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

Thursday, 5 May 1983

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 100 No. 6

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Atógadh an díospóireacht ar leasú uimh. 1:

Go scriosfar na focail go léir i [624] ndiaidh “Go” agus go gcuirfear an méid seo a leanas ina n-ionad:—

“ndiúltaíonn Seanad Éireann an dara léamh a thabhairt don Bhille um an Ochtú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1982 ar an bhforas go bhfuil sé chomh doiléir agus chomh débhríoch sin nach é an t-ábhar ceart é do thogra a bheidh le cur os comhair an phobail i reifreann.”

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

“Seanad Éireann declines to give a second reading to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1982 on the grounds that the Bill is so unclear and ambiguous that it is not the proper subject for a proposal to be submitted to the people in a referendum.”

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Last evening when I was speaking on this proposal to amend the Constitution most of my remarks were addressed to the question of the necessity for this referendum, to the question of the origin of the demand for this referendum, to a lesser extent what its consequences will be and I raised the question of what it told us about ourselves at this time. I commented on the conduct of the campaign on the amendment and how it contrasted very definitely with the tenor of the debate that began in this House last evening. I want to say a little more about that now because I feel that, unfortunately, there has crept into the debate outside the House an atmosphere that is singularly unhelpful to the public in making up their minds as to whether we need an amendment like this.

It is not unusual to have the views of those who genuinely believe that this amendment is not necessary twisted and misinterpreted. I have commented on this amendment and on the organisation that proposed it outside this House. Perhaps it was one of my more colourful descriptions. I described them as a weird collection of different groups, fanatics, right wing people and gynaecologists who [625] were relatively removed within the ranks of gynaecology in some respects from practice. In the Evening Herald of 29 April 1983 I found to my horror my name mentioned in a piece attributed to Joseph Power, the religious affairs correspondent, under the title “Bishop Slams Weird Jibe at Nurses”. The tenor of this piece suggested that Dr. Comiskey speaking to some group suggested that I had described nurses as weird. This is typical of the type of treatment this issue has received. What I said explicitly in my statement was that a disparate group of people, some of them were Mná na hÉireann, the responsible society and so on, many organisations some of them religious, some professional, medical and so on, had come together under a flag of convenience. It was the alliance of such groups that I described quite clearly as weird. But for the purposes of Dr. Comiskey's unfortunate statement I am represented incorrectly and damagingly as saying that nurses are weird. This is where I might differ from many people. Without drawing any specific derivation from a single denomination, I define political, public and social morality as it is understood in jurisprudence, always to include social and economic morality and the right to one's good name as much as it does towards a somewhat sick obsession about sexual morality. I counterpose that version of morality to the narrow version of morality which has, unfortunately, prevailed in this State, which has lent itself too often in our history, unfortunately, to fanaticism, to the creation of vast burdens of guilt, towards a judgmental attitude which I will develop in a moment and so on. It is certainly relevant in relation to what I said last evening that the people who hold different opinions in this society are as entitled to their opinion, as are entitled to their good name, as is anybody else in our society.

This is something that is not accepted by the people who are in the pro-life lobby. On that point I want to make a correction for the sake of the record because if I speak at great length today on this matter it is because I have found myself speaking on it in different parts of the country and it became a very emotive [626] issue when I was standing for election to Dáil Éireann last year. For that reason I propose to straighten out a few matters that I consider would be of assistance to the public to have straightened out. I carefully kept details of all the statements I made during the campaign but there is one inaccuracy of mine that I remember and I would like publicly to correct it now. In a list of the different organisations who affiliated early on to the pro-life amendment campaign: inadvertently I included, for example, Viatores Christi on one occasion on a radio programme. I have written to Viatores Christi saying that I deeply regret including them because I am perfectly satisfied that it was an error on my part. I correct that error publicly again because it is important that we accept the moral responsibility for what we say during the debate on this amendment. I stand over every word I have said from the beginning right through this morning and until I finish speaking.

Much of what I said last evening made the case for tolerance. I would like to raise one question this morning which I think is quite important and that is that that tolerance stands as a political value in straight opposition to fanaticism. There are some people who would want this debate to go quickly through the House but there are many who want to have it discussed with some care in view of its very serious implications. Last night I quoted Senator W.B. Yeats and this morning I want to make reference to another statement of his contained in a long letter which included the notes of the speeches he would have given if the Seanad had been allowed to discuss divorce. His speech was printed on pages eight to ten of the Irish Statesman of March 14, 1925. He said:

I do not think that my words will influence a single vote here nor am I thinking of this House. I am thinking only of a quarrel which I perceive is about to commence. Fanaticism having won this victory, and I see nothing that can prevent it unless it be proved to have over-stepped the law, will make other attempts upon the liberty of [627] minorities. I want those minorities to resist and their resistance may do an overwhelming service to this country. They may become the centre of its creative intellect and the pivot of its unity.

The importance of W. B. Yeats's statement in 1925 was not only in its case for the minority. Behind it was a deeper suggestion that is extremely important, and that is, that the manner in which you treat your minorities is the mark of your democracy. It is a poor version of democracy in which the majority is defined — a point made by Senator O'Leary last evening — in simply statistical terms, that because you have a statistical majority you therefore can ignore the deep feelings of different minorities which lie within your society. The treatment of minorities is the mark of democracy. It is how the majority treats its minorities, how it negotiates opinion and the arriving at an opinion, how it will seek to avoid hubris and how it will seek to avoid arrogance. That has been the historic mark of civilisations where you have many minorities and majorities that have been sustained over a period of time. It relates to a neglected aspect of this debate so far and I want to make some newer points than those made already so as to avoid repetition. A point that has been neglected is one of the fundamentals in jurisprudence, that is, the balance between the right of conscience and the intervention of the State.

We have heard in the past year a great deal about the rights of the unborn. Many people, and I emphasise this, in the different organisations genuinely hold the belief that they are pursuing something very important to them ethically and morally. I accept that completely. Equally, many others are pursuing something that they think has the benefits of opportunism in a political sense, that it is a good issue to strike at what they see as the conservative mind of Ireland. But standing separate from that right and deserving equally of our consideration — this is the question of the right to life of the unborn — is the right to freedom [628] of conscience. There stands behind the right to freedom of conscience a complicated, long and very thoughtful history as to what freedom of conscience in fact is. The evolution of this argument, for example, begins with the statement that objectively from facts one can state what is right or wrong. It moves from early suggestions in the 13th century towards the idea that we cannot be asked to accept as right or wrong something that contradicts reason.

For those people who are interested in making the argument within the recognised corpus of Catholic thought, it occurs in St. Thomas who suggests that people cannot be asked to believe something that contradicts reason. It goes on and is restated again and again by St. Alphonsus much later on and it is given expression by one theologian after another. Finally it finds its way into Papal statements to UNESCO. It finds its way, for example, into the statement of John XXIII in 1961 about “the ends of justice being liberty and peace for all the peoples of the earth without distinction of race or language”. He suggested that the different religious spirits and different values of people should be respected, equally, in relation to the United Nations definition of freedom of conscience.

I find it extraordinary that in this amendment which is opposed by all the denominations other than the Roman Catholic one, we can easily neglect this fundamental principle of the rights of those who in conscience believe something different and separate from the Roman Catholic position, that they are to be required by civil statement in our Constitution to hold a view that in conscience they reject. Senator Mary Robinson, in her valuable contribution yesterday evening, documented the case from the point of view of the minorities within this country. We had the statement, not from isolated individuals within the country, but representative statements by people who are as near to being the elected voice of their denominations as we will ever get, and they are all at one in saying that they do not want this amendment now. It is that opinion that we are choosing to neglect. It is that [629] statement of conscience that we are trampling on and it ill-behoves people — Deputy Haughey, for example — to suggest that we are now involved in something above the parties, that we are pursuing a human rights ideal.

What sort of human rights ideal is it that tramples on the freedom of conscience, explicitly documented and sent to every Member of the Oireachtas? Let us on this day in May 1983 record that the people who do not vote to stop this amendment in its tracks are in fact accomplices in this trampling on freedom of conscience of minorities in this island.

This debate concerns many different issues. It touches on the larger issue of the relationship between Church and State. It is not an intellectual matter because again and again this question of freedom of conscience has been debated all over the world. I sat in both Seanad Éireann and in Dáil Éireann when we passed resolutions and answered questions about the denial of freedom of conscience to different groups all over the world. We are neglecting that freedom of conscience if we proceed along the path on which we have started. I will define that, because freedom of conscience needs to be given a clearer definition than I have given it. The freedom that I speak of is the freedom that people should be free and immune from coercion on the part of every human partner and they should not be forced to act against their moral convictions. I am using the term “moral” in the very widest sense.

Freedom of conscience is important in another sense. It is one of the fundamentals of the ability of the person to achieve his or her full potentiality. I would go farther and say that the body of opinion in jurisprudence now holds that freedom of conscience is possibly the greatest, the highest and most precious of all human rights. If we are to have a debate on this issue within the dimension of human rights I would like to be contradicted on that point.

That question has to be prosecuted in terms of the relationship between the majority and the minority. I listened carefully to what Senator O'Leary said [630] last evening and I agree entirely with his description of The Moral Majority and their tactics in the United States. Unfortunately, so much of those tactics, and the money that props up that campaign in the United States, has found its way to Ireland. Even in a circuitous way the plagiarism of poor W. B. Yeats' poem, “The Second Coming”, had to come from being lifted from an American magazine, as we heard yesterday. There is a side to that that to me is very important. The majority — to use his phrase again — if it uses bullying tactics can bring society to the point of absurdity. I will give an example of it from the United States. There are places in the United States now that have had referenda on whether the teaching of Darwin should be prohibited in the schools and Darwin has been driven from the syllabus. That kind of mentality that rejects science, open-mindedness, the influence of reason, knowledge, that asserts narrowness, bigotry and ignorance is what is in The Moral Majority's essential ideological thrust. Much of that has found its way into the campaign in favour of this amendment. There is an alternative. I struggled at times to see points that might have united people on different sides of this deeply divisive debate so far. Sometimes I thought there were people on each side who were motivated by the same concern, to have as broad as possible a definition of the protection of life.

