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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 14 Nov 1973

Vol. 76 No. 1

Private Business. - Family Planning Bill, 1973: First Stage.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to facilitate family planning and for that purpose to amend section 17 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935, sections 16 and 17 of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, and sections 7 and 9 of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1946.

Is the Bill being opposed?

I am opposing it.

Since the introduction is being opposed, Standing Orders provide for statements from the sponsor of the Bill and from a Senator opposing. Any other statements are at the discretion of the Chair.

The Family Planning Bill, 1973, is a new Bill which has being tabled by me supported by Senators John Horgan and Trevor West. It is a measure to legalise the availability of contraceptives in this country, and to confer on the Minister for Health the jurisdiction to make regulations relating to those contraceptives; to prescribe the venues at which they may be made available; to control the advertising of them and to prescribe those contraceptives that would require a medical prescription before they could become available.

We made a previous attempt to introduce a different measure—and I should like to emphasise that it was a different measure—called The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 1971. It was introduced in the previous Seanad on 7th July, 1971. On that occasion it was refused a First Reading. The effect was that the Senators at that time did not see the text of the Bill because permission was never granted to print that Bill. A similar attempt was made shortly afterwards in the Dáil to introduce a Bill. Again, the measure was refused a First Reading.

One must analyse what we are doing at this stage. We are looking for a First Reading of this Bill, that is, that the Seanad agree to have the Bill printed, published and circulated. so that it is available to the public-to those who wish to buy it. It can then be considered in depth by the Members of this House and of the Dáil; and it will in due course receive a full debate in this House. If it secures the positive vote of the majority of Senators, then it may ultimately become law.

What we are deciding today is whether the Seanad will discuss this issue. We do so against a background where for the last three years there has been a very widespread discussion of this topic in every forum of the land—newspapers, television, private meetings and various discussion groups. It is important for this House and for the Oireachtas itself that we confer upon ourselves jurisdiction to discuss the matter here on the record. Senators must approach the First Stage of this Bill in the frame of mind as follows: "I am not committing myself to agreeing with what is in this Bill; I can reserve my position on that. I can decide after looking at the text of the Bill and hearing the debate in the House that I will vote against it."

However, we must remember that the Oireachtas is the most important forum for debating matters of public concern, and that there should be a debate in the Oireachtas on such a fundamental issue. We are looking for the right to have the text of this Bill presented and to have a debate on it. Until then we can reserve our position on the substance of the Bill. In other words, it is necessary to consider the procedure in two steps. The step today is a vote as to whether to allow the Bill to be printed and circulated and ultimately to come back for discussion, or whether to censor ourselves from seeing the text of a Bill as though we had a fear of the written word. I would make a very strong appeal to you, my colleagues and fellow Senators, that we do not so censor ourselves; that we say we will look at the text of this Bill and examine all its implications. We are representative of the Irish people. We do not necessarily have to agree on the whole aspect or on various matters in the Bill. Let us have the courage to discuss it. It has been discussed in every other public forum in the land. Let us to-day take the decision which makes it possible to discuss it in the Parliament.

The motives which have persuaded Senators John Horgan, Trevor West and myself to introduce this Bill are very similar to those we had in 1971. We believe that the question of legalising the availability of contraceptives and permitting literature about family planning to be available is an issue of civil rights in the South. We believe that people hold very strongly divergent views on this question. They hold these views in good faith. These differing views are supported in different ways by the Churches. To some extent, the Roman Catholic Church view may be said to be in one direction, but other church views——

I should like to point out to the Senator that she seems to be straying from a First Reading to a Second Reading speech.

I apologise to the Chair for straying outside the scope of this Stage. I am not allowed to go into the details of the text of the Bill?

Not at all into the text.

Not at all into the text of the Bill? I will therefore withdraw and come back to our motive as Independent Senators in looking for a First Stage Reading. It is not our intention to try to abuse our position as Independent Senators. We are not party members. We have no desire to influence our colleagues or use any hidden power to get this Bill through. We bow with pleasure to the democratic process. We ask our fellow Senators to allow this Bill to be printed. We ask them to consider it in a responsible and mature manner. We ask them to give us a debate on it in due course and then to decide whether it should become Irish law.

It is important at this Stage that we as Independent Senators certify that this is not a party issue. It is not an issue which affects the political parties in a collective sense, that they must or should take a stand on it. I am very pleased that the matter today will go to a free vote. It ought to be a free vote. Senators ought to be free to address themselves to it and assume their personal responsibility in the matter. I am aware that all three political parties have made statements on the matter. Indeed one can argue that each of the political parties in this country is now more or less committed to change. I do not bind any of my colleagues by that. This is a personal matter, and it is enriching to our parliamentary life that we have a free vote on this particular issue.

