Senator Andy O'Brien was in possession. He is not here. Senator McGuinness.
An Bille um an Ochtú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1982: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1982: Second Stage (Resumed).
I understood that Senator Andy O'Brien simply moved the Adjournment that evening but had not spoken in relation to this issue. Is that correct?
Yes. He still loses his place. If we look at the trend of the debate the larger number of speakers have come from this side of the House. Senator McGuinness.
It is a sad day for this House that we should be dealing with this Bill at all. As most Senators, I am sure, well know I am fundamentally opposed to bringing this amendment into our Constitution. Why I find this Bill so saddening I will deal with later in my contribution. For the moment I can only say that as regards the two major parties in this House, at any rate, it would be for me most appropriate to use the words of a distinguished predecessor in this House, ex-Senator W.B. Yeats when he said "You have disgraced yourselves again".
Before dealing with the substance of the amendment I want to make some brief preliminary remarks about the way in which this issue is being dealt with in this House, in particular by the Fine Gael Party and also to some extent the way in which it has been dealt with throughout the debate by the Fianna Fáil Party. The primary responsibility for this rests with the Fine Gael Party because they are the leading Government party and they decide what way the business is going to be dealt with in this House.
Seanad Éireann has an important constitutional function in our nation. Part of the important constitutional function it has is that it should have the opportunity to have a full debate on legislation which has already gone through the Dáil and that it also has the constitutional right to reject such legislation if it so decides. It is true that it can only delay the legislation by so doing. That is not to say that rejecting such legislation is unimportant or should not be done or that the Government party should say: "It is of no importance that Seanad Éireann should deal with this matter properly; it is of no importance that Seanad Éireann should reject this legislation, we are instructing our members in the Fine Gael Party to abstain on this issue regardless of what we believe to be right or wrong simply because we want to shuffle this through Seanad Éireann and not show our shame too much to the public." In my opinion the Seanad has a perfect right to reject this Bill if it wishes. I suggest that Members, particularly of the Fine Gael Party, who feel in conscience that they should be rejecting this Bill, in particular they should be rejecting the Fianna Fáil wording which basically is what they are asked to abstain about, should break ranks in their party and vote against this wording. I will deal with it a little bit longer at a later stage but this is an important way of looking at it.
In this context I would like to point out that since the Fine Gael Party came into power on a couple of occasions they have been among the strongest advocates of the importance of the Seanad and the importance of the role of the Seanad. The Taoiseach and, indeed, the Minister for Education when she was Leader of this House, were never done telling us how important the Seanad was and how they intended to introduce legislation in the Seanad and did indeed introduce some legislation in the Seanad.
When the crunch comes, when on a public issue of the very first importance to this nation, the Seanad could — the leaders of the Fine Gael Party are not such fools as not to be able to see this very well if they allowed their own members to vote in conscience — reject this Bill and return the Fine Gael wording to it. When faced with this situation they lost all courage. I suggest that they are insulting and downgrading this House and demoralising it by refusing to deal with the matter seriously here and by instructing their members with the Whip on, mind you, to abstain on this important issue. Where is all their fine talk now about the importance of the Seanad?
They have also said that they have very grave concern about the effect which the present wording of this Bill will have on our legal system and on our Constitution. The Taoiseach has very graphically expressed the fears which they say they feel. Their Attorney General has fleshed out their fears in a long and competent legal argument about the present wording. The Director of Public Prosecutions has expressed a real concern about the effect of passing this amendment. The foremost authority in constitutional law in the Fine Gael Party, Deputy John Maurice Kelly, has expressed his strong views on the wrong direction which is being taken in bringing in this amendment. All of us would agree that while we might not agree with everything that Deputy Kelly says, we would all agree that he holds his views with great sincerity and force. Yet, in the face of all this advice, the Fine Gael Party have taken a decision to abstain on this amendment. I suggest this is a cowardly decision. It is being taken also despite the fact that it appears the Taoiseach will ask the people to vote against the present wording in the referendum.
I cannot see, given this sort of attitude, how the Taoiseach and the leaders of the Fine Gael Party can have any sort of credibility at all. If they are prepared to say: "We think that this wording contains very strong legal dangers, very strong constitutional dangers, we advise the people to vote against it", how can they turn around and spancel their own members in this House and say: "Despite all this, do not vote against it". Are the Senators to sit here numbly and let pass wording that in conscience they may very well think is wrong?
In another place Fine Gael members, who in conscience because they were persuaded of the desirability of the amendment, were allowed to break ranks and to show that they disagreed with the party line that was being taken. In the Seanad are those who have the other sort of conscience, those who have no doubt an equally strong conscientious feeling that this amendment should be rejected, to be refused the right of conscience while their pro-amendment colleagues in another place are allowed to have a conscience? It is easy to say that it is no use sending this amendment back to the Dáil because it can only be delayed.
I agree with previous Senators who have said that that is not the case. At the time of the proportional representational referendum, when the original Bill was rejected by the Seanad, I am absolutely convinced that it had a great effect on the public mind. It showed a proposal could be rejected by thinking people after what I would agree with Senator Ferris has been a much better and more thoughtful debate in this House. That this could be rejected by this House, I feel is of the first importance and could be of great influence to the country. This is the reason why I very strongly deprecate and I am bitterly disappointed at the attitude of the Fine Gale Party in ordering their members to abstain on this issue.
I will now turn to the Fianna Fáil Party, the party that boast of following Wolfe Tone, of their attitude at the time of the 1951 debacle over the mother and child scheme, of their true republicanism and so on. What are they now? Are they the party that are in the pockets of the Bishops, the party that are in the pockets of the Knights? As far as I am aware, Mr. de Valera had a rule that no member of his Cabinet was allowed to belong to a secret society. By a secret society he chiefly meant the Knights of St. Columbanus. I cannot help feeling that some of the people that I admire in Fianna Fáil must feel uneasy to find themselves in the same camp now as the very people whom they were rejecting in their original form when they first set off on their republican road. So far as I understand it, on many Fianna Fáil membership cards and documents the famous words of Wolfe Tone were quoted: "To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, these were my means." I suggest that perhaps from now on they might replace that by saying: "The common name of Roman Catholic," rather than the common name of Irishman.
I cannot believe that there are not people in Fianna Fáil whom I know to be people of conscience, who are not uneasy about and ashamed of their own party's stance on this matter. I cannot believe that there are not indeed other people who have a fairly cynical party advantage attitude about it and look on this matter as a matter of a very good way of scoring off the Government party. Senator Fallon said that everyone had a right to life and this was why Fianna Fáil were standing for this particular amendment. Other Senators and I sat in this House and saw Fianna Fáil upholding the retention of capital punishment on the Statute Book and refusing to accept and vote for a Bill which was introduced to this House to do away with capital punishment. If everyone has a right to life, everyone has a right to life, even those who are born I suggest.
It is, of course, true that Fianna Fáil have handled themselves very much better politically than Fine Gael in this matter. They have not fallen into the same sort of trap and they have pulled off something, which many people may see as a marvellous political stroke, in defeating the Government's Bill in the Dáil and in bringing their own amendment wording forward into this House and, they hope, into the country. At what cost have they done this?
I feel that a political party have not just a duty to themselves to try to get into power, a duty to themselves to seize on to whatever advantage they can. They have a duty to the nation. I would compare this with a professional example of my own. In a case where children and the welfare of children are involved, of course counsel on both sides have a duty to promote their client's interests and to look after their client's affairs but they have an overriding duty to the court to deal with the matter in connection with the welfare of the children and to put the welfare of the children first.
I suggest that political parties on all sides in this matter have an overriding duty to the nation as a whole. I mean the nation as a whole. I can see that in the way in which Fianna Fáil have handled this matter, they have certainly succeeded as far as their party interests are concerned for now. I would suggest that generations to come will see that by stifling the conscience of their members and stiffing the conscience which would say that there is more to this than a mere party interest, they have failed the nation. The Labour Party are the only group in this House that have maintained a consistent and reasonable stance on this matter and have allowed their own Members to use their consciences. I fully support the motion they have put down on the Second Stage of this Bill and I have every intention of voting for it.
I should now like to deal in substance with the situation which has arisen with regard to the putting forward of this amendment. There has been a great deal of confused thinking throughout the country, a lot of it verging on hypocrisy, which is very distasteful. I would like to look fairly briefly at some of these areas. What is the present legal position? What is the present factual position and what is the present position with regard to public opinion? Are we trying to deal with an enormous problem of the likelihood of abortion occurring indiscriminately? Are we dealing with a position where our laws are greatly in danger? As regards the present legal position, as has been stated earlier in the debate, and as we all know, abortion is illegal in this country under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. It has been suggested that the Supreme Court might very well overrule this, that an action could be brought before the Supreme Court seeking abortion as a human right.
There have been a number of judgments in the Supreme Court and in a very recent judgment the Supreme Court referred to this matter and have made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of allowing abortion as a human right or allowing it as a right under the unenumerated rights in the Constitution. I suggest that putting forward the prospect that we are likely to have our law changed either by the Oireachtas or by the Supreme Court in this matter in the foreseeable future is a myth and a mirage. If public opinion changed so enormously that they would elect a Dáil and a Seanad or would contenance a Supreme Court likely to bring in widespread abortion legislation, then even the amendment as proposed would be of little use because it could be defeated in the country.
At the moment we have a very small problem of illegal abortion. Why is this? In many other countries, such as in South America, there are vast illegal abortion problems. We did have a measurable and perhaps quite a considerable problem of illegal abortions which tend not only to be criminal acts but end in the maiming or possibly the deaths of mothers. I am sure that many of the Members of this House who are of the same age group as myself or perhaps a little older, if that is possible, can remember cases where persons while not being prosecuted under the Offences Against the Person Act were in fact involved in murder and manslaughter charges which arose out of illegal abortions. The answer surely as to why we do not have this problem so much now is because we have quietly exported it. We have sent our abortion problem to Britain and now we are bringing in an amendment of the Constitution which will not change this position one iota. We will continue to export this problem to Britain. All the people who are asking for this amendment admit that we are not going to save one woman who now goes to Britain for an abortion by bringing in an amendment to the Constitution. Probably a very small number of women have abortions in an unthinking or cynical kind of way, but the vast majority, I am sure, are doing it from sheer desperation. I cannot believe that most of them want to do this or that they do not feel guilt and desperation afterwards. If we are pro-life rather than pro-amendment what are we doing about this? To prevent our present factual abortion problem, as was shown by figures given by other Senators and by the Minister for Health in the Dáil and rather than make a constitutional change like this, which will not change the facts, our priority should be to try to cope with the situation which has forced these women to act as they do. Or do we simply want to pass an amendment that will make us feel virtuous while leaving the human problems completely untouched? That is scarcely pro-life.
As regards the present state of Irish opinion, there is no doubt at all that the vast majority of people are opposed to indiscriminate abortion or even to regular abortion or to widespread exceptions to the illegality of abortion. This applies to Catholic and Protestant alike. Undoubtedly, there are a few people who are looking for laws of the type which apply in Britain, but this is an extremely small minority. There is no danger at all of this extremely small minority persuading the Members of this Oireachtas to pass laws of this kind. We should not make any mistake about this; we all admit some exception to the total forbidding of abortion. Even in the Roman Catholic Church there are the two exceptions allowed of uterine cancer and ectopic pregnancy. I would say that the old position taken by the Roman Catholic Church which was known — say 50 years ago — when in all cases the foetus must be saved at the expense of the mother has been changed. Despite what some of the Irish Family League people and some of the promoters of this amendment say, Church laws are not always immutable in the sense that a Constitution is very difficult to change. Perhaps in some cases the Church has more sense than those who are putting forward this amendment. I know that these two cases of uterine cancer and ectopic pregnancy are excused by the Church on the theory of double effect, that it is not direct killing of the child. I find this very difficult to accept. To begin with it is legally unsustainable to say that it is not the direct intention and therefore it is legally all right. It is philosophically extremely suspect. If you except uterine cancer and say that by dealing with it even though the foetus dies, that is double effect and you are, therefore, all right by the moral law and should be all right by the civil law, why not allow cases such as severe kidney disease and severe high blood pressure where the position, legally and morally speaking, is the same? You are dealing with a disease of the mother and the foetus is thereby endangered. These cases are already dealt with in quite a number of our hospitals, yet the present amendment will make them either extremely difficult or impossible to deal with.
As regards ectopic pregnancy, the case is even stronger. As the woman's life is directly threatened, not by another disease but by the pregnancy itself and, as such, we end the pregnancy itself. We do not cure a disease; we do not cut out a cancer; we do not deal with bad kidneys; we do not deal with high blood pressure; we kill the foetus because the foetus threatens the life of the mother. Certainly, it will be said that the foetus in an ectopic pregnancy cannot live and this is true. But this applies equally well in the case of encephalitis when the child will not live either. There are no known cases of the child living for any length of time in that kind of situation. While these two cases are obviously undertaken as exceptions in a humane way they are casuistical arguments and they are neither legally correct nor philosophically and morally correct. They are simply an effort to avoid facing up to the fact that you are making real exceptions.
As regards the Protestant Churches, whose position I will deal with more fully later, they are also most emphatically opposed to abortion but they might have a rather different view as to the exceptions which are allowed, while at the same time saying that the exceptions must be of strict medical necessity. The vast majority of ordinary people that I have talked to throughout the country during the course of this debate, the National Association of Widows, different women's groups, different Protestant Church groups, students and so on, have said they are opposed to abortion. When you put the question to them individually and ask if it was your daughter that was raped, if it was your daughter that was being dealt with, would you feel the same, many honest people in all these groups will say "Well I might feel differently and I do not necessarily want a law that will make it impossible to deal with this situation."
If we do not accept this kind of view on the ground, are we in this House simply accepting the accusation of the amendment people that people who use their minds to challenge this or raise questions about it are persons who are pro-abortion and who are therefore, wicked? They have used this pro-life title which is meant to appeal to everyone and it is a very clever title because it gives the impression that anyone who opposes the amendment is pro-death and many of us have been accused of being so. Is this not one of the great hypocricies of the entire discussion? Where were these people when some of us were advocating a change in the Constitution to give basic human rights to living children, to try to change the family rights in the Constitution in the direction of giving greater rights to the child of a sort that would allow an abandoned legitimate child the right to have a family of its own, the right to be adopted rather than being left in an institution? No one said anything about that. Why are we still, after all the work of CARE, the deliberations of the Task Force, after all the modern developments in the understanding and the care of children, still operating under the 1908 Children's Act, an illegal system in respect of children which is nothing less than a scandal? Where were all the pro-life people and all the pro-children people when this was happening?
Why do we care so much about the fertilised ovum even before it is implanted and so little for the living child? Is it because, after the initial expense and trouble of a referendum when we have our amendment, we can then forget about the whole thing and make no further effort? We need not spend any more money. We can sit back with our clean, happy, Christian consciences and say that in holy Ireland we have no abortion; we have solved the problem and there is nothing more to be done. We can let mothers and children suffer on regardless of what happens and we have done our bit for sainthood. In this connection, we should look at the history of this campaign to some extent, the kind of tactics that have been used and what has happened to the people who have dared to oppose it. When the campaign was started, the fear was expressed that the taking of a case to the Supreme Court might introduce abortion and we were told that all the pro-life campaign wanted was to safeguard the position under the Offences Against the Person Act and to prevent the Supreme Court judges, those terrible, wicked fellows, from making fantastically radical decisions at the drop of a hat. Very expensive advertisements were put in the public press assuring those members of the public who might have doubts that the amendment would change nothing and that we would be left with just the same situation where the Offences Against the Person Act would apply. The campaign moved in on our political leaders at a sensitive time during an election campaign. By putting on pressure and persuading the leaders of the two major parties very foolishly, that everyone would accept that this was a grand bandwagon to jump on at the time of an election, they induced them to accept the idea of an amendment. At first this was opposed by small groups of people who had thought about the matter but later and in particular from last spring and summer onwards, concerned Christian citizens from all the churches began to worry about this matter and opposed it.
These were people who opposed abortion and who also opposed the amendment and they spoke of pluralism, conscience and so on. What has been the attitude of the pro-life campaign people both with regard to their own purpose and towards the people who have opposed them? First, it seems that the Fine Gael wording which was rejected by the Lower House successfully would have defended the Offences Against the Person Act and, therefore, would have done what the pro-life campaign said they wanted but they were practically frantic in their opposition to it. Is this not because they wanted very much more? They wanted to change the law in a much more restrictive fashion. Secondly, what did they do about people who opposed them? Towards the beginning of this campaign Father Brendan O'Mahony, a leading cleric and genuinely thinking man, produced a carefully considered discussion on Medical Ethics in the Pluralist State and went through a serious and balanced discussion of the double effect theory of law, morality, medicine, the rape question, family planning methods and so on.
During the course of this, and I quote from the first page of his paper, he stated:
The basic values in a pluralist society are firstly, freedom (of religion, of conscience, of expression), not an unrestricted or absolute freedom for all possible views because some would be mutually exclusive and infringe on other freedoms; and secondly, tolerance, which requires the people to recognise, accept and respect those values and world-views which differ from their own. This should not be a negative or grudging tolerance in the sense of "putting up with" others, but rather a conviction that society is enriched by this diversity and that it is a positive right rooted in the dignity of the human person.
What happened to Father O'Mahony? He received a series of abusive telephone calls and letters couched in the most hurtful and violent terms. There was not a real effort to deal with his arguments or the difficulties of his conscience, just a concerted effort to blacken him as an abortionist. Not so long after that, at the end of June of last year, I spoke at the Nineteenth Ecumenical Conference at Glenstal, County Limerick, on the subject "Conscience in the State". This was a very long paper and dealt with many issues to do with conscience in the State. I dealt with the issue of the proposed amendment. I endeavoured to deal with it seriously and I think many of the people who later defended me felt that I had dealt with it seriously and that I had put forward, as I had been asked, the Protestant viewpoint. I had hardly sat down from speaking when abusive telephone calls began to come in to the Prior of Glenstal whose fault it most certainly was not. I was pursued by abusive letters and telephone calls both to myself and to my children with the familiar litany of smear, blackening, innuendo and accusation that all the opponents of the amendment have suffered. So that people should know the kind of thing that is written I propose to read one of the letters which I received. It is very brief:
Your article in the I.T. 1-7-82, makes you even worse than that other tramp — moral tramp — Mary Robinson and her five contraceptive bills. How low can you sink, even below that of prostitutes, you are much worse. You would open the door to engulf our teenagers in cold blooded murder. One can only compare you to the vermin that fatten on the helpless and then abandon them to their fate but the curse of their blood will follow you. You drag the reputation of our good Irish women down to the level of the farmyard. Since no refutation or any condemnation has come from Church of Ireland it must be taken that they are in full agreement with you. They still give themselves the title of a religious denomination. Your time for accounting will come. Signed P.T.
I take it that is not the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
This kind of thing was denounced by the leaders of the pro-life campaign who said, "Oh, dear me, no it was not us who did it". A sort of Pontius Pilate handwashing went on saying that it was nothing to do with them, that the people who wrote these letters were mad. Yet, if we look at their propaganda we can see that what they are saying is parallel to the type of thing that they said in these letters, perhaps put in a less extreme fashion, but to any of you who have looked at the kind of thing that was sent to us, The Blood-dimmed Tide and Ireland, the pamphlets on the proposed negative wording, the pamphlets which show pictures of two weighted amendments with what is clearly an innocent babe on one side and the devil whose hair may very well represent that of the Taoiseach, on the other side, these are not reasonable arguments. These are emotional smear tactics and were, I am proud to say, recognised as such by a distinguished former Member of this House, Mr. Michael Yeats who wrote indignantly about the misuse of his father's words in this blood-dimmed tide pamphlet and who said in his letter.
