If the Deputy did not interrupt she might make a generous contribution towards a little dignity. An issue of this kind calls for dignity, understanding and a clear expression of opinion. This is too serious a matter to cause laughter; it is too serious to be taken lightly. It would be wrong to pass a Bill of this kind in great haste. There are many aspects of the Bill and many consequences. It is necessary that there should be cool, calm understanding and a charitable exchange of views. If we cannot use Parliament protectively and efficiently to deal with serious matters concerning our people and the potential consequences for good or bad of those matters, then Parliament ceases to be constructive.
I love Parliament. For many years here I have been speaking for the rights and privileges of Deputies from all sides on all issues, because I am a believer in parliamentary democracy, in the right of individual Deputies to free expression of opinion in Parliament. So long as we can speak here freely and honestly and courageously there will not be any danger to the rights of our people outside. That is why I love to see the fullest use being made of Parliament. It is our right and our privilege here calmly to discuss, without fear and with courage, matters of serious consequence. If we are to be handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged, Parliament will cease to be of value to our people. No matter which side of the House Deputies sit in, on occasions like this it is vital that there should be no handcuffs, no blindfolding and no gagging, because this is too serious a matter.
This Bill has been debated on radio and television and in the press for some time and it is only right that Members of the Dáil should have the fullest possible opportunity in the discharge of their duties to the nation to comment, to criticise and to appraise. I suggest that, first and foremost, this Bill has been given a nickname. It is called the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Bill, 1985. It brings me back to a meeting outside this House on a Sunday afternoon when the Coalition Government were at an early stage of conception. The question of a review of family planning was listed as one of the conditions that would bring Labour and Fine Gael together. Those present — I was one of them — were told that there was to be a review of family planning. I, for one, understood very clearly that a review of family planning would only concern natural family planning and that the fullest possible advice to parents, who have a right to plan their families, would be made available. No Church has denied that right: we have their stamp of approval to methods of natural family planning.
The review of family planning which was to be undertaken as a result of the marriage of Fine Gael and Labour, I understood, was to involve the provision of money for training in natural methods of family planning in centres throughout the country where parents would get advice from medical and other trained personnel in accordance with Christian teaching and supervision. That was my clear understanding on that Sunday afternoon. Not once was it suggested at that meeting, or on any Fine Gael platform during any election campaign, that if we were elected we would provide single youth freely throughout the country with contraceptives. That was never put before the people, never approved by any political party. I repeat that nobody objects to, but rather encourages where necessary, the full use of proper moral teaching in natural methods of family planning. On the occasion of which I have spoken, that was clear and simple. I could find no objection then any more than I do today to the provision of a family planning scheme based on full Christian teaching, on the highest moral standards, with participation of trained medical personnel at advice centres throughout the country.
That is what I understood a review of family planning to be. Never once were we told there would be free availability of contraceptives to single teenagers. That is why I say that the proper title to this Bill should be "The Availability of Contraceptives Bill, 1985". This Bill has nothing whatever to do with family planning. I want my Fine Gael colleagues to realise that there is nothing in this Bill to deal with family planning. This Bill is to provide contraceptives for single teenagers.
A Bill that provides to give the stamp of approval — that is what we are being asked to do — to the provision without restriction of unlimited contraceptives for unmarried teenagers is disastrous and wrong. I have been consistent in the House on many issues. Although the advice I may give may not be listened to by younger Members, I must point out that I have had long experience of sitting out many long and tedious debates in the House. I want to give the benefit of that experience to Members on all sides. I was saddened to hear in a speech this morning reference being made to the fact that vast numbers of young people are losing respect and confidence in Dáil Éireann. It makes me sad when I look over the years I have spent here and think of the great men who have passed through the House on both sides, men who loved Ireland and its people, who lived its true traditional Christian ways of life. They are all gone either out of the House or to their eternal reward. They would be sad people — from the benches of Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil — if they had lived as God has blessed me to live this long to see the extraordinary transformation that is being brought about by Members of the House.