It is necessary—this is my last point —that we make this distinction that today we are voting on the narrow question of whether we allow the text of the Bill to be available so that we can examine it, consider it and debate it in due course, or whether we censor ourselves. No Senator who votes for the First Stage today is bound to vote for the Second Stage. Nobody can be held to that. Senators will have time and the responsibility to make up their minds on the terms of the Bill. Again, as was pointed out to me, I am not allowed here to discuss in detail the terms of the Bill or the particular criteria in it. That is for Second Stage. I make this final appeal: let us as Senators confer on ourselves the jurisdiction to debate what every other forum in the country has debated. Let us not shirk the issue. Let us have the courage to allow this Bill to be published, and let us have a debate on it in due course.

Perhaps I should ask the indulgence of the House first of all to explain the Government position in relation to this measure. So far as the Government are concerned they are not opposed to a First Reading of this Bill, but they take the very proper view that it is a matter for individual Senators. Every Senator on this side of the House, supporting the Government, will be free to vote exactly as he or she likes, for or against the First Reading of the Bill. Personally, I am opposed to it, for reasons which I will mention shortly. Before I do that, it is right to explain to the House that the reason I did not propose the Order of Business today is because the views which I take in relation to this measure are so deep and fundamental that I felt I was not prepared to propose the inclusion of this item in the Order of Business for the Seanad. I recognised that my own particular stand on the matter was not reconcilable with the discharge of my functions as Leader of the House. While I was prepared to go further if it was necessary, I felt I was entitled to accept the suggestion that the proposing of the Order of Business should be dealt with in the manner in which it was carried out. It was appropriate that the inclusion of this item in the Order of Business should have been proposed by Senator Alexis FitzGerald because I know that his view, while reserving his position on further Stages of the Bill, is strongly in support of the proposition that a First Reading should be allowed to the Bill.

I should like to say briefly that I agree fully with the remarks which Senator Robinson made regarding the decision which Senators are asked to make at this Stage, that is, when she makes the case, which is a perfectly valid case, that because a Senator supports the First Reading of this Bill today that Senator is in no way obliged or in no way committing himself or herself to support the Bill at any of the remaining Stages. I think that Senator Robinson was right in making that point. It is a point which I feel also obliged to make on behalf of Senators on this side of the House who may feel as Senator Alexis FitzGerald does that the Bill should be allowed a Second Reading, and we may vote accordingly.

I oppose this Bill because I believe that in terms of public demand the Bill is unwanted. I believe that in terms of the common good, in terms of human values and in terms of moral values the Bill is undesirable. It is true that at this Stage all that is involved is a decision as to whether the Bill should be printed and circulated at public expense. I can fully understand the point of view of those who may feel that to refuse a First Reading to the Bill is to stultify the parliamentary process by negativing the right of a Senator to initiate legislation. I can also appreciate the argument that publication of the Bill would avoid misunderstanding as regards its contents.

Nevertheless, the First Stage of the Bill is the first step in parliamentary procedure designed to place the Bill on the Statute Book of this State and consequently I think it is right to oppose the First Reading when one's objections to the Bill are of a fundamental nature. In other words, at this stage. as Senator Robinson mentioned, the Bill is not really a Bill. It is only in contemplation in the parliamentary sense and it is still possible to prevent its conception by the use of the appropriate contraceptive.

My opposition to this proposal is fundamental. In addition to the reasons which I mentioned at the outset, while I do not for a moment question either the sincerity or the good faith of those who are supporting this measure or those who are sponsoring it, I honestly believe that legislation of this sort, if enacted would open the door to far more than is intended or desired by those sponsoring or supporting the proposal. If one supports, on the grounds of civil rights or minority rights, a measure of this sort I would certainly find it difficult to see how one could argue logically against the enactment of other measures, no matter how obnoxious to public feeling or objectionable to public morality, which are advanced on similiar grounds.

I am afraid I must point out to the Senator, as I did to Senator Robinson, that he is now making what amounts to a Second Stage speech.

I conclude very quickly by saying that I oppose this First Reading because I believe if we enact legislation of this sort, however sincere and well intentioned our motives, this generation of Irish politicians will be called to account at the bar of history to answer the charge of our children and their children that we were the ones who publicly discarded the standards and values which, with conviction, I believe were the true standards and values which were treasured by Irish generations of the past.

The question of family planning has been the subject of widespread discussion throughout the country, particularly in the last few years, and many diverse views have been expressed in regard to it. It is a very complicated problem, one upon which it is difficult for most people to have an absolutely dogmatic point of view.

Those who are in favour of some amendment of the Acts which affect the position are in favour with very considerable reservations on controls. The time has come when the Dáil and Seanad should discuss this problem. It has been said on a number of occasions in recent times that Parliament is beginning to become irrelevant and that it is neglecting and failing to face up to important issues. In regard to an important issue like this Parliament could be criticised for failing to face up to this issue and to discuss it. Consequently, I think the time has come when we must discuss it, no matter what our views may be on the issues concerned.

