I found the debate on this issue, both inside and outside this House, deeply depressing. As we come to the end of the 20th century much of what has been said in this debate is more appropriate to 17th and 18th century attitudes to women than to what I would regard as the more enlightened and progressive approach I thought most groups in our society would have long since had.
The hallmarks of this debate have not been tolerance, compassion or realism. The debate has clearly indicated that few people trust the judgment of women. Indeed, the way this legislation was drafted leaves a lot to be desired.
I want to contrast the attitude of the Government to the changes in the drink driving laws. After two months in office the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, last night brought forward details of the changes he will make to legislation that only came into effect before Christmas. I must be forgiven for being suspicious when I ask if the Minister, Deputy Howlin, would have put the same effort into bringing forward this legislation. Of course, he would not and did not because for two years in the Department of Health he failed to put any proposals to the Government on this issue. That aside, would the Minister, Deputy Howlin, or any other Minister bring in legislation where the group most affected was not consulted if it involved the construction industry, the farming community or the vintners? There are as many women leaving Ireland every year to have abortions as there are vintners in this country. Yet, they were widely consulted and the Government's response to their concerns was rapid.
The failure of this Minister to consult either the Council for the Status of Women or the Irish Family Planning Association indicates clearly, as the Taoiseach said to me during Question Time some weeks ago, that when the Government was drawing up the Programme for Government, the absence of the provisions on equality was an oversight. Women are overlooked. They are under represented at key decision-making levels in our society from the Judiciary, to senior levels in the medical profession, in politics and in the public service. What we see is what we have in this Bill.
There has been occasions in the past when I found myself in a political party which took a decision on legislation of this type with which I profoundly disagreed. I am now in the happy position of leading a party which allows a free vote but, yet, I found it extremely difficult to come to a decision on this Bill and I will indicate the reasons later. My vote this evening will be merely symbolic because the Bill is illiberal and seriously defective. It is merely a litany of restrictions backed up by criminal sanctions. In so far as the vote this evening is merely symbolic, I have decided to support the legislation after much thought and with great reluctance because I have come to the conclusion that I do not wish to align myself with some of the most reactionary, conservative and intolerant groups in our society. Defeat for this Bill, bad and all as it is, will send the wrong signals to the groups in our society who, for too long, have shown very little concern for women and the born and who seem to take the view that once a child is born, their interest in pro-life ceases.
I want to refer to the attitude of the Catholic Church to this legislation and to the comments of Bishop Magee who said that consideration would have to be given to excommunicating somebody from the Catholic Church who assisted, in any formal way, a person to procure an abortion. That wise commentator, Dick Walsh, said on Saturday that in all the years of IRA atrocities, when some of the most heinous barbaric acts were committed by individuals both here and in Northern Ireland, he never once heard the Catholic Church contemplate excommunicating those people from the Church. Indeed, when that point was raised with the Church, it said such action would be counter productive.
I have never once heard the Catholic Church speak out on men who abuse their children both physically and sexually. On the radio recently, Joe Duffy spoke to two people who talked about the dreadful physical, mental and sexual abuse perpetrated on them by their father over many years. I have not heard anybody in the Catholic Church consider excommunicating such fathers.
Will Bishop Magee, others who think like him, and priests who might consider not giving Holy Communion, re-examine, in a more considered and realistic way, their attitude to matters involving what is broadly called the sex agenda? We live in a country that is not perfect. The headline in this evening's Evening Herald concerns a 12 year old girl who is pregnant; she became pregnant when she was 11 years old. That is the country in which we live and regardless of what laws we have on the Statute Book, there is little point in us pretending that that is not the case.
When I listened to Deputies speak in this debate I wonder if they really live in the same country in which I live. I wonder why they close their minds to the reality of Ireland in 1995. People wonder why there is so much child sexual abuse and why these difficult cases now coming before the courts did not come to light before now. People get away with child sexual abuse because society turns a blind eye, sweeps problems under the carpet and pretends they do not exist. It is not any different with abortion than it is with rape, incest or any of that difficult agenda with which we have failed to deal.
