An Bille um an Ochtú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1982: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1982: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 2 March 1983

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 340 No. 8

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[1575] Atógadh an díospóireacht ar leasú Uimh. 1:

Go scriosfar na focail go léir i ndiaidh “Go” agus go gcuirfear an méid seo a leanas ina n-ionad:

“ndiúltaíonn Dáil Éireann an dara léamh a thabhairt don Bhille go dtí go bhfaighidh sí tuarascáil ar an mBille ó Chomhchoiste den Dáil agus den Seanad ag a mbeidh cumhacht fios a chur ar dhaoine, ar pháipéir agus ar thaifid.”

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Dáil Éireann declines to give a second reading to the Bill until it receives a report on the Bill from a Joint Committee of the Dáil and Seanad, having powers to send for persons, papers and records.”

Mr. Flynn: Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  I was making the case last week for proceeding in the immediate future with the pro-life amendment, giving the people the opportunity to voice their opinion on this matter. I outlined the need for constitutional change in this area and also the need for positive wording such as that used in the other sections of the Constitution. I pointed out the undeniable right of the population to express their point of view by way of referendum on this very important subject. I further dealt with the dangers of changes coming about in the current position in relation to abortion, either through legislative processes or through a judicial ruling from the Supreme Court by a majority decision. I concluded then by stating the need to reinforce existing law as outlined in the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861.

[1576] The amendment proposed by this Bill would mean that abortion could not be made legal either through legislation or by a judicial decision of the Supreme Court. Such an amendment is most desirable. We are all aware that abortion is prohibited under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, but we also know that this can be changed at any time by the Oireachtas and by any Government who would choose to have a majority in favour of such a change. If it were changed by the courts, this would take place without any consultation. At least a proposed change in legislation would be debated in this House. We are all aware that three of the five Supreme Court judges can overturn existing law if they take a certain view as to its interpretation.

It is well to bear in mind the pertinent example of the United States where abortion became legal through a decision of their Supreme Court in 1973. The whole question of legalising abortion in America started off on the question of marital privacy and led some time afterwards to the concept of procreative privacy. We must recognise that marital privacy has also been accepted in Ireland and there is no reason to expect that things would be any different here after a certain passage of time. That is one of the fundamental reasons for the initiation of the pro-life amendment campaign. To delay now would be to make uncertain the protection of the right to life and it is for that simple reason that I take the stand I do.

The referendum to bring about an amendment to the Constitution will not stop abortions. Many people have been trying to confuse the issue by suggesting that it might do so but there is no doubt that this will not be the case. We must be realistic and admit that it is not likely to happen. The onus of responsibility will certainly be on the Government and the powers that be to provide support for those with unwanted pregnancies. Subsequent to the inclusion of this amendment in the Constitution, there would be a strong onus of responsibility on the State to do everything humanly and legislatively possible to provide the necessary support for those who are unfortunate [1577] enough to see abortion as the solution to their problem.

We will have to take great notice of the influence being exercised by certain agencies in relation to what is regarded as the abortion trail from this country to Britain. I have no doubt that the abortion referral agencies — apparently operating without any interference in this country, despite the fact that I believe they are operating outside the law — are creating a demand for abortion. They are doing nothing to provide the kind of support or the kind of alternatives that might help to find a solution to this problem. Many of the abortion referral clinics in their attitude towards abortion, and in the attitude they are selling to their clients, would have people believe that it is fashionable and acceptable in modern times to have abortion made freely available and that referring people to clinics outside the State is the proper and most fashionable thing to do at this time.

I regard the campaign being pursued by those people as a policy of stealth. It is certainly an erosion of the traditional standards and concepts we have come to accept as part of the normal situation here. It is a clever tactic and it is very easy to see the reason for their vociferous reaction to this Bill. When the pro-life amendment becomes part of our Constitution it literally slams the door before their strategy of gradualism, which I referred to on the last occasion we discussed the Bill. That strategy is as evident in our society as it ever has been in promoting a particular concept. In this instance it is the acceptability of abortion. By easing it along and instilling it in the minds of those who come to seek their aid, these agencies and clinics are bringing about a situation where they would like to feel that abortion is acceptable. But they know that if this amendment becomes part of the Constitution it denies them, as is stated in their anti-amendment literature, the opportunity of pressing on with their campaign to have legalised abortion here.

We speak of human life. As far as I am concerned, human life exists from the time of conception or, as one likes to call [1578] it, from the time of fertilisation. I believe it to be a scientific proven fact. The fundamental right of human life is the right to life itself. I do not believe the fundamental right to life is the preserve of any particular denomination or religious group in our society. It is mischievous to suggest that only the Roman Catholic Church support the amendment to the Constitution we are now discussing. It is well known that the usual tactic in other latitudes — some of them close to home — is to use the anti-Catholicism trick as a subtle but very productive tactic of liberalism. The attempt to label Roman Catholicism as the last bastion of conservatism against social progress is not new. It has been used over the centuries, and with great effect in one particular democracy, the USA. If you can get the anti-Catholic label attached to something then it is a great help towards promoting liberalism in any particular social change one might like to introduce.

We have to recognise the very considerable influence of the mass media. I have no doubt that the pro-abortionist lobby have been very assiduous in courting that favouritism from the media. That is why it is so important in something as fundamental as this that a proper balance is maintained as far as discussion is concerned. Our mass media have been very fair in their attitude to date in dealing with this matter. That has not been the case in other democracies. In America you virtually have to have the media on your side if you wish to promote any particular change in any walk of life whatsoever. That is not the position here and, hopefully, it will never be the case. The liberalism that is sometimes expressed in some of the promotions sold for public consumption does not necessarily reflect the attitude of a lot of the readers of those publications. I do not want to refer to the USA ad nauseam but there is no doubt that if you wish to have a particular point of view sucessfully sold and legislated for in America then you must have a very big propaganda machine to court the support of the mass media. It would be a pity if liberalism had that kind of support from the media here.

There has been quite a lot of talk about [1579] the desire to have a pluralist society here. A pluralist society must have a basic respect for life. This is a basic requirement for all communities. If the State seeks to gurantee the basic right of life, how can it offend pluralism? The two things cannot be separated. How can respect for the other rights be achieved if respect for human life is absent? The anti-amendment lobby are simply trying to impale the Taoiseach and his Government on the pluralist hook. That was very evident in one of their publications. I am referring again to a small pamphlet which has been circulated by the anti-amendment campaign operating from a post office box somewhere in the city. This document states:

We believe Dr. FitzGerald has no choice but to oppose this sectarian amendment.

It also states:

Dr. Fitzgerald and his party must vote against it in the light of his publicly declared concern to initiate Constitutional pre-conditions for a pluralist State for the whole of Ireland.

It states at the end of this particular paragraph:

His personal integrity and credibility must surely be in question.

I regard that kind of publication as being devious, to use a polite word, because it is attempting to suggest that the attitude of pluralism as expressed by the Taoiseach last year cannot be accommodated by allowing him to support an amendment to the Constitution in isolation. That is now stated publicly by the Taoiseach and it is what I refer to when I say that he is now on the pluralist hook. However, I do not think that the bar of the hook is encased in the Taoiseach to such extent that he has not the capacity to disengage himself from it by saying simply that the proposed amendment does not offend pluralism. Surely, the concept of a pluralist society is not [1580] offended by the guaranteeing of what we regard as a fundamental right — the right to life.

This brings me to the Taoiseach's role last year in all this business. It is important to put on record just a few instances of utterances from the Taoiseach concerning his position on the amendment as he saw it at that time. The first and most important letter from the Taoiseach that we must take careful note of is the one of 6 November 1982 when he wrote to the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign people and stated that it was as a result of a unanimous decision of Fine Gael that they were committed to introducing the amendment in Government and having it put to the people before 31 March. He went on to say that the referendum would not be delayed by any another consideration. That little snippet from the Taoiseach's letter is self-evident — that he was acting virtually on the instructions of a commitment that had been entered into on the basis of a unanimous decision of Fine Gael out of Government but which indicated clearly what their position would be in Government.

On the “Today Tonight” programme of 4 November last the Taoiseach said that before endorsing the wording of the Fianna Fáil proposal he had taken legal advice and that he thought the amendment was the best we could get. There is nothing ambiguous in that kind of wording. It states simply that the Taoiseach, before giving the commitment in writing of the unanimous decision of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party had taken legal advice on the wording that the Fianna Fáil Government had brought forward. The Taoiseach was still in a position to say then that the amendment was the best we could get and that Fine Gael were committing themselves totally to it. Therefore, we had not merely a promise but a solid commitment from the Taoiseach. Being the astute politician that he is in his own way, the Taoiseach does not make commitments lightly in any circumstance and certainly not in a matter of a constitutional amendment and in a matter of such enormous consequence. Consequently, we can assume that when the [1581] Taoiseach said he had taken legal advice, that advice was taken at the highest level.

We might ask what legal advice did the Taoiseach seek at that time. It is hardly credible that Fine Gael as a party would not have sought the advice of their former legal adviser who is now their Attorney General and who had been their Attorney General also while they were in office on the previous occasion. I would find it hard to accept that Mr. Sunderland had no input into advising the Taoiseach on the wording of the amendment in November last particularly since the present Attorney General had been in office also when the matter was discussed by the previous Coalition. It would be normal to expect that the Leader of Fine Gael, after a considerable length of time, having got the wording that had been expected and that had been looked forward to by so many people, though obviously not by certain elements, would have made his arrangements well in advance to have the matter considered carefully by the best legal advice he could obtain. What better legal advice might the Taoiseach seek than the advice of a man to whom he had entrusted the responsibilities of Attorney General on a previous occasion and whom obviously he had in mind to put into office again in the event of a return to office of the Coalition? Because at that time in November, the Taoiseach was so able to give a quick response to the wording as outlined by Fianna Fáil, it seems to me that his arrangements were made in advance.

