Long before programmes such as "Fair City" dealt with the issue of abortion in soap opera depth there was a radio soap opera called "The Kennedys of Castlerosse". The funny thing about that programme was that if one turned on the radio at lunchtime having been away for a month it was as if one had not been away. Since the Bill was introduced it has been a bit like "The Kennedys of Castlerosse", tuning into an episode of Irish life that happened ten years ago but nothing has changed: the lines are still the same, the same current affairs programmes are running with the same people saying the same things. It is a bit like the slogan for the cosmetics that my life-partner buys from the Body Shop: re-use, re-fill and re-cycle. It is also like watching the film "The Sound of Music" on television at Christmas time — one can say the lines before the actors do. There is ideological fog everywhere.
I was not great at geography at school but I remember learning about how a thick fog results when a belt of warm air meets a belt of cold air over the Irish Sea. A belt of pro-life wind has met a belt of pro-choice wind over the people and the result is a feeling of déjà vu and thick fog. I do not think that fog is a great accompaniment to the process of developing the corpus of Irish law, particularly on such a sensitive and important issue as this. We would be better served by clarity.
Last night I asked myself what are the matters on which I am clear. I discovered that I am clear on many: that the Irish people are not stupid or totally hypocritical; that it is the job of legislators to legislate; that the Minister for Health does not want to see more abortions and that those who are compassionately against abortion have the absolute right — even duty — to work to reduce the number of abortions. When I realised that I was clear on all these things it was a great relief.
Let me consider first the question of the stupidity or intelligence of the people. During the past 20 years they have been picking their way through a minefield of change with remarkable intelligence, maturity and fairmindedness, not to mention tolerance. If I look around this House I see living testament to the tolerance, not to say sense of humour, of the electorate. Michael D, Michael McDowell, Jim McDaid and I are here, as is Paddy Harte except when he goes somewhere else.
In every constituency the electorate chooses a wonderful complexity of representation for its parliamentary process and in every election it cuts through the claims and counterclaims, polls and promises, debates and disasters and elects a set of people that does not conform to any narrow pattern. Now and again, circumstances conspire against the people and they end up with a rainbow coalition that they never asked for. I take full responsibility for that and promise that I will not be in South Africa the next time there is a Government crisis.
It is not just in elections that the electorate makes sophisticated and civilised decisions. It makes equally sophisticated and civilised decisions in referenda. It did so in the referenda on travel and information when it did not give a simple yes or no answer but rather voted in a clever and complex way. Some people are revisiting that decision and saying: "The Irish people do not know what information is; what they really meant was that it was OK for someone to tell another how abortion happens but it was not OK for people to get hold of any of the details about where abortion happens". When I hear this line of argument I have to admire the persistence and cleverality of those advancing it but it is ludicrous and insulting to the intelligence of the electorate who cast their votes at the time.
This Bill is about the provision of information and it has been designed, cut and trimmed to fit into the space created by the people when they voted in the referendum. They were not voting for the right to hear more detailed descriptions of what happens during an abortion and we should not insult them by saying that they were.
I decided something else last night. The Irish people are not totally hypocritical. I am not saying individuals do not have a little bit of hypocrisy in them; they do. It is like eating a balanced diet — everybody needs a little idealism, cynicism, enthusiasm, laziness, moderation, excess — a great deal of honesty and a little bit of hypocrisy. It is the mix of all of those that keeps one right but as a nation we are remarkably short on hypocrisy, even on this issue.
The reaction of people to the X case was not hypocritical. It was one of honest outrage and shock. People of all generations, in all parts of the country, looked at that case and said: "We may not approve of abortion — in fact a majority do not approve of abortion — but we do not want injunctions taken against 14 year old victims of statutory rape. We do not want Ireland turned into a police State where you have to prove you are not pregnant before you are allowed to get on a boat or a plane".
By their votes in the ensuing referendum the people decided they did not want ridiculous obstacles put in the way of people trying to obtain an address or a telephone number because they knew well that if those people went into the GPO and looked at British telephone books, they could find that information instantly. What is hypocritical about any of that? It would be absolutely hypocritical to suggest that in the Ireland of the 1990s, with Irish people travelling the world for study, work and leisure and tapping into the Internet and CompuServe, one could create a censorship of information with flying squads of censors picking up leaflets, blacking out small advertisements in magazines and tearing out pages of telephone books.
The people of Ireland are not idiots. They knew what they were voting for in the referendum, namely, information on services legally available in another State. Do people seriously believe that the voters thought they were supporting a constitutional right to British Airways flight information or to read the Egon Ronay guide to London restaurants? The electorate decided against that kind of hypocritical idiocy and this Bill follows through on their decision.
This legislation arose out of the X case when the people, in their compassion, were justly horrified at the use of Article 40 of the Constitution to imprison a young, pregnant rape victim in this country. The Government moved, through the 1992 referendum, to continue the law on abortion in this State but to remove any barriers to women who want to avail of it abroad. That may be hypocritical but it is also compassionate. We must accept and deal with the ambivalence of our attitude to this problem.