.... I cannot see why a poem by Yeats which has absolutely no relevance to the abortion question should be used to lend some air of respectability to what is, in the case of this booklet, a particularly sleazy and unpleasant piece of propaganda.
Any of you who have read it will know that it is a particularly sleazy and unpleasant piece of propaganda. It is conducting a witch-hunt to say X, Y and Z are financed or instructed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, an organisation which does not do any of the things which are suggested by the pro-life campaign people. This kind of thing is like the pursuit of the Jews by the Nazis, or the pursuit of any left-wing person by Senator McCarthy in America. That propaganda is all of a piece and encouraging to the sort of people who write scurrilous letters and make scurrilous telephone calls.
This is what has happened to practically everyone who has dared to oppose this amendment. It is the peddling of pure hate. It is evil inneundoes. It is smear tactics. It is the Goebbels technique: keep on telling the same lie over and over again about the International Planned Parenthood Federation, for instance, and sooner or later people will believe it. Keep on telling the same lies about the people who have spearheaded the anti-amendment campaign and sooner or later people will believe it. These things have flooded in to us, as Members of the Oireachtas. What is more serious is that they have flooded in to ordinary members of the public who are far less well able to deal with them and far less well able to cope with the kind of emotional appeal that they are making.
I am also concerned to find that many of the same people who were involved in this—when I have spoken at meetings, where they were also present, on the question of illegitimacy, of unmarried mothers and so on — are the sort of people who would say unmarried mothers should be punished rather than helped and that they should not be given large handouts from the State to support them. They say illegitimate children should not be freed from legal discrimination. I understand one Member of the Oireachtas said at the end of one of his party meetings that he was pro-life and in favour of hanging.
These are not the kind of people who would support helping of children, the end of capital punishment, the end of war-mongering and so on. They are the most right-wing element of our society. Yet, this is the kind of campaign that the leaders of our two main parties rushed to embrace, rushed to do these people's wills and rushed to push this country into doing this. In particular in this House, I would suggest that we need time to consider this. We need time for the Members of this House to look into their own consciences and decide whether they can accept a Whip and say, "I will vote for this," or, "I will abstain and let it go through". As a Protestant I must refer to the attitude of the Protestant Churches to this matter and to the attitude of it being a sectarian amendment. It is, by definition, sectarian if it is put forward and supported as it is by one Church and opposed by all the others.
I cannot possibly accept Senator Eoin Ryan's argument that everything that comes before the House is divisive as long as somebody is for it and somebody is against it, and, therefore, it is only divisive in that sense. It is divisive in a much more serious way in that it is divisive between the different religious groups in this country. It is divisive between groups of society and between different classes of people. It is not just divisive in the sense that somebody may be for giving more money to a chipboard factory, and somebody may be against it. That is a completely different kind of divisiveness.
All the Protestant Churches have expressed very grave concern about the idea of putting this amendment into the Constitution. The Church of Ireland stated in several different statements:
In our opinion a proposed amendment to the Constitution and a referendum will not alter the human situation as it exists in the country, contribute to its amelioration or promote a responsible and informed attitude to the issue of abortion. We gravely doubt the wisdom of using constitutional prohibitions as a means of dealing with complex, moral and social problems, while at the same time saying that they rejected the practice of induced abortion...save at the dictate of strict and undeniable medical necessity.
Again, in a fuller pamphlet, The Methodist Church in Ireland, they pointed to the unfortunate results that an amendment to the Constitution would achieve. It suggested that it would achieve several unfortunate results, all of them harmful to real community. It said:
The debate on abortion, which needs to continue in a responsible and caring way, would be foreclosed. An inflexible Roman Catholic clause would be written into the Constitution. It would brush aside other Church traditions and dismiss them as irrelevant to the Irish State. Presbyterian and Methodist Churches have already clearly said that they believed that the State's regulations of this and other matters affecting morals in the Republic should be a matter for legislation by the Oireachtas and not for definition in the Constitution. It would by this sectarian clause create quite unnecessarily another stumbling block to closer relationships with the North. Most important of all, it would create disunity in the Republic among those who should be working together for the solution of the problems of society.
The Presbyterian Church spoke in much the same terms and then, grouping together as the Irish Council of Churches, the Executive Committee issued a statement in the course of which they stated
In the drafting of constitutions and the making of constitutional amendments care must be taken to divide as little as possible. The exceptional cases now allowed (these being threats to the mother's life because of ectopic pregnancy or because of cancer of the uterus) are not regarded as abortion by Roman Catholic moral teaching. The fact remains that if they are incorporated into the proposed amendment then the teaching of one religious denomination is to be enshrined into the Constitution. If the ‘exceptions' allowed by Roman Catholic moral teaching are to be considered for incorporation into a constitutional amendment, why shouldn't the exceptional situations in which many Protestant Churches have regarded abortion is possibly permissible or the lesser of two evils be also considered for inclusion, viz: if there is a grave risk to the life of the mother; cases of rape or incest; gross abnormality detected in the foetus? The proposed amendment could divide the community and give a confessional appearance to the State. It could appear to push aside other Church traditions and seem to make their contribution to the community irrelevant.
I have said that this is sectarian, because it is the voice of one Church or one group within one Church in particular. I feel it is particularly true, because it is rejecting the views of the minority. In passing this amendment we are trying to shut out from the common name of Irishman those who do not accept the views of one particular Church. It is sectarian largely because this goes back to when as a school child I read day by day in the columns of the newspapers the accounts of the debate of the mother and child scheme in which Dr. Noel Browne was involved. When I read those debates in 1951 I was very much disturbed by them as a growing and hopefully being politically educated child. Now, having thought for many years that progress was being made in this sort of situation, here we are back in the same position again.
The legal and medical positions has already been dealt with in great detail by Senator Mary Robinson, Senator Micheal D. Higgins and other Senators. I do not intend to go into them in detail, but I would stress that any medical opinion which I or my church have consulted stress the difficulties and dangers of this position of equal rights.
As a lawyer I find this greatly disturbing because most cases before the courts are concerned with establishing the priority of one right over another, not generally black and white but which is the better right and which is the less good right. If we enshrine in the Constitution a position in which those rights are equal we will make it impossible for the courts to decide one way or the other and for the doctor faced with the medical situation to make the decision.
There are also dangers if we pass this amendment that groups of the type of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child will move in order to try to make the law more restrictive. I cannot think of any other explanation for their extreme opposition to the Fine Gael wording except that they want to try to attack certain forms of contraception, the use of the morning-after pill in rape cases and the various women who are at present taking the low dose pill which, they would argue, may operate in such a way as to be described as abortifacient. This includes some thousands of women in this country. I cannot understand the motivation of the campaign against the Fine Gael wording unless for that purpose they want a more restrictive wording.
Finally, I would like to turn to the position with regard to Northern Ireland. I see a particular responsibility in this, first because of my personal position as someone who comes from Northern Ireland, and secondly, and much more important, because I represent a large number of constituents who live in Northern Ireland. Both the major parties in this House would suggest that they are speaking for Irish unity. They suggest that they have a political and emotional commitment to Irish unity, not by force which they condemn but unity by consent. Presumably they want to work by persuasion of the people in the North who now do not want unity. Whom are they trying to persuade? Surely the kind of people they are trying to persuade are such as I, a Northern Protestant who grew up in an Orange area, who scarcely saw a Roman Catholic until aged about ten or 11 when a school of nuns came to live in the area and people would hardly sit beside the nuns in the bus, not because they hated them but because they had never seen a nun and, therefore, they were afraid. Surely these are the kind of people you are trying to convince of the virtue of Irish unity, people who have the fears and hatreds common — wrongly perhaps — to Northern Protestants.
I do not like to treat this in such a personal way but it is a good example. I came here and joined this community. I accepted the bona fides of people who said that they wanted unity and freedom. Like people such as Ernest Blythe or the late Archie Heron, I accepted the unity argument. I learned the Irish language and without boasting I may say that probably I speak it better than quite a large number of Members of either this or the other House. I learned about the history of the Irish language and literature. I learned old Irish and middle Irish as well as modern Irish. I take part in community and public life. I go to the North and try to argue that unity is a possible and a desirable goal. I try to talk people over to this and what happens? A small right-wing, triumphalist Roman Catholic group is allowed to push the Government of this country, the Dáil and the Seanad into this amendment. What can I possibly feel but rejection, disappointment, disgust and hopelessness? What can I feel but that my predecessor as the representative for Dublin University, Sir Edward Carson, may well have been right when he held that Home Rule was bound to become Rome Rule?
At the time of the debate on the mother and child scheme in 1951 the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, then in their power and glory in Glengall Street, produced a booklet called Southern Ireland — Church or State? This booklet without any comment whatsoever, without any remarks from the Unionist Party, simply reprinted the debates in the Dáil on the mother and child scheme and put this title on it. It was one of the most persuasive pieces of propaganda ever produced by the Unionist Party and I suggest that they could go right ahead and publish it again on this amendment.
We talk about unity by consent. Have any of those who talk like that talked about this amendment recently to even the most liberal of Ulster Protestants? Certainly Ulster people are against abortion in principle. They have the same attitudes about it as have the Protestant churches here. They are extremely concerned and extremely horrified at the bringing in of this amendment. Nobody can really pretend that unity by consent is being advanced by moving society in this direction. By doing this we are not offering unity by consent. If we think about it, we are offering Rome Rule at the point of a gun, more or less, because there is no other solution. I quote from Senator W. B. Yeats on this question when, in the Seanad on 11 June 1925, he stated:
It is perhaps the deepest political passion with this nation that North and South be united into one nation. If it ever comes that North and South unite, the North will not give up any liberty which she already possesses under her Constitution. You will then have to grant to another people what you refused to grant to those within your borders. If you show that this country, southern Ireland, is going to be governed by Catholic ideas and by Catholic ideas alone, you will never get the North. You will create an impassable barrier between South and North, and you will pass more and more Catholic laws, while the North will gradually assimilate its divorce and other laws to those of England. You will put a wedge into the midst of this nation.... You will not get the North if you impose on the minority what the minority consider to be oppressive legislation. I have no doubt whatever that in the next few years the minority will make it perfectly plain that it does consider it exceedingly oppressive legislation to deprive it of rights which it has held since the seventeenth century.
I would suggest that what Senator Yeats said about the debate on divorce at that time is equally applicable now.
Bearing in mind all these various factors of the type of campaign it has been, the way in which it has dealt with those who have opposed it, the legal and medical dangers involved and the wedge that has been driven both between different religious groups in the South of Ireland and between the Republic and the North, I appeal to those Senators who have worries about this — and I am sure there are many — who I know have consciences, to ignore their party Whips; to those in Fianna Fáil to stand out against the idea that for the party to win is the most important thing in the world; to those in Fine Gael to have the courage to support the wording they themselves put forward, and to join to reject this Bill in the Seanad and thereby show that this House has a conscience, power and the will to act. Be sure that if we do this we will influence the Irish people.
I rise to support the Labour Party amendment:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:—
"Seanad Éireann declines to give a second reading to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1982 on the grounds that the Bill is so unclear and ambiguous that it is not the proper subject for a proposal to be submitted to the people in a referendum."
I congratulate Senator Catherine McGuinness on one of the finest contributions I have heard in the Seanad, and I agree totally with her in calling on Fine Gael Senators in the Seanad to vote against the Finna Fáil wording in this Bill. The Labour Party oppose abortion and I oppose it. Having spent a long time considering the question I have come to the belief that the provisions of the 1861 Act adequately meet the needs relating to abortion and there is no need at all to hold a referendum.
The advice to the Government in the form of the words proposed by Fianna Fáil would result in uncertainty and the question of equal rights of the mother and child would have to be decided by the courts. I have always been pro-life and I am opposed to the wording of Fianna Fáil because of this clash between the rights of the mother and the child. Who is to decide whether the child or the mother should survive? Deputy Barry Desmond, Minister for Health, says the question could involve up to 500 families per annum. The doctor making a decision in these circumstances could well be prosecuted. I believe in the rights of the unborn and can see no possibility whatsoever of the Oireachtas ever introducing legislation to permit abortion.
The debate we have seen over the months has proved to be gravely divisive as it has provided conflict between the Catholic Church and other denominations. It is very sad when the majority of people in this country are opposed to abortion that this thing has allowed itself to get so far out of hand. The present constitutional position is that the right to life is guaranteed to the unborn child and this follows from the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of McGee versus the Attorney General in 1974 when the Supreme Court proceeded on the basis that the unborn child had rights. It is enshrined in the ordinary law too, for example in section 58 of the Civil Liability Act, 1961, and every attempt to procure an abortion is made a criminal offence by virtue of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. The proposed constitutional amendment would seem to seek to guard against the remote possibility that at some date in the future the Suprem Court would declare the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861 or any amendment of it inconsistent with the Constitution. Undoubtedly, our Supreme Court has gone far in expounding the fundamental rights of the citizen, but an inexplicable reversal of its view as expressed in so many cases would be required to declare that the unborn child would not have the right to life and the whole trend of jurisprudence since the Constitution came into existence would be reversed.
While the Supreme Court is not bound by the previous decision, nevertheless it must be said that it would depart from previous declarations only for the most compelling of reasons. For the Supreme Court to reach the conclusion that the unborn child does not have the right to life would mean not only overturning the sections in the 1861 Act but also striking down and casting doubt upon the validity of the 1961 Civil Liability Act and departing from the reasoning that was apparent in the McGee case.
However, suppose that at some day in the future, unlikely as it may be, the Supreme Court should decide to make this turnabout, what would be the consequences? Would it be then for the Legislature to decide to reverse that decision and, if necessary, seek a constitutional amendment to do so? It will be recalled that when doubts were cast upon the competence of the adoption board to make valid adoption orders, the Legislature did not hesitate to bring forward a referendum to copperfasten the rights of adopted children. The Oireachtas could so act again in the unlikely event of the court setting aside the existing law. We ought to seek to promote the idea of a pluralist society rather than go out of our way to placate fears which appear to be totally ill-founded.
It is a reflection on our judges to suggest in some way they are going to set at naught something that is the core of our belief, namely that the unborn child has rights which should be protected by the State. This is being declared repeatedly by our courts. The proposed amendment would seem to repose but shallow confidence in the judges' ability to, as they are bound to do by the declaration which they sign on assuming office that they will, without fear or favour, affection or ill will towards any man, uphold the Constitution and the laws.
As citizens and as legislators we should always seek new ways to amplify and expand citizens' rights. We will serve them ill if we introduce window-dressing amendments to the Constitution to guarantee rights which are already theirs. Such action will have the effect of only arousing fears, doubts and apprehension in those who would seek to bring us along the path of unity and reconciliation.
I oppose the Fianna Fáil amendment to the Constitution which will have the consequences of reintroducing a clause of a denominational character. The people are fed up to the teeth with this debate on the amendment. The public debate which has taken place has proved to be divisive, and has served only to generate confusion and bitterness throughout the length and breadth of this country. I have always been pro-life and I reject the suggestion that anyone who opposes the amendment as worded by Fianna Fáil should be termed anti-life or pro-abortion. I may add that I am also pro-life for the hundreds of thousands of people in this country whose health is threatened by poverty, bad housing, lack of proper family planning facilities, unemployment, and drug addiction which has become rampant and endangers our very society. Our young people have taken to drugs as an escape from the frightening future facing them. Not only are this Government in danger from the growing queues outside our labour exchanges but the whole democratic system is in danger of tumbling down unless we do something about it. I hear very little from the pro-life people about the plight of these unfortunates. For these reasons I must accuse the pro-life movement of gross hyprocrisy in being very selective about the life they wish to support. We hear nothing from them about the problem of marital breakdown which is clearly the most serious social problem without any proper legal remedy. For a movement that is pro-life their silence is deafening, but in another way eloquent.
While opposing abortion I cannot feel that the life of the unborn child can have priority over the life of the mother who in many cases has other children to rear. Some medical experts feel that if this wording were adopted, in cases like leukaemia and cancer of the womb a doctor would be put in a dilemma as to whether to treat the mother or kill the child. It is fair to say that a considerable number of legal professional people, including a substantial number of barristers, are strongly opposed to the Fianna Fáil wording of the amendment. It is ironic that the amendment was brought forward to bring certainty into the law and it is now the subject of diverse legal interpretations and the cause of great uncertainty.
It is impossible to say how the Supreme Court will interpret this amendment but it is possible that the court may feel compelled to accord an equal right to life to the unborn and to the mother. If this latter interpretation is adopted — by no means a remote possibility — there are obvious risks for the mother. It should be remembered that the whole purpose of the pro-life campaign has been to argue that the unborn child has the same right to life as all of us. If the Supreme Court interpret the wording of the amendment in this way a doctor will be prohibited from taking steps to save the mother's life if such measures entail the termination of a pregnancy.
Another very difficult question for the courts to decide is the precise meaning of the word "unborn" in the amendment. This is a word without any definition in any dictionary that I can find. It has no precise definition in legal terms. Accordingly, even if one were to accept the necessity for such a constitutional amendment as the Fianna Fáil wording, it is not clear what interpretation the courts would put on it. We are dealing in inprecise technology.
The Labour Party have taken a more sensible approach on this amendment. Our leader, Deputy Spring, to his credit allowed a free vote on this issue. Are all members of Fianna Fáil of one mind on this? One Fianna Fáil Deputy in Kildare has questioned the holding of a referendum considering the present economic climate. Unemployment is at an unprecedented level and the IDA have declared Kildare a disaster area as far as employment is concerned. I would like an all-party committee to examine the implications of this amendment. The campaign for this referendum to date has been characterised by moral blackmail. In general it has been conducted in a fairly low key, but it is now becoming increasingly clear that passions are rising on both sides and we are about to witness one of the most divisive campaigns in our history. I have recently been reading F.S. Lyons' biography of Parnell. The parallels with the present situation are ominous. The anti-Parnell campaign divided families and communities for generations. The tragedy of the campaign now about to be embarked on could have the same devastating repercussions for this country.
I have not touched on the implications of the campaign for the North of Ireland but the disastrous consequences in this regard should be apparent to all, as Senator Robb so eloquently spelled out when he spoke here last Thursday. It is ironic that the people who shout the loudest about the amendment also wrap the green flag around themselves in shouting for a united Ireland. I am specifically referring to the gross hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil on this issue.
Another area of great concern to me is the use some of the pro-life people have made of the classrooms in our schools throughout the country to show to our young children highly sensational and frightening films on abortion. It is disgusting that this should have happened, and I ask the Minister for Education to ensure that this practice is discontinued forthwith. I have seen literature published by the pro-life campaign which quite clearly states that the issue is that you either support the amendment or legalise abortion. This is obviously a gross distortion of the truth, and I fear that this may be only the beginning of a growing campaign of distortion and moral blackmail. I ask them to allow the Irish people to make their own decision. They should listen to their philosophers and theologians but then make up their minds.
Article 41.3.2º of the Constitution says that no law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage. This is a completely unacceptable situation in modern Ireland. Every social worker, every solicitor or anyone who deals with the personal problems can personally testify to the breakdown of marriage in this country. They can tell of the appalling human problems created despite the law or the Constitution. Have these unfortunate people no constitutional rights? Deputy Eamon de Valera urged his countrymen to create a just, compassionate and tolerant society. Where is the justice when the wealthy of this land can obtain a divorce by changing domicile? Was it not the case in his time and still is now that there is a law for the rich and a law for the poor? The Constitution in its provisions for the child poses many difficulties in the area of child welfare which affect adoptive parents, children's social workers and institutions for children. Have our young children and their parents not a right to peace and freedom too?