It is, of course, impossible to discuss this matter without having some kind of a Bill before us and, consequently, if we are to face up to this issue, if we are to discuss it, we must have a Bill before us, we must see what the terms of the Bill are and exactly what is proposed. For that reason I am in favour of the First Reading of this Bill. I am in favour of allowing it to be printed so that we can see exactly what is proposed and then decide what our view should be. When I say that I am in favour of having it printed at this stage I am, of course, reserving my right to consider the terms of the Bill and to take whatever action I think is correct when I see what the Bill contains. Consequently, I will be supporting the First Stage but I want to make it quite clear that my views are not binding on the other members of the party on this side of the House who are free to take whatever view they think fit.

Senator Quinlan and Senator West rose.

Standing Orders provide only for a statement in support of a Bill and one opposing. Anything further is at the discretion of the Chair. We have already heard statements from either side of the House that Senators are free on the question of the introduction of this Bill. Accordingly, the Chair is in the difficulty that unless the line is drawn at a particularly sharp well-defined point it would be open to every Senator to contribute at this stage. In my opinion that would be against the spirit of the Standing Order and would be a wrong use of my discretion. I have heard Senator O'Higgins, who spoke as a Senator who had opposed the introduction of the Bill and who also spoke as the leader of a group in this House. I have heard Senator Ryan, acting as leader of a group. I am prepared to hear Senator Jack Fitzgerald if he wishes to make a statement, but after that I propose to put the question.

Might I ask that the Independent cause be heard because the mover of the motion mentioned that she was speaking for a group of Independents? I also have an independent status here. Therefore, I claim the right to be heard, as I am opposed to this motion.

I have given my decision, which is that I am prepared to hear Senator Jack Fitzgerald. I am not prepared to hear any other Senator on this point.

On behalf of the Labour Party, we are supporting the First Reading of this Bill. It is widely known that it is the policy of the Labour Party to give support to First Readings. We are prepared to support Senator Robinson's Bill. I agree with everything Senator Robinson has said in introducing this Bill to the House. The Bill will give the Houses of Parliament an opportunity of discussing this very important topic. For that reason the Labour Party are supporting the First Reading of this Bill.

May I appeal to the Chair to allow an Independent Member to express his view? The view expressed is not the view of all the Independents in the House. I am the longest serving Member from——

I have given my decision and I now propose to put the question.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 12.

  • Blennerhassett, John.
  • Boland, John.
  • Brennan, John J.
  • Burton, Philip.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Dolan, Seamus.
  • Farrelly, Denis.
  • FitzGerald, Alexis.
  • Fitzgerald, Jack.
  • Fox, Billy.
  • Halligan, Brendan.
  • Harte, John.
  • Horgan, John S.
  • Iveagh, The Earl of
  • Keegan, Seán.
  • Kerrigan, Patrick.
  • Lyons, Michael Dalgan.
  • McGrath, Patrick W.
  • Markey, Bernard.
  • O'Brien, William.
  • O'Toole, Patrick.
  • Owens, Evelyn.
  • Robinson, Mary.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Walsh, Mary.
  • West, Timothy Trevor.
  • Whyte, Liam.


  • Aylward, Bob.
  • Brosnahan, Seán.
  • Browne, Patrick (Fad).
  • Butler, Pierce.
  • Eachthéirn, Cáit Uí.
  • Garrett, Jack.
  • McCartin, John Joseph.
  • Mannion, John M.
  • O'Brien, Andy.
  • O'Higgins, Michael J.
  • Quinlan, Patrick Michael.
  • Sanfey, James W.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Robinson and Horgan; Níl, Senators Michael J. O'Higgins and Sanfey.
Question declared carried.

It is now necessary to fix a date for the Second Stage of the Bill.

The first sitting day after Christmas.

I oppose that. Senators have to do some home work on this and a committee should be set up for briefing. It is negating our responsibilities to bring in a matter of such immense importance to and impact on our way of life without having a reasoned document before us. The Government should get off the fence and prepare a White Paper on this matter; or at least the Seanad, having taken this further step, should set up a committee. I intend moving a motion after this sitting setting out headings under which such a committee might function—in other words to have an impartial, objective investigation in order to have some heads to go on. I, therefore, oppose taking the Second Reading at such short notice.

I should like to support Senator Robinson's suggestion that we take the Second Reading on the first sitting day after Christmas. This is the Upper House of the Oireachtas. We dealt with all the measures which came before us in the normal way without any extra committees or extra documents and we should be prepared to treat this measure just as we treat other proposals for changes in legislation.

I should like to support the Senators who wish to take the Second Stage at the time suggested. I assure Senator Quinlan that I do not share whatever doubts he may have about the competence of this House to discuss this matter at that time. What are we afraid of?

I am just asking for factual information.

The date proposed by Senator Robinson is acceptable to the Government and I support it.

It is proposed that the Second Stage of the Bill be ordered for the first sitting day after Christmas.

Agreed to take Second Stage on first sitting day after Christmas.