It is interesting to pose the question of how many Deputies in Fine Gael are happy with the wording proposed. It is believed by some of us that the vast majority of those Deputies would have been happy with it just as the Taoiseach was happy up to recently about it. Might it be the far-leftish wing of Fine Gael who disagree? These are people who would be anti the amendment anyway. The services of a journalistic commentator or observer are not required for the purpose of pointing out to me who would form that hard leftish wing of the Fine Gael [1582] Party. They can be quite vociferous on occasions. They are playing a very significant role in trying to scuttle this amendment, despite the best efforts of the Taoiseach, as he has so often stated. If Mr. Sutherland has stated that he had not an opportunity of looking at the wording at that time, I find it difficult, the words having been printed in the public press, to believe that he would not have been very anxious to communicate his observations to his leader. However, it certainly does not excuse one other person from his involvement at that time and I refer to the intervention of the Director of Public Prosecutions in this matter at this time. That would be regarded as unusual, to put it mildly. He is a very talented, exceptional and competent person in his job, but it must be remembered that he was appointed as an independent civil servant. Good civil servants, especially those who have reached the higher echelons of the establishment, are not often expected to make public comments, especially about highly sensitive political matters which are, in actual fact, going to be decided upon by the population as a whole. It was with some regret that I noted the involvement of the DPP on this occasion. As I understand it, he brings prosecutions under existing statutes and certainly does not prosecute under the provisions of the Constitution, per se. That would be somewhat outside the ambit of his writ. The timing of his intervention suggests that he was prompted to intervene to influence the matter in a certain direction, which would certainly be unfortunate. I would have put much more credence on his intervention had it taken place — I personally believe it should not have taken place at all — at another time, in another place.

The anti-amendment campaign, as it is working its way through the system, is no more and no less than — in fact, virtually the same as — the pro-abortion lobby. One can see that readily in the sponsoring bodies who include all the abortion-campaigning organisations as listed and registered in this country.

It is an interesting small, but nevertheless [1583] significant point, that the Pro-life Amendment Campaign headquarters are openly listed as 21, Merrion Square. There is no difficulty at all about its being readily recognised as coming from a particular location in this city. It is not quite so easy, however, to know where the anti-amendment campaign has its headquarters, or the location from which it is operating. The quickest way one could establish that is by reference to this document to which I have referred and which is on the record in which it has itself listed under post office box 1285 in this city. While one would have to have a knowledge of the location of the post office boxes — and I certainly have not — it is suggested that the headquarters of the anti-amendment campaign are located in an establishment where abortion referrals are the order of the day. That campaign is being orchestrated from the premises well known to the Minister and others as being foremost in promoting abortion as an acceptable and fashionable means of dealing with unwanted pregnancies here. Can the Minister and the Government not see the strategy being employed by the anti-amendment campaigners? They want to divide the Government and it seems that they have succeeded somewhat there. They want to divide the Fine Gael Party and it would also seem that they have been reasonably successful in that area of activity, as well. They have certainly divided the Labour Party. This is all in the hope of confusing the electorate so that that electorate might tire of the efforts in support of having this amendment inserted into the Constitution. Their dearest wishes would be realised if, with that now obvious division in the various parties making up the Government, they had this enabling legislation dropped altogether, if a situation could be devised whereby a certain modus operandi of voting on this and perhaps other legislation which might come before us in the near future could bring about a situation where the legislation could be shelved for the foreseeable future. While I note the Minister of State wagging his head negatively, in a few minutes — if he stays here that long [1584]— I will be pointing out to the Minister for the record what some of his senior Ministers, or at least one, has to say about that very matter.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): I would like to hear it.

Mr. Flynn: Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  However, in seeking so to confuse the electorate that they would tire of it or that it would no longer be possible to promote the legislation properly here, they have it wrong. It is only steeling the minds of the amendment campaigners. They are not going to allow themselves to be sidetracked in any way from having recorded what they wish to have recorded in the amendment, as far as the Constitution is concerned.

Another piece of propaganda is going about on behalf of the anti-amendment people and it is as well to nail this down, too. One must remember that any future Supreme Court, no matter how liberal some of its judges might be, will have to recognise, once this amendment becomes part of the Constitution, that the result was brought about by a single-minded decision of the Irish people as a whole. They will have no difficulty whatsoever in interpreting that wish. It will act as a magnificent, massive deterrent to passing down a decision that they will know, by referendum result, does not reflect the minds and the wishes of the majority of our people. It will not be possible then to read abortion into the Constitution, as might be done now, if a certain set of circumstances and positions could be brought about. There will be no induced abortion in this country once this matter is decided irrespective of the political circumstances that might exist at any given time or the pressures that might be brought about either inside or outside this House. That surely will accommodate the vast majority of our people; in effect that is what the amendment seeks to do. One must remember that certain individuals, or even certain groups, have been suggesting — and they put it honestly to the electorate at this time — that abortion could never happen here. They say it can never happen here legally. I [1585] regard that as a device on the part of certain individuals perhaps to comfort some small number of constituents but certainly it is not in accordance with the facts.

It is an interesting exercise to look at some of the statistics, both here and worldwide in so far as that particular device is concerned — trying to suggest that it can never happen here. We must remember that 75 per cent of the population of this world now lives legally under abortion laws. We have only to see the progression over the years during which it has been regularised in so many different countries, not just in England in 1967, the USA in 1973, France in 1975, Germany in 1976, Italy in 1978 and Holland in 1981 but there are many other countries as well. It is interesting that the cry in each one of those countries I have mentioned was that abortion would never be available on demand in any circumstances. That historical fact is there to disprove that claim, just as it is being stated here now, that it will never happen legally here.

Experience has shown that it has happened in other places in the self same way. One must remember especially the way it was brought about in America, by a Supreme Court ruling there. Now the USA are fighting to have a pro-life amendment inserted in their Constitution, abortion having been imposed on them by a Supreme Court ruling. They are finding it extraordinarily difficult to have such an amendment inserted in their Constitution despite the support of many people right at the very top in America in favour of abortion. It was stated that it would never happen there. It did and it is so infinitely more difficult to alter it when it has become legalised than to take the step we are asking be taken now.

I want to pose the question: is it wrong for us to be out of step on this issue and give testimony to the value we place on human life in our society? While most of the world now labours and lives under abortion laws it is a fairly frightening statistic — and the source is the United States Statistics Office — that there are [1586] 55 million unborn killed by surgical operation every year in this world now. I had to check that figure twice to ensure that it was correct. That amounts to 150,000 per day. I am not at all unmindful of the number of abortions that have been performed because of referrals from this country since abortion became legalised in Britain in 1967. I understand the figure is approximately 35,000. I do not know what great pressures were placed on those unfortunates who felt that that constituted the solution to their problem. Certainly I would have been much happier had those 35,000 Irish souls been added to our total population at this time irrespective of how difficult our economic situation may be. I daresay that had a lot of the people who begot those children had the right support, the right kind of help to enable them to allow those lives come into being and remain alive, they would now form part of our present population.

The Government must now accept a certain amount of responsibility for what amounts to bungling in the handling of this legislation. No really clear view has been expressed by the present Government of their position. It was disappointing that the Minister for Justice, on the Second Reading, told us that he approved of the wording in principle but not in detail. It is difficult to understand what was the rush in his coming in if he was not satisfied with the wording as outlined by the previous Government in this regard. It is also difficult to understand — having spent two months in office, considering the position, knowing that they had to live up to the solemn commitment of the Taoiseach — why they could not have decided whether they were for or against the wording. To suggest that they agreed in principle was misleading. Certainly it does nothing for the credibility of the Government that they would promote such a misleading kind of Second Stage speech. That episode in the House on the part of the Minister for Justice was compounded very shortly afterwards by the Taoiseach, and the chaos widened further in so far as there was talk then of postponement of the whole business, talk that there [1587] might be word changes, as was reported from the Taoiseach's references to this in Galway in the recent past.

The one thing we did not want to happen was that this whole question might degenerate into a political battle. That view has been expressed by my Leader on more than one occasion. The Government of the day will have to take some responsibility now for the confusion surrounding this whole business.

In that regard, to fulfil my promise to the Minister of State — and I see he is getting edgy — I must refer to a statement issued by a former Minister for Justice, now Deputy Jim Mitchell. I refer to The Irish Times of Monday, 18 October 1982, with the heading “Abortion Issue Enlivens A Cautious Fine Gael Ard Fheis”. The correspondent is well known and the accuracy of his reporting is beyond doubt. The report states:—

Fine Gael's Spokesman on Justice, Mr. James Mitchell, made it clear that the Party now favours delaying any referendum for another year at least, or until a set of Constitutional changes can be put to the electorate.

Therefore, it is not true to say that there is this degree of unanimity in the higher echelons of Fine Gael, even at that time last October. The report continues — it is still quoting Deputy Mitchell:—

There should be no rushing and there must be no sectarianism and there must be no fanaticism. There must be calm and collective consideration of all the complexities involved.

If that was not putting it up to his leader on that occasion to step back I do not know what it was. But undaunted, the present Taoiseach was unremitting in his decision and he subsequently wrote the letter I referred to earlier. It was clear from the discussion that Sunday in October last year that at least one of the front bench members of the present Government did not want this amendment put at that time in isolation. The next paragraph in The Irish Times report, which is quite casual, is interesting:—

[1588] Dr. FitzGerald was clearly embarrassed by the passion of some of the speakers——

this part of it is relevant:——

— and by the attempts of the more vociferous supporters of the anti-abortion amendment to identify him personally with their campaign.

Subsequently, the famous letter was written by Deputy FitzGerald saying that there was unanimous support by the Fine Gael Party.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): That comment has no relevance.

Mr. Flynn: Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  I take it Deputy Jim Mitchell and the rest of the vociferous crowd were brought to heel. It did not take long for the corralling forces, apparently, to break down because they are out in the paddock again. There is no doubt that it is implicit in some of those references — I am sorry the Minister of State seems to regard this legislation in a frivolous way: it is not like him and I would ask him to keep that in mind——

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): I want to hear a serious contribution.

Mr. Flynn: Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  Trying to sidetrack me in that way will come to the same bad result as has come to anybody else on that side, whoever tried it. It is significant that the splits in this divided Coalition were evident long before the Minister, Deputy Noonan, made his confusing Second Stage speech in the House. It is obvious there are people who do not wish Deputy FitzGerald to honour the commitment solemnly given to the pro-life amendment campaign in the letter of November last and subsequently reiterated by him in public on more than one occasion.

It has been suggested that the wording in the Bill is ambiguous and unsatisfactory. I am sure that the suggestion that it is unsatisfactory is the personal view of the man who made it. It certainly does not represent the majority view in this House or of the electorate. The question of ambiguity is an entirely different matter. Although I will not deal with it at any [1589] great length, I will make some reference to it. In recent reports there has been reference to the word “unborn” in the recommended version. It has been said it is not totally satisfactory. To my mind the interpretation of that word does not depend on any scientific or theological considerations. Everyone will accept that it is primarily a matter of usage of words in legal terms as we know them. It is very much in line with the way the words “infirm” and “aged” are used in Articles 40 and 45 of the Constitution. “Unborn” must be interpreted in the same way as “unborn child” or “unborn children”. It is a matter of usage. It is used here as a noun and I say it would have the same stance in legal terms as “infirm” and “aged” in later Articles of the Constitution. I cannot see the difficulty. People might suggest that there is, but to my mind we can accept that “unborn” can only refer to “unborn child”. It is a noun and I cannot see it being elaborated on further.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): Why did the Deputy not put in “unborn child”?