I say to myself: If that kind of a consensus was to be forged why did these people not ask for a comprehensive review of the position of women and children in our society at this time? Why not make the case for the publication of a White Paper that will look at every discrimination against women, particularly women who are vulnerable, such as single mothers, that will look at the treatment of children who have found themselves in institutions; that will look at all the vulnerable sections of society? That could have been followed by compassionate legislation. Listen, I suggest, to the voice of morality in Ireland as we have become used to it. It almost strikes one that I am using the wrong word when I use phrases like compassion and love [631] because they have no place in the version of morality that is being peddled by the people who are in this lobby for this amendment. Compassion and love are things they have left aside because they would have demanded a concern over the years for all the people I mentioned, the vulnerable women in society who have been discriminated against, the children who have been discriminated against and so on. I urge the Members of the Seanad to take that path of concern and compassion rather than the one of judgment and criminalisation. This judgmental mentality of criminalisation is one of the most serious limitations in our ability to deal with our problems at present. I can give an example of it.

I remember listening to the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill in the other House and the published reports of that Bill gave lists of people who were speaking about the importance of strengthening the forces of law and order. I cannot recall that in the two days I listened to the debate that I heard a single condemnation of the marauding band who went through Fairview Park beating up people that they asserted were homosexuals. This is what we face in our society. Our version of morality is limited to sexual morality. It tramples in areas of private decision-making as if there was no respect for freedom of conscience and refuses to judge the most savage attacks on individuals on the basis of bigotry and hate.

We need to ask ourselves questions in 1983 at a time when half the population are under the age of 25, when we have nearly 200,000 people out of work, when in Europe there are 12.3 million people out of work and by the nineties we expect 15 million to be out of work. What moral capacity have we to respond to problems that face us here and in Europe if we are looking backwards, taking refuge in the thirties, peddling this musty, diseased, narrow view of ourselves that we insist is something superior to the rest of the world?

There is another side to it that sits nicely with that stunted version of political morality and it is the idea of a nod-and-a-wink [632] notion of the law. I read with great care the statement in The Irish Catholic on Thursday, 21 April 1983, by the Bishop of Kerry, Most Reverend Dr. McNamara, who wrote under the headline, “Recent Objections To Amendment Answered”. The whole force of Dr. McNamara's argument is essentially this one. He is taking up the point that this referendum if passed will seriously endanger the lives of women, will put at risk practices that are going on in hospitals at present in relation to ectopic pregnancies and women suffering from cancer of the uterus and so on.

His reply has subtlety to it. He says that to suggest that this would happen is to suggest that the law would be operated rigidly rather than flexibly. To my mind this is as flagrant an abuse of the principles of jurisprudence as I have read for some time. What is really being done is shaking holy water in this case over the classic evasion we have towards the law. It is almost irrelevant what the law says, it is what we practice that is important. The suggestion seems to be that we can change the law and, of course, whatever appears to be prohibited will not really be prohibited because we know that what we are doing will continue on.

That fits nicely in a society that has broadcasting Acts that are flouted every day as people go around listening to their radios in their motor cars and so on. It is, in a curious way, strikingly subversive of the force of law itself because its statement when one passes it right down to the end seems to be saying: It is irrelevant what form of law you have; it is what you do when you have passed it that counts. I do not want to live in a society like that. I accuse that kind of thinking of being casuistry of the worst kind. It is dishonest and is evasive.

There is a preliminary point I want to clear up from last night's debate that is important because some speakers seem to be suggesting that one could equate the pro-life movement and the anti-amendment campaign of which I have the honour to be a sponsor. I will just make one point. To my knowledge no member of the anti-amendment campaign has broken up a meeting. We have [633] not seized microphones and sang “The Galway Shawl” in front of doctors who wanted to speak on the rights and wrongs of this amendment. The thugs, where they have come, have come from the ranks of SPUC. They have been seen on television for what they are. It is they who have come to the meetings and it is they who have broken up the meetings. They have done so in claiming to represent some kind of Irishness that they are the sole guardians of. They represent a certain kind of Irishness. It is an ugly side to our character, the intolerant and the bigoted side. I speak with as much credentials about Irishness as anybody who is a member of any of those organisations whether their titles be in Irish or in English.

I remember talking to my father about his time in the War of Independence and of the kind of values they wanted for society. It certainly was not the kind of society we have at present. The people, for example, who described themselves as republican were not people who wanted to trample on the views of protestants, who wanted to judge women, who wanted to turn their eyes away from the real problems that are going on and to strike sanctimonious poses in ignorance and in callous indifference to the real problems that exist. Often when driving home from some of the meetings that discussed this amendment I pondered on what was said when one asked the question: “What difference will this amendment make?” Everybody for and against would give the same answer — not very much real difference in relation to the thousands of women who make the lonely journey to Britain. I thought how callous that sounded. I read more literature from the people who are in favour of the amendment and it became perfectly clear to me what, in fact, was afoot.

This amendment — I urge Fine Gael Members to pay great attention to this point — is being put forward as much for international consumption as it is for national consumption. It is acknowledged by its proponents that it will do nothing whatsoever to change the number, probably the debate will have increased it, of people who go to England for abortions but it will, as Dr. Julia [634] Vaughan has said again and again on radio and television, enable us to be seen as a people who have done something. We will have made our gesture which will be seen internationally as having created a clean area in the world, an abortion-free zone. That is what Ireland will be.

It is irrelevant what takes place in England. Indeed, the ranks of the moral entrepreneurs broke briefly during the campaign when their legal advisers suggested that we should start pursuing women outside the jurisdiction in France, England and so forth and that we should make sure that we had a legal instrument that enabled us to make such a pursuit. That was stated in a Veritas publication as we know very well. By and large, to be fair, what most people who have been for this have wanted to say is that they wanted to make Ireland an abortion-free area.

I find that this view of life, this view of the law, this view of morality, and this notion of social policy if it be there at all is so crazily unsuited to our conditions at present that I cannot see for the life of me how it can be supported by reasonable people or by legislators. I must consider for a moment the manner in which the different parties have taken up a position on this referendum. In relation to the Fianna Fáil position — I say this with great respect to Members of the Seanad who are members of Fianna Fáil—I urge them to pull back from the position that the leader of their Party, Deputy Haughey, has taken on this issue. Historians will judge this year and last year as a time when he could have put an end to this incredible nonsense by a single personal decision. He could have at any time said: “This madness must stop”, and he chose not to do so. It is interesting to note — I can only rely on newspaper reports — that it appears there has been very little debate within the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party on the pros and cons of continuing with this amendment. That is a terrible mark on the Fianna Fáil Party and on its leader. They will not be thanked for having, in 1980 taken an extraordinary political historical leap to the Right of Fine Gael. John White in his “Church and State in Modern Ireland”[635] once credited that party as being stronger in dealing with the forces of Catholic demands in the forties and fifties than the Fine Gael Party and so on. Suddenly, in 1980 if one had fallen asleep for 40 years, one would wake up to find Fianna Fáil to the right of Fine Gael. I suppose that is progress of a sort to the Right.

The Fine Gael Party have an extraordinary position in relation to the amendment. They should seriously consider at this stage rejecting the amendment. I appeal to them to support the motion that has been put down by the Labour Senator, that we decline to give a Second Reading to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill on the grounds that the Bill is so unclear and ambiguous that it is not the proper subject for a proposal to be submitted to the people in a referendum. I do not understand the position of saying, on the one hand — we have had excellent legal opinion on this and have heard it in the debate yesterday — that the wording in this amendment represents a threat to the life of mothers and at the same time not to vote against it. Having done that they said they hoped the people will vote against it but they will not campaign to ask them to vote against it. I wonder which theology seminar I am at now in trying to straighten that one out.

If I stick to the subject which I know, political science, I can gather a clear implication from that. What it is really saying is: If you can avoid upsetting the people by taking your position first, good luck to you and it is something you should try. It is saying in a lovely way — perhaps we are moving towards anarchy altogether — is that we consult the people first and then after the people have given a safe decision the legislators will be safe to have an opinion. It is, of course, an intolerable abnegation of responsibility.

I want to put on the record of this House that the day I am afraid to offer an opinion on any matters like this I am perfectly willing to leave public life. I was faced with this choice last year when this amendment was published. I saw it as divisive, as singularly insulting to the minority, as unnecessary and, above all [636] else, I saw it as anti-woman. I immediately issued a statement to the effect that it should be opposed because I believed it was marching us backwards to the thirties rather than taking cognisance of any of the real problems we have. However, we are in this position where Members of the Dáil and Seanad are invited to have no opinion while they wait for the public to speak. More than that, there is another twist to it, that while they keep their opinion in cold storage they are hoping the people will vote in a particular way. Maybe I am very old fashioned. It is either clear in its wording or it is not. It is either good in its effects or it is not. It is clear that there are many Members of both Houses who know that this wording is neither clear nor neutral in its effect and neither will it bring any benefit to Irish society in any way. Yet they are not free to vote against it. I find that truly extraordinary. I choose not to condemn anybody for that; I seek to understand some of the reasons for it. The reasons for it are largely similar to those I have already spoken about in relation to the atmosphere that prevails here. It is an atmophere of fear. Michael Davitt I believe it was — I do not wish to be accused of delivering any insult — who said that the Irish people had a weakness worse than drink; it was moral cowardice. There is a lot of moral cowardice involved. There is appalling moral cowardice by people who saw this as an opportunity to whip up votes. Is there anything as disgusting as the bad faith that is being sown in our political system by people who wander the corridors saying that they know that this measure is wrong, say in private it is unnecessary, that they disagree profoundly with the people who are proposing it and yet, at the same time, politically vote and behave differently?

It will be my pleasure to struggle for as long as I have energy against another kind of appalling Irish political phenomenon, the side of the mouth people. I remember them at the last election, the pathetic spectacle of a candidate and a relative of his going up to the car where the spokespeople were, saying: “Give me a bundle of those” so that he could hand [637] out literature that was making allegations about certain people, claiming people were baby killers and so on. Then, when some of us arrived at polling stations, they ran back into the cars, keeping their heads down so that they would not be seen. That is what is at stake in 1983, decades after independence, when the country is full of young people with many problems, unemployment, housing, better institutions needed and in a part of this island people blowing themselves to pieces every day and we get involved in this seedy exercise. I will listen carefully to invitations to discuss a new Ireland and to speak about a pluralist society but the words will die on the lips of the people who refuse to stop this amendment should they want to restore themselves to some liberal version of themselves.