In the run-up to the last election Deputy Haughey said he was fighting the election on the basis of The Way Forward and the wording of the referendum, but a poll showed clearly after that that the referendum was not a priority as far as the people of this country are concerned. People are appalled by the waste of nearly £1 million on a needless referendum when many are on the edge of starvation and living in abject poverty. Would it not be better for the movers of this needless referendum to press the Government to spend £1 million to protect the lives of these unfortunate people?
It is ironic that this referendum was being debated here last Thursday, the blackest day in the industrial history of this country when some of our most promising industries were closing. In Kildare Black & Decker, who promised so much, announced closure. Kildare has been described by the IDA as a disaster area with almost 2,000 jobs lost in the recession. Newbridge has 520 applicants for only 50 houses. What are these people to do when they live in terrible conditions in caravans with no water or sewerage?
I would like the Senator to keep to the amendment.
The founding fathers of the Labour Party — Connolly, Davitt and Larkin — based the party on justice and equality and it is to the credit of the Labour Party in Government that they introduced the unmarried mother's allowance and the deserted wife's allowance. We could have nearly 70,000 marriages breaking up in this country, representing a statistic of human misery on a scale of terrible proportion. My fear is that the hard-line pro-life people will now turn their sights on divorce as their next issue. I would urge that the question of divorce be referred to an-party committee of the Dáil to avoid the divisiveness that has been the centre of this debate. How much compassion did the extreme members of the pro-life movement give to the thousands of girls who are forced through prejudice and bigotry to seek abortions in England? How many of these babies could be saved if we had a more caring and understanding people? These unfortunate girls are hounded by ignorance into a desperate action which, in some cases, will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Yeats seems to be the man for this debate. I should like to quote from "An Irishman Airman Foresees his Death" in which Yeats says:
My country is Kiltartan's cross;
My countrymen Kiltartan's core;
No light to the end will bring them loss,
Or leave them happier than before.
This amendment will do nothing for the people of this country but create division and put us back 50 years. I will vote against the Fianna Fáil wording. As I have pointed out, the law and the Constitution uphold the right to life. I denounce as lies and propaganda suggestions that a vote against the amendment is a vote for abortion.
I want the House to take note of the short few words the Minister spoke when he came into this House last week to commence this debate. I will mention him again later on because he was quoted as having a change of mind after the last election, and he has changed his mind again. The Minister knows only too well, because he is from my neighbouring constituency, the weight of votes at the moment for this amendment.
Visitors to this House two days last week and again today, who were unaware of what we were debating, would think we were discussing a most dreadful piece of legislation which this esteemed House and the other House were trying to implement. What is this Bill? It is simply an enabling Bill. If passed it will allow the people of this nation to express an opinion on whether the unborn human life should be given the same constitutional right as we have ourselves. What is so terrible about the proposition we have before us or about those on this side of the House, or indeed on the other side of the House, who may see fit to support it? What is so wrong with it, that it has drawn the most bitter speeches I have heard in this Chamber since I came into it in 1977? This was something I thought was long gone from the Irish political scene but obviously I was bluffing myself.
What is the wording today of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill? I am aware, as is every colleague of mine in this House, that changing the Constitution of our State is a most serious decision to take, whether we add to it or subtract from it. To me personally — as I have said already in this House; and I will say again; and I do not mind where I am quoted — the Constitution is the bible by which I live and by which probably everybody else lives because it was written by the founder of my party. The referendum will give the people, and the people alone, the right to decide. Let the people have the referendum and let them give us our answer.
A Senator on the other side of the House was amazed last week at our attitude in Fianna Fáil which will allow the people to make this decision. He thought we and the courts should make it. Until I finish in public life, and indeed until long after that the people will dictate what I do. That is where I differ from Senator Michael D. Higgins for whom I have the greatest respect.
The existing statute law on the subject is contained in sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. Until recently these provisions seemed adequate. Is anything adequate any more when we see changes coming so fast and by all sorts of means? In other countries in recent years they had abortion before they realised it. If the politicians in those nations had the same chance as we have here to consult the people I am quite sure they would take the same stance as we are taking. What is so wrong with the idea of a constitutional protection for the unborn? For the life of me I do not understand why there is such bitter opposition to a constitutional right for the unborn. Sponsors of the organised campaign against the amendment are seeking to withhold that question from the people. I do not understand why it is wrong to let the people decide, and not us.
A Senator on the other side of the House said last week we are downgrading the Seanad if we allow this. He said it is here we should decide it. I do not agree. It is not just to be on one side or the other that I am saying this. I feel it is not our right. It is the right of the people to decide this and they will, I am sure, as always decide the right thing. It must be stated over and over again that we are dealing here with human rights. The human right to life is an absolute basic principle. It cannot be said often enough. The people who are opposing the Fianna Fáil stance on this human right seem to be taking the other side.
The source of this right is not one's importance as compared with one's usefulness to society. It arises from one's human nature.
In other countries abortion has been justified on the grounds of the likelihood that a child might be born retarded or mentally handicapped. In my experience — and I now have spent 18 or 19 years in the field of mentally handicapped people — I have never yet met a mother who regretted having a child she knew might be retarded or mentally handicapped or who would have opted for an abortion at any stage. These parents will be glad I said that. You learn great lessons from them when you are dealing with them as closely as I do.
What is so wrong about the idea of constitutional protection for the unborn? I do not understand the strong objection to constitutional protection for the unborn. It must be stated over and over again that we are dealing with a matter of human rights, and that the value of each and every human being is the basis of our civilisation, which is the basis of everything we stand for.
We have been told there are much more important issues which we should be dealing with. I am aware of unemployment. I am aware of many problems we do not seem to be dealing with, and we are also being accused on platforms or in halls of wasting time on this amendment. If we arrive at the stage in Ireland of being accused of wasting time because we are trying to write into the Constitution the right of the unborn, then surely things are even changing faster than we think. When I leave public life in ten or 15 years time, and when I look back, if I did not take this stand because I believe it is right to write into the Constitution the right of the unborn, I would feel that I had failed to do my duty, and that I had funked it — which is not a right word to use in this House — and that I had not taken my duty seriously. Therefore I do not think this is a waste of time.
Somebody mentioned history. If we do not pass this amendment, in 20 years' time the present serving Oireachtas Members may be judged to have funked their duties by future generations of Irish men and women.
Senator McGuinness made reference today to abortions in this nation in the fifties. She said she is probably younger than some of the people in the House. I was in the Chair at the time and I smiled because Senator McGuinness is younger than I am and I know the case to which she was referring. In that case they were not charged with abortion but they were actually charged with murder. If you leave the right to choose to people you give them the right to kill. I did not speak on this amendment before except very mildly at party meetings in my own constituency. I have not made high-doh speeches or strong speeches. When I heard some of the speeches in this House last week I decided that, in conscience, I would have to let my stand be seen. I am not walking into a lobby tonight or tomorrow to vote because Fianna Fáil told me to do so. That is not my style as a politician. I want to make it quite clear that, if I wanted to abstain on this because I thought it was wrong, I would do so whether the Whip would be removed or not.
Many changes have come in this country and we could have well done without some of them. The right to life of the unborn is now under threat across the western world. Abortion has been given legal endorsement in some countries over the past decade or so. When this Constitution was enacted in 1937, Eamon de Valera did not foresee any threat that legal abortion would be considered. Perhaps he was not as far-seeing as I always give him credit for, but if he had foreseen this threat he would have written this provision into the Constitution.
It has been argued that legislation on abortion should be a matter for the Oireachtas and not the people. This gets back again to something on which I have strong views. This might be so if our Constitution simply declared general attitudes and aspirations, but our Constitution — and this House knows it, and I know it, and the other House knows it — is a powerful instrument. It is a powerful weapon which gives the courts the power to determine very special rights and obligations. It is the proper place to declare and protect the human right to life before birth. In it the most defenceless section of our community, the unborn child, should be given the same protection as the rest of us. I do not think it is any big deal to ask for that, and that is what we are asking.
Fine Gael and Labour obviously would do anything to get us out of power. They did it magnificently before the last general election because a commitment was given by the present Taoiseach to the pro-life people. An impression was given by the Taoiseach in the campaign, and pro-life people. An impression was given by the Taoiseach in the campaign, and indeed by our party, that we would have this amendment. A very clear decision was given and obviously somebody changed his mind since. He first gave that commitment in May of 1981 on behalf of his party. He gave it before Deputy Haughey gave the commitment — when he gave it we stuck by it. We were told today that we have done well, that we have not broken ranks, that politically at the moment we seem to be scoring, but that eventually we will pay the price. I did not understand what Senator McGuinness meant when she said eventually we would pay the price for what we are doing now. A commitment was given to the solid Fine Gael supporters and we gave a commitment to the solid Fianna Fáil supporters. The Taoiseach gave that commitment and he has gone back on it. Last week Senator Robb Shook me a little when he said:
Throughout the speeches yesterday and this morning, and the one we have just listened to, and listening to people in this House when talking to them as individuals, it has become apparent that we have had confirmed, and rightly confirmed, here that Deputies and Senators — the same might well go for Assembly men in the North and Members of Parliament in Britain — are under enormous pressure in their constituencies to compromise on important issues with what their conscience tells them and what political expediency demands of them.
I can tell Senator Robb that I have no problem at all with my conscience on this issue. No pressure was put on me and, even if it had been, I would still decide on what my own conscience dictates. So his judgment of all Senators and Deputies is wrong there. His judgment is wrong if he thinks pressure groups will change our minds. It might change the minds of a few.
I should now like to refer to the suggestion by the anti-amendment group that the Fianna Fáil wording is sectarian. It was quite clear that, before the former Taoiseach left office, he had got some measure of acceptance from at least the major Protestant denominations in this State. This was welcomed by him and by us at the time. I will quote part of what was said to try to counteract this desperate image that we have all gone madly Catholic and will not listen to anybody else in this State. Archbishop McAdoo was quoted in The Irish Press of 4 November 1983 as stating that he believed the wording to be “just and adequate”. Speaking on radio as recently as 3 April 1983, Dr. Armstrong, Archbishop of Armagh said:
It was accepted by us at the time as an attempt to deal with a very difficult moral problem. I don't change my opinion from the time it was submitted to us by the previous Government.
He was talking about the Fianna Fáil Government and he said that he did not change his opinion on the wording from the discussions that must have taken place. On 8 February 1983, the Rev. Sidney Garland stated:
We do not accept that the proposed amendment will enshrine ‘the Roman Catholic view' of abortion in the Constitution. The amendment is entirely in accord with our Protestant view of abortion. Clearly, there are differences of opinion among Protestants on the issue of abortion. However, we believe that the majority of Protestants will support the proposed amendment.
He was talking about the Fianna Fáil wording. He went on to say:
We do not accept that the proposed amendment would be an improper ‘invasion of personal and sexual privacy.' This would be to accept that the unborn child is ‘part of the mother's body', which is biological nonsense, since a separate individual exists, though still dependent on his or her mother (as will continue to be the case after birth). The State not only have the right but indeed the duty to ‘interfere' to protect this life.
Further, since rights are established by the Constitution, we believe that it is perfectly appropriate that the right to life of the unborn be defined in the Constitution. These who say that the constitutional amendment is unnecessary are either politically naive or they are secretly in favour of abortion. We call on all politicians to let the will of the people be expressed on this issue. If they do not, they will have to hide their heads in shame if they pave the way for the will of the people to be overthrown by a tiny but ruthless minority.
That is hard talk from one of the Protestant churchmen. I should like to quote from The Irish Times of 25 February 1983. The Rev. Kerr, Director of the Christian Renewal Centre, Rostrevor, County Down said:
I believe that it is wholly appropriate that there should be a clause inserted in the Constitution to protect the life of the unborn. No one could disagree with the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, when he pointed out (at the 1982 Fine Gael Ard-Fheis) that the Constitution was defective in this regard.
"All life, whether of citizens or of people of other nationality, whether born or unborn, should be protected by our Constitution."
I support the pro-life amendment campaign because it is making a genuine attempt to bring about a situation in which the existing ban on abortion receives constitutional validation by a declaration of the right to life of the unborn child.... Thank God there are those in this country who have the courage to attempt to close the door before the horse is stolen or hijacked.
Last week Senator Robinson quoted Very Rev. Victor Griffin and, in fairness to Senator Robinson and Very Rev. Victor Griffin, it is important to put the record of this House straight. I understand that Rev. Victor Griffin is a sponsor of the anti-amendment campaign and Senator Robinson was probably quoting him as one of the anti-amendment campaigners not as the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. He obviously plays two roles. In fairness to this House and to Reverend Victor Griffin, it is right to say which cap he was wearing when he made his statements.
I am not the best one for long speeches: this is probably the longest one I have ever made. I might not have spoken on this amendment were it not for the extraordinary contributions in this House last week. If the Labour Party want to take the stand they are taking, they are right to do so. That is their right and nobody is entitled to remove it from them but I am baffled how they see they have the right to dictate to Fine Gael as to what they should do in this. We will see whether they succeed when the vote is finally taken.
Senator Conway made reference to speeches made by a member of my own party in Kildare a while ago. To be quite honest I would not bother my head taking any notice of that said TD in Kildare. I am sure I am speaking about the same TD but anyway I will not be quoting it here.
The Senator should be easy on Deputies.
You know where the votes come from. Enormous confusion has arisen as a result of the extraordinary statement by the Taoiseach regarding danger to the mother. Last week some Member inferred that it was a bunch of doting professors who were backing the pro-life amendment and all the smart professors had all the answers for the anti-amendment campaign. If that particular Senator thinks Eamon de Valera of University College, Dublin, John Bonner of Trinity College, Dublin, David Jenkins of University College, Cork, Kieran O'Driscoll of University College, Dublin, and Eamon O'Dwyer of University College, Galway, are doting professors and do not know what they are talking about, then I do not know what to say.
I have a certain amount of regard for the Taoiseach, Deputy Garret FitzGerald, a regard I did not hold for previous Leaders of Fine Gael. He gave a promise before an election. The Coalition Government have always accused us of making promises and then not fulfilling them. The Taoiseach has a lot to answer for because by his extraordinary statement about the degree to the life of the mother he has confused and frightened young mothers and young married women who have not yet started their families.
I am not an expert in the medical area. Recently someone asked me if a woman four months pregnant and suffering from an illness that had to be treated with drugs would, as a result of this amendment, have to continue with the pregnancy and not get the necessary drugs for her illness. Of course the doctor has total discretion and whether this amendment is added to the Constitution or not it will not dictate to that doctor. He will look after the mother. There is confusion about the equal right of the mother and the child but if the mother as I understand it, and I hope I am right, has to get drugs at four months, her doctor alone and not Fianna Fáil or anybody else, will dictate what drugs she should get. In this connection I will quote from the Irish Independent of 10 May 1983. It is a letter headed “Doctor's Assurance”, by Dermot MacDonald, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street. It states:
Confusion seems to have entered into this debate on the proposed Constitutional Amendment on Abortion. This concerns availability of treatment to pregnant women with serious disease. To allay any public anxiety I should like now to give a firm unequivocal assurance to any women who attends this hospital that she will receive appropriate treatment for her condition, whether she is pregnant or not at that time. This has always been the practice and no change is envisaged.
I hope I have made my position clear. There are other Senators to speak. I have requested that Labour Party members do their own thing. Every Member has his own conscience. There was a reference made a while ago to the people in the other House who saw fit to abstain or vote with us.
The Senator is not allowed to make comments about the other House.
I will never learn the rules of this House. Everyone knows what I was going to say.
Ba mhaith liom ar dtús, a Chathaoirligh, an chéad uair dom bheith ag caint sa Teach, comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leat féin ar do shuíochán agus rath Dé a ghuí ar do chuid oibre. Ba mhaith liom fosta fáiltiú roimh an Aire Stáit do Chúrsaí na mBan a fheicim anseo romham, ó tharla gur seo an chéad uair a bhí an seans sin agam sa Teach seo. Ar an ócáid seo — agus mé ag caint don chéad uair sa tSeanad — ba mhaith liom fosta mo bhuíochas a chur in iúl don Taoiseach, an Teachta Mac Gearailt, ar son na suime a thaispeán sé i dTuaisceart na hÉireann nuair a d'ainmnigh sé triúr againn go dtí an Teach seo. San am chéanna ba mhaith liom buíochas mo pháirtí agus mo bhuíochas féin a chur in iúl don iar-Thaoiseach nuair a d'ainmnigh sé beirt againn do Sheanad Éireann. Tá a fhios agam go n-aontóidh sibh uilig liom nuair a deirim go ndearna Séamus Mallon agus John Robb sár-obair sa tSeanad nuair a bhí siad anseo le ceist an Tuaiscirt a chur romhainn. Tá súil agam go mbeidh mé féin agus an bheirt Seanadóirí eile ón Tuairsceart ábalta leanúint leis an obair sin. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil an Seanadóir Robb agus an Seanadóir McGonagle in éineacht liom sa Teach seo le sin a dhéanamh.
I would like to congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on her election to this post and wish her well. I would also like to welcome and congratulate the Minister of State for Women's Affairs. Since it is my first time speaking in the Seanad I would like to put on record my appreciation and my party's appreciation of the commitment that the Taoiseach, Deputy FitzGerald, has shown to the problems of Northern Ireland by appointing no fewer than three Northern Senators to this House. I would like equally to acknowledge the commitment which was shown by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, when he appointed Senator Séamus Mallon of my party and Senator Robb. I know you will all agree with me that both Senators Mallon and Robb did an excellent job in presenting the problem of Northern Ireland in this House and in this part of the country. I hope that along with the other two Senators from the North I will be able to continue this work. I have known both Senator Robb and Senator McGonagle for more years than I care to admit, having first met them in the traumatic years of 1969 and 1970. I know that we shared then, as we share now, a common concern for the protection of human rights on this island and indeed everywhere and for the promotion of reconciliation on this island. I hope that we will be able to continue to do just that in our new capacity.
With regard to the debate here today, I must say that I regret deeply that on my first occasion speaking in Seanad Éireann I should be dealing with an issue which has created such divisions in this part of the island, unnecessary divisions I feel. We in Ireland have paid an intolerable price for the divisions, and indeed for our failure to resolve those divisions and to reach a consensus. The tragic results of that failure are to be seen at their worst today in Northern Ireland. I regret now this further division which is being caused because it could have been avoided. It is unnecessary because it is abundantly clear that practically every Deputy and Senator in the Oireachtas is absolutely opposed to abortion. It is clear that the major parties here are opposed to abortion. It is clear that the Churches are opposed to abortion. There is no sectarian division in this part, or indeed in any of the island, about the right to life of the unborn. There is, however, a difference of approach as to how that right to life can best be secured. I feel strongly that it is a terrible pity with all the divisions we have seen in this island that this particular issue could not have been resolved by consensus between the Churches and the politicians without creating further unnecessary divisions.
May I put my own view on the question of abortion? As a woman, as a mother, as a Catholic, indeed as a human being, I find the very thought of abortion abhorrent and repulsive. That is my view on abortion. My party's policy on abortion always has been totally opposed to any attempt to bring the 1967 British Act into Northern Ireland. That policy was passed unanimously at our party conference in 1977.
The SDLP, of course, have always been a pro-life party. We have been pro-life in every sense of the word. We support nuclear disarmament. We oppose capital punishment. We support the right to life of all the people in Northern Ireland. In fact, we have refused to affiliate to the Northern Ireland women's rights movement for one reason and one reason only, because that movement supports the introduction of the 1967 British Act into Northern Ireland. I am happy to say that we will continue resolutely to oppose any attempt to bring the British Act into Northern Ireland. I am happier still to say that in this we have the support of all the political parties in Northern Ireland; the Official Unionists, the DUP, the Alliance Party, the SDLP, all support that anti-abortion stance. I find it, therefore, sadly ironic that perhaps the only issue that unites all of us — Protestant and Catholic, Nationalist and Unionist — our stance against abortion should now have become a focus for division.