The good old Irish traditions which were cherished and loved by the fathers, mothers and grandparents of all Members — some may say that what was good enough for them is not good enough for us — are gone. They put first things first, the real essentials of life. Everything they stood for in the way of a good Irish Christian way of life is being damaged. We are taking perhaps not the first step but one of the early ones of throwing away the values that were cherished by those who carried us to the font of baptism when they were asked on our behalf if we would carry on the tradition of those who went before us, the tradition symbolic in the light of faith in the candles they held. Is that light to be blown out or are we going to carry on the tradition of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents? That is one of the reasons I am sad to have lived to see the day that those grand traditions are wiped aside by a group of small men who would be prepared to do anything to hold on to temporary power for a year or two. It makes me sad because life is very short. A life passes like a flash. Legislators have a grave responsibility because at the end of their life they will be judged more strictly and with greater caution than those who elected them. We have been elected for a purpose. Not alone must we represent our people in Parliament, but we must speak for them.
It is sad that we have reached the stage where we are wiping out those Christian values. I am sorry for Parliament that we have reached that stage, but I am more sorry for Ireland. Are there many who are really dedicated to our people, their future and their prospects? That should be the first concern of Parliament. It makes me sad that in International Youth Year Ireland should mark it by making contraceptives freely available instead of giving encouragement, hope and confidence to our young people. God save Ireland. I did not think I would ever see this happening. This legislation is being moved at a time when 250,000 of our people are unemployed. The time of Parliament is being taken up to provide contraceptives to teenagers and single people. With 250,000 not knowing where the next meal will come from, with farmers being put to the pin of their collars to exist and parents with large families not knowing where the next loaf is coming from, we devote time to dealing with this measure. Is it not any wonder what Bishop Buckley of Cork last week said "Oh, they are losing their sense of reality". Are many Members living in such a glass case that they are out of touch with reality? How many Members can produce correspondence from teenagers or single people seeking to have contraceptives made freely available?
I was encouraged this morning to meet two fine young fellows at the gates of Leinster House. I had never met them before. As they passed me one said "Are you Deputy Flanagan?" and when I said I was he said "We would like to congratulate you for having great courage". I thanked them and pointed out that I had expected them to say the opposite. Their response was "No, we admire your courage and, speaking as two students, we think the proposed legislation is disastrous and we thank you sincerely for your opposition to it". I shook hands with them, thanked them and let them pass on, but they made me feel that everything was not lost for young people. When I see in "European Youth" the best prize for our young people is contraceptives it makes me wonder where we are going in this country and who is leading us.
The party of which I am a member was based on the grand old Irish traditions. I can picture here this morning in this debate General MacEoin, the late W.T. Cosgrave with whom I had the honour to be a Member of this House; I can picture General Mulcahy, William Norton, the late Tim Murphy of West Cork and the late Jim Hickey of Cork city.
Where are we going, who is leading us and in what direction? How did this state of affairs come about that the grand traditions of a great national party, with its roots in rural Ireland, its love for people and Christian values, seems now to have fallen into very wrong hands? We now find ourselves, not as we were told recently at the cross-roads, but gone beyond them; we have taken a wrong turn and are going speedily on the road to destruction and disaster, and nobody seems to be standing up courageously and saying "halt, so far thou shalt go but no further".
On issues such as this, with grave moral implications, I honestly believe it is wrong for public representatives whose consciences must tell them that what they are voting for is wrong and is not for the common good of the people or the country. Such people are fooling themselves and nobody else. In a short space of years when they have left this House they will look back on the tragedy of having cast aside their consciences, having voted for reasons other than their beliefs when it came to the standards of behaviour and moral conduct.