Another point which I covered is the question of the manner in which this term “pro-life” has been used. I gave a list of measures last night ranging from family planning to adoption, abolition of the status of illegitimacy in regard to which some of the principal figures who are now in the pro-life amendment compaign opposed all these measures. They picketed Dáil Éireann. They distributed leaflets and wrote to Members. Some of them actually came to this House. I can recall an occasion when one of them was removed for interrupting a speaker. They have not changed. They are the people who want to say that they are pro-life. They are pro-life and avoiding everything to do with life that would have improved the lot in the last decade of women and children. There is another side to it. How could this mentality be pro-life? If we were courageous legislators we would say to ourselves that there are some irreducible facts that face us. I have mentioned the youth of the population, the economic problems that are striking us and the lack of interest there is in political institutions. Every act of bad faith by politicans will damage those institutions further.

We have an opportunity of forging an entirely new version of Irish society. Last night I was discussing the effects of this amendment on our relationships with the communities in Northern Ireland. I want [638] to clear one point. I am not suggesting that I am against this amendment simply because of that. I believe that I have the right to hope to live at some stage in a modern State, in a State that would be pluralist, that would derive its ethics and its morality from reason and compassion rather than from bigotry and hubrisive denominational majority strengths. I believe I have the right to hope for that and that is the reason I am opposed to the amendment. There are thousands more like me who just want to live in a modern society, a society that would seek to understand rather than to judge, a society that would value the freedon of conscience I have spoken about.

We have a choice in the amendment. The day this amendment goes to the people, and is carried, we will have set ourselves back, maybe a century but by a half a century certainly. We will be held up. We will be the darlings of the Right in the United States. The Wilkies will come back I suppose, doctor and wife, and congratulate the Irish pro-life amendment campaign for having had a signal victory. Who knows, but all our Right wing people may go to the United States and start winning victories there. We may be witnessing some kind of international crusade back beyond Darwin; it is a kind of new missionary activity. The mind boggles.

The choice we have is very simply that one. We can have political institutions that are seen to take these matters seriously, that debate matters in terms of the adequacy of a piece of legislation as law, the adequacy of a constitutional referendum in terms of its justification or in terms of necessity. Students of Constitutions would agree that there are really two basic elements to a Constitution. One is that it seeks to guarantee certain matters. The second is that it only makes assertions of guarantee in matters that are certain. In this case we are not able to guarantee anything. It is also made perfectly clear that the effect of passing this referendum is that there is no threat to any matter which we seek to guarantee. On the second criteria of certainly, it is pretending to be able to assert a certainty in matters in which there is no [639] certainty possible. I have heard people say again and again that they know exactly when life begins, suggesting that there is no difference between human life and potential life, between an embryo and a fertilised egg and so on and that they can with certainty say that all these are the same. They go on and make demands that will have implications for harassed women, women often with very few resources, that will create uncertainty in the medical profession and in the world of science and may have the effect of cutting off many people who need therapies they are entitled to. Women are entitled to benefit not only from changing social attitudes as a matter of right but also developments in science and medicine. There are infertile couples who will also be endangered by this constitutional amendment. The answer to all that is: “Ah, you know it will not happen”. That is the view of flexibility of Dr. McNamara, the Bishop of Kerry. One can have the luxury not only of appearing shining white to the international community but one can also have the luxury of having a constitutional statement that says one thing and a set of practices that say another. That schizophrenic view of the Constitution and of legislation is one of the most dangerous slopes that we should avoid.

Much of the remaining points I wanted to make have been covered by a previous speaker. For example, Senator Robinson has given a very valuable summary of the compaign to date but, in addition, has given the precise form of the submissions made to Members from different groups. In relation to what we are being asked by such minorities it would be wrong to allow the impression to be created that they have asked us for any veto on a referendum. They have not done so.

All the different minority groupings who have written to us have told us that they merely made the statement for conscience. That is the principal basis of their submission. We need to be careful that it is that that we are rejecting if we proceed as we are.

There is a point in the referendum campaign so far that is distasteful. The [640] 1937 Constitution which we seek to amend was adopted in 1937 and in 1977, 40 years afterwards, The Irish Times ran a special issue on the Constitution in which they asked people's opinions on its adequacy. Michael McInerney is quoted in that paper of the day saying that Mr. de Valera had informed him that he did not think the Constitution would last in an unchanged way into the sixties and the seventies.

What we have to think about in many ways is that if the Constitution is to be changed is it not a rather strange irony that we are changing it like this when there are so many other things to change it for? I listed some of these last night. They included, for example, the suggestion that a new Constitution might express the equality of the sexes, something that was not acknowledged in the thirties. There has been an evolution in public opinion towards equality. A new Constitution might express that. A new Constitution might give rights to children. We have the absurd position at the moment that a child caught in a tug-of-war between two parents who, because of our dishonesty and hypocrisy, cannot even re-marry but can separate or pretend they were never married, is not entitled as of right to representation in his or her own right. We could have given rights to children. We could have put limitations on the manner in which the right to the private property clauses of the Constitution have served to impede or control speculation in building land. It would have enabled us to build more houses. We could have stated that we were a neutral nation, a powerful position to be in as the threat of war escalates every day. We have chosen in 1983 to do none of these kinds of things. We could have, for example, given the right to shelter as a basic right. I could think of other ones.

We are doing none of these because in May 1981 a group of people came into the Dáil and they met one leader of a party accompanied by a Minister and they said “yes” because they believed that at the following appointment the next day an answer “yes” would be given, and the whole business started. It will [641] cost over £1 million — I have deliberately left that until last — at a time when we do not know the extent of real deprivation in our society, when we do not have many different pieces of social information that we need in relation to vulnerable sections of the community. We are not spending tens of thousands of pounds on research. We are not assisting any emigrants' bureaux. We are not giving the money towards intervening in any great area of need. We are spending over £1 million on setting up an image of ourselves internationally as being the most archaic, denominational, uncaring society in the known world. That is what we have decided to spend money on at a time when we gallop past 200,000 people unemployed.

Maybe we have decided then that what we want in this State is an end to all these liberal speeches and an end to all these liberal debates. Maybe what we want really is a kind of “Croke Park” version of the Constitution. Maybe we should put a demand to play Gaelic football and hurling into the Constitution. Do you think we should do that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh? There is nothing to stop any group of people taking what they think is a demand that will go down well all over the country, arriving in Leinster House and getting a constitutional referendum on this basis and then demanding that we all live according to it. Here we torture ourselves regularly when we condemn different people who are disobeying law and order. We are making a mockery of law. This amendment is based on distrust too.

I listened with interest to Senator Hanafin's remarks about the Supreme Court. It was not that he was going to impute any pro-abortion position to them. This was to his credit and he was very fair last night when finishing his speech in saying that he would not impute it to any of those people who were against the amendment either. I respect that. It is a decent point for him to make. He went on to say, which is curious, that the Supreme Court would now have guidelines. We are going to give guidelines in the Constitution for the Supreme Court to operate within. Equally this is interesting. [642] We are so omniscient in this year of 1983 that this Legislature is going to ask that a constitutional referendum take place which will remove the power from the Legislature to legislate in any of these areas in the future. We know better than future Legislatures. We know better than future Members. We are such sensitive souls, so acutely aware of the moral requirements that are on us that we need to turn our minds aside from unemployment and war and all these things and get on with the business of making Ireland safe for the generations to come.

I hope that the historians who write about this period will have the courage to record it accurately and that they will judge us correctly if this matter is not stopped. I reject entirely the suggestion that the Supreme Court needs guidelines or that the Legislature needs to have a constitutional prohibition standing behind their consideration. I respect the Supreme Court and I respect the Legislature and I happen to believe that future Legislatures may be even more responsive to the human needs and social needs than we were. In all of these matters they must be more sensitive than we were. For that reason I do not believe it is necessary to remove this matter from the Legislature in the Supreme Court and fork it into the Constitution.

Finally, much of what I have said is different from many speeches that I have given around the country dealing with technical aspects of this amendment and its implications because these have been discussed by other speakers and I was seeking to avoid repetition as much as I could. There are practical aspects to the passing of the amendment that I would be worried about. Everything that has been achieved in relation to family planning, for example, has been of benefit to women, particularly women in the lower socio-economic groups who are threatened with families that they simply cannot sustain. They are in bad housing often; they are more threatened by unemployment and by poverty. They have benefited from family planning advice as it has been available. If this amendment put into danger the availability of some forms of family planning [643] that are available at the moment it would be seen as very regressive. It must be seen as being anti-woman.

I have deliberately concentrated on some of the values that lie in the campaign, both for and against, for another reason. At the present time we have to choose between different sets of values. In relation to crime, for example, we have to avoid reacting without understanding crime. We have a choice between understanding and control. We could, for example, seek to institute greater mechanisms of control without understanding what is happening. Equally in this matter we have a choice between tolerance and intolerance. We have a choice between sectionalism and pluralism. We have a choice between the future and the past. We have a choice between equality and inequality. If we took one set of values, the tolerance and the equality and the compassion rather than judgmental attitudes, we would be addressing ourselves far more adequately towards the problem which we are put in here to debate.

This debate, from the proposal of this amendment, has been characterised by intolerance, unfairness and fundamentalism, tactics which we have said enough about already. It will be a very sad day for Ireland if Senators in this House do not vote to stop this proposal before it does even further damage to our people.

When the campaign began people said that it was not going to be divisive, that it was something people could unite around. It has been as divisive as any suggestion in our history. It has divided churchmen, set up conflicts between churchmen and legislators and so on. It is more than divisive. It has encouraged a tendency in our society that had been on the wane, the tendency that was norrow, the tendency that wanted to celebrate the views of the majority at any cost. The fundamentalist values that I mentioned are being brought out in the campaign.

Early on in the campaign many of the people working for it suggested that what they were doing was beginning at this one and that they would work their way [644] against the case for divorce and against the case for different forms of family planning, that they would not be satisfied with this but would turn back the wave of permissiveness and so on. If you say you are going to turn back the clock like that, that you are going to set your face against the sun, I would argue that we need all of the other values that I mentioned. We need compassion, concern, tolerance, openness and the ability to handle new proposals, new structures, new suggestions in a way we never did before.

If someone from outside our country came here in May 1983 and found this discussion going on at a time when we need to be debating so many other issues, what would he conclude?

