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, there were some extraordinary scenes outside some polling stations, not perpetrated by any people involved in political parties but by others who, for some unknown reason, had confused the Maastricht Treaty referendum with abortion. Some tactics were engaged in in rural areas — not too far from the Minister's constituency area — by people well known to the Minister who had gone around confusing people, contending that if the Maastricht Treaty referendum was carried, the next step the Government would take was to introduce euthanasia. All of these things were being said on the ground in private nursing homes and welfare homes run by the State. Unless we agree now to tidy up the provisions such people will be engaging in these practices again against all our wishes, that is people on the fringe of society who feel they have a particular right to interfere with and express people's views, who will produce some of the most extraordinary documentation and photographs to Members of this House, as they have done through the post already.
It is time the Minister woke up to this fact. There were innuendoes in the course of the last Presidential election campaign on the part of many people, including the Minister himself. All sorts of complications have arisen on the ground on sensitive issues such as this one. I predict that, unless we come to grips with the position now and agree to tidy it up before the date of the referendum, we shall be heading for trouble again. In making that point I have excluded the last referendum campaign when there were disagreements among Members of the House but when a cleaner campaign was conducted. Nonetheless, there were others who were prepared to say and do anything, especially to old people who can be easily confused, some of them my own relatives.
I support the spirit of these two amendments. I hope I will not be regarded by my colleagues on my right as being in any way divisive if I say I have a slight preference for the amendment proposed by Members of the Democratic Left because it does go somewhat further in every respect than I myself proposed in the course of the debate on the Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991 — that we should make the cordon sanitaire around polling stations 100 metres rather than 50 metres. I am delighted to hear that Deputy McCartan, a fairly affable man in all respects, listens to me; indeed I listen to him; I hope it is to our mutual edification.
As other Members have pointed out, this is something the Minister could do quite easily if he wished. Each of these amendments is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of what the Minister himself proposes for elections in the Electoral (No. 2) Bill, 1991, the Second Stage of which I gather we are to complete tomorrow evening. I am not sure when the Minister proposes taking Committee Stage. For my money, the sooner it is done the better.
I might support what the proposers of the amendment have said by recounting a minor experience of mine. All of us have had the experience of standing outside polling stations at various times. I remember in a very well celebrated by-election in May 1982 standing outside a polling station in Lucan — other Members in the House will remember that particular day — not realising until I sat into my car at approximately 9.30 that evening just how wet I was. It was only when I sat down I realised I was wet through to the skin, from the back of my neck down to my heels. That is a fate we could easily spare ourselves if we wished to do so even for our comfort. On the occasion of that infamous Eighth Amendment of the Constitution referendum I remember quite clearly I was one of the people who had the privilege of being picked out by a certain lobby group for designation as an abortionist. I remember one woman in particular running from the back of a meeting in a large hotel in my constituency to the front, when I stood on the platform to speak, screaming at me that I was a baby killer, a murderer, an abortionist and that I had blood on my hands. I met the same woman again on polling day except that she happened then to be in charge of a caravan: I was not quite sure whether it was for Fianna Fáil or the PLAC. But I did manage to embarrass her on that day into giving me coffee and chocolate cakes. That showed that, behind all of these dreadful things people do on polling day, there is a basic humanity we all share and that we should allow come to the fore.
A measure like this in referenda of the kind we shall have shortly certainly would do no harm to the sanity of the debate both in the meantime and on that day, and indeed to the proper conduct of that day. There is a golden opportunity here for the Minister to retrieve his reputation. Instead of the piece of dead fish he gave us in the form of his Second Stage speech he should give us a piece of political sustenance and show there is life in the Government and that they are capable of thinking of something that will benefit the populace.
I know it is not suggested by any Member that these amendments are an effort to stifle comment on or contribution to any particular political campaign or referendum. A number of Deputies have expressed reservations about what may happen at a public meeting or what might be said in old people's homes or institutions run by the State but we cannot legislate for these issues and we should never seek to do so. People have the right to behave and display whatever pictures or postcards — however heinous, divisive they may be — they wish. It is not our place to try to lay down parameters in that regard.
What about Nazi slogans?
If people have a right to speak and campaign in an open election, it is for the voters to decide their political fate. There is legislation dealing with incitement to radical hatred and other such matters, and that is the way to deal with these issues.