In relation to this Bill, it is worthwhile to examine the history of the family planning legislation. This Bill, in time, will be a mere historical curiosity as the 1979 Irish solution to an Irish problem now is. Since then, there have been many Bills until finally, in the past two years, we brought in comprehensive and progressive legislation. I do not know how long it will take but this Bill will also be a mere historical curiosity as far as the legislation is concerned.
I am not one of those who believe Mr. Justice O'Hanlon should resign because when we appoint persons to the Judiciary, we do not require them to express their views in advance on this area or on public policy generally. It is not a requirement for appointment to the Judiciary although it should be a requirement. I favour the American system because, given the power vested in our Judiciary, it is a matter for the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution. Indeed, the Supreme Court has given us some of the most liberal interpretations possible over the past 20 years. It has been ahead of the Legislature in giving basic fundamental and personal rights to our citizens. I favour an examination of the public policy position of members before they are appointed to senior judicial positions. If we expect judges to interpret our laws and reflect the modern evolving Ireland, it is not right to appoint people whose minds are closed and who are extremely conservative.
With regard to Mr. Justice O'Hanlon's remarks, to equate this legislation and this debate with the awful atrocity that was the Holocaust — perhaps the single worst example of the destruction of human life that has ever taken place in the history of mankind — was most unfortunate and very inappropriate. If the judge had seriously thought about the issue I do not believe he could compare what is happening in this legislation with what happened during the Holocaust. In so far as he has had the courage to express a view, forceful as it is, I welcome the fact that we know what that judge's view is. For the rest of his time in judicial office, which I think is very short, he has obviously debarred himself from sitting on any case that could remotely deal with this area.
In the context of this debate it is useful to examine why we find it necessary to have legislation of this kind. It goes back to 1981 and 1982 when weak politicians, during the three elections in that 18-month period, gave a commitment to what is broadly called the pro-life group, and provisions were written into the Constitution. It is those very provisions that allowed the Supreme Court to let Miss X leave the jurisdiction, to free her from the internment that this State had placed upon her. In their judgment the Supreme Court said: "If it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life as distinct from the health of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible."
The very clause that the pro-life movement wanted to guarantee that we would never have abortion because they did not trust the legislators in this House — the 1961 Act was not enough for them — allowed the Supreme Court to say that in cases where the probability is that a woman's life is at risk, then abortion is permissible. Indeed, abortion is permissible in this State because they did not say that one had to leave the State in order to have an abortion.
Because that interpretation has now been made and the Supreme Court has decided to adjudicate on the balance of rights between the mother and the unborn, Deputies in this House and others who supported that amendment in 1983 are not happy and they want another amendment. I can do no better than to quote what Fr. Kevin Hegarty, the former editor of Intercom, had to say in last Sunday's Sunday Tribune. He said: “We cannot treat the Constitution as a slot machine which we play until we get the answer we want.” In other words, the Constitution cannot be used to insert provisions that would provide what a small, secretive, powerful and well-funded group wants.
That group has failed to accept the democratic wish expressed by the people in 1992. In a democracy the people are sovereign. The people expressed their view quite clearly in 1992 and there was no confusion about it. The then minority Fianna Fáil Government recommended a yes vote on the three issues put before the people: the substantive issue, travel and information. In relation to what was called the substantive issue, the people rejected the Government's recommendation by 65.4 per cent to 34.6 per cent. In relation to travel the result was 62 per cent in favour, and just 60 per cent in favour of information. The people were well able to distinguish between the three issues. They were able to say no to the first issue in approximately the same numbers as they said yes to the other two. That does not indicate that there was any great confusion. It was quite clear what the people were voting for and we have a duty on foot of that referendum to bring in legislation. I welcome the Bill even though it is defective.
It is important to reflect for a moment on what is often just a statistic in debates of this kind — the 13,000 women who have left Ireland since 1992 to have abortions in Britain. We have a major abortion problem in Ireland. One in 11 Irish pregnancies ends up in an abortion in Britain. If Britain was as far away as the United State and if it cost £1,000 to get there, we would long since have brought in more realistic legislation to deal with our abortion problem. Because it is a conveniently short journey and relatively inexpensive to get there, we have allowed England to deal with our abortion crisis.
