Ní léir an é go bhfuil náire orthu faoin Bhille féin nó an bhfuil ordú tugtha dóibh gan labhairt faoi. B'fhéidir nach bhfuil i gceist ach go bhfuil siad beagán measctha ina n-intinn faoin cheist ar fad agus nach maith leo dream ar bith a tharraingt anuas orthu féin. Bheadh sé sin do-thuigthe tar éis an méid atá cloiste againn ó dhaoine áirithe. Tá grúpaí amuigh ansin ag éisteacht go géar agus a n-intinn déanta suas cheana féin acu. Seachas é sin tá gnáthdhaoine ag éisteacht freisin — daoine ar mhaith leo a gcuid Teachtaí a chloisteáil. Is mór an trua nach bhfuil an deis sin acu faoi mar is cóir go mbeadh. Is trua liom freisin go bhfuil an tAire féin imithe mar ba mhaith liom go mbeadh deis aige an méid atá le rá agam a chloisteáil. Is trua nach raibh deis ag an Teachta Caitlín Ní Loinsigh labhairt romham mar tá buntáiste mór amháin aici orm agus ag cuid mhaith de na mná anseo gur máithreacha iad. Sin mí-bhuntáiste atá ag na fir anseo.
So far this has been a balanced, reasonably fair and unemotive debate, conducted, unfortunately, in the main among members of the Opposition. This is a great pity as I have no doubt members of the Government parties have much to contribute. While I hold strong views which could be described as old fashioned I am surprised at the extent to which I find myself in agreement with most of what has been said, including what has been said by those who hold widely divergent views. These are reflected in the contributions of members of all parties.
The Minister may have erred on two fronts. First, in his own contribution he allowed his deep antipathy towards the Fianna Fáil Party to colour his approach in a most unhelpful manner. Second, it was a fundamental error to introduce this legislation virtually under cover of the Framework Document because the effect was to demean both. I do not believe that was the Minister's intention, nevertheless, it has tended to colour the whole proceedings in an unhelpful manner.
While I hold strong views on this issue, I respect those who hold the opposite view and who come into this Chamber, or any forum, and enunciate those views clearly and logically. The more I listen to these proceedings, the more I come to the view that those — on both sides — who choose to sit on the fence contribute the least and do the most damage to the debate.
The timing of the Bill is inexplicable in view of the outstanding issues before the courts. The 1983 amendment was adjudicated upon by the Supreme Court in the X case. Many people expressed the view that the decision of the Supreme Court went against what they voted for at the time of the referendum and that colours my view in relation to legislation and amendments. It is very useful to have the court's view and, in this instance, it would have been particularly advantageous to have the outcome of the cases still pending.
In this regard I strongly disagree with Deputy Dukes who appears to have drawn the opposite conclusions in relation to the eighth amendment and the constitutional findings on it by the Supreme Court. I agree with him that people who do not know anything about constitutional matters — and I confess to being one of them — do not make any contribution when they seek to have an input to preparing wordings for such amendments. However, I disagree strongly with him in his other apparent conclusion that legislation should proceed in this case without the benefit of relevant court judgments because history teaches us the opposite. Having listened to Deputy Dukes's contribution today and on numerous other occasions. I am constantly amazed that a position in Government could not have been found for him.
I also disagree with Deputy Dukes that this issue can and should be "put to bed". In the United States and Britain the whole abortion debate continues to rage despite virtually all legal constraints having been removed on both jurisdictions. I was in the United States over Christmas and the early part of the year and I was astounded at the level of debate that surrounded the whole abortion issue. It related to particular attacks at abortion clinics but it was a most heated debate and reflected as close to what we have seen here as one would possibly expect.
This whole area evokes strong emotions and reactions and will never be far removed from the political agenda. Therefore, it is best to face the issue honestly and honourably and to seek a logical baseline for this country. The Minister's approach is most disturbing as his personal confidence in his own Bill is clearly at issue. It is obvious that he was relieved to be able to give vent to his anti-Fianna Fáil feelings in his opening address. It is to his great discredit that his contribution is the only one so far which is blatantly divisive along party political lines in a debate on a matter which merits careful and measured contributions. The two speakers immediately following the Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn and Deputy O'Donnell, were the direct opposite in that they sought to give genuinely and strongly held views — although I disagree strongly with one of them — and did not introduce this singularly unhelpful element of divisiveness.
Members contributing to this debate should consider their positions carefully and speak from a genuine commitment that is clearly thought out but that also leaves room for listening to the views of other people. In that way I hope a consensus will be reached which will reflect the needs of the people at this time and uphold the traditions which are held by people both inside and outside this Chamber.
In this regard I empathise with Deputy Harte who I understand is in a position, not dissimilar to my own two years ago, in relation to his party. I suppose some people would find some poetic justice in the turnaround of events. On the Shannon issue, Deputy Noonan was praised for having worded a motion which allowed all in his own party — even those who would happily close the gates at Shannon Airport and throw away the key — to close ranks, support the motion and force some of us into a difficult position which we had to deal with at the time. Deputy Noonan was always a promising Minister in Opposition. He is a Minister now but apparently he is unable to devise a Bill which is acceptable to all in his own party. Having gone through the same difficult time which Deputy Harte, and perhaps some others, appear to be going through now, I empathise with him and wish him well in whatever he decides to do. I am tempted to conclude that perhaps the Taoiseach has a sense of humour after all in appointing Deputy Noonan to his position. If he was not owed favours, he might not have got it.