Mr. Flynn: Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  I do not think it was necessary. I was not the responsible Minister but I did not see the necessity to extend it beyond the noun.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): It is an adjective.

Mr. Flynn: Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  It is used as a noun here and it would be used as other words are used in other Articles of the Constitution. The use of the word as we had it is accepted by the vast majority of Deputies on all sides. It is well accepted scientifically that the fertilised ovum has all the genetics of human life and therefore it must be a human being and, as any human being, it must be entitled to the protection of law. That is what the amendment would seek to achieve. I cannot see any difficulty or ambiguity, although people have been trying to suggest such for the purpose of delaying or to further the confusion that I am afraid the Government will have to take some [1590] responsibility for, although others, too, have played an important role. The Government have the major responsibility in this matter. They had months to consider this business and could have taken a different attitude than merely asking us to approve something in principle on the appropriate day.

Existing law on abortion, and this includes the law as it would have been promulgated in Britain and in the US, is clearly understood as being applicable from the time of fertilisation. That has been understood clearly in many judgments handed down in those jurisdictions. It is clearly understood in all their laws concerning abortion that it is from the time of fertilisation, so I do not see any conflict there. There cannot be ambiguity. The right to life of the unborn clearly recognises the right to life at all stages of development once you establish that that is the time involved, which has been clearly established in other jurisdictions. That being the case, the need for protection at all stages of development is recognised. I do not think there can be any ambiguity there.

On the question of the equal right to life of the mother, it is guaranteed that you cannot kill the mother to save the child, or kill the child to save the mother in the case of a conflict. Both lives must be equally protected. It is very important to have that absolutely clear in everybody's mind. There is no criminality in the termination of a pregnancy which is the incidental and unintended consequence of the removal, say, of a cancerous womb in order to preserve the mother's life, since nothing would have been done with intent to procure a miscarriage. It is very important that we should understand that as well. There is a lot of loose talk about what might or might not be the situation. It should be understood by all and sundry that, under this amendment when it is incorporated in the Constitution, no woman will be denied medical or surgical treatment because she is pregnant. Those are the types of scare stories which are put around to lead astray even those who are favourably disposed to the amendment. That is not intended.

[1591] We all know it is quite acceptable to perform a hysterectomy to save the life of a pregnant women with a cancerous womb, for example. The removal of an abnormal tube is also acceptable. This is known as an ectopic pregnancy. There is also some question about radiation treatment. It is clearly stated, even by those who support the existing legislation on abortion, that this is not an abortion in medical or legal terms. This must be clearly understood. It is the unsought result of necessary and appropriate treatment. That cannot and will not be denied to a female in the circumstances I have stated. These are quite legitimate medical procedures. When you hear people talk about them you ask the respective disciplines what number of cases can be counted in these areas. Then you realise how rare they are. It almost makes medical history now when some of these things take place. These operations are legal and in no way interfere with the right of the pregnant woman to have the surgical or radiation treatment necessary to protect her life.

To suggest that this is sectarianism or that the proposal might be regarded as sectarian is blatantly dishonest. It is blatantly dishonest for those who are against this amendment to seek to cause confusion by accusing people of sectarianism if they hold a particular point of view. Why should it matter if the vast majority of the people support a point of view and that point of view happens to coincide with the teaching of the majority Church? Are we being eased into a situation in which it is wrong to support the basic beliefs of the majority religion in case it offends some tiny group of vocal concept pushers as they are now appearing in this land? Must the vast silent majority of people be denied the right to say what they believe in? That is the essence of this legislation: to allow the people to voice their opinions.

Why should we be ashamed? Why should anybody be ashamed that public opinion should reflect the religious views of the vast majority of the population? We must not soft pedal on our principles for the sake of popularity in the short-term, [1592] or so-called sophistication, or worse still, for harmony's sake, in the hope that this will somehow enhance the universal view taken of us as a people. I do not see it in that way at all. The greatest gesture we can make to other groups, both close by and far away, is to show the depths of our beliefs and standards, and our determination as a people to display them as the hallmark of our society. That is what the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign is all about.

I do not know who is gagging certain people, as suggested, in fact, gagging the Taoiseach. What is the reason for the deafening silence on the part of certain groups on the Government benches? Why is the Taoiseach playing this low profile role in all this business of late? Today in his first intervention he suggested to us and to the nation that a set of words will be suggested to us in about two weeks, I presume by way of an amendment.

I found that an extraordinary strange statement for the Taoiseach to make. Either he has the words now, or he has not. How can he say he will have them in two weeks, or two days, or two months? Is he telling us he has the words today, but he has to circulate them among people, or friends, or groups, or organisations, to see if they find favour with them, and when they come back, perhaps inside two weeks, they can be promoted here? Is he suggesting that, if he has a set of words which find favour with them, having put them out for circulation they may be on their way back in a couple of weeks, unaltered and acceptable to all the people he would like to please, he will then introduce them here? He does not give us any detail. He just mentions two weeks, or about two weeks. I have not got the exact wording.

That seems very strange to me. If he had said: “We are working on it; new wording will be put forward; we hope we can get everybody to agree; this will happen soon”, I would accept that and leave it at that. To say that in two weeks a set of words will be put forward in the House by way of amendment or otherwise is asking us to accept too much. If he is as [1593] sure as that today, he has the wording today. Why not circulate it to us if that is the case?

I am sorry somebody did not question him on whether the Cabinet had discussed the remarks he made today. It would be interesting to know that. Is it a fact that he has in his own mind the words he intends to offer to the Irish people by way of alternative to the wording we believe is acceptable across the board, and some time inside the next two weeks he will float them to the Cabinet and ask for their support? It was a strange intervention to say the least. It did not suggest to me anything other than muddled thinking, further adding to the confusion for which the Government will have to accept some responsibility.

With regard to the intervention today, is the Taoiseach trying to protect the Labour partners in Government or is he trying to prevent a sizeable number of his own front and backbenchers from deserting his commitment? Are the Labour Party putting the Government on notice that they do not want the wording changed for fear of being caught offside? I would not like to speculate about that but I am quite sure there will be a lot of speculation about what is happening in the corridors of power.

The Labour Party said they wanted a free vote. That was before they went into Government but if a new wording is decided upon by the Government then the Labour Party will be part of that decision. They were not party to the decision taken by us collectively when we decided on the wording last year. If, as the Taoiseach has suggested today, a new wording might be forthcoming within two weeks, it would have to be cleared by the Government, and the Labour Party element in that Government would have to be part of that decision. How then can they opt out of supporting something collectively framed by them? How can that thinking be reconciled with a statement publicly made by at least one, if not more, of the members serving in that Government that he would not support any amendment?

That is some dilemma for the Labour Party, although I am not too concerned [1594] about that. They would have been better advised to have taken the option put to them and which had the support of the vast majority both inside and outside the House, namely, the wording we put forward. Instead, they created difficulties for themselves. I am not so sure the Labour Party want a change. While there is no change in the wording they can shirk their responsibility. They can always say they did not promise their support for that wording. However, if there is new wording they will have been part of the decision to bring it before the House. It is well known politically that when a Cabinet Minister cannot or will not accept responsibility for a decision collectively taken he has no place at the table where decisions are taken.

The constitutional amendment is very important and it demands a better response than the washing of hands posturing we have had from certain elements of the Government. I ask the Labour Party to stop their political gymnastics, to stop hiding behind the pseudo legalistic arguments they have put forward. It simply means that there is a pro-abortion pressure building up somewhere in their system which is exercising undue influence. Certainly it is flying in the face of the vast majority of opinion in the country.

The credibility of the Government has been badly dented by their handling of this legislation. If there is any redemption to be found for them it lies only in their honouring the commitment solemnly given by their leader. They must allow the electorate the democratic right to express their view and to cease further confusing the people by bringing in alternatives that are not necessary.

Ba mhaith liom deireadh a chur leis an méid atá le rá agam maidir leis an leasú seo den Bhunreacht. Tá fuath ag an mór-phobal ar an ghinmhilleadh. Seasaim leis an leasú mar atá sé leagtha amach in óráid Dara Chéim an Aire Dlí agus Cirt chun beatha an duine a chosaint. Táim náireach as an Taoiseach agus an Rialtas agus iad a bheith chomh défhúiseach in a seasamh ar an leasú bunreachtúil seo. Tá an gheallúint tugtha ag an Taoiseach, agus táimid uilig ag súil [1595] nach dteipfidh sé an gheallúint sin a chomhlíonadh.

Mr. O'Donnell: Information on Thomas G. O'Donnell  Zoom on Thomas G. O'Donnell  Ba mhaith liomsa labhairt ar an mBille tábhactach seo atá os comhair na Dála. Cuidím go hiomlán leis an mBille seo atá tugtha isteach ag an Aire Dlí agus Cirt ó thaobh prionsabail de. Is é mo thuairimse gurb é seo ceann de na Billí is tábhachtaí a tháinig os comhair na Dála ó bunaíodh an Stát. Dá bhrí sin tá sé ana-thábhachtach ar fad go dtabharfaimís, Teachtaí Dála, breithiúnas ceart, cruinn agus géar ar an mBille seo.

I support absolutely the principles of this Bill, which is the first step towards holding a referendum on an amendment to the Constitution to safeguard the right to life of the unborn. Let me state clearly and categorically, despite personal reservations that might have been expressed by some of my party colleagues both inside and outside the House, that Fine Gael stand totally committed to holding the referendum. We recognise the need to take the steps that are necessary to ensure that the right to life of the unborn child will be protected, clearly and unequivocally. We recognise that the best and surest way of achieving this objective is to amend the Constitution to include in it specifically this right to life.

The reasons for taking this course of action are straightforward. Unfortunately the issues have been clouded in what has developed into a public controversy, loaded with legal jargon and medical terminology. The arguments in favour of an amendment to the Constitution and to the holding of a referendum are straightforward and absolutely defensible. I do not speak as a lawyer or as a doctor but as an elected representative of the people, with no medical or legal qualifications to pronounce scientifically on the issues before the House. As a layman I regard the arguments as clear and straightforward. First, the Constitution as it stands does not contain an explicit protection of the right to life of the unborn child. This is a fact that cannot be contradicted.