It is depressing that those who shout loudest about pro-life and the right to life are those who end their interest as soon as the child is born. I have yet to see them involved with young teenage women who have babies, who are homeless, unemployed, deserted by the father of the child, and perhaps with little support from their own family network. I have yet to see members of the pro-life movement involved in campaigns to do something for those particularly vulnerable women that I often deal with.
We should ask ourselves why so many women leave Ireland for abortions in Britain. In my view it is a decision they make after much consideration but they obviously have to make that decision very quickly. They make it because they believe they have no alternative. Many of them are lonely or isolated, abandoned, neglected, afraid to tell their loved ones, their parents or even their friends. The survey carried out by the Irish Family Planning Association showed that, among the small sample surveyed, at least one third of those who went never told anybody that they had made the journey. They have a weekend off work, a couple of days holidays, they go off on their trip and come back again but get very little help from anybody in this society.
We should be concerned about life and the plight of those women as opposed to the rhetoric that is heard every time we have a debate. It reminds me of the debates on family planning which I read over the last few days. There was always this commitment to encouraging natural family planning and the Government was going to provide funds for the Billings method and so on. That was said to make it look as if the Government was being conservative, reasonable and unbiased, but once the debate was over that was the end of that.
It is much the same in relation to those women. Why is it that we have never found out who goes and why they go? Why have there been no surveys and why has nobody spoken to them? They are not a lobby, they do not ring up their politicians, they are not sending us letters. They are a silent group in our society whose interests should be vocalised in this debate if we really care about life and the plight of our people. As many Irish women leave this country every year for an abortion in Britain as there are vintners in the whole jurisdiction, and we know the response to the cause advocated by the vintners only recently. It is a sad fact.
I am not one who says that men should not comment about these things and I would like to think that I am not sexist or biased. I appreciate enlightened debate with people putting forward their honest points of view. What really appalls me is to hear people say one thing in this Chamber, which down the corridor or in the bar they tell you that they have not said. If their young daughter was raped, was the victim or if her life was threatened, I wonder how many Deputies would not consider abortion as an option. I really wonder how many Deputies could put their hands on their hearts and say that if they were the father of Miss X they would have insisted that she go through with the pregnancy and have the child. How many could honestly say that? It is very easy to be judgmental when you are not faced with the problem that those lonely vulnerable Irish women are faced with.
The Bill is extremely defective and very illiberal. I want to quote what Proinsias De Rossa had to say on this matter — volume 424, column 451 of the Official Report. He said, "The mind set that sees the question of information solely on the basis of how it can be restricted rather than how it can be provided is starting from the wrong end of the spectrum." I totally agree with him. Here we have a Bill in all its provisions that seeks to restrict information. The whole basis of the Bill is to see how the legislation can restrict the giving of information. In 1992 people sincerely believed that the result of voting for information meant that more information would be given and received. I have no doubt about that. Why is it that when it comes to providing information like telephone numbers there is a big hullabaloo about it? I have telephone numbers here which are widely available in most post offices. If you have the Northern Ireland yellow pages you can get all the telephone numbers you like. What happens on the ground does not seem to matter to some Deputies who want the law to say that they cannot be available. Once the law says it, it does not actually matter what the reality is. That is the sad thing about this whole debate.
Most sophisticated people will not have any problem about giving or receiving information. They will not need to ask somebody how they can have an abortion, they will just go off and make their arrangements. I have to take issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Liz McManus, who said that women do not need to have their hands held. Most women do not, but the young vulnerable women who are going to be affected by this legislation — people like Miss X or the 12 year old headlined in the Evening Herald, young children pregnant at that age — will not be able to make arrangements for themselves.
Given the judgment in the X case and all the compassion that was released at that time when people in this State could not contemplate interning a 14 year old who had been raped, surely in a civilised society we should not be afraid to allow doctors in particular to make arrangements for young, vulnerable people of that age.