I must say my honest impression is that this debate has totally confused the general public in Ireland. Perhaps living in Northern Ireland I am not as aware exactly of how people feel here, but that is my impression. I have had occasion recently to visit Donegal — I hasten to add that it had nothing to do with the by-election — and that is the impression I got from people there. I have carefully considered all the arguments that have been put through my letterbox in the various leaflets I have received. I have listened to the argument on the media, I have read all the papers and I have tried to figure out what would be the effect of this amendment if it were passed or indeed any other wording. When I was asked by a woman in Donegal two weeks ago what would be the effect if she voted in favour of this amendment, the only honest answer I could give to that woman was, that I could not say with certainty what would be the effect. I accept the bona fides of the legal and medical experts who have prognosticated on this matter. I accept that they disagree but I cannot say which of them is right or which of them is wrong. That can be seen only when and if this wording is passed into the Constitution and if it is tried in the courts. Only then will we know the actual result. We cannot be sure. The only thing that is certain about this debate is the uncertainty of the outcome of this particular wording.
I am deeply disappointed and saddened at the type of tactics that I have seen used in this debate by some of the pro-amendment people. I heard Senator Hanafin last week expressly making the point that he did not take the view that anybody who abstained in the Dáil or who did not vote in a certain way was, therefore, pro-abortion. I was glad to hear that point made. The tactics that are being used by some of the pro-amendment people — I do not say pro-life because I think that gives the impression that to be anti-amendment is to be somehow or another anti-life — have been disappointing. They have reminded me, particularly in some of the letters that were written to my colleague in the North, Senator John Robb, of the type of tactic we have become so used to from the supporters of the Reverend Ian Paisley when they attack what they call the Church of Rome. There has been a lot of talk of Catholics and Protestants in the debate but in some instances there has been very little evidence of Christianity.
I will give my personal reactions, as a person living in Northern Ireland, to the debate in the past few months. The passion which has been aroused by the very remote and hypothetical threat to the life of the unborn has bewildered me and left me wondering a little because I compare it with the comparative lack of passion that has been engendered by the very real, present, urgent threat to life of the born in Northern Ireland in the past 14 years. It does not matter whether it is the life of a Protestant postman in Fermanagh or a Catholic in north Belfast, or a young girl going out to a dance at a disco, or indeed a child who happens to be running an errand for her mother and is killed by a plastic bullet. I have been told by some people that this is another issue. Is it? Is the right to life divisible whether it is the life of the born or the unborn?
I feel that the events of the past 14 years in Northern Ireland have a specific relevance to the debate here today. The awful murders and the atrocities we have seen in Northern Ireland over the past 14 years — and indeed they have not been confined to Northern Ireland — are in part due to the fact that we in Ireland, North and South, have inherited a society which has double standards on the right to life of the born. It is a society which has been conditioned to regard some killings as murder and some killings as not quite murder, something less than murder. The killings of "Bloody Sunday", for instance, are regarded as cold-blooded murder or "good enough for them" depending on one's point of view. The killing of a Protestant who happens to wear an RUC uniform can be regarded as murder but, on the other hand, it may be regarded by some as not quite murder. Public representatives have been seen recently in Northern Ireland congratulating publicly the security forces for the shooting of young men in highly suspicious circumstances, what we call the "Kill, don't question" policy. They have congratulated the security forces for those killings. This is the type of double standard that we have in Northern Ireland, and indeed perhaps in the whole island in some instances about the life of the born.
We do not really have a truly pro-life society in Ireland. Old Ireland is not pro-life. All the legislation on the Statute Book in Northern Ireland — and we have some terrible emergency legislation apart from ordinary legislation — has not been able to protect the life of these born people. Would a clause in the Constitution protect them? I put it to you that the best protection for those people and for the right to life of the born in the North would have been in fact a society which absolutely refused to tolerate those killings.
If I can relate that to the present debate here, there is at the moment a small lobby, and an unrepresentative one, which favours legalised abortion in this island. I say it is unrepresentative because all the political parties, all the elected politicians oppose abortion. We are not ambivalent on this island: we all support the right to life of the unborn. The best way, therefore, of protecting that life in the future is to ensure that our society stays that way, that we pass to the next generations the values we have with regard to the right to life of the unborn. If we fail to pass those values on, no amount of legislation, not even a constitutional amendment, will prevent people in the future from changing it. Parliamentarians reflect the views of the people. They will change the law if the people want it changed. So will the people themselves if it takes a change in the Constitution to do it. I come back to the point that we must ensure that we pass on the values. That is the best protection for the life of the unborn. If we succeed in this island in creating a society which cherishes all its born citizens equally, those who are deprived, those who are born out of wedlock, those who are physically and mentally disabled, then not only will we be removing the awful pressures from those who at the moment take the abortion trail to England, but we will ensure that we are creating for the next generation a society which is genuinely and practically pro-life. In such a society there will be no place for abortion. That is our best guarantee.
I intend to support the Labour Party amendment. There are a number of reasons which I will sum up. First of all, there is the uncertainty if this constitutional amendment is brought in. I ask myself, will it prevent the Dáil from legislating for abortion? Will it facilitate the introduction of abortion legislation? The answer that I have to give myself is, I do not know. I have read all the arguments pro and con but I do not know. Secondly, will it change the present balance which favours the mother? Will it change that away from the mother? I am not sure. It may not but I cannot be certain. Perhaps most important of all, I do not think it is necessary. As I have already outlined, the most positive way we can protect and remain the way we are and keep this whole country against abortion is to pass on these values and ensure that we have that type of society.
This particular Amendment is unnecessary. The present law has served us well for 122 years. All the politicians, all the political parties support it. I think that the effect of going ahead with this amendment will be to create harmful division at a time when we should be trying to heal divisions. I support the Labour Party amendment. I think it should be noted that the three Northern voices in this Seanad are united on this particular issue. I have talked to Senator John Robb; he is a Protestant and the two other Senators are Catholics. We are all united in our opposition to this amendment and in our support of the Labour Party amendment. We are equally united in out opposition to abortion and we all support the present legislation. We will fight resolutely to maintain the present legislation.
Finally, may I simply say that the most effective way that all legislators, political parties, pressure groups, individuals in this island can contribute to a pro-life Ireland is to create a consensus on this island, to contribute towards the creation of mutual respect, tolerance, a love of life? Old Ireland has not been a pro-life Ireland. It certainly has not been pro the life of the born. The new Ireland must be pro the life of the born and the unborn. Let us, therefore, all together work for this consensus so that we can build a new Ireland which will equally and unequivocally cherish and protect the life of the born and the unborn, in other words, a truly pro-life Ireland.
May I start by congratulating Senator Rogers and welcoming her first speech in this House? I should like to take up her point, which is very significant, that the three Northern Senators who are here and two of whom have contributed to this debate, are voting against the amendment and for the Labour Party motion. I believe that that is significant. Of equal significance in this House is that every single Independent, every "un-whipped" Senator in this House, will be voting for the Labour Party amendment and against the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.
The truth of the matter about this amendment to the Constitution is that the political parties are in a very sorry mess over it. Nothing demonstrates it more than some of the attitudes being taken in this debate today. In some ways I give a qualified welcome to the opportunity to debate this amendment because it exposes the whole hypocrisy of our political system and it exposes the whole hypocrisy of many of the attitudes which the political parties take to our problems, especially the moral ones, I do not believe that any Government could have chosen a more suitable subject, if they had gone out of their way, to do this. I do not think they could more clearly have crystalised our own fossilised, very sterile attitudes to the sort of problem which the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution presents us with.
It shows us the sustained, underlying strength of a very small minority group and that the tail is wagging the dog in the case of both major parties. Simultaneously it exposes our own attitude. I believe, because Fine Gael are the major governing party in this debate and because they have the power to do something about it at this stage, that their position is probably worthy of more blame than the Fianna Fáil position. The Fine Gael position on this amendment in this House is a totally untenable one. On a very crucial issue they are degrading the Seanad, they are insulting the people and they are humiliating their own members in this House because they are abdicating the constitutional responsibility which they have been given by declaring their intention of abstaining on this amendment.
I know, because I heard Senator O'Leary's speech last week, about the pressures which are brought to bear on them. They have faced this test, they have faced the pressures and they have given in to them. The Seanad is being treated with contempt by their attitude on this. The Taoiseach has declared his intention of asking the people to vote "No" in this referendum. At the same time, we have the Fine Gael Senators in his party apparently abstaining on it. They know full well that the consequence of their abstention will be to allow this Bill to go through this evening or tomorrow. They are in fact hastening by their attitude and by their declared entrenchment the passage of this Bill.
There is a total inconsistency here. There is a double standard, either the Bill is right or the Bill is wrong and we have it quite clearly, in the words of the Minister introducing this Bill, that the Bill is defective. I do not see how the Seanad can be asked not to use its power of revision or delay to amend or revise this Bill which is declared as being defective by the Government introducing it. It is a clear and regrettable abdication of responsibility. The effect of delaying this Bill could be crucial. The Constitutional Bill on proportional representation was defeated in this House. It went on to be defeated in the country. It is most important that Senators on the Fine Gael side of this House do not belittle their power or their influence if they defeat this Bill. The effect of that would be to delay it and send it back to the other House. God knows what will happen if it goes back to the other House.
More than God knows.
The Senator may know, I do not. I do not presume to know what will happen if it goes back to the other House or what the voting effect will be. My guess is that there will be the same result. I do not know what the effect of delay would be. I suspect it would enable those who are opposed to the amendment to put a better organised argument to the country which they have not the time or the money to organise at the moment.
The Fine Gael contributions have highlighted this rather twisted, contorted logic, this dreadful situation in which they find themselves. Senator O'Leary in a very good speech — I except him from what I believe had been rather pitiful and brief speeches by the Fine Gael Party — said he thought it was a suitable subject for an all-party committee. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is up to Senator O'Leary. He is quite at liberty then to put down an amendment to that effect. I see no sign of such an amendment. I believe such an amendment was defeated by the Fine Gael Party in the Dáil. They cannot possibly praise or criticise this Bill, talk about this Bill, have opinions on this Bill and then unanimously abstain on it. That is an abdication of responsibility which I find quite unacceptable. This is meant to be the leading governing party. What sort of leadership are this party showing us by funking and "copping" out on the issue which has attracted more publicity, press coverage, argument, civil service time and Government time than any other issue that I can remember? What sort of respect is the Seanad getting if this Bill is expected to go through on the nod?
I cannot remember an introductory speech by any Minister on any Bill of even the slightest or the smallest significance of only 13 lines. The Minister introduced this Bill without any recommendation to the House at all in that introduction. Yet, he said that the Bill was defective, so the largest governing party are going to abstain on what has been declared in this House to be a defective Bill and what has been declared outside this House to be a dangerous wording.
What are the defects in this Bill? I would like to ask the Leader of the House, who will sum up later, have these defects suddenly disappeared between the Dáil and here? Are these defects suddenly not in the wording any longer? These defects are still there and they are fully answered apparently. They were fully answered by the production of the Fine Gael wording in the Dáil. In view of what has been said, if Second Stage is passed in this House, the Fine Gael Party will presumably accept on Committee Stage my amendment which will be their exact wording and vote for it to make this Bill one which is not defective in its wording but which is acceptable to them.
I challenge them. I would regret enormously if when this amendment is put down on Committee Stage they have the never or the gall to stay in their seats and not vote for an amendment which they have put the Dáil through, which they have put the people through. Now they say there is no point in having this amendment at all. I will be putting it down and I will be asking the Fine Gael Party, in particular, to support their own amendment. The reason for this policy of abstention by Fine Gael is quite obviously that it is to save themselves internal party embarrassment. There is no other possible reason for this.
We all know the well publicised problems which the Fine Gael Party have had about this. What about the country? This is meant to be the Government. Is the country and the Seanad to be sacrificed for the sake of internal party peace for Fine Gael? If this is apparently what is going to happen I regret it. I think it is a surrender of the powers of the Seanad.
One Senator last week challenged the Fine Gael Party, if they insist on this attitude to put down a motion for the abolition of the Seanad because it is a great insult to the Seanad if these powers will not be used at this time. I agree with that Senator that Seanad Éireann is on trial over this debate because its Members have a chance to take a stand on an important issue and not to cop out. We have been the butt of some very riotous criticism in the press recently and we have a chance to redeem some of that in this debate. An abstention now on the part of this party would be a demonstration of contempt for the powers of this Chamber. It would be an open and calculated flouting and disdain for Seanad Éireann. Those who do this would be better off resigning their seats and making way for people, men and women with principles, courage, conviction and with a certain amount of backbone. That is the only reason the amendment will go through. There would be moral cowardice involved for the sake of short-term political gain.
I very rarely praise political parties in this Chamber but tribute should be given to Deputy Cluskey for his attitude to the pro-life people when they approached him while he was leader of the Labour Party. As leader, he was the only man who took a stand and refused to take the easy bolt hole which was offered by saying yes to an amendment of this sort. The other two party leaders took the easy way out and very quickly surrendered with indecent haste to these people.
It is relevant that we should ask who this group of people are. Are they elected? Whom do they represent? They are a self-appointed, very small group. Is this country beginning to be run by the SPUCs and the PLACs? I have never come across a time in this country when so few people have exercised so much power over so many. This is a tiny, fundamentalist, bible-thumping group who, as far as I am concerned, represent only themselves. It is relevant to ask where these people's funds come from. Are their funds unlimited? Are they coming from abroad?
It is fair that we should know if the small minority who are blackmailing the politicians, those who are writing our Constitution for us, are being funded from abroad. It must be recorded here that the SPUC-PLAC group have scored a remarkable success. What they have achieved is a great victory for them. They have flexed their muscles and they probably cannot believe their eyes or ears at the success which they have achieved. They found themselves pushing at an open door. Nobody in SPUC or PLAC could believe that they could dictate to two Governments about how the Constitution of this country should be written.
What we should ask now about these people is whether they should disband. It is highly unlikely that they will disband once they have achieved such success. Many of them are the people who opposed a change in the laws on illegitimacy and still do. They are the people who believe that innocent children should be deprived of some of their rights and should carry an undeserved stigma for the rest of their lives. As Senator Higgins said in this debate last week, in one of the most eloquent speeches it has been my privilege to listen to, they are a very unattractive, very uncaring, Fascist group who obviously lack a great deal of humanity.
Is it fair to assume that they will flex the same muscles to oppose a change in divorce laws? Is it fair to assume that they will flex the same muscles to oppose a change in the 1979 Family Planning Act which the Government have declared it is their intention to change? Is it fair to assume that they will oppose a change in the laws decriminalising homosexuality between consenting adults? I think it is fair to assume that. It is also fair to assume that they will have exactly the same success because, if they can successfully bring pressure of this sort to bear on weak politicians on one issue there is no reason to believe that they cannot do it on exactly the same people on exactly the same kind of issues in the very near future.
They have seen success in the last few months and there will be no end to their obstruction. They are a dangerous group. The Government should have stood up to them in the first place. Both Governments have capitulated to them. I believe that it has been a very black day for Ireland when this has happened and the future as a result is very bleak. I see no reason why they should not wield exactly the same power in the future. A lot has been said by Senator Honan, whose speech I thoroughly enjoyed, as I always enjoy Senator Honan's speeches——
I enjoy the Senator's speeches.
——about how divisive this amendment is. She quoted many Protestant clergymen in her favour. It is divisive because, I do not want to use the word sectarian — it is denominational, it is supported by one church, the majority church, and it is opposed by the minority churches. That in itself is divisive, whatever one thinks of the conclusions of the relevant churches. It is significant — I hate to bring this up — that no single Protestant in the Oireachtas has voted in favour of the Fianna Fáil amendment. I wonder why. I do not think most Protestants in the Oireachtas vote as Protestants. It is significant that this has happened and no Protestant in this House, we will find, will vote for the wording of this amendment to the Constitution and neither will any Independent in the Seanad.
It is significant also that none of the Churches was in the vanguard of the demand for a referendum on abortion. None of the Catholic or the Protestant Churches was pushing hard for such a referendum. It is divisive because, having been put up to them, they are forced to take positions on it. The fact that they are forced into corners to take opposite positions is bad for the country. I believe that none of them felt there was any need for a referendum but now that the referendum has been put to them they have to take a stand on it and relations between the Churches will worsen as a result.
It is divisive, as Senator Rogers said, in terms of Northern Ireland. That goodwill, which was being promoted, which this Government hoped to generate, to Northern Ireland, has been damaged by this referendum to such an extent that the illness which has been caused is now terminal. If this amendment to the Constitution is passed it will drive a permanent wedge between the two parts of this island. Let there be no doubt about that. The attempts at some sort of consensus in this island will be obstructed by this. It will cement the differences in the ethos, in the laws and the way of life between the two parts of this island. We could not possibly impose such an amendment on the people of Northern Ireland. Let no-one in this House believe we can.
Who then can blame the majority in Northern Ireland for what they see or for their attitude to us? They see, quite simply, Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution which claim jurisdiction. They see denominational laws on divorce. They see laws on contraception, in which they see the influence of the Church and now they see being inserted into our Constitution a clause on abortion which they will find totally unacceptable. They see this as the work of right wing religious fanatics who are writing our Constitution for us. Who then can blame them for saying: "We want nothing to do with you; we want nothing to do with this"? I do not blame them for that in the slightest. While one would like to see a united Ireland it is quite evident from this amendment that we are moving further and further away from that.
Let there be no doubt that some of the extreme Unionists, some of the extreme Protestants in Northern Ireland, are welcoming this amendment. They are absolutely delighted with it because to them it installs a permanent immovable barrier in our Constitution. They realise that no unity is possible so long as we keep installing these absurd clauses in our Constitution and so long as such influences reign in the Republic. They are gleeful over this amendment because we have handed to them the most powerful propaganda weapon that has been evident in the Republic since this House refused to consider extradition.
What do you think the liberal Unionists, the Alliance Party feel about this? To them the Taoiseach's constitutional crusade launched 18 months ago was a welcome breath of fresh air. These were the people I understood it was meant to woo. These were the people with whom it was meant to open a dialogue after their guarded optimism about this at the time. This amendment has turned it into a confirmation of their worst fears about how this State is being run. I believe that they are now disillusioned. If the amendment proceeds I believe that future overtures of this sort will be stillborn.
It was my privilege to enter this House on the day the Taoiseach, Deputy FitzGerald, launched his constitutional crusade in the Oireachtas. There were many of us who at that time were very impressed and were hopeful about that crusade. The Fine Gael Party unaminously supported it at that time, as did the Labour Party. No Independent opposed it, if my memory is right, at that time. We believed that there was a hope that the old moulds were being broken down, that the entrenched attitudes were going to wither away. That great theoretical advance — it now appears to be only a theoretical advance — has unfortunately, been replaced by what are now several material and practical steps back. It is ironic and very sad that that crusade which was born in this House barely 18 months ago is about to die here tonight or tomorrow because it will be allowed to die by the passive, deliberate and knowing abstention of the Taoiseach's own party, the party whose Leader launched it. This amendment will kill the constitutional crusade. I am sorry to have to say that but I believe it is absolutely true.