I find myself appalled by another side of the campaign. This causes me great distress. John White in his book Church and State in Modern Ireland argued that at the end of the 1950s we were moving into a new period in which there was little attempt at direct interference by, for example, the Hierarchy on matters of legislation. Let us be clear on this issue. On this issue there are clear statements from members of the Hierarchy. Of course, the Hierarchy have a right to do that. I do not deny it. But if you allow this, be equally ready to accept the criticism for what you are doing and why you are doing it. They must be willing to accept this criticism.

It raises the question of Church-State relationship in Ireland and our freedom to legislate. I spoke to a front bench Fianna Fáil TD last week after the Bill had been passed in the Dáil and he said to me “I believe we can expect the priests to say an appropriate few words in the pulpit”. He added “I would go further than that. I would say that it is their duty” and so on. We have the priests in the pulpits and the republican party outside distributing the leaflets for them, all wanting us to live in the 1930s. I knew many people who were republicans and there are many who have put their names courageously to letters to the newspapers to say that the people who would want to peddle this narrow, sectarian, bigoted view of Ireland are not speaking for them [645] with this ultra-conservative, right version of life that the seek to slap into our Constitution that would be binding on people.

One might say that the people will decide. The choice facing Members of the Fine Gael group and the Fianna Fáil group is this: if you say the people will decide, why then do you not all say you are not standing for election again? Who is going to run the campaign? The different lobbying groups will stand. Perhaps they should all come into the Dáil and then there would be a consistency between the people who are asking people to vote outside and the people who are actually voting inside. There is a daft notion that you can offer no opinion when you are in a Legislature that is decision-making and at the same time wait for the people to make up their minds so that then when they have made up their minds it will be safe for you to have an opinion. That is an appalling version of parliamentary democracy in 1983. Let us have leadership in politics. Let us have people who will lead in matters of options in social and economic policy.

I have been in the unusual position of being in politics for 16 years, it being 14 years since I stood for election, and I have represented viewpoints that have usually been in a minority. I accept the judgment of the people. I am satisfied to live in a democracy but if you want to live in a democracy and if you have a Legislature — a Dáil and a Seanad — it is there to take decisions, it is there to lead on philosophies, options and strategies. It is not there to toss matters out to the public like a greasy ball and say when it comes back we will have made up our minds on the basis of what you, the people, decide. If you want to abolish parliamentary democracy, say so and let us have loose meetings at every crossroads, in parish halls and community halls if that is what people want. While we have a parliamentary democracy the requirements of parliamentary democracy are that people who sit in Parliament can and must be required to vote and make up their minds on the basis of what is good for the people and what is good [646] law. They must be made make up their minds on the basis of what is right.

I have noticed in the erosion of parliamentary democracy in the last ten years that many of the worst features that exist in our society — that I had hoped were dead — are creeping into our assemblies, for example, people peddling anti-intellectualism are suggesting that complicated discussion of legislation is somehow unnecessary. It is necessary because it is these Houses that decide what our law will be and if you say you are a democrat you must respect the institutions in that way.

I, for one, do not accept the rule of the mob. I oppose all people who would administer their own recipe against crime and I oppose people who suggest they have the right to whip up what I call the values of the mob or the horde. All of these matters are wrong. We moved towards parliamentary democracy in a careful evolution and it is badly served in a day when we refuse to have opinions, in a day we refuse to put a stop to something that has been truly a nightmare for many people in this island.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  This proposal and myself surfaced almost at the same time in national politics. I do not think the proponents of this proposal or myself would like to attach credit to the other party for anything other than the coincidence of fact. I sought election to this House for very specific reasons — because I believed that as the pressures on politicians developed and as the complexities of society developed and as the values of consumerism and materialism took over in our society, more and more marginal groups would become less and less audible in our society. As more information became available, as more entertainment was generated and as more distractions were generated, those who were not entertaining or distracting or amusing or interesting, who were in fact marginal, would become less and less audible. I believed it was more necessary than ever before that marginal, deprived, unacceptable, uninteresting, objectionable groups should be heard publicly, clearly and loudly. I make no claim to objectivity. [647] I make no claim to balance in the matters I have discussed or the issues I have raised because I am not here to be objective or to be balanced. I am here shamelessly and unashamedly to represent a vested interest. I have said that since I came into politics and I repeat it here. It is important that this should be said because it will run through almost everything I have to say on this issue. The weak, the vulnerable and, notwithstanding a couple of criticisms that my good friend Senator Higgins made about me in the past, the position of women in Irish society were issues that concerned me, perhaps only a section of women but definitely I was aware of the discrimination against women in Irish society in the social welfare code, housing, family law, the way we dealt with rights to property et cetera.

I was concerned about the homeless and about the travellers and I spent a large part of the last ten years of my life — and I hate using emotional words but it need to be said — rescuing abandoned human life from the gutters of our society, people that medical people had told me were perfectly happy to sleep in the gutter because they were all schizophrenics anyway, as a certain consultant psychiatrist said to me on one occasion. That was the role that I chose for myself in national politics — to be a voice not claiming to speak for but at least articulating the interests of various marginal groups. I do hope that during my political life many of these marginal groups will speak for themselves. Some of them were outside this House yesterday speaking for themselves. They were the travelling people, not liberal do-gooder middle class people speaking on their behalf but the travelling people themselves. I had the honour to escort them into this House to present a petition to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

Does anybody in this House or outside this House know what the infant mortality rate is among travelling people? How many times or by how many factors does it exceed the infant mortality rate of the settled community? When these people are denied even basic human sanitary [648] facilities and they are burnt out, we have one headline in the newspaper and it is forgotten. I would hate to think what would happen if any Member of this House was burnt out by a maurauding mob. We would have headlines, investigations and special commissions and special inquiries, and yet when a group of travelling people are burnt out our concern about their lives is pushed aside very quickly.

I have said this because at the centre of this entire debate is the claim of certain groups to define what it is to be pro-life and to define certain absolute conditions which must be met before you can be granted the halo which indicated you as being on the proper side, as being pro-life.

When this amendment first surfaced three years ago I was instinctively inclined to see no harm in it and possibly some good. It is to the credit of people like Michael D. Higgins and Mary Robinson and others that my education was rapidly advanced over the past three years. One of the educational aspects was being a Member of this House and noticing how over a period of two or three years a promise by various political leaders to produce an amendment did not seem to be met and occasional casual inquiries by me produced the response that to word such an amendment was proving to be extremely difficult.

That was when my thinking on this issue really began to take off. I began to wonder why this was. I did not know much about the problems of unborn children or pregnant mothers or what was involved in various aspects of the practice of medical care of pregnant women and their unborn offspring. I began to investigate. The more I investigated and the more I read the more confused I became. I say this as a member of a church which claims the allegiance of the vast majority of the people of this State at least. I became more confused because there were exceptions under certain circumstances which were clearly consistent with the Thomistic philosophy which underlies a lot of the church's theology but which seemed to me to be based on certain assumptions that did not have [649] universal acceptability. Nevertheless, I pursued my investigations further and then the words of this amendment were published. I read them several times and it seemed to me that if you put emphasis on a different word each time the wording meant something entirely different. If you looked at the Irish version you got further ambiguity.

I had opportunity to discuss the matter with various people of varying prominence in the legal and other professions, people who would not be by any means profoundly anti-amendment. It was conceded to me, for instance, that it was quite possible that if the view of society changed fundamentally about the acceptability of abortion this amendment might not of itself, if one interpretation were to be accepted, provide any protection. Then it was produced to me, on the other hand, that this amendment had profound implications which could not but interfere with a proper development of equality for women in Irish society. There does seem to be — and I will come back to this — a sort of mythology abroad now that in the areas of employment and in some other areas we have gone too far with the idea of equality for women. There does seem to be an opinion abroad that it may be time for a reappraisal of some of our values there.

I pursued my rather difficult study of this amendment. I will come back again to why I found it so difficult. The first question that arose was the question of who are “the unborn”. Without getting too involved in complicated medical factors I discovered that something like two-thirds of the fertilised ova in women are actually discharged without ever being implanted in the womb. I have not been able to persuade any theologian from the Roman Catholic Church to explain to me what happens to all those unborn people, if they are unborn people. Do they go to heaven, hell, limbo or what? I do not want to trivialise and I do not want to make little of a serious issue but if people are going to set themselves up on high mountains to preach moral absolutes, then they have an obligation to produce absolutely clear-cut answers to all the questions that their [650] position generates. I still do not know what the answer to that question is. I have got moralistic moral theological gobbledegook that I cannot understand and I suspect nobody else can either.

That is really where my objection to this amendment in principle began. I could not make sense of the words. I could not make sense of what they stood for. The wording was ambiguous. I do not think anybody has any doubts about that. Even the comments as quoted by Senator Higgins from the Bishop of Kerry conceded that. Even the comments of people in the so-called pro-life campaign concede that. Nobody believed that this wording is absolutely clear but they all believe that with what they would see as the ethos of Irish society there will be no problem because if there is a problem we will ignore it and if we cannot ignore it, well then it will go away and be solved in somebody else's country. There will be no problem. It is unquestionably sectarian for the very simple reason that it implies an acceptance not just of the moral theology but of the standard and traditional philosophical basis of one Church, because the Roman Catholic Church is steeped in Thomistic philosophy where other churches from other traditions take a different philosophical view. It is as sectarian to choose that Church's philosophy as it is to impose abstract concepts of transubstantiation which are a product of the same philosophy and say that other Churches must accept them.

Other objections were raised. It was suggested, for instance, that certain methods of contraception could well be put at risk by this amendment. That argument does not sway me too much because if certain forms of contraception are abortifacients — I do not wish to deal with the medical assumptions involved — they are prohibited already by the 1861 Act. Therefore, the amendment will not make any difference. Even if they are not, the amendment will not make any difference.