Secondly, there are the views [1596] expressed by Mr. Justice Walsh some years ago arising from a famous case in the Supreme Court and they had been referred to by many people, particularly outside this House. The views expressed by Mr. Justice Walsh were what is known in legal terminology as obiter dictum. They are not binding either on himself or other Supreme Court judges in deciding any future Supreme Court cases. Although some people might think to the contrary, unanimity by the Supreme Court would not be required for a decision declaring the 1861 Act unconstitutional. A simple majority is all that is necessary. Legalised abortion could be made possible by a majority decision of the Supreme Court on a technical legal point. This would not involve consultation with or mandate from the people. It is worth observing, as many commentators have done, that if the Supreme Court followed the precedent set by the US Supreme Court they could find the 1861 Act unconstitutional.

Despite the controversy surrounding the issue the truth is that the overwhelming majority of the medical and legal profession support the argument for amending the Constitution and holding a referendum. The overwhelming majority of the people when given an opportunity in the referendum will also support the proposed amendment. The best medical and legal brains have given careful thought to the question of holding a referendum to protect the life of the unborn. They have openly supported the campaign to secure a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, the matter has become the subject of controversy and doubts have been expressed about the wording proposed by the previous Government. The Minister for Justice, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions have expressed doubts and reservations. The majority of my colleagues and Members of the House and the majority of the people want to see a referendum held as quickly as possible but we would be failing in our duty as public representatives if we did not give due consideration to the doubts expressed by the Attorney General. If a [1597] better wording than the formula proposed by the previous Government can be found, then everything will be happy.

I wish to make my position crystal clear. When I speak about an alternative formula or wording I mean a wording which will express more clearly and precisely the objective we wish to achieve. Any side-stepping or backtracking from the basic fundamental objective of this proposed amendment will have to be rejected. If we get a better wording, so much the better. If we do not, let us proceed with the wording we have and give the people an opportunity to exercise their democratic right and make a decision on this important matter. There has been much talk about a wording which will allay the fears and doubts expressed by the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. What is important is that the amendment being put to the people must clearly and unambiguously set down the inalienable right to life of the unborn. No loophole must be left which would enable the basic fundamental right to life of the unborn to be interfered with either by the Oireachtas or by the Supreme Court. This is what I want to see achieved in the amendment.

As I say, doubts have been expressed by the legal authorities about the proposed wording and whether it will achieve the objective we all desire. Any kind of new wording which will weaken this basic objective is unacceptable. There can be no backtracking from the objective to which we have committed ourselves. The Constitution must be amended. A referendum must be held as soon as possible and the best form of wording must be found which will copperfasten in the Constitution a clear and unambiguous provision protecting the unborn child from conception to birth. No other form of amendment can be accepted. It would not be acceptable to me and I will vote accordingly when the time comes in this House.

I wish to refuse certain allegations which have been made in relation to the pro-life amendment. It has been suggested inside and outside the House and in the media that the pro-life movement [1598] was initiated by a band of cranks and fanatics who are conservative, ultra-traditional and shooting the traditional Roman Catholic line. I have taken time to look into the origin of the pro-life movement and I utterly refute this. I have looked at the credentials and professional standing of the people who lent their names to the movement. I am not being pressurised by the pro-life movement or any other movement to take a particular stand in this House. I have been a Member of the House for 22 years and have always been my own man. I make up my own mind on issues. I am incensed at the attempt made to discredit a group of caring people, reputable citizens of this State with international reputations in the medical and legal field. In the pro-life amendment document there is a list of the main patrons of the movement. In the medical profession there is a list of the most eminent people in the field of gynaecology obstetrics, including four university professors of gynaecology and obstetrics. Can they be described as a small vocal pressure group shooting the traditional line? From the beginning the campaign for an amendment to the Constitution to protect the right of the unborn was supported by a reputable organisation. I was very impressed by the speech made by Deputy Rory O'Hanlon who is a medical doctor. He referred to the fact that the Irish Medical Association and the Irish Medical Union at their annual general meeting unanimously passed resolutions condemning abortion. Eminent medical patrons have lent their names to the pro-life movement. It is also supported by the Irish Nurses' Organisation, Muintir na Tíre, Lawyers in Defence of the Unborn and so on. I totally reject any suggestion, made inside or outside this House that the people who are trying to secure an amendment to the Constitution are irresponsible, narrow-minded, conservative, traditional and solely concerned with promoting the dogma of one religion.

On the other hand, let us look at the anti-amendment movement. What weight do the people who have lent their names to this campaign carry, professionally or otherwise? I have here the anti-amendment [1599] campaign leaflet in which they have set out their objectives, one of which is that the amendment will impede further public discussion and possible legalisation of abortion. That is what they are concerned about. The organisations mentioned here are The Communist Party of Ireland, Dublin Well Woman's Centre, The Democratic Socialist Party and the right-to-choose group. There is a long list of individuals, two of whom were Members of this House when the campaign was started but who, strangely enough, are no longer Members. I have studied the leaflet and objectives of the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign and those of their opponents. I have no doubt whatsoever in arriving at a balanced judgment on this matter. The people who initiated a campaign to secure an amendment to the Constitution have rendered a very valuable national service and our gratitude should be extended to them. Because of their deep concern arising from their professional expertise and their lifelong work, especially in the medical profession, they recognise the danger and have called on their elected representatives to ensure that we will stand out as a country with a caring society who care for the under-privileged.

The Minister for Health had a right to express his personal views on this matter when he said that an amendment to the Constitution will not stop people going to the UK for abortions and that we should be more concerned about the unmarried mother and so on. The Minister is now in an ideal position to do something positive to help the unmarried mother. I am very proud to be associated with CURA, which has as its special objectives the care of unmarried mothers. The work of this organisation is impeded through lack of financial support and most of their excellent work is supported through voluntary donations and subscriptions. If the State and the Government are concerned about this situation let us put our money where our mouths are and ensure that these organisations will get adequate finance. We are doing it out of our own pockets in Limerick and I am proud of that. Let us [1600] show that we care about our under-privileged people and unmarried mothers. Let us ensure that local authorities will put an unmarried mother and her child on a special priority list for housing. Let us not be talking about ideology or liberalism but let us do something practical to help these unfortunate people.

I have no doubt that medical arguments are overwhelmingly in favour of an amendment to the Constitution to protect the right to life of the unborn from conception to birth. While doubts have been expressed by the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and by individual lawyers, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is an organisation of lawyers supporting the pro-life campaign. The Irish Association of Lawyers have a membership of over 300. At a recent meeting in Killarney they fully endorsed the campaign for securing an amendment to the Constitution. It has also been stated by those who are opposed to the amendment that it is sectarian and will demonstrate to the world that we are a sectarian State dominated by Rome and its teachings. There is propaganda in the media that the non-Catholic Churches are united and unanimous in their opposition to the amendment. I have looked into this and I was very impressed and pleased to find a public statement read on 8 February 1983 by the Rev. Sydney Garland, on behalf of Ministers of four Protestant denominations, at a news conference in Dublin. He said

We` do not accept that the proposed Amendment is sectarian. Abortion is not an exclusively Roman Catholic issue. It is a matter of basic human rights. The right to life of the unborn is based on the indisputable scientific fact that human life begins at fertilisation.... There is nothing sectarian about these facts. The medical evidence concerning the beginning of human life does not change whether you are a Catholic or Protestant.... The Amendment is entirely in accord with our Protestant view of abortion. ...Clearly there are differences among Protestants on the issue of abortion.

[1601] ...However, we believe that the majority of Protestants will support the proposed Amendment.

He went on to say — I presume he was referring to the Churches he had mentioned — that:

The Church statements are out of step with grass-roots opinion on this issue. They are also out of step [this is the important point] with the other Protestant denominations which are not part of the Irish Council of Churches. Furthermore, they are out of step, not only with the whole Christian tradition which has unanimously condemned abortion, but also with their own Protestant heritage on the issue.

We then had allegations that the proposed amendment was sectarian. We have been told that to proceed with it would worsen our relations with the non-Catholic community in Northern Ireland. Reverend Garland in the course of that statement also adverted to that aspect. He said:

We do not accept that a Pro-Life Amendment to the Republic's Constitution would worsen relations with the Protestants of Northern Ireland. In fact, this is one area where there is opportunity for agreement and a common approach.

It is a fact that Protestants have been in the forefront of LIFE, a pro-life organisation which is growing rapidly in Northern Ireland.

Reverend Garland concluded by saying that:

If the Pro-Life Amendment is passed, then many in Northern Ireland and throughout the world will rejoice and will be encouraged to fight for an end to the silent and sinister holocaust of abortion, and the universal recognition of the right to be born.

That answers the suggestion being projected in the media that the proposed amendment is sectarian. In recent times the media have adopted an unbalanced aproach. If one examines the coverage in [1602] the media one will find that the balance is very much behind the anti-amendment campaign. In recent months I issued three public statements on the Pro-Life Amendment but not one word was published. However, when some of my colleagues expressed reservations about the issue they received headlines in all newspapers and in RTE. I sent three scripts to RTE supporting the Pro-Life Amendment but they did not use one word. The statement by Reverend Sydney Garland must be taken carefully.

In connection with suggestions that the proposed amendment is sectarian I should like to quote from the Report of the Public Morals Committee of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church entitled, Abortion, A Matter of Life and Death. The preface to that report states:

The purpose of this report is to place before the members and friends of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church both the facts relating to abortion and the Christian case against it.

Today, in many circumstances, the unborn child is on trial. He is charged with a variety of offences; his presence is inconvenient, he is liable to disclose the promiscuity, sexual laxity or extra-marital infidelity of his parents, he is accused of placing undue stress on his mother, father and other brothers and sisters. For these and other ‘crimes’ he is condemned to death.

The pro-life movement seeks to ensure that the life of the unborn from conception or fertilisation to birth is safeguarded.

The Supreme Court at some future date by a simple majority may find the 1861 Act unconstitutional. I have referred to the danger that would occur if the Supreme Court followed the US precedent, and it has been known to do that. The fundamental aspect of the debate is, when does life begin. In regard to this I came across an interesting book — one of the many I came across dealing with this issue, not all pro or anti-amendment — entitled, Abortion: The Silent Holocaust by John Powell. That book is relevant to the discussion that is taking place here and outside. Under the heading [1603] of “Congressional Hearings” Mr. Powell stated:

On April 23 and 24, 1981, the US Congress took the historic step of holding hearings on “The question of when human life begins”. In its decision legalising abortion-on-demand, the Supreme Court asserted that it could not resolve “the difficult question of when human life begins,” and so the Court proceeded to legalise abortion throughout the full nine months of pregnancy. One medical school professor, Dr. Eugene Diamond, has said [in referring to this decision] that “either the justices were fed a backwoods biology or they were pretending ignorance about a scientific certainty”.