The amendments before the House are designed to restore an element of dignity and propriety to the act of voting. I have had experiences outside polling station similar to those recounted by people here, even to the extent of watching members of the same political party battle in an attempt to get one candidate's literature to the voters before another member of the same party in the same constituency — I will not say where that happened or to which party I am referring.
I attended the holding of a referendum in Chile in 1988. This was a significant experience because it was the referendum that ended the rule of the dictator, Pinochet and returned democracy to the Chilean people after almost 20 years of a brutal dictatorship. My most significant impression of that referendum was that all electioneering was banned and all literature taken down two days prior to the vote. People were allowed that respite to reflect on the basic question as to whether they wished Pinochet's rule to continue. On polling day there was no electioneering; there was a suspension of work to enable people to travel without hindrance to the polling stations, all of which were guarded by heavily armed members of the armed forces to remind people who was in control on that day. The dignity with which people went about their business was very impressive.
It would serve our democracy well and would help to restore a great deal of lost dignity if the Minister accepted these amendments. Otherwise there will be many unseemly and unnecessary incidents outside polling stations as people cast their vote on what is an extremely important matter. I hope the Minister agrees to reflect on what is in these amendments. As has been pointed out, they reflect Government views and positions generally with regard to the holding of elections and there is no reason that they should not be in place for the important referenda on 3 December.
I will be very brief because we have very little time. I would ask the Minister, as the person with responsibility for the Electoral (No. 2) Bill, to outline the rules and guidelines governing elections. I have vivid memories of, and indeed still have photographs showing the presence of unauthorised people sitting in polling stations while people vote. This is intimidatory to say the least. It was always my belief that the polling station was an impartial area where nobody was allowed to sit in judgment. I have photographic evidence of this practice in the 1983 referendum and I hope the Minister will do everything possible to ensure it does not happen again.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Early in my career here, which has been very short, I mentioned oxymorons and paradoxes. There is another paradox here in that the Government had an opportunity of legislating in regard to polling stations, but it is very strange that there is no mention of clearing polling stations in a referendum in which both sides will be more extreme than in any other election. This is one time when the voting area should be kept clear. The Minister said that Government statements will be displayed in and in the precincts of polling stations, but this will lead to other people putting up posters. This is one time when the Minister should take his own advice in terms of the Electoral (No.2) Bill and accept the amendments proposed here.
This year the Department of the Environment have beaten all records of any previous Administrations in terms of reforming legislation. Of all the laws enacted in the House, legislation from this Department will have taken up 25 per cent of the time of the House. I would like to inform Deputy Dukes who may not be familiar with those developments that I am open to reform. Not since 1963 — the Deputy and his colleagues had an opportunity during that time to reform electoral law — has such fundamental electoral reform been attempted.
I have great sympathy and understanding for the views put forward tonight in relation to reform. I am not only anxious to support what has been put forward but I am ambitious enough to believe that the Second Stage of the Electoral (No. 2) Bill will be completed tomorrow evening and that the Committee Stage will be completed next week, giving us an opportunity to have it enacted in good time for the referendum. I will be seeking the co-operation of the House and I do not think it is too much to expect. There was reference to the fact that it may cover only Dáil elections, which is true, as section 147 indicates. However, the Bill amends the electoral code covering all elections, including referenda and we will deal with that more specifically next week on Committee Stage, if necessary.
With regard to the curtilage of polling booths, it is a matter for discussion in the House whether it is 50 metres from the gate or gates. The idea is to make certain that there is a dignified approach — not just in relation to this referendum — but for the future. I am quite happy to listen to the views of Members and to come to a broad consensus in relation to what the distance should be. It is not appropriate to deal with it in a piecemeal way in this type of legislation, especially when the House will complete its work on the Bill for electoral reform next week. On the ybasis of the contributions here this evening, I am sure I will have the fullest possible support in the passage of that Bill to enable it to be implemented by 3 December. In those circumstances, I hope the Deputies will withdraw their amendments.
Section 147 of the Bill, as published, refers to elections and polls involving candidates and activities to promote candidates and their parties. It clearly does not have any relevance to holding questions on referenda. Does any other section in the Bill refer to this or does the Minister propose to table an amendment to section 147 to facilitate its application to the holding of a referendum? If the Minister can assure us in relation to that point we will not have any difficulty in withdrawing our amendment in favour of an undertaking that this House will have the legislation in place by 3 December.