I have heard most of the arguments about so-called abortifacient contraceptives from individuals and groups who are vigorously, firmly and publicly associated [651] with this so called pro-life amendment campaign. The extraordinary thing is that inside that hideous little booklet which former Senator Michael Yeats drew to our attention yesterday, there is a reference to the consequences of rape and in that reference they coyly — I emphasise coyly — suggest that a woman who has been raped can avail of “emergency treatment” to avoid becoming pregnant. I have tried to find out what emergency treatment is available to a woman who has been raped. As far as I can see, there are a number of medical practices all of which are designed to guarantee that no fertilised ovum is implanted in the wall of her womb. That suggests to me that what they are saying is that perhaps in that particular circumstance, something that we will not call an abortion — because we approve of it — might be acceptable to prevent something happening which somebody else might have to have and which we would then call an abortion. I suspect they are advocating the use of the post-coital pill. I do not know what they are suggesting because I have not been able to find out. Nobody has been able to tell me what this emergency treatment is but I suspect it is what they would call under other circumstances and in other places an abortion because they insist that human life exists from the moment of conception.

There is the question of human life. I go very near to believing that human life begins very close to the moment of conception but I would not like to claim to know when. That vast array of UCD academics who wrote the letter saying that everybody was agreed and that people were being dishonest if they did not, did no service either to themselves or to the idea of academic impartiality. Of course a fertilised ovum is a living organism but the question is, is it a human life? I do not know how they or anybody else can prove it because I do not know if anybody yet can define human life. In Roman Catholic terms it would have to do with soul, choices, etc. As I have said, if someone explained to me what they think happens when fertilised ova are not [652] implanted then we would go a long way further along the argument about when human life begins.

The most serious indication of the ambiguity in this amendment came from the comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I should like somebody to explain to me at some stage how they get around his objections, not how they get around the Director of Public Prosecutions by suggesting that he should consider his position or that he behaved irresponsibly. The fact is that his views were sought — apparently as is normal practice — by the Attorney General on the implications of a particular wording. He, in compliance with his normal duties, replied that his view was that if this amendment was inserted in the Constitution he would have greater difficulty in pursuing prosecutions under the 1861 Act. This has nothing to do with one's attitude to the amendment or to the motivations behind the proponents of the amendment. This has nothing to do with one's attitude to abortion. This is an attempt to persuade us to have a serious debate about a serious issue.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has an absolute right to decide who should be prosecuted and interprets the law about who should be prosecuted. He is no great liberal as Dr. Andrew Rynne in County Kildare, who is currently the object of a prosecution for selling contractives, will admit. He said that if this amendment is inserted in the Constitution it will make his job of prosecuting under the 1861 Act more difficult. That is a serious objection. One Fianna Fáil Member of this House said to me that it is just an opinion. It might well be just an opinion but that is all any of us have. The difference in the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions is that his opinion is what matters. He will decide what is to be done. There is no point pursuing a political position however tempting it may be — and it is tempting when you have the leader of a party who rather unfortunately sprayed accusations about sectarianism in every direction except his own and then capitulated very quickly as a result of pressure from a fairly sectarian group — for Fianna Fáil to make the best [653] of the Taoiseach's uncomfortable position if the consequence will be the direct opposite of what I suspect is their clear intention. If the consequence is a less rigid application of the laws on abortion they have an obligation at least either to explain to people like myself how they propose to get around that objection or else explain what they propose to do about it. Will they sack the Director of Public Prosecutions? I do not know.

Of course, there is a lot of ambiguity. The sort of coy remarks from senior members of the medical profession when questions are raised about certain treatments of pregnant women, as they chose to call them, are very interesting as well. The 1861 Act makes no reference to exceptions. There are many people in this House capable of correcting me so I think I can say without feeling that I am going to lead the country astray, that in civil law there is no distinction between the direct and indirect consequences of one's actions, a distinction which exists and which is used to considerable effect in canon law. Therefore those who, for instance, in the case of an ectopic pregnancy or a woman with cancer of the uterus perform the necessary operation could well be guilty of an offence under the 1861 Act except that we choose to turn a blind eye to it. In the eyes of the civil law they are procuring a termination of a pregnancy. I do not want to become involved in long and complicated medical arguments because they have been gone through so often. However, it needs to be said again that it is not good enough for the medical profession to assure women that, irrespective of how this entire amendment is interpreted, they will look after their welfare. No more than the rest of us, they cannot be above the law. If the law is wrong they must obey it or else they are guilty of an offence as is the case with everybody else. They cannot have it both ways. If they want rigid legislative definitions of the rights of the unborn in the Constitution then they have to accept all of the consequences of that particular view, not just those consequences that they happen to approve of. The soothing noises being made by members of the medical [654] profession on this issue cannot avoid that problem. I have not heard the problem addressed and answered properly.

There has been considerable reference to pluralism. It is not an issue on which I would like to make too much noise because I do not recognise pluralism as an absolute value. I would not sacrifice this country's neutrality in order to achieve the reunification of this island. I would not sacrifice this country's absence from any nuclear defence force in order to achieve the unity of this island, irrespective of whether it was the sole demand of the majority in Northern Ireland. I do not believe in a valueless pluralism which puts all fundamental values below that of the achievement of a pluralist consensus. Where there are homogenous minorities who have reasonable grounds for concern in areas where there is actually reasonable dissent and where fundamental principles are not involved, then we have obligations and we have failed shamelessly to meet them. That is what has been said by most people on this amendment up to now.

I have very strong views on this amendment but they have only developed over the last seven or eight months. Up to then I had intended to speak here once, vote against it and go away. I did not think it was such a central issue. But many things have developed. Old ideas have surfaced again. Intolerances have surfaced as have questions about the role of bodies external to this House, their influence and significance in the determination of public policy. I was forced to reconsider.

There is another fact which has to be mentioned again. It is that per capita the abortion rate in this country is now as high as in the United Kingdom. In case nobody believes me, let me explain: there about 150,000 abortions per annum in the United Kingdom. According to their statistics about 50,000 of those are for women with addresses outside the United Kingdom. That leaves approximately 100,000 for a population of about 60 million. An estimated 5,000 Irish women per year travel to the United Kingdom to have abortions. One hundred thousand [655] is 20 times 5,000, 60 million is 20 times three million. We have an equal level of abortion in this country to that in the United Kingdom. What is our response? To provide better counselling, better housing, better family law so that women can be protected from marital rape? No, our attempt is to make sure that whatever happens does not happen at home. That seems to be the limit of our objection. But the abortion rate among Irish women is effectively the same as that in the United Kingdom.

Our Constitution should be more or less an agreed document. If there is disagreement, it should be disagreement distributed throughout all sections of society. A Constitution which was acceptable to an income bracket above a certain level and unacceptable to an income bracket below would be wrong. A Constitution which was acceptable to some religions and not to others would also be wrong. A proposal to give positive protection to the unborn, while anybody can see the apparent merits of it, produced all those problems I have just reffered to.

Speaking of the unborn, does anybody in this country have any idea of the number of children all over the world who die because of the astonishingly high infant mortality rates in Third World countries? It is astonishing that the campaign being mounted, with all the resources from so many of the wealthiest countries in the world, is devoted to presuading this little country not to do something rather than to do something about the death rate among born children. I have a suspicion that something other than life is at the centre of this debate. To say I have a suspicion is understanding it: I am more and more convinced of it.

Those who claimed they had an exclusive title to the term “pro-life” resorted more and more to tactics that in their philosophy, attitude, and nastiness, contradicted the very thing they claimed to stand for. One specific example I would like to record here is something that happened to me during the Seanad election campaign. My philosophy during the election compaign was that I would make my attitude to this amendment clear to [656] any of my constituents who asked me. A phone call from a woman said she was the secretary of the student pro-life movement. I asked for her name and in the traditions of free expression she refused to give it to me. I said that I thought students would not be involved in an election which would involve graduates of the national university and she said some of her members were graduates and that she was a graduate herself. Then she asked me what I thought of the amendment. I told her then what is my position now: that I did not believe it was necessary, that it would not achieve anything and that I would vote against it. She said “Suppose the Supreme Court ruled differently at some stage, I suppose you would object to that amendment too.” I said that I would not but that it was none of her business. She then turned on me and said that she was surprised that somebody with my ten years of work with the Simon Community would be anti-life. I invited her to put it in writing and said I would sue her.

That is the philosophy of that organisation. Anybody who does not agree with them is anti-life. If anything was calculated to provoke me from being moderately concerned about this amendment to having fundamental objections to it, it was the astonishingly free way in which the term “anti-life” was thrown around. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, among the most sedate, conservative groups of people in Irish soceity — from personal experience. I say they will not be the agents of fundamental revolution in this country if they can avoid it — said they were opposed to the amendment. A Cardinal promptly branded the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as anti-life. I went back to thinking again and found a quotation in the interminable correspondence in The Irish Times: the deliberate direct destruction of innocent human life is always contrary to God's law. That caught my attention. It came from a cleric and sounded convincing until one sat down and thought about it. Every word of it was full of little escape clauses to justify all sorts of other kinds of killing except the particular one that he did not approve of. For instance, [657]“deliberate” is there so that “accidental” or “secondary” can be avoided. If some people decided they needed to “nuke” Moscow airport and 10 million Soviet citizens were killed in the process that is not deliberate but an unfortunate consequence. In order to protect us from Godless atheism it might be justifiable. That is not exaggeration. It is the sort of thing the Bishop of Limerick has been known to say. “Direct” is to avoid the problem of certain treatments that are acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church because they will be indirect. Then there is “innocent” human life. That is the one which intrigued me.

I wrote a letter to The Irish Times inquiring how all the conscripts in all the armies of all the tyrants for thousands of years who had a choice either to join up or be killed on the spot had lost their innocence. The answer was a blinding and, to the best of my knowledge, total silence on the question. Innocent human life was meant to mean the unborn and no one else. In my naive Christianity most people are innocent. Most people who are forced to fight in wars are innocent. They are there because they have no choice. It is interesting that when there is a serious war, in spite of the fervour of the leadership of the countries for the war, to get the manpower they usually have to introduce conscription. If a man is told either to go out and take the risk of being killed or executed or locked up at home, then the chances are he will join up. But when do they lose their innocence? They love it because certain moralists in the Churches, to preserve their own powerful position, decide to co-operate with the establishment in those countries by justifying killing when the establishment think it is necessary. That is what warfare is all about. There is nobody I know who has fought in a war who attaches more than that much to the theory of a just war. They know that the theory goes out the door once one is caught in a position of conflict. There we had it — deliberate, direct destruction of innocent human life — all of them qualified to try to avoid any of the difficult problems involved in the edict that “thou shalt not kill” except the one that [658] they want to home in on.