I have never questioned, and never would at any time, the economic, financial or political structures of the party to which I belong, but, when it comes to issues such as divorce, abortion or contraception, there we must part, because contraception and divorce constitute the destruction of the family as the fundamental unit of society. I cannot leave my beliefs, upbringing, the Christian values of my home and of all belonging to me outside the gates of Leinster House. I must bring them with me and, with the grace of God, I shall bring them with me hereafter. Nobody will ever get me to sell the values so dear to all who have gone before me. Nobody will ever get me to sell the belief within me that contraception is wrong and no law in this country can render it right. I believe that the moral law supersedes all laws made in any parliament, that to fly in the face of the moral law is wrong and that those who vote in contradiction of the moral law are doing an injustice to the people and will remember it when they leave this House. They shall have to answer hereafter for their actions knowing, because of their Christian upbringing, the Christian faith they possess, that they threw it all aside. What will it have gained them at the end?
I am very happy about my stance on this Bill because I asked myself the question: which is the more important, that by voting against this Bill I should lose the party whip, or go into the division lobbies, knowing in conscience, in heart and through religious beliefs and upbringing I am doing wrong, that my very act is a contradiction of what I have always believed in and cherished? Men and women, never let it be said that you betrayed the faithful trust of your parents, grandparents and the grand old traditions of Ireland. The young people beyond this House today do not expect and do not want us to do that. This is being done in accordance with the plans of what has become known at International Parenthood, a wealthy world organisation President Reagan is now endeavouring to defeat in the USA. Let us remember that Sweden is coming back to consciousness and common sense in an effort to eliminate permissiveness, that the United Kingdom Supreme Court gave a judgment recently. Men, you will answer before God ultimately for your actions on this vote next week. No power, political or otherwise, can compel you to leave outside these gates your Christian traditions, values and beliefs. It is wrong. One may think that giving one's stamp of approval to the use of contraceptives to school-going students is right in accordance with the politicians leading one around and who feel that this is in the national interest. Can anybody persuade me that it is in the national interest to make contraceptives freely available to young teenagers? Can anybody defend in this House his or her right to put the State stamp of approval on what is wrong, on what can never be right, on what is wrong according to the moral law? No law anywhere can be effected without taking its pattern from the moral law, and the moment one deviates from that one is on a course to disaster and destruction.
A great deal has been said about the pronouncements made by the hierarchy to the laity. I would speak the same way, and vote the same way, even if a bishop never opened his mouth. This is a matter for the legislators, and our fundamental right is to legislate for the common good. I must ask myself if this Bill is for the common good. According to my conscience, my judgment, my religious beliefs and my upbringing, which I hope with the grace of God I never betray, I must tell myself that this Bill is not for the common good. Should I go into the division lobbies knowing in my heart that I was doing wrong I would be deceiving the people who elected me, because I was sent here to speak for my constituents. I am speaking for the people who cherish traditional Christian values, proper upbringing and, above all, the family as a fundamental unit of society.
This Bill is called the Family Planning Bill but it gives contraceptives to single teenagers. How could single teenagers be described as a family? Last year we had a debate about abortion and now we are dealing with contraceptives. The destruction of the family as the fundamental unit of society is well planned. As responsible Members of this House who love and cherish their families, who loved their parents an grandparents, are we now going to defend the family, or are we going to take another step towards the destruction of the family as the fundamental unit of society?
Many thousands of people all over the world believe that the family as the fundamental unit of society should be destroyed. When we read the names of those who vote for this Bill when it is passed — if it is passed — we will read of strange bedfellows. Our Constitution guarantees protection for the family as the fundamental unit of society, but I wonder if this contraceptive Bill, as I call it, should not be examined by the Supreme Court to see if this is not an intrusion on the family and if it is not failing to protect the family, because making contraceptives available to young members of a family, in my opinion, is failing to protect the family, the fundamental unit of society.
This Bill is a further effort to destroy the family as the fundamental unit of society. In a recent speech in my constituency I said that because of this attack on the family, coming from little men with big ambitions in places, steps should be taken in every town and parish to build up a strong, virile Family Solidarity movement to make it impossible for this small group of powerful people to wreck the family as we know it.