There is “a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception”.

At that Senate hearing a long line of the most eminent geneticists, gynaecologists, obstreticians and experts on various fields of medicine and biology gave evidence. Their testimony before the hearing was unanimous. Dr. Harold W. Manner, Chairman of the Department of Biology at Loyola University of Chicago summed it up as follows:

When a human sperm fertilises a human egg, the result is a human being — from the moment of conception.

His final sentence is very relevant to the motivation and raison d'etre of the proposed amendment:

The killing of this living human being must be considered homicide.

There is no doubt that from the scientific evidence available — one does not have to be a scientist, a biologist, a geneticist, a gynaecologist or an obstretician to interpret the evidence — life begins at conception. What is being sought in the amendment is a clear and unambiguous statement protecting the unborn from conception to birth so that the matter will not be subject to the whims of the Oireachtas or decisions of the Supreme Court. This matter must be decided by [1604] our people in a referendum. Some of the literature I have read on this matter in recent weeks is horrifying. There is a body of opinion now which talks of handicaps to the foetus that can be detected by the use of modern scanning equipment and suggests that a foetus that may be handicapped at birth should now be destroyed. This is appalling. It must be apparent to everybody in this country, because, irrespective of political philosophy, we subscribe to a Christian philosophy of life and a concept of a just society to which, unfortunately, only lip service is paid very often, that, the handicapped should be a source of great pride and joy to us. Over the past decade or two a new awareness of the handicapped has grown up in this country. Thousands of people give practically all their spare time in a voluntary effort to provide accommodation, facilities and training for the handicapped. We have such organisations in my constituency and I am sure in other constituencies throughout the country.

This debate has gone on for quite a long time. Perhaps it is good that an issue of this gravity, probably one of the most important Bills ever to come before the House for several years, should be debated at length. To sum up, I suppose in the final analysis one must be guided by the dictates of one's own conscience, but there is such a thing as an informed conscience. I have looked at this objectively. I have discussed it with many people. I have tried to interpret a case for and against the amendment. I am satisfied beyond year or nay that the arguments in favour of the amendment are absolutely overwhelming. Secondly, having agreed to hold the referendum, we must be careful to ensure that the best possible wording is formulated which will ensure that the right to life of the unborn will be safeguarded independently of the Oireachtas, independently of the Supreme Court and independently of any international institution, be it the Court of Human Rights, the EEC Court of Justice or any other court.

In conclusion I emphasise what I have said. If the alternative amendment is to be available then I hope it will be available [1605] in the very near future. It is undesirable that there be any undue delay and I hope that the alternative amendment, the alternative wording for which we have been waiting for three or four weeks now, will be available very shortly. As I said at the very beginning, I re-emphasise with all due deliberation that if the alternative wording which will be available to us will copperfasten the objective that we want to achieve, then we will have done a good day's work. On the other hand, and I want to state my position clearly, if a hotch-potch of words or a new formula comes in which will not achieve the objective of safeguarding the right to life of the unborn from conception to birth independently of the Dáil and the Supreme Court, then I will vote against it. I make that quite clear. I am perfectly honest about these things. If the alternative wording is not to my satisfaction and better than the wording already before the House I will vote for what is already before the House.

Before I conclude I want to address myself to international institutions, international courts and so forth. I am proud to be a member of the Fine Gael Party and affiliated to the European Christian Democrats. During the course of the European election campaign in 1979 — this has not been adverted to by anybody — a fundamental principle of the European election manifesto which was put before the people of Europe and which we put before the people of this country was a commitment to the basic concept of the right to life of the unborn. This is written in black and white, unambiguously and clearly, into the Christian Democrat election manifesto of 1979. I want to say in the context of the EEC which has been referred to here by a number of speakers and referred to outside the House also, that there was a major debate in the European Parliament in November 1981 at Luxembourg when a very substantial, significant and thoroughly researched report was presented to the Parliament on all aspects of women's rights. There were pro-abortion advocates there who were MEPs and the debate was pretty acrimonious. Commissioner Richard, Commissioner for Social [1606] Affairs, if I remember correctly, stated clearly and emphatically that the EEC could not force this country or any member country to introduce abortion legislation. There was nothing in the Treaty of Rome which would force the EEC, the Commission, the Parliament, the Courts of Justice or any other EEC institution to do so. However, if we do our job properly in this amendment and in this referendum we will be ensuring that such a fundamental case as the inalienable right to life of the unborn will not be subject to interference from any international institution or any court of justice in Ireland, Europe or otherwise or will not be interfered with by the Oireachtas either except with expressed consent of the Irish people in a referendum.

Mr. Prendergast: Information on Frank Prendergast  Zoom on Frank Prendergast  A Cheann Comhairle, ba mhaith liom ar an gcéad dul síos a chur in iúl duit féin agus do mhuintir an Taoisigh go bhfuilim-se leis na daoine siúd atá ag moladh leasú ar an mBunreacht. Creidim go bhfuil géarghá le seo. Is trua nach bhfuilimid ag brath ar an bhfoclaíocht mar a bhíodh sé as Gaeilge mar tá seisean i bhfad níos soiléire as Gaeilge ná mar atá sé as Béarla. Tá focal ann sa Laidinis jus, the right as Béarla, agus níl aon fhocal in aon theanga an domhain go bhfuil aithne agamsa uirthi a thagann chomh gar don fhocal sin jus agus a thagann an focal “ceart” as Gaeilge. “Tá an ceart agam. It is my right.”

In rising to support those people who wish to have the amendment to the Constitution I do so conscious of the fact that, following my own election campaign, I was subjected to a most unfair, unfounded, unwarranted, well-orchestrated campaign of vilification. I invited those people who commented adversely on our election campaign to conduct a public inquiry into the manner of that campaign. Nobody did so. Statements were made in several areas of the media which were utterly without foundation and I was offered the opportunity to explain our position only on John Bowman's programme “Day By Day”. Unfortunately I could not avail of that opportunity because at the same time I [1607] was involved in a one-and-a-half hour programme on Radio na Gaeltachta. Some people in the press made statements which were downright untrue and when my director of elections supplied them with all the material they refused to publish it. I deliberately kept silent because I agree with the seanfhocal, binn béal ina thost. Some of the people who publicly made these comments came to me privately afterwards and admitted that they were wrong. At least they had the good grace to do so, but they did not make that admission publicly. Conscious of that, I will try to be as dispassionate as possible in my comments during this debate.

I should like to address myself to some of the aspects of the argument against the need to amend the Constitution. There is a faulty argument put forward by those opposed to the referendum. The fundamental question under discussion, that of abortion, is not a religious or a political question but one of ethics and morals concerning ipso facto the type of society we wish to create for ourselves and to hand on to those who will come after us. Even if we were a uniformly denominational people, whether Catholic, Protestant, Christian, Jewish or Moslem, even if we were uniformly atheist, we would still have mixed views on social issues such as this. At present we have differing views within every denomination and within the medical and legal professions who will be most directly involved in this issue in their working lives. The fundamental issue is whether or not we are for or against abortion. We must allow for the sincerity of those who profess themselves opposed to abortion but equally opposed to the amendment. However, they are de facto giving refuge to those who are in favour of abortion and accuse the pro-life people of being devious.

It is obvious from comments on both sides of the debate that the vast majority of the people in this country oppose abortion. Others would have it allowed in certain circumstances such as rape, incest or malformation of the foetus. I wonder on the latter reckoning whether Aesop would have got through, one of the finest [1608] minds ever. I understand that he was a dwarf and might not have qualified on the latter count.

It is a matter of regret that this has been projected as a sectarian issue. I believe that view is misguided but it could be more sinister. There could be uisce faoi thalamh. Last week I read a letter in The Irish Independent from a lady who described herself as the secretary of the life movement in England. She said a deliberate decision had been taken by the pro-abortion people there to have the debate here on a sectarian level on the grounds that we would be most sensitive to that type of allegation.

Hugh Leonard said — and I think he is right — that nobody in Ireland will ever die of a swelled head. That is certainly true of us as a people. We give first place to no other nation in highlighting our shortcomings. God knows we have plenty of critics, and I suppose that is not without reason, but I believe not even our most trenchant critics could honestly describe us as a sectarian people. In 1972 I was one of 720,000 people who voted in a referendum on the basis of five to one to delete from the Constitution the special position accorded to the Catholic Church to which the vast majority of people here belong. In any objective analysis of us as a people that should be remembered. I reject any suggestion that we are a sectarian people. It was the people who made that change in the Constitution and I believe they were correct. It is important to remember that it was not the legislators who made the change.

There is bound to be a polarisation of views on this issue, as in the case of the vast majority of democratic issues. It is the very essence of the democratic principle that there is a majority and a minority. It is the glory and weakness of the democratic system. There is what we call the tyranny of democracy. In eighteenth century France the opponents of the political philosophy of democracy used the academic argument that if the majority said something it could be true on a democratic basis but factually incorrect. If 30 Members here were asked to add two and two and 20 of us said five and the other ten said four, democratically 20 [1609] Members would be correct but mathematically they would be wrong. The majority could say that today was Friday, 9 August; again that would be democratically true but factually wrong. The tradition in the social democracies has been that by and large, with some dishonourable exceptions, the majority have acted in fairness and in deference to the wishes of the political minority. This is true in most Western democracies but sometimes the minority deliberately use the taunt of oppression, bigotry or sectarianism.

It has to be remembered that if the majority are favourable, well-disposed and sensitive to the views of the minority that is done by generous consensus. If a minority deliberately try to project a situation — it would be a legitimate democratic position on a democratic vote — as sectarian that could unfairly reflect on the authors of that taunt because that type of thing can often be a reflex of the inverse. You can have bigotry from some of the authors in a minority situation the same as you can have inverted snobbery. I am not saying that anybody who opposes the amendment is a bigot; I am only saying that it could be construed unintentionally that this is what they are trying to do.