Section 168 of the Referendum Act, 1942, is hereby amended and the Deputy can read the corresponding reference thereafter. I am advised that it covers all these eventualities.
We are prepared to withdraw our amendment on the basis of the Minister's assurance that what we are suggesting will be incorporated and take effect in time for the referendum.
Will the Minister indicate that he has already discussed this matter with the Government Whip and that there is an indication we will be taking Committee Stage next week? It is very substantial legislation and I want to be certain that the Minister proposes to proceed with Committee Stage.
I would not indicate to the House that I hope to complete Second Stage tomorrow evening and to take Committee Stage next week without having ascertained that these matters have been dealt with at the appropriate level.
Amendment No. 3 has been ruled out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill. We now come to amendment No. 4 in the names of Deputies Dukes, Shatter, De Rossa, Sherlock, McCartan, Byrne, Gilmore and Rabbitte. I observe that amendments Nos. 4, 6 and 9 form a composite proposal. Amendments Nos. 4, 7 and 10 form an alternative composite proposal and amendments Nos. 5, 8 and 11 form another alternative composite proposal. I suggest, therefore, that we debate amendments Nos. 4 to 11, inclusive, together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, Part I of the Appendix, line 39, to delete "Ceart chun Beatha" and substitute "Foirceannadh Toirchis".
I am delighted at the fact that, while the other two sets of amendments are not identical, they are certainly going in the same direction. The basic point which all these amendments want to make — which have already been made in the House — is that the title it is proposed to put on the notice to voters which will be distributed in relation to the Twelfth Amendment and the title it is proposed to put on the ballot paper dealing with it are totally unsuitable and out of keeping with the intention of the amendment. The Minister may not like it but I should like to read the text of the proposed Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution which it is proposed to add to Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution: "It shall be unlawful to terminate the life of an unborn unless such termination is necessary to save the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother where there is an illness or disorder of the mother giving rise to a real and substantial risk to her life, not being a risk of self destruction." That text deals with the circumstances in which it shall not be unlawful to terminate the pregnancy, that is the intent. I will not at present go into some of the claims made for that amendment but its substance, what it sets out to do and what it appears, on the face of it, to do is to regulate the circumstances under which it shall not be unlawful to terminate a pregnancy. If the Minister does not like me using the words "termination of pregnancy" I should——
I do not mind.
He objected to this a short time ago. If he objects, why does the phrase appear in the wording of the Twelfth Amendment? I may be blaming the Minister unjustly for things in which he did not have a hand, act or part directly but we are dealing with the text before us. If the Minister wanted to say that this is an anti-abortion amendment, why do the words "abortion" or "anti-abortion" appear on it? The text of this proposed amendment deals with the circumstances in which it shall not be unlawful to terminate a pregnancy; that is what it is all about. To call that text in a notice to voters — or in a notice on a ballot paper — a proposal dealing with the right to life can be done for only one reason, the Government want to give the impression to the voters that it is about something other than that dealt with in the text of the constitutional provisions being put before the people.
I have accused the Government of having ulterior motives in this regard and I stand over that accusation. There can be only one reason and we all know what it is. We have known it since 1981 when this nonsensical and ridiculous campaign started, it is to appeal to the emotions of voters. It is to appeal to the feelings in all of us which wish to protect, preserve and promote life and to suggest to voters that voting "yes" to this proposal is the same as doing something to preserve, protect or promote life. It is also to suggest to them — not even subliminally as Deputy Barnes said — that doing anything else, particularly voting "no", means in some way going against the feeling ingrained in all of us that we want to do things which are life enhancing. It is nothing more and nothing less than a very cynical manoeuvre by a Government who are totally at sixes and sevens in relation to their own intentions. It is an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the voters.
The words proposed to be used as a title on the ballot paper and as a guide to voters on polling cards are nothing less than an attempt to deceive people into thinking that what is before them is something that it is not. I will not go any further than that, we can use all kinds of emotive language and, God knows, we have seen plenty of emotion and appeals to emotions in the way this campaign has been run.