My difficulty with the Bill is that I am unable to separate the issue which the Minister is trying to address from the basic issue of abortion. I believe in the fundamental right to life. The most common statement that has been made is that we are all anti-abortion and pro-life but we all mean different things when we say that even though we make that statement with great honesty and integrity. I cannot and do not differentiate between the quality of life of a baby five months after birth and its quality of life five months before birth. If anybody can tell me that there is a difference, let them do so.
The bottom line is whether the occupant of a womb is a person, in other words, a human life. If not, is an abortion logically indistinguishable from the procedure involved in removing a wart, tonsils, etc.? My view — and this is shared by many people who oppose abortion — is that it is a human life and that colours my approach to all the issues which arise from that. I realise it is an unfashionable view and one that leaves me open to attack from all sides. In political terms it seems that the anti-abortion position is the most difficult to sustain in the present climate but it must be done by people who perhaps have no other choice in this regard.
Of course, there are cases when the taking of a life may be justified. We would all defend our right to do whatever was required in self-defence. There is a lively ongoing debate on capital punishment and, while I am opposed to it, I have heard strongly expressed views in its favour. Also, it is frequently argued that a women who has been raped should have the right to an abortion and the X case, involving a 14 year old girl, went along those lines. If I genuinely believed that having an abortion would help a woman in the long term, I would find it hard as a parent to deny her that right and I would be very much inclined to go along with whatever would make her life, and that of her family, easier and I believe that would be the view of everybody in the Chamber. I would much more comfortably question the right to life of the rapist or the person who committed the crime. Perhaps it is a fundamental flaw in society that we tend to ignore the difficulties that beset the victims of crime.
It appears we are saying that children of rapists are in some way less worthy of life than others. While that is understandable in terms of the personal difficulties of the girl involved, if logically followed it may lead to a very awkward and difficult situation. If on the other hand — this is the nub of the problem — we decide there are circumstances in which abortion ought to be made available, surely the means we are adopting not just in this Bill but in the way we approach the entire matter as a people and a Legislature is grossly demeaning. That is particularly reflected in this Bill. What we seem to be saying to the woman is that we consider the choice of abortion wrong but if she slips away to Britain or elsewhere to have her pregnancy terminated we will turn a blind eye and perhaps even provide a few signposts along the way.
The subliminal message from the people is a negative one which has the effect of heaping guilt on an already crisis torn and vulnerable person. That is not helped by the current approach. Fundamental errors were made particularly in the 1992 referendum because the question was not put as clearly as it ought to have been, and that is no wonder in view of the misunderstandings, contradictions and diverging views expressed in the debate of the last few days. Ultimately we must decide whether we support abortion. If we do, we must provide a service in whatever circumstances we consider appropriate. If we oppose abortion we should take a proactive approach in terms of counselling and support systems for women with crisis pregnancies. I strongly support and advocate a more honest and effective approach to counselling. I very much regret that because I hold such views and try to express them as clearly and honestly as I can, I leave myself open to personal attack. I do not mind being old-fashioned because my children have made me feel so old-fashioned that I think nothing that is said in the media, here or elsewhere would make a difference. I believe that the fundamental right to hold that view is under threat.
I commend the Minister for providing extra resources for counselling, but the ultimate effect of this Bill if passed in its present form will be to increase the number of abortions performed on Irish women. How can the position be otherwise when the clear signal is towards acceptance of termination as a valid form of contraception? That is not helpful. A different approach is required. I have grave reservations about section 2.
A number of Deputies have indicated that they have been inundated with phone calls, letters and so on about this matter. I am somewhat disappointed I received only two such phone calls, one of which was pro-choice and had the effect of convincing me of the opposite view; the other was pro-life and had the effect of weakening my convictions in that regard. I have not found the lobbying from either side very convincing. Personal attacks on Deputies and Ministers and their families should be condemned. They should not influence legislators.
This is a difficult subject. I accept a substantial number of Irish women travel aborad to terminate pregnancies. I would like to influence a reduction in that number. I genuinely wish to see the State taking a proactive approach in supporting, counselling and helping women before they make the decision, and after the abortion if that is what they decide. We have not done that in the proper manner but it is not too late to change that approach.
I am concerned about the effects of the Bill, particularly sections 2 and 5 about which I have grave reservations and which, I hope, will be amended. On occasion the Minister has indicated to the media that he is more open to amendments than he indicated in the House. I welcome that. Ultimately there is a responsibility on this House and the Oireachtas generally to address the difficult problems arising from the multiple amendments of the Constitution and the decisions on them by the courts. A difficulty arises in that there is not a clearly laid out path for the Oireachtas to follow. It is likely that whatever legislation is ultimately passed will be open to challenge in the courts and may be overturned despite the best attempts to get it right, balanced and as fair as possible. Despite the fact that there are widely diverging views on this subject, consensus may emerge and we may take a more honest approach to a matter that creates grave difficulty for individuals and reflects very poorly on us as a State.