I believe there is another type of false argument which came from some members of my party. I am speaking here from my own deeply held conscientious views on this issue. I know I reflect the viewpoint of the vast majority of the people who sent me here when I say that I support the principles enshrined in the amendment campaign. I have no connection with any group on either side of this issue. I have formed my opinions from having read and listened to the debate. It has been said that there has been faulty argumentation but there is a certain amount of what I would call sophistry as well.

I know that people are sincere when they say that if this referendum is passed it will not change the number of abortions taking place at the moment. I accept that fully and completely. I believe, regrettably, that that is true. But those things are not contingent one upon the other. To [1610] say that that is the reason why we should not hold the referendum is sophistry. At its best it is naive and at its worst it is disingenuous because it is the type of argument which says that a horse has four legs, a table has four legs, therefore the table is a horse. It is trying to convolute two independent truths that have nothing to do with each other. Somebody on one side of the divide said if you buy an egg timer you do not expect the BBC home service from the egg timer. The two things are quite separate. I wish to endorse the sentiments of Deputy Tom O'Donnell and others that we should be doing everything in our power to help the people who get themselves into a lonely and unfortunate situation because of some of the attitudes we have here.

I would like to give another example. Somebody may say that London is the capital of England or that today is 2 March. Both things are equally true but it does not affect the actual position that there is a fundamental need to ensure that there is no loophole in our laws which would permit the introduction of abortion. With regard to the second part of the premise that we should be seeking to create a society where conditions are such that abortion would not be necessary, while I subscribe absolutely and unequivocally to this principle — I do not know anybody who would not subscribe to it — I would not accept it as a device for delaying the referendum.

Where has there ever been in the world a State or society that would be so perfect in the eyes of the promoters of that line of argument that somebody would not want to have an abortion? When we are going into the future where social need, social want and deprivation will, we hope, be things of the past I believe there will still be people who will want to have abortions for no other reason than the inconvenience, however justified it may be, of having children. I doubt if we will ever reach the level of civilisation where somebody will not be looking for an abortion. I would welcome the situation where nobody would seek an abortion but I do not honestly believe I will see it in my lifetime.

When I was in Moscow two years ago [1611] the figures there for abortion were among the highest in the world. The same is true of the State of California. Those are two different types of society which are totally opposite in their political, social and religious viewpoints. I believe that for anybody to argue that we should be more concerned with bringing about the state of society which would not require an abortion rather than have a referendum is sophistry of the worst kind, naive at its best and dishonest at its worst. I do not want to accuse anybody of being dishonest. I believe in all social issues we should establish the hierarchy of values. If I might use an industrial analogy, I believe it is socially wrong where some people are holding down two or three jobs which could be done by others who have not a job and who need a job, or people working excessive overtime which could be shared with no great loss with others who have not any job at all. Surely the first right in that context is the right of every person to have a job. That is one social issue. In the context of this debate on abortion surely the most fundamental and inalienable of all human rights is the right to be born.

It is a pity we could not confine ourselves to the wording in Irish put forward by the previous Government because Irish being a more juridical language and more precise in its meaning than English spells out clearly the right of the unborn to be born. The Latin word jus is the basis of everything to do with justice, the Judiciary and everything to do with the law and I am told by linguists that there is no other word in any language so near or so precise in meaning as the word ceart in Irish. Tá an ceart agam, I have the right. I believe that the most transcendental right of all other rights — all other rights follow this one and do not come into being if this one does not — is the right to be born. It must always be the great transcendental for all civilisation. That nation can only be called great which opens its doors to all mankind. I believe that to deny the right of life today is to vindicate Hitler's policy of selective breeding. I believe those things need to be said.

[1612] Another area in which I consider there is faulty argument on the part of those who oppose the referendum is the question of the cost involved. Like the toad with the jewel in its head, democracy has its weaknesses; but as a reflection of the principle of government of the people, by the people and for the people it is the greatest political system ever devised by human society. The referendum is the highest expression of the principle of democracy. The Swiss have shown the way in that regard. We do not have enough referenda. To speak about the cost of the referendum is to gratuitously insult those of us who argue in favour of the need to amend the Constitution.

Some months ago I read in the columns of The Irish Times that a son of the horse Nijinsky had been sold for £2 million. That represents two-and-a-half times the cost of the referendum we are talking of and we are now watching the farce, or at least it would be a farce if it were not so serious, whereby the syndicate who own Shergar are claiming £20 million from the Irish people for the abduction of that animal. I doubt if even the most vociferous of those who oppose the holding of the referendum would suggest that all the Shergars that might ever be born would be more valuable than the life of one child. I suggest that not even £10 million would be too much to pay to save the life of someone whose life was in danger by, perhaps, being trapped down a mountain in Wicklow or halfway down the face of the Cliffs of Mother.

As to the wording of the amendment, my main concern is that any present difficulty would not be used deliberately to have the amendment delayed or postponed; though from the point of view of debate of the issues involved, I do not mind how long it takes because the proposal has done a good deal to make people aware of the issues involved. I read recently that an American, a distinguished member of the medical profession, spoke here and said that he had been part of the campaign for the introduction of abortion in America. He said that the people involved in that campaign had set out deliberately to address themselves to the intellectuals and to the media in [1613] America and that they set out also to project as being backward anyone who opposed abortion. This is the usual sort of contempt that is invoked whenever we want to dismiss someone as being reactionary or fascist merely because he is traditional in his sense of values.

I gather that in America 99 per cent of the people were against abortion but because the decision to provide for abortion was a judicial one, the views of that 99 per cent of people were flouted. That danger is here, too. We are relying on the Offences against the Person Act, but that would not be sufficient to protect the life of the unborn in the face of a judicial decision on the lines of that taken in the US. That Act, which was introduced here by a Protestant Ascendancy, was never questioned on the grounds of being sectarian. It reflected the sentiments of the legislature in England, while the appropriate Act in America reflected the sentiments of the legislature of that country. But that was the Act that was deemed by members of the US Supreme Court to be unconstitutional, a decision which resulted in opening the floodgates for abortion despite the manifest opposition in principle and in conscience of the vast majority of the American people.

It has been said that the devil can cite scripture to suit his purpose. Wolfe Tone is often cited in his very laudable dictum of replacing the words, “Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter” with the common name of Irishmen. I am confident that what Tone had in mind was that those three words should be divested of their pejorative content, of their divisive nature. I do not think he was talking about a purely secular society because above all else, and regardless of whether we be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or of any other faith, we are by nature a people who believe in a hereafter. We are largely of the Judeo-Christian ethic which believes in a life hereafter. Tone also was the one who said that the only people he could rely on were people of no property. I suggest that it was precisely because they had no property that he could rely on them.

I was somewhat disturbed to hear some people say that if the amendment were to [1614] be accepted it would have the unfortunate effect of creating artificial barriers between ourselves and the people in Northern Ireland. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my views in regard to Northern Ireland. I am trenchantly opposed to any suggestion of coercing anyone on this island into becoming part of our system against his wishes. I have been the subject of threats as a result of making known my position on that matter. But I regarded it as the ultimate in cynicism when some of those who promoted that line of argument at certain fora at which I was present were the very people who only last year were passing votes of sympathy with people in the North who were murdering and shooting the very people whose sensitivities these other people are anxious to protect in this situation.

I have no wish to adopt an argumentative or pejorative stance on this issue. I wish only to be as fair and objective as possible. But, as George Bernard Shaw admonished, we should always emphasise the positive. We should have regard to our heritage. Within the context of democracy it may very well be that in time our successors will decide we were wrong. Being facetious for the moment, if I may, I do not know how true it is but I am told — and am open to correction on this — that a council of the Church decided by a majority of two votes that women had souls. If true, it was a good job that three of them had not gone to the toilet when the vote was taken or we might find ourselves in a very difficult situation. We should positively enshrine within our Constitution the protection of the unborn. It should be taken out of the hands of the theologians and the lawyers — two categories which have been notably fallible in the past. We should allow the people to make the decision. Nobody should be afraid of the decision of the people. That is the only way forward on this issue. I cannot understand the argument of those who proclaim themselves democratics, and indeed socialists, and at the same time seek to prevent or upstage the holding of a referendum. Whatever form of words is put to the people they [1615] should copperfasten the principle that because abortion is intrinsically evil it should not be legally possible within the jurisdiction of this State to introduce something intrinsically evil and manifestly against the wishes of the people. It is interesting that nearly everybody on both sides of this argument who has spoken on this issue has prefaced his or her remarks by saying “I am against abortion”. Then they continue to say whether they are for or against the referendum.

Sin atá le rá agam. Ba mhaith liom cuidiú arís leis an meon atá taobh thiar den leasú seo. Creidim go bhfuil sé ar cheann de na leasuithe bunreachtúla is tábhachtaí a cuireadh riamh os ár gcomhair i saol na tíre seo. Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis ó mo chroí amach go hiomlán. Tá mé thar a bheith buíoch díobh.

Dr. McCarthy: Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  This Eighth Amendment Bill is one of the most important ever to come before this House. For that reason, it is incumbent upon me to put on record my views on the subject. The organised and very well-orchestrated campaign against the amendment must raise doubts and suspicions in the minds of many as to the true and real motives of these objectors. Many have to go to extreme lengths to explain that, while supporting the anti-amendment campaign, nonetheless they abhor and would never countenance abortion under any circumstances. The true and real reasons for their objections are that the amendment in their view is totally unnecessary, that it promotes sectarianism, or that, when introduced, it could render some methods used under the Family Planning Bill illegal because they could be regarded as abortifacients. All these objections are ill-founded and totally groundless.

The vast majority of those who oppose the amendment are not pro-abortionists, per se. However, the fears and doubts created in their minds, in some cases at least, have been fostered and developed by extreme anti-moralists and pro-abortionists on the fringe of the anti-amendment group. Others who belong to the anti-amendment groups can be described [1616] as the professional protesters or classical opposers of this life. They are against everything and basically for nothing, opposing for the sake of opposing, thriving on controversy and could be regarded as reactionaries in every way.