I will not talk about that but I want to make it very clear that neither my party nor I will stand for this attempt by the Government to sell people something that is plainly other than what appears on the ballot paper. I do not know why the Government should feel that they have to try to mislead people in this way. It seems to indicate a lack of confidence on the Government's part in the merits of their own case. I have to say that if that is how the Government feel they are perfectly entitled to that view. The merits of what the Government are proposing are very dubious indeed. I shall not go into the detail of all that as we have had it in the debate on the other Bill. However, I cannot stand by and allow this particular piece of deception to be foisted on the Irish public.
We know that the words "right to life" have all kinds of emotional connotations; that they have associations in people's minds with photographs, presentations and claims that we have been used to since 1981 and particularly since 1983. We know that those words are associated with a particular kind of campaign and with a particular groups of people. We know perfectly well that the words "right to life" are used in a very negative way to associate people who take a different view from that being put forward by the Government with a particular evil intent.
I am one of the people — and there are a few of us in the House — who because we disagreed with what was being proposed in 1983 were labelled abortionists. I have not the slightest doubt that sometime between now and 3 December I will again be labelled an abortionist. Only a few weeks ago I was labelled an abortionist; I am used to it.
The Deputy is not the only one.
I find it very significant that a great many of the people who throw those kind of labels around are in another capacity members of and supporters of the Minister's party. I do not consider that to be an accident. There is a deliberate attempt to weave a way between the feelings that people have and to prevent people from seeing the reality that is before us for what it is.
The Government are setting out in this Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution the circumstances under which it shall not be lawful to terminate a pregnancy. I do not think they are doing that particularly well or particularly wisely or that they have thought out the proposal at all well but that is what they are doing. What they are doing in the measure before us is trying to pretend they are doing something else. It has been the approach of the Minister's party to all of these kinds of issues from a long time back to be afraid of any issue that has the slightest sexual connotation; to try to pretend that there is not a real area where the individual must make up her or his mind; to try to pretend that one can have one's conscience neatly packaged up and decided by somebody else.
It is because the Government feel that it is worth while to maintain that fiction, to keep on trying to sell that false bill of goods to the Irish people, that they have decided to use the misleading wrapper "right to life" to describe the measures before us. I do not like using abusive words, but I would have to say in this case that it seems to me to be an absolutely craven exercise in misleading, mis-packaging and misrepresentation what the Government are at. Deputy Barnes said earlier — and she was perfectly right — that if this were a trade description and it were brought before the Director of Consumer Affairs it would be rightly condemned as giving a completely false and misleading impression of the product. That is why I have proposed that we should call the ballot paper and describe the proposal on the advice to voters, the polling card that we will get, "termination of pregnancy" and that that description should be used in all parts of the Bill where that is proposed. We should speak directly of what we are doing in this Bill and not try to mislead people into thinking that it is something else. I have made a proposal for the Irish text also.
If permitted, I would like to make a plea for a little attention to the niceties of the Irish language. The Labour Party amendment speaks of "An tSaincheist Shubstainteach". I ask them to remember that it is a well-established rule of grammar that one does not have to ally the "s" after a "d", an "n", a "t", an "l" or an "s". Since there is one monument to my concern with Irish grammar in the proceedings of this House I hope we might get another one written into these amendments.
I ask the Minister not to go ahead with this attempted deception and to be honest about what the Government are proposing to do. Unless and until Governments take an honest and open approach to the kind of issues we are dealing with we will be forever condemned to the kind of debate——
The Deputy is not accusing another Minister of being dishonest, is he?
I leave that to the Ministers; they are doing quite well without any assistance from me. I want to make the point that for so long as this Government or any other Government take such a sneaking, concealed approach to the issues that are before us we will be for ever condemned to the kind of poisonous campaign and poisonous debate we have had since 1981 on this issue. We will be for ever damned to having only partial, only totally unsatisfactory and, at the end of the day only totally unjust attempts at resolutions to these problems. The present attempt will be unjust to a number of women here over the years to come. We will continue to deal unjustly with these issues for as long as Governments try to use deception to pander to perceptions rather than to reality in the way the Government are doing here. The Minister would be doing a great thing for the way we treat these issues if we were to accept any one of the series of amendments put forward, although, of course, I would have to admit, if I may use a malapropism, a certain pride of paternity in the amendments I have put forward.
I thank Deputy Dukes for his lesson in Irish grammar, which we appreciate.