Where does this amendment leave the forum for a new Ireland? I find it another strange contradiction in what is going on in relation to the Constitution of this country and in our attitudes to Northern Ireland. This amendment is surely a straightforward antithesis of this new Ireland which we were meant to be painting for the people of Northern Ireland because this new Ireland was meant to be a blueprint, the forum was meant to set out a blueprint for the sort of country we were going to offer the people of Northern Ireland.
The first thing to be considered on the agenda, the first change which we are making in our Constitution, will be an amendment which is totally and utterly unacceptable to those people. We are working in completely different directions. Whereas this forum may have other motives, it may have political motives, it certainly will become a farce because if it does not immediately recommend repeal of this constitutional amendment the forum will die in a very short time. If the forum recommends it then we have been wasting our time with this amendment for a very long time. I have directed a certain amount of fire at Fine Gael for their attitude to this Bill because of their decision to "cop" out on it. Let me say it is not too late for the Fine Gael Party to defeat this Bill or to put their own amendment through.
I do not feel that the Fianna Fáil Party, by their unanimity and consistency, have covered themselves with any sort of angelic glory on this issue. They have been consistent. They have been consistently hyprocritical — they have learned their lesson — but they have been consistently wrong. Fianna Fáil should take the same responsibility for this amendment. Fianna Fáil introduced this wording two days before leaving office. Fianna Fáil also yielded to the presures from SPUC, PLAC and that grouping. They lacked the moral and the political courage which Fine Gael have shown that they now lack as well.
I challenge anyone in Fianna Fáil, who will speak later, to define what they mean by republicanism. Fianna Fáil consistently claim a monopoly on this great philosophy. I believe the amendment is distinctly anti-republican. Surely republicanism is not merely about bashing the Brits, removing them from Ireland. It is not about annexation of Northern Ireland. It is not about sloganising about green fields. I want to hear from Fianna Fáil what they mean. Do they mean a liberal, tolerant, pluralist society or do they mean something else? It is time they realised the difference between the Catholic nationalism of O'Connell and the republicanism of Tone and Davis, whose names are bandied about in this Chamber so often with ritual reverence.
I want to know if they want a united Ireland in a pluralist, liberal, tolerant society and how they can reconcile that with support for this amendment which I regard as sectarian and denominational. I believe that the republican credentials of the "Soldiers of Destiny" are tainted by this amendment. The lack of conviction of the Fianna Fáil Party in this amendment is very evident in some of the speeches I have heard from them and in the brevity and almost contempt which the Leader of Fianna Fáil displayed in his opening speech for this amendment. The attitude was quite obviously that they wanted as much as everybody else to get rid of it, to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible because it was an embarrassment. They have landed us in this mess and they can take us out of it. They cannot sweep it under the carpet.
I will not deal with the medical problems. They have been dealt with very adequately by several of the other Senators. I wonder — I have not heard it at all adequately answered — why an amendment of this sort is necessary at all. Has Ireland got a growing abortion problem? Has it got a big backstreet abortion problem? Is there a danger of abortion becoming widespread in the streets of Dublin, Cork and Galway? The answer is yes and no. The answer is certainly abortions are not going on and, if they are, it is a negligible number. Yes it is a great problem in that so many people from this country leave by the back door for England.
Everybody knows this. We accept it and yet we go through this charade of debating a constitutional amendment when we know perfectly well we cannot stop up to 10,000 girls going to Liverpool, Manchester, London or wherever they go to have abortions every year. That is a piece of appalling, political hypocrisy. This will continue and will probably accelerate. This amendment will not stop one single abortion. Indeed, the effect of it may well be to increase the number of abortions performed on girls going to England because it may well outlaw some contraceptives and fill the boats fuller with young girls because they suffer from unwanted pregnancies as a result.
If the people in SPUC, PLAC and any of those other organisations cared one iota about this problem they would examine the social causes of unwanted pregnancies and the pressures which are brought to bear on girls who are seeking abortions. Why are they driven to abortions? One of the reasons is the stigma of illegitimacy, another is the stigma on the mother and the fact that the social welfare benefits as they are distributed at the moment mean that the mother and child are expected to live on approximately £42.60 a week. Another is the difficulty of the mother getting a job and of finding a place to live and coping with loneliness and poverty.
I should like to concentrate in my speech on asking Fine Gael to think again, to end this hypocrisy, to stand up and be counted against this wording which is rightly being described by members of their own party as dangerous and defective, to send this back to the Dáil and to exercise fully the constitutional powers of the Seanad.
I am very glad of the opportunity to speak on this amendment, and to deal with a number of points made in recent months on this issue. I am seriously in doubt about the need for a referendum to protect the life of the unborn, given the background in which this debate is being carried on both in the Oireachtas and outside. The principal proponents in this issue, SPUC, took advantage of the minority Government position between July 1981 and very recently and were not satisfied with the recent Fine Gael amendment which covered their original objective of seeking protection from the Supreme Court from the introduction of abortion into this country.
I do not agree with Senator Shane Ross that there is any particular precedent to be got out of the recent amendment to deal with abortion — The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution Bill which we are discussing here this evening. The position of Governments in this country over the last 18 months has been very special and very different from the prospects in the next four years as regards the degree of pressure to which lobbies and groups outside this House can influence parties in Government on issues of social importance such as proposals to deal with illegitimacy, divorce and to deal with the question of consenting adults and homosexuality. These are areas that will come up in due time. Governments and parties that are bound into government will be prepared to listen to interested views and contributions from outside but will not be dictated to and will not be put into the same straitjacket because of the sensitivity of this issue and because of the fact that in recent times Governments have been in minority positions.
One of the aims of those involved in SPUC and the other organisations who have been promoting this issue seems to have been the creating of a new awareness on the threat posed by abortion while making an international public relations coup as to the attitudes in Ireland today. What they forget is the effect their proposal is having on reconciliation with Northern Ireland and the degree to which their efforts have only increased tension in that tragic part of the island.
Senator Rogers spoke in relation to the position in Northern Ireland and her contribution was very sensitive and real. We have a serious duty to consider her comments not just in relation to the debate we are having today but also to how we deal with this issue from now on.
I am in sympathy with the Labour Party amendment which faces this House today. Nonetheless, I am sure that Labour Party Senators will understand that commitments were made in a series of election campaigns by my party and if the constitutional experts amongst them — a number of whom have contributed to this debate here in the Seanad — had more concern in ensuring that a far reaching and enduring amendment was put to the people, then we might have had a little more support at an earlier stage of this debate in the other House. The Labour Party TDs in the Dáil did not rise to the occasion as might have expected from them on that debate.
The opinion poll released at the weekend where 60 per cent of the electorate were opposed to the holding of a referendum at all, given the many major questions facing this country economically and socially, gives some indication of public feeling. I have never known a time before, politically, when there was such an outcry from the people to have this matter disposed of. Fine Gael is the only party which have attempted to deal with this matter honourably, given the many major, legal and medical implications of the Fianna Fáil amendment. I should be said that for many hours — on one occasion for eitht hours — the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party discussed this issue to tease out the difficulties facing us not just as a party, but facing the nation in relation to this amendment. We voted by a majority to bring into the other House a form of amendment on which we were backed by the views of the Attorney General and also by the Director of Public Prosecutions who gave his very clear reservations on the other amendment which is before this House. What irritates me most about all this — I am talking of SPUC and the other people who have been promoting this cause in the last 18 months — is the fact that they have not highlighted the difficulties of the 4,000 to 5,000 women leaving this country annually to have abortions in Britain, and the lack of support given to their plight. This is a more immediate human tragedy than any need to amend the Constitution when the existing 1861 Act has proved adequate both medically and legally.
I have a deep and unambiguous dislike for the Fianna Fáil proposal which is being perceived by the minority Churches as an attempt to incorporate into the Constitution a provision which is particularly associated with the views of the majority Church. I am a member of the majority Church and I hope a Christian. A number of my forebears have been members of the Church of Ireland and it would seem essential in a measure of this kind to reach as wide a consensus as possible and to allow — which in effect the Fine Gael Party have done — diverging views to be expressed and acted upon. None of this was possible because of the autocratic nature of the Opposition and the political opportunism that has been widely experienced under their present leadership. The Fianna Fáil wording, as this House is well aware, has been found to be ambiguous and unclear and will inevitably lead to confusion, particularly for doctors treating an expectant mother. It constituted a deliberate attempt to fudge difficult and potentially divisive measures in a way which poses a potential threat to the health, particularly of expectant mothers. It is not possible to totally prohibit abortion, no more than it is possible to totally prohibit any form of killing. Because of the fear of being considered pro-abortion, there has been an excessive clamouring to state a total opposition to abortion under all circumstances. There seems to be a failure to recognise that there are circumstances where our law and current practice accept abortion, where deliberately induced abortion as not been merely permissible but required. At present there are circumstances where abortion is permissible and somebody must be charged with responsibility to regulate it. This power must be left either with the courts or the Legislature. Every Member of this House appreciates that point but they are not dealing with this matter as we are facing it today.
The issue as to when life begins has worried and divided medical, religious and legal opinion as well as the citizens. There is a risk that the Supreme Court might define the commencement as being from the existence of a viable foetus or, the most likely interpretation, from the moment of fertilisation. This could mean the outlawing of the IUD and certain oral contraceptives, causing unnecessary hardship to many women. There is a problem also that a doctor could not operate on an expectant mother in the case of cancer of the uterus or ectopic pregnancy. These operations are at present permitted by both Churches and are also medically permissible. The answers given by the Fianna Fáil spokenman in the other House have been intemperate and negative. He has not faced this issue. I attended the other House and was singularly unimpressed. The essential objective of the Government in finding a suitable form of words was to protect the existing and future law against the danger of being found unconstitutional. This is the centre of the whole issue. It was also at the beginning of primary importance in a pluralist society not to give any substantial offence to the members of any Church. The pro-life movement from the beginning has as a raison d'étre the possibility of a judicial interpretation resulting in the present or future law being invalidated and thus allowing abortion to be introduced into this country.
As most Members of this House already know, having studied and got themsleves briefed for this debate, the essence of the Fine Gael amendment was to ensure that the amendment we proposed to the other House would satisfy the various points I have been making, that it would first of all be quite clear so as not to have the existing law the 1861 Act, declared unconstitutional, or any law enacted which would replace it. We wanted that law safeguarded to ensure that the protection of the mother in the maternity hospital and in the home would be clearly understood and looked after. We felt also that the amendment which sought to give the Supreme Court the backing it required would also deal with this difficulty.
I cannot understand, and I belong to the youngest parliamentary party in this State, how legislation that would introduce abortion into this country is likely to happen in our lifetime. People say we have had the Tony Gregory deal and that next time round it could be a deal in relation to abortion. When Teachtaí Dála and Seanadóirí speak to their constituents they know there is no demand for abortion. This debate is not about abortion. It is about an attempt to introduce into the Constitution something that has been seen in the form of words chosen to be sectarian, unhelpful and so much in conflict with the 1861 Act that that Act may be declared unconstitutional. The aim of the Fine Gael amendment is to ensure that that does not happen. But to suggest, as people have suggested, that in some way the Houses of the Oireachtas, in the foreseeable future will do a complete somersault, given the attitudes of the Irish people and given that there is virtually complete consensus in this House and in the other House in relation to the introduction of abortion, is far from the truth, far from reality and very unsound. If a law could be enacted in the foreseeable future to allow abortion into this country, then the whole Constitution is up for grabs. Then the people really would be dictating not just the introduction of abortion but a new Constitution. It is impossible to legislate for the lives of five and ten generations hence. We can only ensure that the law and the Constitution protect our lives, the value of life, and that we do not attempt to upset the existing position and, very likely make, as has been made very clear by legal experts outside, the existing law unconstitutional and create difficulties in the treatment of expectant mothers. That is the danger. That is why the amendment proposed by Fianna Fáil is so repellent. I spent a long time preparing my text for today. I hope my speech will speed up the passing of the resolution in order to allow the people to make their decision. I have faith in their perception.
I want to take issue with a few points raised by Senator FitzGerald. One of them is in regard to the agreement of his party concerning the amendment which was proposed by the Government. We all saw in the other House how badly his party is divided. But what really annoyed me in that issue is that the leader of his party last November gave a commitment to the pro-life people that he was in favour of the pro-life amendment as proposed by the previous Fianna Fáil Government. I was one of the people who during that campaign was scurrilously attacked by certain members of the Fine Gael Party for being a conservative when I said that if the Fine Gael Government were elected there was no way we would see the pro-life amendment introduced by 31 March which was guaranteed by all parties. My greatest fears have been borne out by the passing of time.
Senators no doubt are well aware of the background to this proposed amendment. This amendment which is proposed to safeguard the right of the unborn under the Constitution is something that we all should be happy with, so that the Supreme Court should not decide what the issues will be. In the recent past we have had enough issues resurrected by some of the people who were mentioned by Senator FitzGerald. The DPP yesterday had his nose rubbed in the dirt by Justice Finlay when he brought in two issues which had been raised since the change of Government. In those two issues he put unnecessary cost on the State. I believe his position as DPP is open to question.
Is it in order for an officer of the State to be attacked in the discharge of his duty?
It is certainly not in order.
This amendment is necessary to safeguard the rights of the unborn. The proposed changes that were offered by the Taoiseach as an alternative to the original Fianna Fáil wording were an attempt to leave this amendment hanging in the balance. Senator FitzGerald mentioned deals and counter deals in politics. I hope that abortion would never at any stage be part of any deal made by any politician or by any political party. We know there are certain individuals who may not be in favour of the proposed amendment, but at least the electorate will have the right to make the decision themselves and no doubt they will make that decision. I also believe that they will make the decision in favour of the introduction of the pro-life amendment as proposed in the other House and as passed by the Dáil.
It has been mentioned that the minority churches in this country are opposed to it but they believe in the right of the unborn to life. A letter to the Church of Ireland Gazette of 29 April 1983 from the Rev. Cecil Carr finishes by saying: “still the sacredness of life is in the Christian eyes an absolute which should not be violated” and no doubt he speaks for a considerable number of people in his own Church. We have all had various for and against literature from the various organisations, from the pro-life amendment people and also from the anti-amendment campaign. The anti-amendment people have tried to create a certain amount of scaremongering and fear in the mothers of this country. Their time might have been better spent had they been making an effort to deal with some of the social problems that this country has today.
Their record is better than that of the so-called pro-life lobby.
I did not interrupt Senator Higgins last week in his marathon contribution and I have no intention of making as long a contribution here today. I have no doubt that Senator Higgins in his wisdom is entitled to his own opinion as is his party.
I am also entitled to my reputation and I intend to defend it and so is the DPP even though he is not here to defend his.
The anti-amendment campaign bases its opposition to the amendment on the following points. The proposed amendment to the Constitution would do nothing to solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies in Ireland. It would not change the social problem of inadequate education and contraceptive facilities. Neither would it improve the abysmally low level of practical support for Irish women and their children. Once again, women traditionally the most vulnerable section of our community, are singled out for attack. The vulnerability of women and their problems are being used in this case and I hope that when this amendment is over and when the decision of the electorate is made we will not have the problem arising again. I hope the attitude taken by the electorate and by the elected representatives of all parties will set the guideline for other States throughout the world. I believe that there is a tremendous amount of outside interest in what is being done in Ireland today. I hope that we would not be forced at a later stage by some outside interests to change the decision that will be made because we are all quite well aware that there was the intention of preparing a test case on this subject for the Supreme Court.
We as legislators have a duty to state our position on this matter. I have no hesitation in stating mine. I can say without fear of contradiction that I am not supporting the pro-life amendment for the sake of popularity or for the sake of bending the knee to the pro-life people. I believe that this is a matter of conscience for everybody as has been stated by a number of people in the other House. I believe that abortion should not be allowed to raise its head in this country. The right to life of the unborn is something that only the legislators can protect and we have that duty to protect it. I hope that when the vote is taken on this matter the majority of this House will see fit to support the proposed wording as introduced into the House. I hope that when it is all over that people will not go out on public platforms and accuse others of supporting or not supporting it because when the referendum is finished it should be allowed to rest. I wish to express my fullest support for the amendment. I hope that it will receive a speedy passage through this House and that it will be put to the electorate as soon as possible.
What an extraordinary country this is. Here we have probably a collection of the weirdest groups ever to assemble in this country from Mná na hÉireann to SPUC and PLAC. In one fell swoop they have not just kidnapped the Oireachtas; they have kidnapped the bishops as well. For many years the party manifestoes of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, did not feel it necessary to raise the flag of the unborn. In 1977 it was not in the Fianna Fáil manifesto and it did not raise its head until the situation in this House became so dodgy that it was necessary to pull in every vote. We had competition as to who was going to be the better Catholic and to hell with the Protestants because when it comes down to numbers they really do not matter because there are not many of them around. At the end of the day this whole debate is about who is the better Catholic. The bishops could have solved this problem for us. I had a problem today as to whether I should stay here and try to make a speech about this or whether I should go down and plead my case in Maynooth which is perhaps the seat of the real power on this occasion because the bishops knew well that this would divide the country and they had a way out. If we funk it here, as we have funked it in the other House, the bishops have also funked the issue because they could have quite easily told the weird organisations they got involved with that it was a matter proper to an all-party committee. They did not do this because, like the politicians, they tried to decide what direction the mob were going to take and they decided to follow them. In that sense we have all abdicated our responsibility, both the politicians and the priests to a certain extent. There are many messages passed between the Dáil and the Seanad and one of the official messages that came up here which I reject is that we should be tame; we should be good; we should rubber stamp the whole business and move on. The Labour Party have no intention whatsoever of being either cannon fodder for one side or the other or being a rubber stamp for any point of view.
The Seanad has a unique opportunity in so far as it has the power and Fine Gael, Labour and all the Independents who have so far indicated that they support the Labour Party resolution have the capacity to send this Bill back to the other House where then it should be a matter for an all-party committee. Senator Tras Honan said you cannot be anti-amendment and pro-life and yet Senator Honan finds it quite possible to be prohanging and pro-life and I have a problem with that. Not too long ago in this House we discussed the possibility of keeping some of the born alive when we spoke about the abolition of capital punishment and on that occasion many Members of this House and the other House decided that we needed to have that provision on our Statute Book. Therefore we arrive at an uniquely Irish situation; we will protect you up to the age of 18 and then if we have to, we will hang you. Deputy Charlie Haughey said, introducing the Bill on contraception that it was an Irish solution to an Irish problem. So we will protect you come hell or high water until you are 18 and then if you get into trouble and are convicted of committing murder we take your life under certain circumstances. It is a very strange country.
The reason I did not mention my own views on abortion is that there was a time in this country not so long ago when if you wanted to pontificate about the North of Ireland you first of all had to raise your right hand and declare you were against violence. I am not going to state my position on abortion because that is my business. This amendment is divisive, unnecessary and sectarian. As a Catholic I am sad to say that Dean Griffin spoke for me because there was nobody else. I wrote to him along those lines. The type of campaign waged around the country is going to be vicious, is going to be full of the big lie technique and it is going to be reminiscent of the Jew hunt in Germany because they are going to seek us out and make sure that our views are made known to the electorate. They tried that during the election and they will try it again.
When the Bill was going through the other House the public gallery was packed to capacity, more so than on budget day, and they were busily taking notes of the people in the "Against" lobby because I was up there observing them. It is a frightening situation. As far as I am concerned they can crawl into the backwoods from which they came because at least some part of this Oireachtas are prepared to say we are not going to put our names to a spurious, unnecessary amendment which ignores the opinions of minority churches. As I said earlier, it is not just a Bill; it is a hijacking. I sincerely hope that this House takes upon itself the task of sending it back from whence it came and ensuring therefore that not alone will we avoid the type of sectarian debate which has now emerged and which will emerge throughout the campaign but it will properly become, as we have suggested in the past, a matter for an all-party committee.