I want to praise the work of the Family Solidarity movement, which is in its infancy, and to express the hope that a lesson will be learned from this attack on the family. The provision of contraceptives for young people will lead to a terrible worry and strain on the mothers of large families, particularly those with young girls. This will be a new phase for them.
It has been my experience that our young boys and girls have a very high standard. I wonder if in our day we had been faced with the same temptations — drugs, alcohol, unemployment and despair — would we have been as good? Would we have been able to fight the advent of the programmes we see on television? Would we have been able to fight the drug problems as they have done? Instead of appreciating these young people when they speak out about drugs and television programmes and when so many of them give their time to voluntary organisations, the best we can do is to obstruct them and place greater temptation in their way by making it very easy to get alcohol. Alcohol with contraceptives, in my opinion, is not in the interests of young people.
This is not a good Bill for the many reasons I have given, but it is just one part of a much bigger programme. This is what my colleagues fail to see. The same people who were talking about the pro-life amendment support this contraceptives Bill. The same people are looking for divorce and for sex education in our schools. As I said, this is a well planned, strongly financed organisation to undermine the fundamental unit of Irish society, the family. We must consider what is best for the people, and the Minister has failed to convince me of the need for contraceptives.
The age limit cannot be implemented: there is also a limit in regard to the purchase of alcohol but smart alecks can always drive a coach and four through the tightest regulations. People under the age of 18, even those of 15 years of age, are drinking heavily. Where do they get it? There is no enforcement of the age limit because it is impracticable and impossible. To say that contraceptives will be available for those over 18 years of age is exactly the same as saying that there is free availability of contraceptives, because those over 18 years can purchase them and pass them on to 12 and 13 year olds. That is why parents are worried. If this Bill is passed it will be a sad day for them, because parents are charged with the responsibility of bringing up families. They are frightened, shocked and amazed.
It is not surprising that churchmen are pointing out the dangers of this Bill to the laity. They do not want to interfere in the legislative process but they are telling the people what we are doing in this House and what the results will mean so that nobody can say they were not warned of the moral dangers. That is the duty of those charged with guiding the laity. It is the duty of men and women in public life to listen to the truth and, when the truth is spoken, to act on it. If churchmen do not give guidance to public representatives and alert their consciences, where else can advice and guidance come from? International Parenthood? Will they advise us on what is morally right? It is comforting to know that we can hear the truth spoken without favour. No one can persuade me that it is right that this House should now make contraceptives readily available for unmarried teenagers, because contraception is wrong and contrary to the moral law.
Why should we support a measure which we know is contrary to the moral law? We must not close our ears to the pleas, advice and guidance which has been given to us many times in recent years. The Minister for Health said that he does not yield to any pressure. I yield to no pressure either. The Minister has a conscience, but only he knows how it is guided. I know where I seek the guidance for my conscience.
Strong words such as "pressure" and "blackmail" have been used. The last speaker referred to the statement made by Deputy John Kelly in regard to my beliefs when this matter came before the House previously. I would die rather than yield in my beliefs. Deputy Kelly asked if the conscientious objector should be shot, but I do not think that would be a very charitable way of dealing with him.
In the Irish Independent of 13 February 1985 it was reported that the Taoiseach compared Dr. Newman's utterances in 1976 to his reaction to this and other Bills. He seemed to suggest that the learned bishops had changed their minds. I am very happy in my beliefs, and my religious upbringing would make me oppose the free availability of contraceptives to single people. I would be guilty of a grave transgression if I did otherwise. I would have to answer for it hereafter to a more strict judge than I will ever face in this life. It is extraordinary how people can change — if Dr. Newman has changed. When speaking on 11 July 1974 about the Contraceptives Bill the Taoiseach said:
We have done our best to bring in a Bill.