In relation to the Labour Party amendments Nos. 5, 8 and 11, one of the reasons the Labour Party decided to put forward the words "substantive issue" as opposed to any other terminology was that we knew there would be disagreement between all sides about whether this amendment is what it purports to be. I could not disagree with Deputy Dukes when he says that it is about the termination of pregnancy. This amendment actually legalises the termination of pregnancy. The right to life that the Minister talked about, as confirmed today by his colleague, the Minister for Justice, was included in Article 40.3.3º and not in this subsection. There is no way that the Government can misrepresent the subsection by labelling it the right to life.
The Labour Party felt that, rather than try to be derogatory, as Gaeilge nó as Bearla, we would say "the substantive issue". As a result of the use of that terminology by the Taoiseach, Government Ministers, spokespersons for all parties and by the public, the moment the phrase "the substantive issue" is mentioned there is no doubt in people's minds that what is being addressed is the real issue, whether there is a right to termination of pregnancy to save a mother's life. That is why the Labour Party chose that wording and not a wording that might make the Minister feel we were trying to walk down the road of admitting publicly that this referendum was about the legalisation of termination for pregnancy.
It can easily be argued that the Government are endangering the success of the referenda by this Bill which may be unconstitutional on the grounds of being an interference with the referendum process, contained in Articles 46 and 47, and with the constitutional right to vote. Never before in the history of this State has a referendum ballot paper on any issue been marked by the inclusion of a catch-phrase, a headline or a slogan such as this.
Even in 1983 when there might have been some argument that this could have been an appropriate title, it was not used. We will simply confuse the issue in such a way that a private citizen could seek an injunction against this legislation. Apart from that possibility, and here I mention the hypothetical situation, the President could conceivably take the view that the Bill is inappropriate for setting up the three referenda and for scrutiny by the Supreme Court because it does not amend the Constitution.
This Bill proposes to set up a procedure for an election process. We could have this dilemma even if she were to refer it to the Supreme Court. Following the passing of this Bill the President would have seven days in which to refer it and the Supreme Court would have up to 60 days to consider whether they could hear it. If that happened, the deadline of 3 December could not be met even if the court decided in favour. There is a distinct possibility that because the Government have sought to mislead the public by calling the white ballot paper the "Right to Life", we are doing a disservice even to ourselves as legislators, by misleading people into voting for something we know — if we are honest — is not what this referendum is about. The white ballot paper is not the right to life and the Minister knows that; three Ministers disagreed with it; the Taoiseach and Minister for Health said it was legalising indirect abortion and the Minister for Justice talked about direct abortion. However it is done, it is a legal termination of a pregnancy. This is a very serious matter and we are anxious that the Minister would realise we are not trying to be provocative. The reason we use the words "substantive issue" is that there is no doubt in anybody's mind as to what that stands for.
I support the amendment in my name and those of the other Deputies of Democratic Left. There is very little difference between the amendments tabled by Deputy Dukes and myself. I do not know whether there is a legal difference but the terms are similar.
I disagree with Deputy Ferris's comments on the substantive issue. That term is vague for many people. While we may like to think there is avid interest with everybody listening to the debate and knowing precisely what we are talking about, I think the term "substantive issue" is media terminology, which the Government promoted to avoid the use of the word "abortion" or "pregnancy termination". In the long run it may cause more confusion to substitute "right to life" with that phrase.
I was surprised when I saw from the Bill that the Government intended to refer to this amendment as the "right to life". I should not have been surprised because the whole approach of the Government on this issue has been to pretend it did not deal with the question of abortion, that all it was doing was providing for the reassertion of Article 40.3.3, that the Supreme Court had gone too far in defining Article 40.3.3 and that they were bringing it back into line by ruling out suicide as a reason a woman could seek a termination.
We know from the debate in this House that what the Government are proposing is abortion, obviously in extremely limited circumstances, but nevertheless they are providing for abortion in circumstances that did not exist prior to the Supreme Court judgement. It is in line with the Government's approach that they are denying that is the case by labelling this referendum the "Right to Life" because they want to continue to pretend to a significant number of their own supporters and to people in the so called pro life movement that their heart is still in the right place and that they are defending, come what may, the right to life of the unborn.
The Minister argued that what is being proposed is the right to life of the unborn and the right to life of women. I strongly refute that argument because the purpose of the amendment, while providing direct abortion in limited circumstances, is also striking down the decision of the Supreme Court that there was a right to life of the woman in circumstances where she was suicidal. In fact the Government are narrowing the grounds on which a woman can claim a right to life rather than extending it. Therefore, it is grossly dishonest for the Government to pretend that this is a right to life amendment. It is a gross distortion of what this debate is about.