The Labour Party in their amendment seek to correct the confusion of the other House. As we all know, the real truth is not spoken here. The truth is spoken in the bars and restaurants of this House where many Members who stand up here and say things to the contrary, express belief that we have been hijacked by this rather weird grouping of people. I am glad to note that the Independent Senators and, very significantly, those Senators of the minority State are supporting the Labour Party amendment. I would even at this late stage appeal to our colleagues in Fine Gael to take the opportunity that we now give them with this amendment and send this pottage back to the other House.
I support this Bill. It is desirable that the protection which the Constitution affords to the citizen as far as the right to life is concerned should be extended to the unborn. This amendment is necessary in order to safeguard against the introduction of legalised abortion on demand into this country. It is regrettable that this proposal has generated so much controversy and has given rise to so much confusion when throughout the world the right to life of the unborn is under attack from an international campaign promoting abortion. This international movement to have abortion legalised has succeeded in other countries and it could also succeed here. No one should fail to recognise the worldwide dimension of the abortion movement or the strength of its organisation. No country should consider itself immune from the influence or ambitions of the abortion lobby. Nobody should underestimate the determination or the subtlety of those who promote the abortionist cause. Never were the words of Edmund Burke more appropriate than they are now: "For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing". Now is the time to act and the only sure safeguard against the possibility of abortion on demand being introduced here is to have the right to life of the unborn enshrined in our Constitution. At present the Constitution does not contain any specific protection for the unborn child. In fact, it does not mention the unborn at all. Therefore, the only protection which the unborn child has is the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. This Act contains a direct prohibition on attempts to procure abortion. This protection might have been adequate in the past, but we must remember that the very same law was not sufficient to prevent the introduction of abortion into England where the 1967 Abortion Act brought about a complete change in the law relating to abortion and, in effect, introduced abortion on demand into that country.
There are two ways in which the existing law could be changed. The first would be to repeal the relevant section of the 1861 Act or to pass legislation which would alter the scope and effect of these sections. Such legislation would, of course, have to be enacted by the Oireachtas, and I agree that it can be validly argued that this is not a likely prospect at present, but one can never say what the future holds. We should not forget that 20 years ago the word "abortion" was propably not known to the majority of the Irish people and very few of them would have known exactly what it meant. Today even very young children can explain what abortion is. The second and more likely way in which the existing abortion law could be changed in this country would be if sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act were successfully challenged in the courts as being unconstitutional. It is always possible that these sections could be found to be unconstitutional because the Constitution as it now stands does not specifically provide for the rights of the unborn. If this were to happen abortion would be legalised overnight in Ireland without the Dáil, the Seanad or the Irish people having any say in the matter.
This is what happened in America in 1973 and the result was abortion on demand in that country. In America in 1973 the Supreme Court decided that a mother had the right to procure an abortion at any time of pregnancy by reason of the right of privacy of her own body. At that time it was estimated that approximately 12 per cent of the population of the United States favoured abortion but they had it on their doorstep one morning without even wanting it. The same thing could happen here.
The proposed amendment when it is passed — and I know that it will be passed — will not alter the law as it stands under the 1861 Act but will strengthen it and it will ensure that what happened in the United States will not happen here. I am also satisfied that the amendment, when passed, will not interfere with accepted medical treatment nor will it, as has been suggested, affect the legality of existing well-established medical practices and procedures. I am satisfied with the statement issued by the university professors of obstetrics and gynaecology who said:
"We have found the original wording proposed for the amendment to be entirely satisfactory. We believe that this wording would present us with no difficulty in the proper discharge of our professional responsibilities." I believe that that statement is sufficient reassurance that there will be no interference with the legality of established medical practices and procedures.
The wording contained in the Bill is a positive declaration on the part of the State in respect of the right to life of the unborn while at the same time recognising the position of the mother and her right to life.
Furthermore, this amendment, when passed, will ensure that abortion on demand cannot be introduced in this country without consultation with the people by way of referendum. This is the only effective way of safeguarding against the introduction of abortion on demand here. I am satisfied that the vast majority of the Irish people want this safeguard written into our Constitution. When they are given the opportunity I have no doubt they will indicate their support for this amendment in a positive manner and that the amendment will become part of our Constitution. There is, of course, also the possibility that pressure for change in our laws could come as a result of a pro-abortion decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The proposed amendment would safeguard against that situation.
The anti-amendment campaign is being spearheaded by a number of different groups. There are those who want abortion on demand, those who have a vested interest in having abortion legalised in this country. Abortion is big business elsewhere. A great deal of money is involved. It is no secret that abortion referral agencies exist at present in this country and that they are profiting handsomely from their activities. I hope that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Dukes, will be investigating the tax position of these agencies in line with his statement that profits from illegal activities will be liable to tax in the future.
I regard this pro-abortion lobby in this country as part of the international abortion movement. Some people want limited abortion introduced. They argue that abortion should be permitted and available in certain exceptional circumstances which have been detailed in the reams of anti-amendment literature in circulation. There is no doubt that if the principle of limited abortion was accepted it would inevitably lead to abortion on demand, as happened in other countries. Some claim to be totally anti-abortion but they are also anti-amendment. Some argue that the amendment is unnecessary and that the protection afforded by the 1861 Act is entirely adequate. I have outlined in sufficient detail why I disagree with this contention. Others argue that the amendment will do nothing to deal with the problem of Irish women leaving the country to have abortions elsewhere. I agree that it will not do so, but that is not the purpose of the amendment. That problem must be tackled in another way and I believe that it will be solved only when we become a truly caring community.
It has also been argued that the proposed referendum is a waste of money. The cost has been placed at something less than £1 million. Apart from appearing to put a monetary value on human life I do not think that this argument would stand up. The £1 million or whatever figure is involved will go mainly to polling stations, personnel, printers and people like that. All it means is that that amount of money is being put into circulation and eventually it will find its way back into the State's coffers anyway. It is not a matter of £1 million leaving the country.
Others argue against the proposed form of words. I certainly cannot accept the argument that legal and medical difficulties make it impossible to draft a suitable, positive pro-life amendment. I believe that the wording which has been drafted is very suitable in that it recognises the basic right to life at all stages of development and it will stop abortion being legalised here. It will not deprive any woman of any necessary medical treatment during pregnancy.
The Irish Medical Association stated that the wording of the anti-abortion constitutional amendment does not conflict with medical ethics. Generally speaking, I regard the wording that has been drafted as very satisfactory. Of course, we must remember that no form of words would satisfy those who do not want an amendment in any circumstances.
It has been argued that the amendment is sectarian. I cannot accept this argument. I cannot accept that this issue is either relfigious or sectarian. The God-given right to life of the unborn is a natural right and it has long been recognised as such. The right to life and the right to be born are the most basic of all human rights and society must stand firm against those who would question these rights.
The proposed amendment is in my view a balanced attempt to safeguard a life-and-death issue. Its purpose is no more or no less than to protect the most vulnerable and defenceless person in our society — the unborn child.
Some time ago Senator Ross made the suggestion that some Senators have been guilty of contempt towards the Seanad in so far as they made brief speeches in regard to this. I hope that towards the end of the third day of the discussion of Second Stage of this Bill I will not be held contemptuous of the Seanad if I speak briefly. Sitting at the debate here throughout today one has very much the sense of a merry-go-round. The same arguments appear, disappear and appear again in the course of the debate.
It has been suggested — not within this House but from outside — that once Dáil Éireann has made its decision Seanad Éireann should not obstruct the wishes of the Dáil on a constitutional matter. I must say straight away that this is rubbish and has no foundation whatsoever in the Constitution, in law or in the conventional practices of our Oireachtas. As has already been mentioned, in 1959 the Opposition of the day in the Seanad decided to delay the Bill to abolish proportional representation. It is interesting that they did a thorough job of it. They deliberately did not beat it on Second Stage. They allowed it to go through Second Stage so that they could have a go at it at every Stage in the House and then it was finally defeated on one vote. In the referendum the people voted in the same way as the Seanad had done and in the opposite direction to what had been done by what is often referred to as the popular House. Therefore, let us be quite clear that Seanad Éireann has a clear duty to consider carefully any Bill that comes before it. Whether it is a Money Bill in which the House's powers are limited, or a constitutional amendment which can be introduced only in the Dáil, it is our duty to consider carefully and to act responsibly.
We must ask ourselves here in this House, "What is the real effect of voting for the Labour Party amendment on Second Stage, or perhaps waiting and voting for Senator Ross's amendment on Committee Stage?" If the Bill is defeated in the Seanad or amended in the Seanad there are two possible effects. It does give a chance to the Dáil to reconsider the position; it does give the opportunity to the Dáil to change its mind. The other effect of such a vote is to delay the holding of the referendum itself. These are the two points that must be considered by us. If we send it back to the Dáil, is there a reasonable chance, or even a remote chance, that the Dáil will change its mind and, secondly, if we send it back to the Dáil — Second Stage — the 90 days elapse and the referendum is delayed, is this in the public interest? Would the Dáil change its mind?
The critical vote in the passage of this Bill through Dáil Éireann was on the Fine Gael amendment. That amendment was defeated by 22 votes. Does anyone in this House really believe that that decision could be reversed? We have had pleas, eloquent pleas, from the Labour Party in Seanad Éireann that the members of the Fine Gael group should defeat this Bill on Second Stage and send it back to the Dáil. What would the Labour Party in the Dáil do on that occasion? Let us look at that 22 majority against the best hope of defeating these unsatisfactory words. Sixty members of Fine Gael voted for the amendment that would have protected against the back door decision. Eight Fine Gael members abstained. Five Labour Party members voted for this so-called negative amendment and nine members of the Labour Party voted against it. Ninety per cent of Fine Gael voted for the best chance of defeating the present unsatisfactory wording. One-third of the Labour Party voted for it. Those nine members did not just abstain — they voted against. The value of 18 out of that margin of 22, was caused in Dáil Éireann by the Labour Party. What do we say now in Seanad Éireann? Do we think that those nine members would now vote for the Fine Gael or some other amendment that some Fine Gael members who abstained could be persuaded to vote for? I do not think this is realistic. If in fact we vote against the Second Stage of this Bill we do not stop that text going before the people.
But we influence it as we did with PR.
I will be coming to that point. We will not change. Therefore; what we are concerned with in this House is when should the referendum take place? Is it better that it should take place in June or in August? If we want to do more than merely feel good about expressing our deeply felt opinions then we must address that as the central issue. Senator McGuinness said earlier that she thought a good deal of the motivation behind support for this idea of a referendum at all was the idea of feeling good, of saying that we had done something even though we had not. I would suggest that the Members of Seanad Éireann should not fall into that trap. It is easy for us, very easy for the Fine Gael group in the Seanad, to go into the lobby later this evening or tomorrow and to send this back to the Dáil, but we realise that by doing so we alter not one word in that Bill; in effect we alter the timing of the referendum.
What about the principle?
We are faced here with a proposed referendum which is going to be held no matter what we do and we must look at the public interest. It may well be and it can be argued that in this case delay is in fact in the public interest. That is the substantial point that I want to address for the remainder of my few brief remarks.
Senator Robb talked about this issue as one that should never have arisen. It is one that has given rise to so much publicity in the media and so much devotion of Government time, wasted time, wasted media time, wasted Government time. Are we to prolong that process, because that is all it will do? All the appeals to Fine Gael to vote in this House have the effect only of prolonging the debate. Is there any real hope of an improvement in the level of debate? There has been a good deal of criticism from these benches about the type of campaign that has been waged. Do we think that it is in the public interest to continue the spectacle which we have had for three months past?
Senator Michael D. Higgins suggested that Senators should speak out and give their views. Members of the Fine Gael group have spoken and have given their views on the present wording. The Fine Gael Parliamentary Party have given their views clearly on the present wording. The Fine Gael Party after considerable debate voted by six to one against the present wording. That is the opinion of the Fine Gael Party on whether this present wording is adequate. Let there be no doubt about this.
Senator John Robb appealed to the Fine Gael group in this House on the basis of the divisive effects of this debate. How would our vote cure that? How would we cure it if we decide that this debate that has been divisive should go on longer? Surely that would only have the effect of deepending these divisions.
It was suggested by Senator Robinson that Fine Gael were putting party before country by not agreeing to this prolongation of the debate. If Fine Gael wanted to put party before country they could very easily have done so. Do not have any doubts that the temptation was there. Of course it was. Any political realist would know that the temptation was there as soon as this trouble started. We could so easily have put party before country and gone along with the original wording. If the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael Ministers had wanted to put the party before the country they need never have brought the Attorney General's opinion to the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party. They need never have revealed his doubts. The Parliamentary Party, had they wanted to follow the strict line of political advantage, would not have voted six to one against the Fianna Fáil wording. The way of putting party above country for Fine Gael was to avoid all the criticism, all the accusations which have been made against them by letting that go through.
The Fine Gael group in the Seanad considered this question after its passage through the Dáil. The decision to abstain in this House was taken by the Fine Gael group after discussion and by a vote of that group. The Fine Gael Party in Seanad Éireann find the present wording deficient in many respects. There is no need for me to detail these; they have been referred to again and again. Hence, the Fine Gael Senators will not vote for it as a group.
The Fine Gael group in the Seanad do not believe that another three months of confused public debate is in the public interest and so will not vote for a delay by opposing this Bill. We believe that the decision of Dáil Éireann was wrong but we are powerless to affect that. For these reasons the Fine Gael group in the Seanad have come to the decision that it is pointless for us to vote here as if the only thing concerned was the merits of this wording. We have individually given our views rejecting that wording in the course of the debate. The next question is not whether those words are right but whether those words will be voted on in June or in August. We see no point in delay. We hope that they will be voted on early and that they will be defeated.
I want to put on record that I am in total agreement with the wording of this amendment which is:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
I want also to put on record that I have a total sympathy with the difficult role a woman is destined to play in a human relationship.
I have listened with great attention and interest to all the previous contributions to this debate. I am one of those who have remained in the House all the time. While I would never question the sincerity of those who have articulated strong contrary views, I must confess that I am unmoved by their arguments and unconvinced by the logic of their reasoning.
It has been claimed that there is no need for this amendment at present. That is a supposition to which I do not have to address myself since the simple fact is that the Bill is before us now and must be dealt with at this stage in a positive way. I concur with Senator Eoin Ryan's view that he never accepted the argument that something should not be done because there was something else more important. We could end up wasting time without ever reaching agreement on priorities. Let us do everything that has to be done, in so far as is possible and, above all, let us do what is right.
I cannot comprehend by what inverted reasoning Senator Higgins has ascribed to the pro-life campaign an uncaring attitude. He also referred to sanctimonious poses, describing them, according to my notes, as evil. These are very strong words and terms. In making my contribution, in agreement with Senator Higgins that as many of us as possible should express an opinion on this amendment, I feel it is necessary to start from a base line, in case anyone might get the notion that I speak from a pedestal, or that I am merely registering a vote without any kind of intellectual assessment or honest consideration.
I cannot categorically state that I have come from the most deprived background of any Member of this House but, in charity, I must hope that this is so. Reared in poverty and deprivation, in sickness through the ravishment of destitution, socially unwanted, belittled and despised, I can recall as a very young boy the death of my baby sister through want, hunger and cold. I recall her body being carried in a small timber cigarette box for a coffin under my father's arm to the graveyard through fields of lush grass, where wealthy farmers grazed their fatted cattle, leaving behind the pathetic sight and cries of a broken-hearted mother. The memory through all the years has made it easy for me to identify with the feelings of one of our greatest patriots, Padraig Pearse, and sigh with sadness "Lord, thou art hard on mothers."
That is one datum mark. The other is the religious one. If I profess to be a Roman Catholic, it is with the clear knowledge that I am no adornment for any religion, with serious faults and blemishes, a judge of no one, and conscious of the pitfalls of temptation and concupiscence. Against this background, and because of this background, I hope I am right in believing that the qualities of compassion, sympathy, understanding, forgiveness, humility and acceptance come as easily to me as they do to any other Member of this House. I am impressed with the passion of Senator Higgins with regard to social injustice, and perhaps it is only a lack of charity in me that prompts me to ask: what would he do had he the motive and the cue for passion that I have? I believe he would drown the Seanad with tears. I simply mention these matters to establish the position from which I start.
In an article entitled "The Pro-Life Amendment", prior to the Dáil debate, Deputy Michael Woods, Fianna Fáil spokesman on Justice, dealt with the historical aspect of the movement. He stated:
The first signs that abortion on demand, or at least an extension beyond the present legal position, would become an issue in Ireland were seen in the establishment of the "Right to Choose" pressure group in 1980. Such groups with international financial and public relations support have been the successful precursors of pro-abortion lobbies in other countries.
Soon after this the Pro-Life Movement was established, not only to counteract the subtle activities of the pro-abortion lobby, but with the explicit objective of enshrining the right to life of the unborn in the Constitution. Having seen what had happened in America, in England and in other European countries, they were anxious that the right to life which we presently accord to the unborn in practice and in our legislation would not be removed without the express consent of a majority of the people in a referendum. As a basic social value of our Society they felt that it should be decided by the people.
The record shows that the Pro-Life Movement did not start "a fuss" about an issue which was unlikely to arise. They did step in to defend the unborn and the social values which we as a country hold, from being skillfully attacked and undermined by a sophisticated and influential pro-abortion lobby.
Dr. FitzGerald, as leader of Fine Gael, was first to give a commitment in principle to a Pro-Life Amendment in May 1981, on behalf of his Party. Some weeks later Mr. Haughey gave a similar Commitment on behalf of Fianna Fáil. Consequently, the Amendment was not an issue in the Election of June, 1981, following which the Coalition with Dr. FitzGerald as Taoiseach took office. No progress was made during the life of that Government. It was succeeded by Fianna Fáil in March, 1982, and by October the words of a positive Pro-Life Amendment had been worked out. This proposed pro-life amendment was introduced by Fianna Fáil in Dáil Éireann on November 2nd 1982, and was subsequently warmly welcomed by most interested parties including Dr. FitzGerald. On 3rd November the Fine Gael Press Office issued the following statement—"The Fine Gael Party welcomes the form of the Amendment to the Constitution proposed by the Government. The amendment as proposed is worded in positive terms, designed to strengthen the constitutional protection of life, as proposed by the leader of Fine Gael in his Ard Fheis speech. At its meeting to-day the Fine Gael Party decided to support the Amendment and in Government to initiate legislation with a view to a referendum to be held by the end of March next" (1983).
To emphasise his clear and unequivocal commitment to the amendment proposed by Fianna Fáil Dr. FitzGerald on the 6th of November wrote as follows to Dr. Vaughan, Chairman, Pro-Life Amendment Campaign—"I have pleasure in enclosing a copy of the statement which was issued as a result of a unanimous decision of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party following publication of the draft amendment. As you will see we are committed to introducing this amendment in Government and having it put to the people in a referendum before 31st March next. This referendum will not be delayed by any other consideration. This is an intergral part of our programme and will be undertaken by any Government that I may have the responsibility of leading after the next General Election”— signed Garret FitzGerald.
Dr. FitzGerald became Taoiseach in December and the first indications that he was reneging on his solemn commitment came as soon as the Dáil reassembled after Christmas. Moving the 2nd Stage of the Pro-Life Bill, Fine Gael Minister for Justice Michael Noonan said —"in approving of the principle of the Bill, which is what the House does in giving a Bill a second reading, Deputies would not as far as I am concerned be committing themselves to the particular wording now proposed or any other form of wording." This statement shocked Dáil Éireann and introduced a political difference between the two major parties and within Fine Gael. It also created widespread confusion throughout the country — a state of uncertainty which greatly pleased the anti-amendment lobby. The political conflict was assured when the Minister for Justice at the conclusion of the Second Stage debate on March 24th jettisoned the pro-life amendment, introduced a negative and limited prohibition on abortion, which reserves to the Oireachtas the right to introduce abortion, and further promoted the anti-amendment lobby.
The Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party has rejected the Coalition's proposal for a negative amendment and is committed to the pro-life amendment as proposed. We believe that the pro-life amendment has majority support in Dáil Éireann and throughout the country. The principal political problem lies in the lack of commitment and decisiveness shown by the Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael Dr. FitzGerald and resultant confusion he has caused within his own party and among sections of the electorate.
Senator Robinson has claimed that the proposed wording raised legal, medical, religious and social problems. The statement by five university professors of obstetrics and gynaecology circulated to all Members of the Oireachtas leaves me in no doubt with regard to the medical aspect. The statement is:
We have read with astonishment the statement by the Taoiseach. Dr. FitzGerald, to the effect that the original wording of the Constitutional Amendment would probably "condemn to death" women whose lives are now saved by operations which have been performed within the law for more than a century in Ireland and in the United Kingdom.
Dr. FitzGerald has also cast doubt on the legality of existing, well-established, medical practice. This cannot go unchallenged. Doctors do not act on crude assumptions about the legality of their actions. Dr. FitzGerald's assertions will be a source of much unnecessary alarm.
We have found the original wording proposed for the Amendment to be entirely satisfactory. We believe that this wording would present us with no difficulties in the proper discharge of our professional responsibilities. Signed by: Professor John Bonner, Professor Eamon de Valera, Professor David Jenkins, Professor Kieran O'Driscoll and Professor Eamon O'Dwyer.
I believe those points with regard to legal, medical, religious and social problems are fully answered in an article entitled "The Need for a Constitutional Amendment" by Mr. William Binchey, Barrister at Law, Research Councillor, The Law Commission. This is included in a book Abortion and Law published recently by Dominican Publications, Dublin. The footnote states that the paper is written in an entirely personal capacity and seeks to represent only the personal views of the author. He writes:
The debate about the forthcoming constitutional referendum is, first, a legal one: whether there is a problem with our present legal protection of the right to life of the unborn and, if so, whether an amendment to the Constitution is necessary to resolve it. But the debate also raises important questions of a broader political nature, concerning such important issues as the solution to diversity of moral viewpoints in society, the relevance of religious perspectives and their relationship to the protection of human rights. In this paper I will attempt to address these questions in turn.
The Legal Background.
The past decade has witnessed a general judicial trend throughout the world in favour of abortion and against giving legal recognition to the right to life of the unborn. In Ireland we are perhaps more familiar with the constitutional developments on these lines in the United States, but throughout much of Europe a similar trend is apparent. Moreover, international conventions for the protection of human rights and freedom increasingly are being interpreted in a manner that gives little recognition to the right of life of the unborn. A lawyer with experience and understanding of international trends would therefore approach the Irish legal position in its proper context. Our law does not operate in a complete cultural vacuum; to some extent it is influenced by developments elsewhere and, in relation to the unborn, these developments are almost uniformly unfavourable.
Turning specifically to the legal position in Ireland, let us first look briefly at the general structural background.
Our fundamental law is the Constitution, enacted in 1937. All legislation, whether enacted before or after 1937, is subject to the Constitution. If any legislative provision is not consistent with the Constitution it has no legal effect. The High Court and Supreme Court have the sole responsibility to determine whether legislation is or is not consistent with the Constitution. If the Court strikes down the legislation, then the legislation immediately ceases to have any legal effect, even in cases where it was enacted with the full approval of all members of the Oireachtas and of the electorate as a whole.
The Legal Problem.
There is a serious problem in relation to the rights of the unborn. The present legislation prohibiting abortion could be challenged at any time on the basis that it offends against the Constitution. Would such a challenge be successful? Obviously we cannot know the answer to this question with certainty until the case has been decided, but several factors give rise to concern that the challenge could well succeed. First, the Constitution gives no explicit protection to the unborn. From the standpoint of the unborn this is unquestionably a bad start. As we have seen, international experience indicates that the courts throughout the world have been slow to read protection for the unborn into constitutions and conventions when this has not been done in the exact words of the basic document. If there is no explicit protection for the unborn in the Constitution, perhaps there is some form of implicit protection? Lawyers have combed the Constitution but have not come up with impressive evidence that the unborn are adequately protected by some implicit provision in the Constitution. All that have been found are two obiter dicta by Mr. Justice Walsh. Obiter dicta are passages in a judgment not essential to the holding of the case, which bind no judge in any subsequent decision, not even the judge who delivered them. Mr. Justice Walsh is, of course, a jurist of international eminence, but he would be the first to agree that these obiter dicta cannot afford adequate protection for the unborn against constitutional attack.
There are further grounds for concern about the adequacy of the present legal protection for the right to life of the unborn. The only constitutional reference to a right to life is contained in Article 40, Section 3, as follows:
1º The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.
2º The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name and property rights of every citizen.
It is patently clear that this sole constitutional reference to a right to life refers only to “citizens”. Moreover, the Constitution specifically says that citizenship shall be determined in accordance with law. Article 9, Section 3, Subsection (2) provides that
The future acquisition and loss of Irish nationality and citizenship shall be determined in accordance with law.
The "law" is contained in Section 6 (1) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 which provides that
every person born in Ireland is an Irish citizen from birth.
Subsection (2) of the same section provides that
every person is an Irish citizen if his father or mother was an Irish citizen at the time of that person's birth or becomes and Irish citizen, under subsection (1) or would be an Irish citizen under that subsection if alive at the passing of this Act.
Since, therefore, citizenship cannot be acquired until birth, it appears to follow that:
1. The unborn are explicitly excluded from being citizens, and therefore
2. The unborn are specifically excluded from any Constitutional protection of a right to life under Article 40.
There is, however, a straw to cling to in favour of the view that non-citizens may rely on Article 40.3. In The State (Nicolaou) v An Bord Uchtála, the High Court were split on this question, and in the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Walsh stated:
The High Court judgments rested in part upon the fact that the appellant is not a citizen of Ireland. This Court expressly reserves for another and more appropriate case consideration of the effect of non-citizenship upon the interpretation of the Articles in question and also the right of a non-citizen to challenge the validity of an Act of the Oireachtas having regard to provisions of the Constitution.
That statement does not close the door finally on the argument that non-citizens may claim the protection of Article 40, but of course it falls well short of positive support or endorsement of the view that the unborn, though not citizens fall within the scope of Article 40.3.
But the dangers for the unborn are not limited to the fact that the Constitution affords them neither explicit nor clear implicit protection: a more radical threat has appeared. Our Constitution could be interpreted as conferring a broad right to abortion on demand, based on a woman's "right to privacy" in respect of procreation. Such a right, if recognised by the courts, would be a constitutionally protected "personal right". Under Article 40.3.1º of the Constitution, the state guarantees "in its laws to respect, and, so far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen". Some of these "personal rights" are spelt out in Article 40.3.2º but the question arose as to whether there might be other personal rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. The answer came in 1965, in the case of Ryan v. Attorney General, when the Supreme Court accepted for the first time that it was exclusively the function of the High Court and Supreme Court to ascertain and declare the unspecified personal rights protected by the Constitution. Thus the court, and not the legislature, is the first and final arbiter of the question.
Since Ryan's case, a wide spectrum of these unspecified personal rights has been documented by the courts. Perhaps the most significant is the right to marital privacy recognised in McGee v. Attorney General, in 1973. The Supreme Court in that case was clearly receptive to the United States Court decision of Griswold v. Connecticut, in 1965, which has also formulated a right to marital privacy. Yet within the short space of eight years, the right to marital privacy in the United States has become a right to procreative privacy entitling a woman to have what, in effect, amounts to “abortion on demand”.
This is a source of urgent concern for Irish jurisprudence, since American constitutional law has had a considerable influence on Irish judges. As Mr. Justice D'Arcy stated in a High Court decision in 1982, decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States will always be received by this Court with the greatest of respect.
No one can say with certainty how an Irish court would resolve the constitutional clash between the right to life of the unborn and the mother's right to privacy as a basis of a right to abortion. What one can say with certainty is that the present constitutional position leaves the unborn at risk. An amendment is therefore necessary to ensure that the unborn no longer be exposed to this risk. If, as a society, we are opposed to abortion on demand, then it is only prudent that we ensure that our law gives effect to this policy.
It has been argued that a right to life of the unborn is not an appropriate subject for inclusion in a Constitution. I disagree. There is no other place to declare this right.
One line of thought is that a constitution should declare very generally attitudes and aspirations of the community and place only very general limits on legislative power. But to regard the Irish Constitution in this light is to misunderstand its nature.
Whether we like it or not, our Constitution does not confine itself to general communal aspirations: on the contrary, as we have seen, it gives the courts (and not the community) the power to determine very specific and enforceable rights and obligations.
But we must remember that the community is entiled to have the last word. The community, when it passed the Constitution in the first place, gave the sole right to interpret it to the courts. The community is unquestionably entitled to give the courts guidance as to what the people think and to fill any loopholes which may appear from time to time. We did this recently in the case of adoption. It seems reasonable that we should do it in the case of life itself.
If our Constitution were of the vague type which some people mistakenly believe it to be, one could appreciate the argument that the Constitution should not include specific reference to the right to life of the unborn. But instead our Constitution is a powerful instrument. It is capable of being interpreted as conferring on citizens a right to abortion on demand: all that is necessary is one court decision.
In these circumstances, other expressions of concern for the attitudes and aspirations of the community regrettably miss the most important point and fail to understand the role of the courts in constitutional law. The abortion issue already has a constitutional dimension, whether or not the amendment becomes part of our law.
The Amendment and Pluralism.
We now come to an issue that has received considerable attention in the debate and to which several other contributors in this book have adverted. It has been argued that a constitutional amendment would offend against principles of pluralism and that it should be rejected on this account.
The issue of abortion clearly involves questions of human rights and of social policy which transcend religious considerations. Whether a person subscribes to any particular religion or to none, he or she will be required, as a member of our society, to take a position on the basic human rights questions which the abortion issue involves. The case for a constitutional amendment is based squarely on the fact that the human rights of the unborn have become vulnerable to legal attack. But, it is argued by some persons opposing the amendment, certain religious denominations do not oppose the legalisation of abortion in some instances. Would not an amendment offend the consciences of members of these denominations?
The short answer to this line of argument can perhaps be given by an example. A two-year old girl is run over by a car and severely injured. She is in urgent need of a blood transfusion. Her parents, devout Jehovah's Witnesses, refuse their permission for the blood transfusion on religious grounds. The law in all countries will intervene and save the life of the child. Who could argue that the law should instead defer to the parents' conscientious beliefs? Why should the answer be different if the little girl had not yet been born, but was nonetheless in need of a blood transfusion? What principle would allow a pluralist solution in the latter, but not in the former, case?
Let us examine the pluralist thesis on abortion a little more closely. It does not seek to argue that particular attitudes towards abortion now held in various denominations are right or wrong: indeed its entire thrust is that the law should not select between differing views.
As it happens, the Protestant denominations, so far as they favour grounds for abortion, express themselves in moderate terms. For example, Mr. McDowell, Joint Convenor of the Presbyterian Church's Government Committee, has emphasised that that Church does not want easy abortion: "in fact we hardly want the possibility of abortion at all". It is reasonable to assume that not all Irish Protestants would favour such a restrictive approach. Freedom of individual conscience on moral issues is at the heart of Protestant thinking. The range of opinion on abortion is therefore likely to be fairly extensive. In countries where abortion has already been legalised, some Protestant denominations support very liberal abortion laws (although it should also be noted that other Protestant denominations are very strongly opposed to abortion and their members are playing a leading role in the pro-life organisations).
From the pluralist standpoint, what is significant about this wide spectrum of denominational attitudes towards abortion is that it extends as far as support for laws permitting abortion on demand. A pluralist approach to abortion must therefore accommodate attitudes more liberal towards abortion than have so far been expressed by various denominational spokesmen. We are entitled, therefore, to ask of those who articulate a pluralist position to be honest and frank in admitting that pluralism has some rather startling implications for abortion law. If pluralism requires that we permit abortion where the unborn child suffers from "gross abnormality", as some members of the Presbyterian Church propose, pluralism equally requires that we permit abortion where a child suffers from a less serious handicap, or none at all. Since pluralism, in its true meaning, must allow for abortion on any ground which a person may happen conscientiously to support, it must openly admit that it extends to abortion on demand.
The logical pluralist solution to diversity of views on abortion is to legalise abortion on the basis that those who consider abortion to be right are free to have an abortion, while those who consider it wrong are free not to do so. If we apply this argument to another moral context we can perhaps see its structure more clearly. It would mean, for example, that the law should permit a man to rape a woman if he considered this to be morally acceptable. We surely would not accept that rape should be legalised to accommodate the man's conscience.
More generally we would object to a law which permitted a person to cause physical injury and pain to another merely because that person regarded this as morally justifiable. No legal system in any country is based on such a broad principle of deference to diversity of moral viewpoints in a society. Why should the case of abortion be different?
A pluralist law on abortion offers the "right to choose" abortion but it does so by denying the unborn the right to life. Some, but by no means all, of those who support this approach argue that they consider the unborn not to be really or fully human and that on this account they should be free to terminate these less-than-fully human lives. The pluralist thesis, it will be recalled, does not seek to argue that any particular attitude towards abortion is right or wrong: on the contrary it proposes that every attitude should be accommodated by the law. If, therefore, one person conscientiously denies that another is "fully" human, the pluralist thesis requires that the law should not intervene if he or she terminates the life of that other person. The philosophical basis of this approach thus makes the right to life of every person secondary to how another person perceives their human status.
The amendment will have the effect of confirming the legal protection for the right to life of the unborn which most legal commentators hope — and some believe — the constitution already affords the unborn. All that the amendment will do is to remove the nagging uncertainty on this question.
Of course, the amendment, being a matter of constitutional law, cannot itself resolve the social and economic pressures on women to have an abortion. But is is abundantly clear that, if our law asserts that we are pro-life in relation to the unborn, there is a very clear duty on our society through its laws and its social and economic policy to provide a positively caring and supportive environment for women. In practice this means that our law should completely remove the status of illegitimacy, as the Law Reform Commission have recommeded. The legal rights of all children should be made equal, irrespective of the marital status of their parents. In the social and economic areas, the present financial support system for single mothers should be greatly extended and improved. In the area of housing, single mothers face formidable difficulties. While the local authorities do their utmost to operate the system of housing entitlements as equitably as possible, the stark reality is that there simply is not enough of the type of accommodation best suited to the needs of these families. In the private area, single parents face the difficulties that confront all parents with young children who are looking for rented accommodation; in some cases their position is worsened by a discriminatory attitude on the part of landlords. The needs in the area of housing are obvious. The position can be improved without delay if the political will is present. It is the obligation of all who support the constitutional protection of the life of the unborn to do their utmost — whatever the fate of the referendum — to give practical meaning to their commitment in these ways.
A final legal point may be mentioned. Some sincere people, while wholeheartedly supporting the view that the law should protect the unborn, nevertheless feel that legislation would be a more appropriate means of providing this protection than a constitutional amendment.
This would, of course, be an understandable approach in a country where the Constitution merely declared specific rights and did not give a power to interpret or further extend those rights to the courts. But since we have a Constitution which confers a significant power on the courts to strike down legislation, there is — and can be — no guarantee that any legislation protecting the unborn would at present survive judicial scrutiny.
The forthcoming referendum gives the electorate the opportunity to ensure that the present doubt about the constitutional position of the unborn is removed. Those who support this step are, however, under the most serious obligation to do their utmost to bring pressure for change in a wide range of social and economic areas which have already been mentioned to try to remove the present pressures on women and to create a positively supportive environment for mothers and their children.
Senator Robinson said that the Attorney General had criticised the use of the term "unborn" and she had pointed out that this word used as a noun could not be found in any standard dictionary. Senator Ferris stated that Deputy Woods admitted when Minister that the words had to be ambiguous. In fact, Deputy Woods stated the opposite when he spoke in the Dáil on 27 April. He said:
There is nothing ambiguous about the word "unborn". Even the Minister's own advice seems to have been to that effect. The most likely interpretation which he gave also and which the Attorney General gave in his advices — I have a copy of these also, although I will not suggest how they came out in case I would be in trouble with the Chair. Even the Attorney General says that the most likely interpretation is the one which we have put on it and which any sensible, reasonable juror will put on it. Therefore, the Minister should stop confusing people by asking someone to explain it to him. I am sure it has been explained to him and there is not much doubt about it now. If the Minister takes the Irish version, "Na mbeo gan breith" it is much clearer, takes precedence and nobody, including the Minister, seems to find any fault whatever with it. That is included in part I of the Schedule and is generally accepted as being quite clear. There are no reservations about it and it takes precedence over the English version. With regard to the unborn, the Minister has said that that could be made clearer. It could, by putting in an exact point; but this is the reason for having a Constitution, where the general point is quite clear and the detail in relation to it can be discussed in relation to the views of the medical and legal people at the time. The Minister felt that one could put in "from fertilisation" or "from conception", and of course one could. That is the generalised nature of the rights which are involved here. It is not necessary to do that and it would be unduly restrictive within the Constitution to take that approach. It is quite clear to all concerned the general point at which life begins and, beyond that, it is a matter for the courts and the general practice, which is quite clear at present. If, in future, there is any further evidence or information emanating from medical, legal or others in relation to it, it can be considered but within the situation which the unborn clearly have the right to life enshrined in the Constitution. The Minister referred to the equal rights of the mother being insufficient. I have said enough about that. We have had two Attorneys General who agreed on that point and most people are in agreement about it at this stage. I do not think there is any need for the Minister to worry about that point.
As regards shirking our responsibility and exporting the problem, with a conservative estimate of 5,000 women who had abortions in 1982, of whom about 25 per cent were married, I find these figures horrific and would be disturbed if even only one individual were concerned. I agree that to deal with the underlying causes and tackle what Senator Robinson referred to as the real problems is a matter of extreme urgency. At the same time, and I say this without reference to right or wrong, and pointing no finger of blame, there must have occurred a massive shift in sexual morality and our sense of values. Traditionally, despite accusations of being preoccupied with the sixth and ninth commandments, standards of sexual behaviour have been regarded as being generally guided by Christian precepts. Has this changed so dramatically? Is self-control out of date? Is responsibility in a sexual context superseded by the abortion clinic? Was what we used to call the virtue of holy purity only a myth? I only ask the questions.
Senator Robinson also stated that to concern ourselves about the plight of the child of one-parent families is the pivot around which society should be changed. I want to say this about unmarried mothers. Society has not just been unkind but cruel to them. I have always felt that this attitude was primarily intended as a deterrent by a universal belief that a child needed a father and mother for proper care and upbringing. After all, the State in the Constitution pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage on which the family is founded and to protect it against attack. In any event I feel that this unChristian attitude to the unmarried mother has by and large changed to one of sympathy and understanding, although few would deny that much yet remains to be done. Yes, I am sure we should be ashamed of our record but I do not agree with this blanket criticism of the Roman Catholic bishops or the Roman Catholic Church.
I must confess I am puzzled by Senator Brendan Ryan's contribution. If he were condemning the prudishness of the pre-Vatican II Church I could have some sympathy with his attack. But is he advocating or condoning free love, sex before or outside marriage? It is my understanding that promiscuity is the cause of venereal diseases, so that from the point of view of nature — leaving religion aside — one partner, and the commitment and responsibility which follow, must be regarded as right, and as a consequence a breach of this natural restriction is, if sin is out of date, at least wrong and improper.