The history of Christian moral teaching in the area of killing, death and the use of violence and force has been the most shameful, ambiguous capitulation to powerful interests. I can only suspect that it is the subconscious guilt about this that provokes the hysteria about the one area of what is called killing in which the Church has a reasonably consistent record and that is in the area of the unborn. We have been eternally ambiguous about capital punishment. I have just spoken about warfare and, at the end of it all, it means that when those who are in lawful authority decide that it is a just war, off we go and fight.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy in this country produced a long document with many worthwhile ideas entitled “Human Life is Sacred”. Not a single, solitary line of that suggested that a Christian might have the right, or dare I say it, the obligation, at least to think about the right to dissent from fighting in wars that he did not in conscience approve of. It was a document on the sanctity and sacredness of human life and contained no reference to the right of conscientious objection. I was watching a programme on television last night about the Arbour Hill commemoration. In the context of the sacredness of human life there are few things that I find harder to take than the sight of a Roman collar sticking out under a military uniform.

None of us has the right to point a finger or say that somebody else is involved in killing, death or the infliction of punishment or pain. “Thou shalt not kill” is either an absolute or it does not exist. If it is an absolute no Christian has the right to kill anywhere or to take part in warfare that is justified.

Even on the issue of nuclear warfare the Churches have disgraced themselves. The British Anglican Church suggested that perhaps Britain should renounce the use of nuclear weapons. They did not even state that they were absolutely wrong. The whole establishment fell on their heads and the matter was promptly dropped. The Roman Catholic Hierarchy of the United States have proposed that the further production of nuclear weapons [659] should cease. Again, the whole establishment, not just of the United States but of the central authority of the Roman Catholic Church, fell on their heads. To their great credit they resisted and have now decided that it is their view that the further production of nuclear weapons should cease. The greatest threat that exists to the life of the unborn is not abortion, horrible though it be, but the threat of nuclear warfare which would produce death, miscarriage and handicap for generation upon generation of the unborn in every country of the world.

The shameful capitulation of the Churches on issues where human life is threatened on a global scale by much bigger issues has to be contrasted with their obsession with the question of human life in the case of the unborn, correct though they be on that issue. One cannot be selectively pro-life. The obligation rests on us to defend all life or to remain silent. Just imagine, for the sake of contrast, that we have to hold on to nuclear weapons because the Russians have them also and would use them if we did not; and if women said we will stop having abortions if men get rid of their dreadfully anti-women attitudes and stop abusing women in the way they do. In other words, abortion is a necessary though evil practice that is required because of the way men treat women. That is the sort of thinking we use when we say that we must hold on to nuclear weapons, horrible though they are, because otherwise the other side will use them against us.

Those who shout so loudly that abortion is always wrong — I find it hard except in very rare circumstances to disagree with them — seem to contemplate with equanimity — indeed the moral majority in the United States have this extraordinary position where on the one hand they oppose abortion and on the other they support more, bigger and faster nuclear weapons, more defence expenditure and so on — the incineration and destruction of millions yet unborn and the mutilation of many more millions. All this is done in the name of the defence of Christian civilisation.

[660] What is behind this amendment? I have come to the conclusion that it is a fatal blend of two very potent forces in human life, sex and religion. We have, unfortunately, a history of repression in the area of human sexuality which has distorted men, women and human relationships. We were not supposed to talk about it. It was not really supposed to exist and if it existed it was something that a man was allowed to do in return for something else that he was supposed to provide. The positive value of sexuality was ignored. Corruption of a most appalling fashion resulted. People sniggered in corners and men sniggered on their own in private conversations about what they would like to do to certain attractive women if they could get them in certain positions.

Every man in this House is aware of the way men talk about women when women are absent. That is not a product of our sinful state. It is a product of the corruption, repression and distortion that was foisted upon us by a particularly narrow interpretation of the extraordinarily positive teachings of Jesus Christ in the area of sexuality, as was His teaching on every other issue. We have a negative view of sexuality. We see sexuality as something which effectively is inherently sinful but which we are allowed to do under certain circumstances in order to procreate the species. Liberal clergy of the present generation will have a different view. I have heard nobody apologise for the distorted values that were foisted upon my generation, to some extent, and every generation before that — the blemish on a generation which has made marriages painful and difficult, and communication within marriage and women's rights extremely difficult to achieve. We ultimately ended up with this extraordinary term “concupiscence” which is something which one has and which getting married and having sexual intercourse within marriage enables one to get rid of. That is supposed to be one of the aims of marriage as defined by the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church of which I am still a member, unless after this speech they throw me out.

The Irish attitude to sex and sexuality [661] are at the centre of this debate and amendment. Irish sexuality is men and women until recently sniggering at a safe distance from each other. I remember as a youngster of about ten going to a parish retreat and going home frightened out of my wits after the sermon that I had heard on birth control. I did not know what birth control was but I knew that it was terrible because I knew the consequences in such horrific pyrotechnic detail that I still have not forgotten the sermon. That is only about 20 years ago. That was the Irish attitude to sexuality. It was cruel. It was distorting and stunting. I resent it and the bland way that it has now been forgotten. The teaching now about sexuality is so positive, beautiful and enhancing one would never think that there had been another view. Those who produced that old teaching have yet to apologise and say they are sorry to generations of people for the pain they inflicted upon them because they inflicted their own particular prejudices and preoccupations on married people trying to live in some sort of happiness together.

It is only now that our young people who, by and large are highly moral, have discovered for themselves that sex is not a negative, sinful, dirty matter but is rather a joyful, liberating experience which draws people together and is also good fun. It took our young people to discover that and it was only after that that the Churches finally got around to realising that perhaps that was the reality about sex, not that it corrupts people but that it brings people together.

We were not always like this. Two hundred years ago, Brian Merriman wrote Cúirt an Mheán Oíche and I propose, unless the laws of obscenity prevent me, to read some sections of it onto the record of this House so that the true reality of Irish sexuality can be recorded. I begin with lines 104 to 106 from An Dúnaire, page 228:

Táim in achrann daingean na mblianta, ag tarraing go tréan ar laethaibh liatha, is eagal liom éag gan éinne 'om iarradh...

This is translated by Kinsella as follows:

[662] In the knot of the years I am tangled tight,

I am heading hard for my days of grey and I fear I'll die without anyone asking...

That is a long way from the old Roman Catholic philosophy of sexuality which was foisted upon us for 100 years from the Famine on.

Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  Earlier this morning I said that there would be informal consultations in regard to the business of the House. It is now apparent that the Second Stage of this Bill will not be concluded today. The proposal is that the Seanad should meet again at 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday next in order to continue Second Stage. The Minister for Justice will be available throughout that day.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  That is agreed.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Brian Merriman in Cúirt an Mheán Oíche, as I was quoting earlier before we suspended the sitting gives a fairly colourful account of Irish attitudes to sexuality. The interesting thing is that he is quite scathing about Irish men. It is the absolutely, astonishingly, open attitude to sexuality of Irish women as described by Brian Merriman that I think contrasts with the way we in recent years up to recently have repressed that idea, and indeed the whole idea of sexuality, as something positive and worthwhile and beneficial. I would like to continue with a second brief quotation from the sections of “Cúirt an Mheán Oíche” that are contained in An Dúnaire:

An bhfuil stuaire beo ná feofadh liath ag cuail dá shórt bheith pósta riamh, nár chuardaigh fós fá dhó le bliain cé buachaill óg í, feoil, nó iasc? 's an feoiteach fuar so suas léi sínte dreoite duairc, gan bhua gan bhíogadh.

In English, as translated by Kinsella:

What handsome woman would go grey at the thought of being wed to a bundle of bones

[663] that wouldn't inquire, not twice in the year,

was she half-grown boy or meat or fish?

—this dry cold thing stretched out across her

surly and spent, without power or bounce.

There is a further, long quotation from “Cúirt an Mheán Oíche” but I think I would probably be imposing on the rules of the House, and on the blushes of some of the Senators. I suspect that an Seanadóir de Brún knows “Cúirt an Mheán Oíche” as well as I and understands what I am saying. I will not impose it. But it is worthwhile contrasting that attitude to human sexuality 200 years ago while the Penal Laws were still in force, with some of the barren, frightening, sad images of Irish life in Ireland of the forties and fifties in Patrick Kavanagh's “The Great Hunger”. Again, I quote a few small sections, and I will not impose on the rules of the House.

O he loved his mother

Above all others.

O he loved his ploughs

And he loved his cows

And his happiest dream

Was to clean his arse

With perennial grass

On the bank of some summer stream;

To smoke his pipe

In a sheltered gripe

In the middle of July—

His face in a mist

And two stones in his fist

And an impotent worm on his thigh.

That is the vision of Ireland that, unfortunately, a man who, to my mind, is one of our greatest poets, had to leave us with. One further quotation:

The young women ran wild

And dreamed of a child

Joy dreams from the fog though the fathers might foresake them

But no one would take them,

No one would take them,

And Patrick Maguire

From his purgatory fire

[664] Called the gods of the Christian to prove

That this twisted skein

Was a necessary pain

And not the rope that was strangling true love.

That epitomises the pain and the loneliness that was imposed on generations of Irish people, not by Christian sexuality or Christian sexual morality but by a narrowminded, twisted and repressive distortion of Christian sexual morality. It is worthwhile to anybody who may well be offended by what I just said, that the image used by Saint Paul to describe the relationship between Christ and his church is the image of sexual union between a man and woman. That, if you wish, is the final sanctification you could ask for for sex.

We perhaps have come a long way. That is probably the lightest and easiest description I have found of the changes in attitudes to sex and sexuality, not just in Ireland but universally in recent years. I welcome them and regard them as a positive development. Some of the more extreme manifestations may give offence, but our young people, for instance, who are often regarded as immoral, amoral, etc., have developed a highly moral attitude to sexuality but one which is not based on any fear or negative thinking. There is a poem by Philip Larkin called “Annus Mirabïlis”. The first two verses — it is only about eight lines:

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty three

Actually that was about the time that RTE opened up and another politician made a similar comment, but this is a little bit more profound—

Which was rather late for me—

Between the end of the Chatterly ban

And the Beatles' first LP

The second verse I think, better than anything I have ever seen, describes the old, the cruel and the hurtful way that men and women used to relate to each other:

Up till then there'd only been

A sort of bargaining, [665]

A wrangle for a ring,

A shame that started at sixteen

And spread to everything.