The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, from my knowledge of him, is not normally engaged in that kind of deception. I am surprised he is defending that proposal. I appeal to him to agree that there should be a change in the title. Three formulations have been put before the House: one from Deputy Dukes — termination of pregnancy; one from myself — pregnancy termination, and one from the Labour Party — the substantive issue. Either of the first two formulas would be a much clearer expression of what the people are being asked to vote on. The Minister would do well to take that issue on board.
We are dealing with a particular issue — the referendum. I do not think Deputies on any side should be engaged in adding to the myth that politicians cannot be trusted, that they talk in double dutch and that they constantly try to confuse. The impression is that very few of them can be believed no matter what they say. Labelling this referendum in this way adds to that kind of alienation. Those who have followed the debate will see it as a device to try to cod them into voting in a particular way or looking at the issue in a way which does not tally with the facts.
The other two referenda have given very little cause for dispute or dissension in this House because we acknowledge a right to travel and a right to information as general principles. I, and I am sure other Deputies, have a reservation that there is a pretence that information and travel are not for the purpose of abortion when clearly that is what is being provided for because it is only in those two areas that the question as to these rights has arisen.
If we were to follow the logic of the title of the abortion referendum which the Government are calling the "Right to Life", surely the other two should be called the "right to travel for abortion" and "right to information on abortion," because that is what they are about. Although the wording does not clearly state that, we all know what is the intention. On all counts this approach to labelling this referendum the "Right to life" is wrong and is a mistake on a number of grounds but specifically because it is misleading and will simply add to the alienation and discontent out there with the way politicians handle their business.
I hesitate to interrupt Members but as the question must be put at 10.30 p.m. I would be grateful if they would bear in mind that there is a number of Deputies hoping to contribute. I am sure, too, that Members would like the Minister to reply to some of their comments before the time expires.
The Minister for the Environment, quite rightly, is very proud of the reforming legislation which he has introduced and I am sure we would all agree that reform of legislation is an important part of our role as legislators. Therefore, I ask him to follow through the thrust and democracy as contained in the Electoral Act. The issues being discussed here today come within the same area in so far as it should be our aim to put to the people on 3 December, in as clear, direct, simple and non-confusion a form as possible, the three referenda. The people deserve that and we will be undemocratic if we fail in that regard.
One of the significant and, indeed, sad facts in regard to the 1983 referendum was the very high number of people who did not believe they could exercise their democratic right to vote. They stayed at home and abstained from voting because they did not know what morally was the right way to vote. That resulted from the air of confusion which existed in regard to that referendum. It is a tribute to the electorate that they would show such responsibility and would not cast their vote lightly, particularly in a referendum such as the one we had in 1983. People here have a high level of respect for our Constitution and seriously consider proposed changes to it. They will be even more cautious on this occasion. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to take our suggestions on board. He accused us of muddying the water.
I did not accuse Deputy Barnes personally.
That statement could be a huge rock in the pool.
Deputy Dukes referred to the fact that he was labelled an abortionist at one time and the Minister indicated that he, too, had been labelled in a similar manner. The best, most sincere and solid way in which we can meet that type of labelling and insidious intimidation, of which we have all been victims from time to time, is to be clean, honest and sincere on all sides of the House in presenting a face that does not attempt to be devious or give the electorate any sense of being used or abused. A major part of the reform the Minister is proposing should involve taking on board the amendments that have been tabled to this Bill.
In essence, what we are discussing at this stage of the debate is not the actual wording of the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, but a descriptive title that will appear on the ballot paper, nothing more. This is not something that, if the Minister feels sympathetic towards what is being urged on him from all sides of the House would require going back to the Attorney General or to the parliamentary draftsman. He need not have any concern in regard to interference with the main thrust of the Bill. Nothing like that arises. We are talking about no more than a marginal title and description. If the Minister feels that there is force to our arguments he can, with perfect safety, accept the fact that, to be fair to the public, a more neutral description of what is being put before them in the referenda should be adduced.