Through this legislation we are assisting women, in the narrowest sense, to have abortions. The Government is playing fast and loose with the English language by claiming that giving names and addresses is not referral or that this legislation will not assist women to have abortions. Like it or not, that is what the people voted for. Perhaps many members of my party are horrified and shamed by this fact but the results of the referenda speak for themselves. We cannot re-write history.
There is division among all parties in this House on this issue. There is division in my party, as is plainly obvious, on the front and on the back benches. As Deputy Harney recalled this morning, I more than anybody else criticised the fact that Fianna Fáil had to speak with one voice. I did not like that restriction but we can hardly criticise the leader of a party who gives everyone in that party the opportunity to speak in any way they wish. I take it as a grave offence to the paragons of political correctness — a subject dear to my heart in the recent past — that someone who has done that, namely, Deputy Bertie Ahern, is pilloried for so doing. I have been on the losing side of arguments more often in my party than any other person. I had company in this regard when Deputy Harney was a member of the party but she has long since gone.
The facts of the last referendum are interesting. A partner of mine, who is a very logical person and not given to histrionics always says when an argument is getting heated: "We had better ignore the facts anyway", and most people do. The outcome of the last referendum was decided in the quietness of people's homes. I doubt if any politician from any side of this House mentioned the referendum when they were at the doorsteps looking for votes. He or she was more interested in getting elected to this House. The people made their decisions in their own way. They did not have to be bullied by anybody. Over 65 per cent of them voted in the referendum; 13 per cent voted against travel, 40 per cent voted against the provision of any information and the majority voted against the substantive issue as we had recommended.
They are the facts but many people inside and outside this House are trying to re-write history. We cannot do that, but we must remember that there is a substantial number of people who are against the provision of information or the right to travel and there is little point in turning a blind eye to that. I am not one of those people and I do not believe the majority of people in this House hold that view either.
In addressing this minimalist legislation we should respect the intelligence and the sophistication of the electorate and not try to re-interpret that into something black and white, fundamentalist and hypocritical. Instead of dancing to the tune of extremists on either side who want to re-interpret the decision of the Irish people, we in Dáil Éireann should do what the electorate put us here to do, namely, legislate. We put the issue to the people and they told us what they wanted.
This Bill fills in the details, as closely as possible, in regard to what the people said they wanted. The initials "TD" after our names indicate we are here to pass, reject or amend the Bill. We are not here to postpone it and we cannot hide behind judges' wigs. If the people wanted to be ruled by the courts they would have told us that a long time ago but they have not done so. They go out in the wet and the cold during election times and put their folded bit of paper into the ballot boxes. Those bits of paper are a form of contracts for TDs which allow us to come into this House and legislate. I have not seen any clause in that contract that says: "Only legislate when there is no alternative or when the courts have made it safe to legislate. Only legislate after this issue has been for years in the judicial system".
Consequently, I do not go along with any of the demands — some of them repeated in an advertisement in this morning's newspapers — that we put off doing our job until the judges have made it safe for us to do so. There is an advertisement in this morning's newspapers, paid for by the pro-life movement, urging us to do that.
There is another article in this morning's newspapers which is a true but tragic story. Somewhere in Cork today there is an 11 year old girl who is pregnant by a 51 year old man. This child is not 14 — the age of the girl in the X case — but 11 years old. That is the headline in today's The Star newspaper. I quote from the newspaper: “An 11 year old girl, who is now pregnant, had sex with a 51 year old man, a court was told yesterday. The man obviously cannot be named for legal reasons”. That happened in the Ireland of today.
I wish to put a question, particularly to the male Members of this House and those with young children. How would they react if they were the father or mother of that young girl? As a person not afraid to take a gamble, I would say 98 per cent of all the Members of this House would at least consider the option of abortion. I am quite certain those who say they are pro-life, and vehemently so, would do the very same.
No one at any meeting at which I have been for the past few weeks has mentioned this issue at all. In case I was out of touch with the people of Kildare, I attended two Fianna Fáil meetings last night at which there were question and answer sessions. All types of things were asked but nobody asked about this. Before I left I asked one person about the abortion information Bill. I knew he had very strong views on the subject which he raised in the past and I respect his views as a person of very sound intelligence. He said, "Yes, Charlie, I would be very much against this and I am glad the party is voting against it". When I asked why he had not made much of it, he said, "I am afraid to, and most people are too, because the situation could visit anyone. That is what I have learned in the past ten years with a family growing up". That is what is happening in Ireland today and there is no point in closing our eyes to it.
Regarding this 11 year old child in Cork, I do not want to discuss any of the sad options open to that child and to her parents. All I want is to point out that real life does not go into hibernation to allow the judicial system to come to conclusions in its own good time. The judicial system will come to conclusions in its own good time but real life and real crisis pregnancies do not stop. There is no freeze-frame to allow us to postpone our duty.
That sense of a duty to be done rather than to be postponed is probably the only thing that will ever unite the current Minister for Health and me. For the last few days I have been watching him keeping Dermot Gleesons's words closer to his chest than a scapular. Now, many people think the Minister is a fierce "cute hoor" altogether, but I have my doubts. If I was strong in the "cute hoor" department I would not have been in South Africa when people were having crisis meetings in the dark——