That is what we left behind, and that is what I hope we have left behind, because that particular attitude to sex and sexuality, hard though it may well have been on men, was entirely cruel to women.

It is worth noting in passing that when Patrick Kavanagh wrote that poem from which I quote the response of Irish society was to have the police visit him and ask him what was he doing writing offensive nonsense like that. That is not so long ago either.

The humanising of sex has been one of the great improvements in Irish society in the last 20 years. There cannot and will not be any going back and the efforts of any antiquated, old-fashioned, regressive group to insert a clause in the Constitution which is meaningless in itself but which would give hope to those who would send us backwards will not be successful because young people in Irish society will not allow it to be successful. We are simply making ourselves look ridiculous to achieve nothing.

It is necessary for Irish male politicians in particular to reflect on how as an extension of this distorted sexuality we have developed attitudes to women. The classic one, of course, is to leave women very much the victims of broken marriages because they usually end up with the children in a state of limbo, unsure of their status and unsure of their property and unsure of their rights. Particularly characteristic is our attitude to rape. It is impossible, for instance, to persuade anybody that it would be nice and appropriate for a woman who has been raped—and rape is very central to this, because of a lot of things have been said about rape in many places on this issue of the amendment—to be examined by a female doctor, because somebody somewhere decided that it would be difficult to do so. Much more serious is the assertion that has been made by many people in the pro-amendment campaign that rarely, if ever, does a woman become pregnant because of rape. I gather that in terms of the legal definition of rape [666] that exists in this country, it is true. What we have done is that we have coyly ignored, because we will not accept that it exists, the fact of rape in marriage.

For instance, if rape is sexual intercourse which is imposed upon a woman against her wishes, then within Irish marriage, from what we know, rape is very widespread. We do not know how many pregnancies result from that. Instead of acknowledging the fact, we say that is not rape, and therefore people do not become pregnant because of rape.

Our attitudes to women in the welfare service and to single parents, and single mothers in particular, do us no great credit. Above all, and this needs to be said again and again by male politicians, our attitude to women in the private conversations of men is where fundamental reforms are needed. The old ways of repression and restriction did not achieve any sense of dignity for women because in private conversation they were treated as sexual objects. That way did not work. There is another way, the way of equality and mutual respect. This amendment and the philosophy behind it and the values that it represents is not the way to achieve that sense of mutual respect.

I remember on one occasion being in the Members' Bar in this House, and what I am about to say is as much criticism of myself as anybody else. During the last “no confidence” motion when the previous Government were defeated, and the RTE current affairs programme that comes after the news came on, everybody, myself and a number of prominent women Members turned to watch that programme because we thought it was about us. It turned out that it was only about rape, and the conversation resumed with everyone turning their backs and we carried on, because rape was not really a political problem that really fascinated us. It included me and a number of women Members of one or other of the Houses of the Oireachtas. That represents the way we really treat women and treat their problems. If it had been a problem about some other area of violence I suspect much more would have been said or would have been done.

We have discriminated against single [667] mothers in regard, for instance, to housing and rented accommodation. Our attitudes to women have been singularly bad and offensive.

As a man I resent the way all this has been foisted on me over the years in the name of Christian civilisation. I resent the artificial barriers between men and women. I resent the artificial roles of men and women and the stereotype that would have kept me to a very limited role in fathering my daughter. I would have been kept to an old-fashioned role in which I was a breadwinner and somebody else actually was the real fosterer of family life and the real carer of children. It was as much a repression on me as it was a repression on womanhood. I resent the sort of regressive role foisted upon me where society decides that men do the fighting and the women stay at home. I do not think any of us should be fighting, there is nothing masculine about it. It has much to do with stereotyped roles that we have this aggressive thing that is supposed to be a characteristic of men. I resent the suppression of emotion which is supposed to be a masculine characteristic and which is a further production of our attitude to women and to sexuality.

All this is implanted, I use the word with all the ambiguity that it has, in a bedrock of orthodox religion. That brings me to the role of the Church. I would not wish in normal circumstances to bring my own religious convictions into this debate, but it has been done by another person in another House. Those of us who have Christian beliefs are therefore obliged to say, particularly to our young people, that there is a way of living Christianity other than the way which is being publicly and politically proclaimed and indeed canonised by the conferring of knighthoods, etc. There is another way to live Christianity, even if the Church establishment does not altogether approve of it.

I can say that in this area the role of the official Church leaves something to be questioned. Look at the role of the United States hierarchy meeting in public, debating in public, arguing and coming to an agreement in spite of pressures. [668] They meet, debate and discuss in public. Contrast with that of the secrecy and the privacy where one word is issued from Maynooth, though we would all know the dissenting views, but we do not know who the dissenters were and we do not know what the arguments were and why the conclusions were drawn. The way of Christianity is the way of openness, the belief that the truth is out because the truth as we believe it is the truth and that is how it becomes supreme because it is the truth, not because we have the power to impose it on anybody.

I am interested in the indication that we should allow the people a chance to express themselves on the issue of the right to life. I wonder if there would be a similar request to allow the people to express their views on the question of divorce, or does the fact that every opinion poll shows that the people would give the wrong answer on that issue mean we will not be invited to give them a chance to express themselves on that issue? That sort of selective concern for democracy is the worst form of concern for democracy.

I say this with some concern. I think in some ways of the recent role of the Roman Catholic Church in its attempt to determine what the Oireachtas will do and will say, because it was done in private, because it was not done under the scrutiny of all the various checks and balances that our society has, so that somebody like myself when I have to express my views also have to defend my views in one form or another — when you have a monopoly, when you can say one thing and never have to defend yourself, when you decide in private, when you have that much power, you are coming close to beginning to subvert the institutions of the State.

I say all this not because I am anti-Catholic but for the very opposite reason — because I am Catholic. It should not have to be said. I am sick to death of other people touting their Catholicism as a justification for right wing reaction on hosts of issues. I am sick to death of other people touting their Catholicism to justify their silence on some issues. The suggestion is often conceded that it is [669] possible to be against the amendment in spite of being a Catholic. I want to put it clearly on the record here that I am against the amendment because I am a Roman Catholic and because of what I believe Roman Catholicism stands for, not because of, or in spite of, or through some slip-up in my logical thinking processes. I am against the amendment because of the tone and the tactics and the attitudes and the implicit values of many who support it, because the underlying reasons and because the tactics fly in the face of what I believe in as a practising Catholic to be real Christianity. I am opposed to it because I am a Catholic. Christians have no right to claim power: it is not part of the teachings of Jesus Christ that Christians claim structural, legalistic, political power. The role of the Christian community and the Christian Church is one of service not of control, of compassion not condemnation, of spirit not law, and of support, not abandonment, for those who are frightened and vulnerable and threatened by the inadequacies and inequalities of our society. That represents my simple final view on it. I am opposed to this amendment because in spirit, in principle, and in terms of the tactics used and the philosophy behind it, it opposes the fundamental values that I stand for and which motivate my life.

Mr. Robb: Information on John DA Robb  Zoom on John DA Robb  In rising to speak in this debate I am conscious of why I am here in the first place. It is just a year since the then Taoiseach nominated me as a person from the North to come to the Seanad. It is a great honour to be here. Before we go any further I must say that on a number of occasions recently in Ballymoney, North Antrim, people have asked me, “What are you doing there anyway, Mr. Robb? What is the point in you being there? Have you done anything since you went there?” Sometimes I have to ask myself the same questions because it seems that in a situation where one is nominated, where such nomination flies in the face of every democratic thought that one has had, it is beholden on one to ask oneself why one is where one is and [670] what is the purpose of being there?

I have to start by facing the truth, which is that I do not represent nor do I claim to represent, anyone. I can at least speak as a Northern Protestant Irishman and make some observations in this debate which may be relevant and helpful.

Throughout the speeches yesterday and this morning, and the one we have just listened to, and listening to people in this House when talking to them as individuals, it has become apparent that we have had confirmed, and rightly confirmed, here that Deputies and Senators — the same might well go for Assembly men in the North and Members of Parliament in Britain — are under enormous pressure in their constituencies to compromise on important issues with what their conscience tells them and what political expediency demands of them.

There are some issues which are of more fundamental importance to society and to the ethos of that society than others. I maintain that life and death issues are of this calibre. Therefore, it is with great sorrow that at a time like this in Ireland when there is so much death, destruction, killing and murder that there is not more freedom of conscience allowed in the participation in this debate both in the Dáil and Seanad.

The opinions I express here today are probably more the result of experience than of any great deep reading of the legal, social, moral or theological cases that can be made for or against the amendment which may be put before the people of the Irish Republic.

In the course of 20 years or so I worked as a doctor and travelled throughout the Middle East, the Far East, Africa, along the Nile, in North America and, for the last decade, in a very troubled part of Ireland. Throughout that time I have seen a great deal of human misery. I have seen many people face up to moral questions, physical questions, questions of mere survival who in the moment have had to respond to their immediate needs in ways which one could say were less than ideal and for reasons which very often had to do with the fact that in the society and communities in which they [671] belong they could not find sufficient succour, support, understanding, love and compassion.

It was said during this debate that compassion and love are not out of place when we are dealing with a subject such as this. Therefore, it is with great difficulty that I have struggled with the issues as a doctor and a surgeon who has been trained to use the murderous curette. I cannot think of a situation in which I could use it and live easily with myself. Yet I am going to make the case for opposing the amendment which it is proposed to put before the people.

In this respect one has to consider the total society and the right of conscience and the right of dissent in that society. Let me deal first with one of the dilemmas which this topic of abortion poses. We have heard that the ectopic pregnancy is excluded in the teaching of the Catholic Church from the prohibition on abortion. In general terms an ectopic pregnancy usually means a pregnancy which has ruptured from the fallopian tube. That is a life threatening situation for the woman and it means inevitable death for the foetus. Does it? Because we are obliged in medical science and practice to undertake a laparotomy and, if the diagnosis is confirmed, to remove the affected tube and foetus. Yet one can sometimes see that that foetus is still viable.

It may not be many more years before the mechanical and technological aids that are being developed at present will make it possible to ensure that that foetus, at present discarded may live. That is one of the sort of questions we are going to have to face.