The use of the description "right to life" imports that that, in effect, is what the Twelfth Amendment is doing. It is appropriate that we should hear the views of the Minister for Justice who moved the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill and, therefore, is responsible for it. His views in regard to the thrust of this Bill would surely assist the Minister for the Environment in deciding whether he should alter the description. Fortunately, the views of the Minister for Justice are set out in his opening speech to which I would refer the Minister for the Environment. In a paragraph entitled, Summary of effects of Bills, the Minister stated:
The first point I want to make about the amendment proposed in the Twelfth Amendment Bill is that it will leave undisturbed the existing affirmative acknowledgement in Article 40.3.3º of the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.
The Minister for Justice stated that the affirmative acknowledgement will be undisturbed in Article 40.3.3º and will not be affected by the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution Bill. He went on to say that the amendment will be an addition to the existing Article 40.3.3º, not a substitution for it. I would draw the attention of the Minister for the Environment — this is really the nub of the matter — to the following remark by the Minister:
Under the amendment, where a pregnant women is suffering from a physical medical condition such that her life is endangered if the pregnancy continues, the pregnancy may be lawfully terminated if that is necessary to save her life.
That is the Minister for Justice's summary of the effect of the Twelfth Amendment. We in the Labour Party would be happy if the Democratic Left or the Fine Gael amendments were accepted, but our neutral format has much to commend it. The Minister for Justice holds a similar view to ours because when he referred to the substance of the Twelfth Amendment the headnote in his speech referred to the substantive issue.
I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, but I would like to advert again to the time factor involved and to the desirability of other Members participating in so far as time permits. The House may also wish to hear the views of the Minister in this regard.
We are looking forward to hearing the Minister's views.
The Minister for Justice used the description "substantive issue" in his speech. We should not underestimate the intelligence of the electorate; they know what the substantive issue is. There has been plenty of talk about it. They know about the right to travel, the right to information and about the substantive issue. A neutral description is required and for that reason, the most important of the suggested amendments before the House is the one dealing with the substantive issue. I ask the Ministers who are in the House not to make a big deal of this point. It is only the descriptive title we are discussing. It does not affect the thrust or the wording. Why not acknowledge the deeply felt views of so many Deputies on the issue and accept the change without making a big political issue out of it. There will be enough division on the issue without disagreeing on the matter of descriptions.
I support the Fine Gael amendment because looking at this proposal on the white ballot paper which is headed "the right to life", one must ask, whose right to life? The details that we have been given do not specify who, in that situation, has a right to life. What right to life has the mother, what right to life has the foetus? That is not specified in the proposal and in previous debates in the House the Government have said very clearly that they will not bring legislation before the House to clarify the issue.
What right to life has the foetus? At what stage will it be lawful to terminate a pregnancy where the life of the mother is threatened? In relation to a mother who has an illness that may be life-threatening for her, at what stage can she receive treatment that could and will bring about a termination of her pregnancy in order to save her life? Who will decide that and at what stage will the decision be made? There are no specific guidelines on this issue and the position is most unclear. This wording is totally misleading. It is giving an impression to the electorate that this is specific to giving certain persons the right to life. Deputies know that the Twelfth Amendment concerns the termination of pregnancy. However, I can see the hand of Fianna Fáil in this and the hand, in particular, of those who would consider themselves as cute Ministers, who said, we know how to deal with this, we will keep them all happy. I am sure the Minister for Justice had a big hand in it also.
Is he a cute Minister?
He thinks he is a cute Minister. Unfortunately, when the electorate cast their vote on this issue they believe that they will have in their hand a ballot paper that will be specific in relation to the termination of pregnancy or abortion in certain circumstances. Instead, they will be presented with a ballot paper headed "the right to life" which is completely dishonest, unfair and confusing to the electorate. The Government are attempting to confuse the issue and in the final analysis, the electorate are being asked to vote, having been presented with three questions which will confuse them even more. The Government hope that by creating confusion they will manage to carry the vote on the day. This is a most irresponsible stance for the Government to take. The honourable thing for the Minister to do this evening is to agree to the amendment and substitute the words "termination of pregnancy" for "the right to life". The wording as it stands is a deliberate attempt to mislead voters. This form of wording on a ballot paper is unprofessional and does not comply with the normal legal presentation of constitutional referenda in the past.