I will briefly analyse the reasons given by some of the objectors for their objections. To suggest that the constitutional amendment is sectarian, or might increase sectarianism is inaccurate and unreal. Admittedly, the word “sectarianism” has gained a new emphasis in this island of ours in recent times; and is it any wonder when we have some people, even in high places in this House, obsessed with the concept of sectarianism? It is no wonder that that term is bandied about so much, quite unnecessarily, when the Taoiseach, just over a year ago, described this sovereign State as a sectarian State, when he embarked on what has now become his infamous constitutional crusade, in an effort to create a puralist society. Such utterances by the leaders of our society, and in particular by the leaders of our political parties, are fraught with danger. They give credence to our most bigoted opponents — the Paisleys and others of this life. I am not suggesting that the Reverend Paisley is anti-amendment or pro-abortion — he certainly is anti-abortion — but I am speaking of him as being a bigoted opponent of our sovereign State. This unnecessary talk about sectarianism gives food to our bigoted opponents who despise the traditions which we have established here and which we all intend to continue. They create confusion and worry in the minds of many ordinary, decent people who are genuinely concerned about what is happening here. I hope that the Taoiseach will contain himself in future, or allow his friends to contain him, so that he will not run off at tangents and create more controversy over the next few months or years.

The preservation of life of the unborn is an intrinsic component of natural moral law. It antecedes Christianity in all its forms. It is reinforced by the Judeo-Christian tradition which states the command of God, “Thou shalt not kill”. In Christian thinking all life is given by God [1617] and He is the Sole Master. In human life men are regarded purely as the administrators of God's law. At conception God infuses a spiritual soul into each person. That is why we speak of human beings procreating and of animals reproducing. For this reason to suggest that the enshrinement of the right to life of the unborn in our Constitution would promote sectarianism is totally illogical and quite simply exemplifies the total nonsense being propounded by many of these in the anti-amendment group.

To those who fear that, when introduced, as I have no doubt it will be, there will be a real danger of some of the present methods being used under the Family Planning Act being rendered illegal — because then they could be regarded as abortifacients — I would say they need have no fears on that ground. There is not one iota of evidence to substantiate the belief that either the intra-uterine contraceptive device, some of the low oestrogen cycle regulators, or the use of oestrogen following rape prevent pregnancy by interfering solely with the implantation of the fertilised ovum. In fact most experts believe that pregnancy is prevented by either inhibiting the fertilisation of the ovum by the sperm or by inhibiting ovulation. This is not the way an abortifacient works. I would suggest that one can safely and reasonably conclude that these are not abortifacients and do not perform that function. Therefore there can be no real danger of any subsequent changes in the methods used under the Family Planning Act; there can be no real danger that any of these methods can be regarded as illegal in the future.

To suggest that the amendment is unnecessary because the ban on abortion is covered already by the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861 is, to put it mildly, an expression of faith, hope and innocence. This expression of faith hope and innocence was clearly exemplified in other countries over the last ten to 15 years. To suggest that the Supreme Court could not or would not ever create legislation which would introduce abortion, even on a limited scale, has been disproved by what happened in so many [1618] countries. I believe we have here an opportunity to take warning from those events. The protection of the life of the unborn should be absolutely copperfastened in our Constitution once and for all so that no legislation, no legislature can change it in the future, so that the protection of the life of the unborn cannot be changed by anyone for ever more in this country.

There is no doubt — and many speakers have referred to this — that there have been several juridicial precedents in relation to the allowing of abortion, initially always on a very limited scale but finally always ending up with abortion on demand being available in other countries. For example, the termination of pregnancy, or the introduction of abortion, was legalised by the United States Supreme Court in 1973 on the basis of personal and marital privacy. Essentially their Supreme Court ruled, in a series of decisions, that the foetus in the first trimester of pregnancy is not a person and that the State may not interfere with the personal decision of a mother to terminate pregnancy, a decision reached by her in consultation with her doctor.

The Irish Supreme Court, in the case of McGee versus the Attorney General in 1973, established the legal right to contraception on the basis of marital privacy. Some legal experts have raised already the very strong possibility of this ruling providing a juridicial basis for legislation for the termination of pregnancy or for allowing abortion in this country in the future.

As we are all aware, an increasing number of countries have introduced legislation permitting the termination of pregnancy in recent years. Rather interestingly, initially the proponents of legislation advanced their cause primarily on medical grounds. It was argued that certain pregnancies constituted a serious danger to the mother's life and health and that termination, or abortion, was an essential, indeed, life-saving therapeutic procedure. Most responsible medical experts now agree there is no need or justification for termination of pregnancy or for abortion on medical grounds. Most medical experts agree that most of them [1619] have never encountered a case in which it was justified to procure a termination of pregnancy in order to save the mother's life. As a medical practitioner I can say without any reservation that I have never, nor has any of my colleagues, had occasion to deal with a case in which it would or should have been necessary to procure an abortion to save the mother's life. As a result of this medical controversy the direction of legislation on termination of pregnancy has moved from what one might call medical to ideological issues, to questions of social justice and personal rights as interpreted by the Judiciaries in various countries. Gradually the emphasis on termination of pregnancy for medical and medico-social reasons has shifted. Two new important ideas have come to the forefront. First, there is the idea of a woman's absolute right to control her individual pregnancy without reference to the father of the child or to her other children and without reference to the community at large. Second, there is the concept of personal and marital privacy as legalised by the US Supreme Court in 1973. I do not think any of us in this debate should ignore the tragedy of what can happen when abortion is legalised. Abortion, to put it simply, is the wilful deliberate murder of the unborn, and it does not matter one iota whether the unborn foetus is normal or abnormal — every unborn foetus has the right to life.

In the UK, an average of 450 abortions, or murders of the defenceless, are carried out every day; two million abortions took place in the United Kingdom since 1967 and it is estimated that 19 million abortions took place last year in the US. In other words, more Americans were killed by abortion in the US last year than were killed in the number of wars in which the US was involved. I feel sad to say that most of these abortions were performed by qualified medical practitioners who seem to have forgotten totally the Hippocratic oath, or certainly hold no allegiance to it.

Last year throughout the world 55 million people were killed by abortion. What a frightening statistic this is. Only [1620] recently, President Reagan said that the anti-abortion movement in the US is a national effort to redress a great national wrong. The figures quoted are absolutely horrifying, and the amazing thing is how few headlines they seem to have got. It makes one wonder about the basic acceptance of certain so-called sensitive areas — that is a delightful description by some people of certain things — of man's inhumanity to man by allowing these terrifying statistics to pass virtually unnoticed. It seriously questions the credibility and humanity of all of us. If 450 murders a day took place in any country other than the murders of the innocents, if 55 million murders took place throughout the world other than murders of the innocents I have no doubt that the media of the world would show it in banner headlines, yet the minimal amount of publicity given to these figures is something we should all be ashamed of.

It is well to realise and to inform ourselves of the fact that termination of pregnancy, or abortion, is not without hazards of mortality and morbidity for the mothers. For example, in England and Wales between 1970 and 1972, 37 maternal deaths occurred from legal abortions. As regards morbidity, the psychic trauma which can affect the woman on whom an abortion has been performed can have very serious consequences. Ekbed in Sweden studied the cases of 479 women who had abortions performed and 25 per cent of them had immediate feelings of guilt. Rather interestingly, it was noticed that one third of that group became pregnant again immediately in the follow-up period. This was referred to by medical experts as the so-called atonement child, often interpreted by the medical profession as being an attempt to undo the guilt created in the mother's mind. It can also be regarded as a creative attempt to recreate life.

However, it is not always possible for a mother to respond to loss in a creative fashion. Many women who have had abortions are not consciously aware of psychic trauma but they may have somatic or organic reactions to abortions. Some women who have had abortions develop depression or other psychosomatic [1621] symptoms subsequently, at the time when the baby would have been delivered had it been allowed to survive, or on the anniversary of the abortion. These are well established medical facts. There appears to be no doubt that a rather unique biophyschological and biophysical relationship, a unique attachment or bonding process, develops between the mother and the foetus at a very early stage of pregnancy. The acute grief reaction observed in mothers who give birth to stillborn babies or whose babies die shortly after birth strongly suggests that significant bonding has occurred. We have also seen this acute grief reaction in unmarried mothers who give up their babies for adoption, and this points in the same direction, exemplifying that this special bond has occurred in these cases also.

Abortion can then be defined and regarded as a very important and traumatic interruption of a range of deep seated biopsychological and biophysical and social processes that commence at conception and continue to delivery and afterwards. This traumatic interruption can cause many physchic, many physchosomatic and many somatic and organic illnesses all directly related to abortion. The concept of psychic numbing has been introduced to describe the closing off of feeling following a traumatic experience such as abortion. Again, this psychic numbing as it has been called can give rise to many and varied symptoms at a later stage.

The question of whether the foetus is a person became a very serious issue in the juridicial decision of the US Supreme Court in 1973. There is no doubt that modern molecular biology regards the foetus as a genetically unique and dynamic human life. At conception, the maternal and paternal chromosomes fuse and a new cell, the zygote, is formed. This is a unique and individual being. Jean Le Joune, Professor of Fundamental Genetics in the University of Paris, says that if a fertilised oocyte is not by itself a full human being, it can never become a man because something would have to be added to it, and we know this does not happen. Science has surely [1622] answered the question of whether or not the fertilised ovum is a person. Clearly the answer is that it is.

We are living in an age when we are witnessing the decline of western civilisation, when the population of every western country is dying primarily because of abortion, the increasing use of contraceptives and, in most cases, the death rate exceeds the birth rate except here. We have to ask ourselves do we want to see Ireland join a death queue with the rest of the countries in the western world.

Fianna Fáil are committed to supporting this amendment in a referendum. I appeal to all the other parties in this House to stop vacillating on this important issue, to let us proceed with the adequate wording we have, and to stop confusing the public.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I rise to speak against this amendment for a number of reasons. I trust that my current 'flu and cold will not cause me to grate on the ears of the House. Perhaps the two doctors seated across from me might offer me some medical advice as distinct from the unacceptable political advice I had to listen to for the past half hour from my friend and colleague, Deputy McCarthy.

The task which faces this generation of politicians on this island on both sides of the divide confronted no previous generation of politicians. At no time in our history has a generation had thrust upon itself such a responsibility and found itself without the kind of answers which were available in previous times. It is truly frightening to be a politician in these times. There seems to be a direct relationship between the increase in the level of the problem and the decrease in the range of solutions on the other hand.

All of us in this House share one common bond, that is, our commitment to the democratic process. All people outside this House are looking to us to solve democratically and peacefully the problems of which we are so painfully aware. We know that in all our constituencies in an invisible line standing behind us — and we have had to confront them and meet them at different times — is an [1623] array of people who put themselves forward as being capable of solving the problem in a non-democratic fashion to an increasingly growing audience of young people, and not so young people, and not confined to the Six Counties of this island.