With regard to the different attitude there was to sex 200 years ago, as mentioned by Senator Brendan Ryan, I feel to use poetry with its hyperbole and metaphors is hardly the best yardstick. Would the practice, universal in the country, of marriage at a very early age, sometimes where partners were in their teens and had never even met and when wealth was judged on the size of a family, not be better?
I, too, have grieved at the exploitation of women and the discrimination. In 1971 I published verse, which I hesitate to call poetry, although it was referred to as an epic poem, in the company of the poets already quoted in this debate. My poem was entitled "Towards the Emancipation of Woman" and I dealt with the wrongs as I understood them then.
I do not ask your indulgence to recite any of the lines but I want to make the point that this is not the first occasion on which I felt motivated strongly enough to express my views about the discrimination against women. They have been exploited, victimised, abandoned and condemned. Women have been regarded as predestined to carry the cross that men so readily, irresponsibly, place on their shoulders. Man's irresponsibility to man is nothing compared to man's irresponsibility to women. In the Gospel we read of the woman taken in adultery — no mention of the man, yet the men were there to stone her to death. But one man, Christ, was on her side. "Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone." How many of us can cast a pebble? Are we followers of Christ? If so, how could it happen that over 5,000 women were condemned to leave this country to seek abortions last year? And how about 5,000 innocent babies? In this respect I agree that Senator Brendan Ryan is entitled to condemn the distortion of Christian sexual morality. I agree with Senator Higgins when he referred to our ignorant and prejudiced anti-woman attitudes and the stigma on the illegitimate child. I deplore these and let us eradicate them as committed people are setting about doing at the present time. I do not agree with Senator Higgins that generally it would be accepted he would be suspect because he had his child attending a Protestant school. I have made my feelings known before, that I am saddened by the fall in numbers of the Protestant population in our country, their little churches left empty, unroofed or converted to some other use. This must represent a social and cultural loss as well as a religious one. I am against the promise which the non-Catholic partner is asked to make in a mixed marriage. In general, I would have to say truthfully that I cannot discern any substantial religious bias or bigotry in this part of our country. In this regard it is important to state that this amendment has nothing to do with religion except in so far as religion is concerned with human rights because that is what it amounts to. I think Deputy O'Hanlon described the position accurately in his contribution to the Dáil debate on 27 April. He stated:
As far as I am concerned, this has nothing to do with the Catholic Church, Protestant Church. It should be the same law for the atheist, the Jew, anybody, because if one goes back — and there is medical input into this — to the Hippocratic oath which was 4,400 years before Christianity, before Christ Himself, there it is mentioned that abortion should not be procured on a woman. That is the basis of my thinking on the subject.
In the same debate Deputy O'Hanlon also said:
The Minister for Health said that if he were a member of the Northern Ireland community he would take a very poor view of what was going on down here. It is no harm to remind the Minister that two leading politicians on the Protestant side in the North, Mr. Paisley and Mr. Molyneaux, opposed vehemently an extension of the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland. Regardless of what view anyone may have in relation to abortion, there will be respect for a society who are prepared to stand for the right to life of the unborn.
I will only add to that if the people in Northern Ireland do not want legalised abortion at this time, how can anyone claim that this matter could be a constitutional issue if and when — and I hope it will be soon — we reach the sensible stage of a united Ireland?
Senator Robb has said that we should listen to the theologians, the philosophers and our medical experts, but that most important of all we should listen to ourselves. I agree with these sentiments and say "Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all." He asks, is the Constitution we are amending an interim thing, that it should be indicative of the spirit which might be expected. I believe that when the time comes to frame a new Constitution for a united Ireland, when everything will be literally on the line, this will be an area of no serious disagreement, having regard to the situation that obtains at present.
It would be interesting, and indeed I think imperative, to investigate what may be termed the root cause of this irresponsible sexual activity which results in unwanted pregnancies. Is it boredom, an improved standard of living, affluence, rejection of religion or what? The problem deserves to be tackled at the base level.
When we come to Senator McGuinness's contribution, which was a very serious one, she asked the question if Fianna Fáil were in the pockets of the bishops and the pockets of the knights? I do not know if anybody has been approached by a bishop, a knight, a priest or Christian brother. I have been approached by nobody. I do not think that charge can be made. She said that the intention of this amendment is to have the common name of Roman Catholic for the common name of Irishmen. I have already refuted that. She also referred to scoring off the Government party. This I refute completely. I think the attitude of the Fianna Fáil Party has not been to make political capital out of this issue. I do not think anybody can point a finger at anyone in the Fianna Fáil Party who used it for party political purposes. She also asked the question, where were all the pro-life people when other things were done? It is not easy to be in everything. I am sure that in their own way they were contributing as best they could. She also spoke in very emotional terms of the pedalling of pure hate, which I reject completely. She went on to state that ultimately there would be the intention to outlaw contraceptives and I reject this completely too.
Senator FitzGerald and others raised the question of when life begins. I would like to use a few small quotations from a book entitled The Tiniest Humans by Professor Jerome Le Jeune and Professor Sir Albert William Liley. At the start, Professor Sir Albert William Liley states:
I am a registered medical practitioner. I hold the appointment of Professor of Perinatal Physiology in the Postgraduate School of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Auckland, and I am a member of the consultant staff of National Women's Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand.
He tells us that:
Because of the facts uncovered by my research, as a doctor I have no alternative but to regard the unborn child as my patient, and to protect and respect his life as I would the life of any other patient. From my clinical experience, I am convinced that unborn children are individuals and human beings, who should have legal protection, and who are capable of receiving and responding to medical care.
In my opinion, therefore, abortion is abhorrent, and represents a policy which would be regarded as immoral and criminal with a patient in any other age group.
For that reason I have been disturbed by developments in favour of liberal abortion policies. The arguments, as I understand them, seem to concentrate on the wishes of the mother rather than an accurate and factual evaluation of what is involved in an abortion. In particular it seems to me that the facts relating to the unborn child are being distorted (whether deliberately or through ignorance I do not know) so as to give the public the impression that the fetus, particularly in the first twelve weeks, could hardly be treated as a "child". It appears to me that the public could be vulnerable to propaganda of this kind.
As any high school biology textbook will tell us, life begins at conception and ends at death. In between, life does not develop, it is simply there.
What does develop is the morphological structure, the earthly home of life, the physiological performance of that structure, behavioural traits and personality. And, as we increasingly expand into a community of like individuals, we can speak of development of social responsibilities, of ethical awareness and legal status.
... Professor Jerome Lejeune is a doctor of medicine and a doctor of philosophy (biology) of the University of Paris. He is the medical officer in charge of the department caring for disabled children at the Hospital des Enfants Malades (Sick Children's Hospital) in Paris. This was the first children's hospital in the world having been founded in the late 18th century. He has spent ten years in a full-time scientific research and is now Professor of Fundamental Genetics at the Universite Rene Descartes in Paris. This is one of the ten universities of the former University of Paris which was divided in 1969. He was appointed a University Professor of the former University of Paris in 1964.
He answers some very pertinent and important questions.
Question. From your evidence could we conclude that it is a scientific fact that individual life starts from the first moment of conception?
Answer. That's a very good question sir, and my answer is yes. And the reason is, if I do not say yes, I could not teach genetics. This question is never raised except when you want to discard an embryo. Never does an expert on mice, cats or cattle ask himself at what moment does begin a mouse, or a cat or a cattle. All of them know that they do begin at fecundation and they teach that to their students. I just repeat that no people working with mice or with cattle or with any living system will wonder at what moment does occur the beginning of the cat, the beginning of the fly. Everybody knows that it is at fecundation. It is only when they question what kind of respect should they have for that tiny new being that they discuss beginning, but scientifically there are no discussions. The beginning is at the beginning. Nobody discusses the mousification of a mouse.
Question. Now, from the first time of fertilisation or fecundation, Professor Lejeune, is it correct to say that the child is a human being and remains a human being right until his birth?
Answer. As far as I can understand the use of the English word, saying he is a human being is a correct definition.
Question. So, there is no stage of pregnancy later than fecundation at which he suddenly becomes a human being?
Answer. Oh, that is very obvious sir, because if you start with the egg of a chimpanzee, if you don't look at the chromosomes, it is very much like, when it divides, the Medilla of a human being. But everyone knows that a human being will never emerge from a chimpanzee being. We are at the very beginning either a chimp or a man and never can a chimp become a man or a man become a chimp.
Question. From the time of fecundation, is there any stage at which the new human being, the new human life is a part of the mother?
Answer. I think not sir, because genetically it is distinct from the first moment of fecundation because half of the patrimony is carried by the sperm, that is the genes of the father, so the child has only one half in common with his mother and the combination, the genetic combination, the genetic makeup of the child is a new one which has never been produced in the history of humanity. That can be calculated easily. Then it cannot be considered at any time as a piece of the mother.
Question. So, from the moment of fecundation he is an entirely separate individual, human life?
Answer. I would not say, it is not entirely separated. It is an entirely individual human life, which is momentarily included inside the body of the mother. Not yet separated from the body of the mother, but I will make my answer precise. It is so obvious that it is not a piece of the mother that you can do, not in man for the moment, but in cattle you can make artificial fecundation and have the ovum separated from the body and the sperm separated from the body, have it fecundated, look at it for a few days so that it divides in a few cells, introduce it to a foster uterine mother and you get an entirely normal cattle which has none of the genetic qualities of the mother because the mother in that case is only a foster mother. Here we have the finite and complete experimental proof of time, not in man, but in cattle, a big mammal, that the entire process means a new life genetically entirely independent of the mother who can be either the true biological mother as is the best case for a human being, or eventually a foster uterine mother.
Question. So, putting the matter in simple terms, Professor, would it be right to say that after fecundation the mother really provides the baby with a home until birth?
Answer. I would say a little more than a home, sir, I would say that she provides the home and the nurture, and I hope also the love.
I would like to end on this aspect of love.
There has been some criticism of the value of this Chamber among the public in recent times. I think we have an opportunity tonight, as has been said earlier by a number of speakers, to refute that criticism. Historically the most valuable role the Seanad has played has been to review and to scrutinise carefully proposals which would lead to amendments to our Constitution. For this reason I cannot accept the agrument put forward by Senator Dooge that what is at stake here today is the timing of a referendum on the words which are now before us. What is at stake here today is whether we are prepared in the Seanad to support a Bill which the vast majority of the Members of this House do not believe in. We would be extremely irresponsible as a Seanad, if we were prepared to allow legislation to go through tonight or tomorrow morning which would give effect to a referendum which might well end up changing our Constitution when, in fact, the vast majority of the Members of this House do not believe in the words proposed and many of us do not believe in the need for such a referendum at all.
I cannot agree with Senator Dooge that it is a matter of the timing of the referendum. It is really a matter of whether this Seanad is prepared to fulfil its obligations under the Constitution on a matter of supreme significance.
I do not wish to deal with the legal or medical difficulties which are associated with this Bill. These have been, in my view, amply demonstrated in the debate which took place in the Dáil and in earlier contributions in the Seanad. They have also, in my view, been demonstrated in the comments of the Attorney General and in the advice given to the Government by the Director of Public Prosecutions. In relation to the Director of Public Prosecutions may I say that I have been extremely worried about the attempts being made by the Fianna Fáil Party over recent weeks to undermine his position. Another attempt was made here today. This is very dangerous ground indeed. The Director of Public Prosecutions, if required to give his advice, must, in law, give that advice. It is profoundly important that we, as legislators, protect the rights of our constitutional and legal officers at all times and not, as seems to be happening, to undermine those rights.
I would like to deal with a number of broader political considerations which arise from the Bill and the debate surrounding it. The first of these issues is the relationship between politicians and lobbyists, in this case a very skilful group of lobbyists who are very heavily financed. There has been a regrettable tendency in recent years, and particularly since 1977, for politicians to bend too easily to lobbies of one sort or another, often against their better judgment and frequently against the national interest. In the economic sphere this has happened on——
What is the position? We were to decide at 8.30 about the adjournment.
I made the suggestion that I hoped we might conclude this business tonight. I understand there may be six or seven speakers still wishing to contribute. If the speeches were short, the business could be finished by 9.30 or 10 tonight. That would still be my preference, but I am in the hands of the House.
It was stated earlier that there should not be any impression given that we were rushing this Bill through the House. I would prefer that we adjourned and sat again rather than be told that if we rush through the Bill we can stop at 9.30 p.m.
I must accept if the Opposition party wish to adjourn.
In fairness to the last speaker, I heard that he might not be here tomorrow. If he wanted to finish his speech we could agree to that.
That is a generous gesture. We all know that the Senator has duties elsewhere. Perhaps we could agree to sit until 9 p.m. to accommodate him.
I wish to thank the Cathaoirleach and the Senators. I do not think I will detain the House until 9 p.m. I was saying that I have detected a regrettable tendency over recent years for politicians to bend unnecessarily towards what they perceive to be the popular will. Frequently this is done against their better judgment and often against the national interest. I was making the point that this has most obviously occurred in the area of economic policy when successive manifestoes of the two main political parties have put party interest above national interest in so far as economic management is concerned.
This tendency on the part of political leaders and parties to bend towards the popular will, or what is perceived to be the popular will, has really reached its peak with this legislation. Two years ago this Oireachtas was completely unconcerned about the issue. Two years ago almost the entire population were unconcerned about the issue because they perceived it as being, in effect, a non issue given the state of our law and the relevant decisions of the Supreme Court. A tiny minority have managed to railroad the two main political parties into a position where we are now faced, it would appear, with a referendum in the immediate future which neither people nor politicians wish to have. The reality is that one must admire the political skill of this particular lobby group because their tactics and strategy have been extremely professional. They moved on occasions when politicians were particularly vulnerable, in the period immediately before an election, and they achieved maximum effect as a lobby group for this reason.
However, the fact that politicians are particularly vulnerable before an election can be no excuse for them taking the decisions they took on this issue. I am referring here to the two main political parties. I am happy to say that successive leaders of the Labour Party refused to bend to what they perceived to be an unrepresentative group and they stood firm. This was not the case with the leadership of the other parties. The result now is that we have a referendum coming up which two years ago no one perceived to be necessary and which now, I suspect, very few Members of this Oireachtas believe to be necessary. Indeed, the reality is that we are about to have a referendum on an issue and with words which it seems to me a very significant majority of the Members of this Oireachtas do not believe in, if one is to take their private and public views as we know them. We have seen a skilful lobby group before which politicians have cracked against their better judgment. We have, however, the opportunity here tonight to reverse that trend, to put the Bill back into the Lower House, to have the matter debated again and to provide more time for people to consider the implications of what could well happen if we vote the wrong way tonight or tomorrow.
It is fair to say that the Fine Gael Party have attempted to extract themselves from the misguided commitment they made to the wording contained in this Bill. They are attempting to come out from under. We will see tomorrow whether they manage to. The position of Fianna Fáil is totally reprehensible. I do not believe that they believe in the words before them; I do not believe that they believe it necessary to have a referendum. However, they have persisted with their strategy because they see an opportunity gratuitously to embarrass the Fine Gael Party who have made their own errors and because they perceive the idea of a free vote as a sign of weakness rather than what it really is on an issue of this kind, a sign of political maturity.
I regret this very much because I think not only will Fianna Fáil in the long run be seen to have dealt with an issue of profound significance on the basis of opportunism alone, but they have also thrown away the last remaining claim they might have to representing some form of genuine republicanism. A Constitution based on the republican ideals does not take account of the views of the majority Church only. It also must have concern for the rights of Protestants and Dissenters. This particular amendment flies in the face of that republicanism.
This amendment represents the views of one Church only and I am afraid it offers a gratuitous insult to representatives of other Churches and of no Church. I had hoped over recent decades that we were slowly, painfully moving towards a form of Constitution which would reflect the pluralist reality of our society. There had been hopeful signs. That process has not only been stopped now with this proposal if it goes through, but in fact it has been reversed and we are back to the kind of position we were in before the initial changes began in the mid to late sixties. It is also important that we ask ourselves about the consequences of what we are doing on the joint aspirations which all of us have here for the unity of the people of this island.
What we are doing is quite straightforward. For reasons of short-term opportunism and expediency, we are setting back the clock on the prospect of unifying our people on this island, however remote that prospect might be. What we are also doing in relation to Northern Ireland is giving a weapon to the most frightened elements within the political leadership of the Unionist population to once again rally their own people behind their bigoted views but to set back still further the possibility of development towards ultimate unity of the peoples of the island. We are giving them that weapon because we ourselves are acting as bigots. That is precisely what we are doing in seeking to impose in our Constitution a view of society which represents the views of one church only.
I think that, for all of these reasons, we are engaged in an exercise which is lamentable. I wonder why this has happended. What reasons are there apart from the skilful, lobbying which I referred to earlier. I think it has happened because over recent years we have got to a point in Irish political life where the two main centre parties are now similar in size and resources. They are broadly similar in ideology and they are both competing for the increasing floating vote in our society. But because they are broadly similar in objectives and ideology the only way they can compete, it seems to me, is through auction politics on one hand and the politics of minimising damage on the other. That is precisely what has happened here. Fianna Fáil began the auction in 1981 by offering a referendum on the right to life as they saw it. Fine Gael acted to minimise damage by offering the same thing. So now because we have two parties of broadly similar nature, size, resources and ideology, we are into the kind of auctioneering situation regarding the Constitution that we have been in since 1977 in relation to the economy.
What do we say to young people when we go through this exercise and when we come out at the end with our referendum Bill? What do we say to the unemployed and the poor who have been searching for answers from those of us here in the Oireachtas? They know that this Bill is not necessary. They know that given the Constitution and various interpretations of it given by the Supreme Court that the possibility of legislation to introduce abortion is not real nor is it real to expect the Supreme Court will interpret the Constitution so as to allow it in future. They know all of that. What they are seeing is politicians dealing with a non-issue and avoiding dealing with the real issues of a social and economic nature.
Our political system is under immense pressure at this moment. We are seen outside as being increasingly irrelevant. By carrying through this kind of exercise when it is not necessary from the point of view of protecting the right to life we have damaged our credibility further and we will no longer have the right to expect the loyalty and support of so many of our young people who are unemployed and who are poor. The Fianna Fáil Party will not change irrespective of what they might believe privately. They are acting as a monolith without integrity, without credibility. The onus now I think is on Fine Gael. The Labour Party, the Independents are going down one route in support of the Labour amendment. If we are to win however we must have the support of some Members of the Fine Gael Party. They have a genuine problem because if they do not support us on this amendment to refuse a Second Stage, how will they face the amendment which is coming through on Committee Stage which will put up to the Seanad precisely those words which Fine Gael itself supported and proclaimed as being desirable in the Dáil?
Now is the time to change direction. Let us put the Bill back to the Dáil. That is our responsibility. It then becomes the Dail's responsibility to sort itself out and act in a way which reflects what Members of the Dáil really believe, as opposed to the position into which they have been railroaded.
Before we adjourn, the Minister will not be available tomorrow and he would like to apologise to the House.
Limerick East): Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá sar a n-éiríonn an Teach. I came in on the expectation that you would finish your deliberations tonight. I will not be here tomorrow as I have a longstanding engagement under the auspices of the Council of Europe. I am very sorry that I will not be here for the conclusion of the Seanad deliberations, if they conclude tomorrow. I want to apologise to the House. I assure you no slight is intended on your deliberations. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to say these few words.
Will there be a Minister to reply to the debate?
(Limerick East): We will make the necessary arrangements.
Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.