I wish to add my voice to what has been already said. There is, I believe, a certain element of "cute hoor" politics attached to this issue. Nevertheless, I support the Labour Party's amendment because I believe a neutral title is required. For the past six months people have been hearing about the substantive issue. It is a well known phrase now and I believe people understand its meaning. I do not know if the Minister would consider changing the wording but it is very important that he would. I am sure the Minister and the Government have other considerations in mind such as the bishops' views, but the electorate must be given an honest, straightforward ballot paper, and a wording such as "substantive issue" would be most suitable.
This nation has grown used to 60 years of supremacy during which time we have been accused of all kinds of innuendo and yet the vast majority of the public seem to believe the Government a little more than they have tended to believe the Opposition parties.
They believed the Minister in 1983 and then we had the X case.
The purpose of these amendments is to substitute "termination of pregnancy" or "pregnancy termination" or the "substantive issue" for "right to life", both in relation to the headings on the ballot papers and in the statement for the information of voters. The sole purpose of the proposed headings on the ballot papers is to assist the voters to distinguish between them. Just like the colours chosen for the ballot papers, the headings have no significance whatsoever other than as a distinguishing feature. The actual matter on which the electorate will vote is the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the relevant constitutional amendment Bill. The question on the ballot paper will be, do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill. The short title of the Bill concerned will be printed immediately beneath.
That is what the people will vote on. In this context, the heading is entirely irrelevant. People are not being asked to vote on the heading or to comment on it in any way. The heading is simply a distinguishing feature which sets one ballot paper apart from the other two. In theory, at least, any kind of distinguishing characteristic could be used, such as a symbol, or number, or letter or different sizes of ballot paper. The clearest and simplest method is to use a word or words which will convey clearly to the electorate which of the three separate issues the particular ballot paper deals with.
Why is the Minister arguing about it?
In regard to the word or words chosen, the essential characteristics are brevity, clarity, relevance and neutrality.
The expression "right to life" satisfies all the criteria.
It has nothing to do with it.
It is particularly relevant in the sense that the Twelfth Amendment deals with the right to life of the unborn and the right to life of the mother.
It limits the right to life of the mother.
It provides for a situation where there may be a conflict between these two rights. In this event, the right to life of the mother will prevail. Far from being a slogan adopted by any one faction in this controversy, the right to life is the matter with which everybody involved is passionately concerned. I have to say that the expression "termination of pregnancy" is not used at all either in the existing article or in the Twelfth Amendment, nor is the concept of termination of pregnancy, nor the expression "the substantive issue". Why, at this stage, should we seek to complicate matters by the introduction of a new concept and a new form of wording? Deputy Dukes, again used the words "it shall be lawful to terminate". I would like him to read the first line of the proposal again. "It shall be unlawful to terminate".
I said the amendment points out the circumstances in which it shall not be unlawful to terminate. The Minister should not play the lawyer with me. He is very bad at it. I told the Minister that it sets out the circumstances in which it will not be unlawful to terminate.
We have had a very orderly debate up to now. Let us try to continue in the same manner.
I only have a few minutes to reply and Deputy Dukes wants to take up my time with the deliberate tactic of not allowing me to answer questions that were raised by a number of Deputies.
The Minister is delighted that he has only a few minutes to reply.
Deputy Dukes failed to understand in the context of this whole debate the circumstances that give rise to a situation where the lives of the mother and the foetus are at risk. In circumstances where the appropriate medical or surgical action is not taken, as a consequence two lives may be lost.
We know all that.
The purpose and design of this provision has been to honour what is contained in Article 40.3.3º and to explain from that the practical situations that can arise. It is no more nor no less than that.
That is a practical situation in which you can terminate the pregnancy, is that not right?
Deputy Dukes has tried throughout this debate to muddy the waters but he will not succeed.
Please, Deputy Dukes. The Minister is about to conclude.
I regret that I do not have time to deal with the issues raised by other Deputies. Words such as "dubious", "misleading" and "deception" try to give the impression to the public that a——
——provision is being put into the Constitution which runs counter to the majority view of this House in relation to the right to life.
The Minister is pandering worse than he has ever done before. He should be ashamed to have anything to do with this Bill.
The Deputy has ways of making his point. I did not interrupt him.
The Minister is pandering. He should be ashamed to stand up here and say that.
I am sorry to have to interrupt, but the time has come to put the question in respect of item No. 3, Referendum (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1992, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Stages. As it is now 10.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of this day: "That the sections undisposed of and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; that Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and that the Bill is hereby passed."
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