The House may ask: what has this got to do with the amendment? I thank the Chair for his indulgence in allowing me to develop the argument. I make that point to set the context within which we are currently debating this rushed and panic measure to change the Constitution in a most substantial way. For what purpose? I would argue, as I have argued on different occasions in this House from different sides, that since 1921 the central problem at the root of all difficulties which the island of Ireland has experienced has been the unnatural division within this country. It has prevented the evolution of what might be regarded as more normal or balanced politics. In the South it has given us the legacy of a bitter civil war which still sputters and fires from time to time in a most unacceptable manner within the confines of this House. North of the Border it has produced a narrow, tight, sectarian State which has had to repress 30 per cent to 40 per cent of its population simply to survive.

The current difficulty of Partition is well known to Members of the House. It has riven the Fianna Fáil Party from top to bottom since the arms crisis. It has caused great dissension within my own party. The Workers' Party are a product of a split on Northern Ireland and the Irish question. For every hour of energy which we as politicians and democratic organisations give to trying to resolve that problem, an hour of energy is taken away from addressing ourselves to the real problems of health, education, housing and jobs. It is doing more than that. It is costing us a fortune in terms of security, in terms of taxation raised to finance that security, in terms of the forfeiting of tourism and industrial development. This is the effect violence North and South, but particular North of the Border, has had upon our image abroad.

[1624] That is the overall context within which a very small group of people were able to propose to an unsuspecting body of politicians the idea that somehow it would be very good to have a referendum to change the Constitution to copperfasten a bar on any legislation which would make abortion legal. I have no doubt that they are sincere people, and that they are well motivated and highly moralistic. They were not politicians if they thought any political party, if they were a serious political party, were remotely capable of proposing to change the legislation governing abortion.

They managed to blackmail — and I use the word advisedly — the vast majority of politicians and the two major political parties into signing the consent on their forms. The timing of those forms was related to election time, and we all get nervous at election time. Suddenly we find that the Constitution is to be amended hurriedly, with a clear commitment from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael most injudiciously given in my view and in the view of many people in the Fine Gael Party, notably Deputy Kelly. After the most recent change of Government, in December of last year the Executive Council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions issued the following statement in relation to the proposed amendment:

The Executive Council has considered the proposal to amend the Constitution in respect to the right to life of the unborn and, in particular, the amendment proposed in the Bill issued by the last Government.

The Executive Council believes that such an amendment is unnecessary and that it would be unwise and undesirable to proceed with it.

The amendment to the Constitution is undesirable in that matters of this kind should be the concern of elected representatives in Parliament, and, in that statute law is the proper means of dealing with them as is the case in all democratic countries.

It is unwise in that the rigidity and inflexibility of constitutional directives on social and moral issues is inappropriate in a democracy. Indeed grave [1625] doubt about the wisdom of using constitutional prohibitions as a means of dealing with complex moral and social problems has already been expresed by one of the main Churches in Ireland.

The amendment is unnecessary in that the position is covered by existing law and there is no compelling reason why it should now be dealt with by altering the Constitution.

The wording of any constitutional amendment on this matter must inevitably be vague, uncertain and imprecise, something which is undesirable in a Constitution which purports to lay down basic rights. It is particularly inappropriate that such an important matter should be the subject of arcane argument by constitutional lawyers construing language when it can be adequately dealt with by legislation under the Constitution as it stands.

Congress has been disturbed at the emotional and at times hysterical manner in which the constitutional amendment has been approached in public discussion and particularly at the hypocritical way in which the two main parties have attempted to take advantage of the genuine concern of people with the grave issues that are involved. Political cant has been abundantly evident in the controversy.

There is a pressing need for radical reforms in family law, particularly as regards marital breakdown and the rights of children. These are matters that must be given priority attention. Legislative action here would make a significant contribution to human welfare and well-being and go some way towards ensuring that all our children are cherished equally. Amending the Constitution in the way proposed will contribute nothing to improving the human situation nor will it help to resolve the dilemma faced by many thousands of women annually in this sensitive matter.

I want to stress that what we are talking about is the reason and the argument for amending the Constitution. It is easy for the proponents of this amendment to say that they are against abortion, and that that is the reason they are supporting the [1626] amendment. Abortion is not the issue in this legislative debate, although I know that most people in favour of the amendment like to make out that case. Deputy McCarthy devoted the major proportion of his speech attempting to make, as the statement from Congress said, a somewhat hysterical speech in relation to statistics of abortion throughout the world.

Since abortion is illegal in this State, since there are no proposals to bring in any form of relaxed law in relation to abortion and since the vast majority of people are against abortion, it is most unlikely and most improbable that abortion will be democratically legalised here. I will return in a moment to the alternative fear expressed by some pro-life Members regarding the Supreme Court.

I want clearly to lay down the first marker. This debate is not about abortion. It is about using the Constitution in a particular way which reflects the private moral view of what happens in this instance to be the view of the vast majority of people on this island but doing it in what is clearly a sectarian way because a number of minority Churches have said clearly that they would prefer if the Constitution were not amended in this way.

For that reason and because of my opening comments setting out the background in which all politicians have to work, I am opposed totally to this amendment or to any other similar amendment that will make the central task of politicians on this island more difficult than it is at present. Rather than providing secondary evidence for recalcitrant Unionists in the North, as this undoubtedly will be so used, we should slowly and surely be dismantling any such evidence that would make it impossible for them to enter into discussions that would ultimately result in a new Ireland. We have seen what the past the years have done north and south of the Border.

I am opposed to any amendment. Therefore, for me, the discussion as to the formula of words is a secondary one and is not relevant to the central argument. Many talented and respected legal people have tried to work out a formula of words that would square the fine lines of precision embodied in judicial judgments [1627] with the vagueness and openness that surrounds the circle of moral views and they have found the reconciliation of both virtually impossible from the legal point of view. That is the dilemma of the present Attorney General and clearly it was the dilemma of previous Attornies General. Senior legal and medical experts have expressed the view, irrespective of their own views on abortion — the vast majority of them are against abortion as I am myself — that it is inappropriate and virtually impossible to use the Constitution as the instrument for copperfastening a ban on legal abortion. Let us be quite precise on this point, we are talking about legal abortion.

Fear has been expressed by a number of people — Deputy McCarthy referred to it — that this amendment, if enacted in its present form, could seriously or totally interfere with certain forms of contraceptives in use in Ireland. I am not a lawyer or a doctor and I do not have the expertise to express a technical view on the matter but I have listened to and I have seen the names of those who have expressed serious reservations about the implications from the point of view of health and family planning and also the legal point of view. Their views should be taken into account but today I have not heard a sufficiently strong counter-argument from the other side nor have I read such a counter-argument in the debates that have taken place so far. We have heard a lot of emotional speech-making on the horror of abortion. This country, perhaps more so than any other in Europe, does not have an indigenous position on abortion — unlike Eastern Europe where it is regarded as a normal form of family planning, however brutal and appalling that may be to Members of the House. That is the norm in Greece and Yugoslavia and parts of central Europe with strong Christian and Moslem traditions. Since we have no great tradition of abortion culturally or historically, even going back to Celtic times, why is it that so many Irish women travel to England to have abortions? Would it not be worth while to undertake research into this phenomenon?

[1628] Most people recognise that abortion is a terrible decision for anyone to make and in a sense is an admission of a mistake. The best way to eliminate the problem is to eliminate the cause. The way to elminate the cause is to develop proper comprehensive family planning measures in our society. Despite the fact that we spend £1,000 million of taxpayers' money on health services, approximately 25 per cent of the total tax take by the Government in any one year, and more per capita on health and health care than any other European state, as Deputy O'Hanlon will agree, we spend little or nothing on family planning or research into what is happening. We frequently boast that we have the highest rate of population growth among EEC countries. We boast about it until the children who are the products of such boasts reach the age of six or seven years and have to go to school. We then find we do not have the political will to raise the wealth necessary to provide schools, houses and jobs for them.

Any change in the Constitution should be entered into slowly after much discussion and consultation having regard to the situation on this island and the difficult relations between North and South and Dublin and London. I find it appalling that the former Taoiseach in what was manifestly a political ploy, should give a commitment on the dissolution of the Dáil last November to hold this referendum by 31 March 1983 and, equally so, that Leader fo Fine Gael should give an undertaking to match that commitment and say he would go along with it as would his party. As a politician I can understand the motivation for that. However, I thought that as a nation we were trying to get away from that kind of politics. As a ploy it did not work on either side. We should honestly say to the people that in our heart of hearts this referendum is something about which no political party is very happy. For reasons which they would prefer not to go into, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were trapped or blackmailed into a position where they gave an undertaking which in a different time and a different island they would like to take back. That is not to say either [1629] party is soft on the question of abortion.

Of all the things that need changing in the Constitution — this House will agree on a few of them — this does not rank high in the list or priorities because there is no proposal to change the law. Changing the Constitution will not change the reality of thousands of women travelling to England each year to have an abortion. Politicians on all sides have bowed to a certain devaluation of the democratic process because of this blackmail procedure. As recently as two weeks ago coming into the House, having indicated that I was against the amendment but also against abortion and saw a distinction between the two, I was accosted by someone who said: “You cannot adopt the two positions and in any case we know you and you are not saying what you believe”. It is that kind of argument which has put many politicians reluctantly into a position of having to play safe on this issue. As the argument unfolds and step by step is distanced from the separate issue of abortion and seen for what it is — an amendment on its own, independent of any other issue, to amend the Constitution to achieve a function for a particular purpose on behalf of a group at this time in our history — it is seen by many young people as further evidence of the increasing irrelevance of Irish politics and how much out of touch with reality the Legislature has become.

I fear this House will again be tempted to take the safe, easy option and go for an Irish solution to an Irish problem. Like history which repeats itself in tragedy and in farce, this time the irony is that there is not even a problem. It is an Irish solution to an Irish mirage brought about by a skilful group of people. I admire the skill with which they lobbied politicians, not the methods they used. The effect they achieved must be admired. I fear the damage they will do to our Constitution if they are successful as, regrettably, I fear they will be. I also fear the damage they will do to the democratic process upon which we are dependent.

I should like to quote from some of the speeches made on this subject to date. I [1630] shall start with perhaps the most eminent constitutional lawyer in the House and in the State. At column 1396 of the Official Report Deputy Kelly said in relation to Deputy Woods's speech:

Where was there any reference in his speech to the legal emergency in this country ... which calls for this constitutional fire brigade action we are witnessing here today?

Further down, at column 1400, he stated vis-à-vis the argument put forward regarding the claim that the Supreme Court would overnight somehow or other legalise abortion——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Will the Deputy move the adjournment of the debate?

Debate adjourned.


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