I have said that in general terms ectopic pregnancy relates, from the point of view of gynaecologists and for surgeons who are confronted with it, to the ruptured ectopic. “Ectopic” by definition means outside the uterus or womb. I went to Zimbabwe at the height of the war when they were short of surgeons and worked in a hospital there. On my first night of emergency duty there, I diagnosed a pregnant woman as having appendicitis. You can imagine my surprise when making the traditional grid iron incision in the [672] lower right abdomen I was greeted with a hand stretching out for life. I did not know what had hit me in the darkest corners of Africa and I suddenly remembered not being a gynaecologist and not having been confronted with such a matter, that in my notes from away back in 1955, intra-abdominal pregnancy as a sub-division of ectopic pregnancy is a recognised fact of life. That child almost died, but there were two more during my time in Zimbabwe who lived.

At present it is said that abortion is permissible if the mother's life is in danger so I must ask, if in the particular cases concerned the mother's life had been in danger, would it have been permissible to remove potentially viable children from the abdomen rather than from the womb? If it is permissible to abort the pregnancy in that context then one has to ask oneself whether there is such absolute resistance to abortion in all other situations. Having said that, I must emphasise that in the normal practice of medical life this sort of issue in western countries rarely arises. Medical people have made this clear. The conflict that may once have arisen between saving the life of the mother and saving the life of a foetus is something which many medical people could go through their lives and never be confronted with because medical science has reached the point where it is less and less likely to happen. One would rarely be confronted with that situation. I only mention that experience to try to show how difficult it may be to be absolute about these questions and also to see that one has to qualify them in terms of experience as well as in terms of one's cultural inheritance.

We have also heard a considerable amount made of definitions or an attempt to say that it is impossible to define what is meant by life. I would suggest that I have not heard anyone yet talk about new life rather than life. Do we arrogantly believe that life starts at the critical moment of conception. I would much prefer to consider the matter that new life starts at the critical moment of conception. Then I would have to ask myself what protection will we afford this life. After all, we can say we allow the mother [673] a choice but we are not permitting the unborn child a choice. Then I have to ask myself. “How can you permit something a choice which is no position to have a choice?” I would therefore suggest that if new life commences at the critical moment of conception, being the origins of our humanity to be, starts at the critical moment of the division of the umbilical cord, it is at that moment that we face the conflict, the essence of our humanity, that conflict between being a part of and apart from nature at one and the same time. It is in that conflict that we have choice, the choice to grow or the choice to decay. We cannot confer that choice on the unborn because the unborn is still part of the mother to whom it belongs.

Therefore, I would suggest that what we are facing here is an acknowledgement that the unborn does not have choice and that therefore we cannot worry about the fact that we are not allowing it a choice, but we are facing the challenge of the sanctity of life when we are talking about the foetus. We are talking about the sanctity of new life, not about the rights of a human being. When we face up to this challenge of the sanctity of life we must ask ourselves are we being consistent. That sanctity should spread throughout all aspects of life. If I were being asked today to consider a pro-life appreciation for the people of Ireland I would have no hesitation in general terms in saying that we should have a Constitution which upholds a pro-life ideal. We may be guilty of hypocrisy if we are going to select one aspect of the life-death scenario and concentrate so exclusively on it.

We have heard and read much in recent months about just wars, about the philosophy of the lesser of two evils and about the need to make distinctions between direct and indirect killing. I would submit, as was suggested by Senator Brendan Ryan, that a pro-life attitude rather than a specific pro-life amendment would do much more for this country at this time. I should like to read half of a letter which I sent to the papers recently and also the response to it. You may better appreciate some of the difficulties of those who are concerned about life and death issues in Ireland in general [674] as well as in this specific instance. I wrote this as follows:

It is difficult to be pro-life in earnest. For instance, are we against the death penalty? Do we affirm that hunger strike to the death is wrong? Are we doing everything in our power to prevent ecological disaster? Are we unilateralists? What do we say about the legitimisation of armies to kill? The implications of being pro-life, the anti-abortion campaign and the pro-life amendment have in recent months occupied many Irish people North and South of the Border. Short of accepting the Christian pacifist viewpoint, in no circumstances shalt thou kill or sanction killing, it is clear that a point of contradiction will inevitably be reached in a pro-life stance. Being convinced, however, that a pro-life philosophy is vital if mankind is to hold on to hope, I am as a result utterly opposed to abortion. Nevertheless I refuse to yield before absolutism for I also believe that the essence of being fully human as opposed to being divine is to be able to entertain the possibility of doubt. In any case, have we not all too frequently seen particularly in Ireland zeal for absolutism being transformed into fanaticism and anyone who values liberty should be wary of that. Rejection of nuclear blasphemy, respect for our ecology, outright condemnation of killing and murder and positive neutrality based on passive resistance are as much part and parcel of the pro-life philosophy as is antiabortion. So, too, is persuasion rather than coercion. This said, it is not possible to conclude however that voting for this particular amendment will enhance the pro-life position in Ireland. Indeed, through reinforcing negative political attitudes at this critical time in our history it could have the opposite effect.

It is with some despair and considerable sadness that I went through the mail that came through the door following that. I received the following from a man who signed himself as an “ex-senior Army officer”.

[675] All I can say is it's almost the final nail in the coffin of Irish unity. How could we want such sentiments down here? Anyway we could not afford you. Perhaps I could agree with that.

He continues:

As most of us here do not wish to import murder, the highest illegitimate birth rates, murder by so-called IRA etc. please go away and stay away if your letter is your final attitude.

The tragedy of that letter was in its irony, that a man who spent his life as a soldier trained presumably to act not only in self-defence but also to attack and to be able to cope with the killing of his fellowman, was able to sanction the killings of those who were born and yet had an absolute position in relation to what I have been trying to tease out in the situation of those who are unborn.

Some of the thinking, confusion, difficulty and pain which we all have had in facing this issue for the protection of the unborn child, what we mean by it, what we are prepared to sanction and what is absolutely right or wrong in relation to what is being called abortion, is something similar to what we all suffered at the time of the hunger strike. I see it as only one rung down the ladder compared with the anguish that many — and I include myself — had to go through at the time of the hunger strike. At that time someone who was of their party made the terrible indictment that they had no choice. In accordance with the argument I started out to make, to say that was to deny them their humanity for they had already by deduction returned to the womb of their origins where there is no conflict. To have said on the other hand that this was their choice would have been a much more heroic affirmation of what was taking place even though it was the choice for the affirmation of death over life and even though it was indicating some support for a viewpoint that one has a right to take one's own life. In that situation we were teasing out similar issues and yet because the people of Ireland had compassion, they were [676] able to say — and I certainly recognise, as a person who did not come out of their tradition —“we recognise the psychological, the social and the political reasons for hunger strike to the death.” But I would never have conceded that there was any moral justification for hunger strike to the death. I am asking for consistency and for compassion.

When we talk about compassion we have to ask ourselves if we are facing up to the dilemma that confronts the woman with the unwanted or with the feared pregnancy. It is in facing that dilemma that we will be judged as a society. In the course of making our judgment and coming to our conclusions it is vitally important that we listen to our theologians, our philosophers and our medical practitioners. It is even more important that we listen to ourselves because we could reason for ever but it is in our instinct, in our deepest feelings, if they have been kept intact by the process of living, that we will find the answers. We need help and understanding and we need to relate.

We are human and not divine. We have different cultural traditions, different religious outlooks but we are all striving for the unity of the One, to belong in God. We will see such problems as this from slightly different emphasis but do not doubt that the person who is opposed to us in this debate may not be just as sincere.

As medical people we must face up to the implications of modern technology. It might be nice to say we should get rid of super technology and turn to alternative technology more appropriate to calm, close community living but it is a fact of life that we now have this technology, that we are now using it, that consumerism creates a demand for it, that we kindle expectations for it. One example of it is the ultra-sound investigation of the pregnant woman. Unless a woman makes a positive decision that she will not have that investigation she must accept the consequences of it. It is inevitable that she may be told that she has a permanently mentally handicapped foetus. On the other hand, it may be discovered as she goes through the checkout in the airport that she is pregnant. Technology [677] has not reached that degree of sophistication yet and it would not surprise me if that facility were available in the not-too-distant future. Just as 20 years ago one's suitcase could not have gone down the slipway and had its total contents shown up on a screen, so 20 years from now I am quite certain we will be able to go through some sort of a slipway where the man at the other side of the machine will be able to tell if the girl passing him is pregnant or not.

We have to face up to the implications of what we are doing. In this respect we must accept that we live not only collectively in communities and within the boundaries of the nation but we also live by consociation and by consociation I mean one may belong to Islam, or to the Catholic world or to the Protestant world or to the world of Judaism and that each of these traditions have come historically from different roots and from splits in roots. Each of these traditions are sincerely facing these grave issues and trying to grapple with them. If we have learned nothing else, we have learned at least how complex the problem is and how difficult it is to be absolute in identification of the problem and in trying to tease out its solution.

I would accept completely that we need a concept of sin and a fear of guilt. If we did not have them we would have to invent them in order to act in some way as the cement of the collectivity to which we belong or want to belong. The question I now ask is what we do when we break with the mores of our tradition and feel this sense of guilt? We can cope with that either by the use of falsehood as we have seen in many acts of violence but that ultimately will lead again to neurosis on the one hand or to further violence on the other: or we can deal with guilt through the process of redemption and penance by returning to the collectivity from which we separated. Therefore, the Churches have a great duty and have to be much more courageous than they have been in the past, much more imaginative than they have been in the past, and much more adventurous in dealing with the problem of guilt which has been so deep in the whole of Irish society both [678] among Protestants and Catholics. North and South, and helping people to get rid of it, to liberate themselves and to be free again. That is the function of the Church.

The function of the State, however, is surely to cope with our imperfections, to acknowledge that they exist and to help us deal with them. In that respect and in relation to the State let me say a brief word about the Seanad. I remarked at the start that I have been here for a year now. Some people in the North ask me what I think I have achieved. By implication I indicated not an awful lot. But I do believe that a plea was made yesterday to which we should respond — that this is an ideal debating Chamber in which we could be teasing out all sorts of difficult areas for debate, for the expression of ideas, for interchange to prepare the way for the politicians in the Dáil who could more freely debate the issues if they had already been given some public ventilation and some public debate and were less hidebound by traditional attitudes and by lobby groups, pressure groups and the pressures of clienteleism which are so rampant throughout this State. We need a much freer debate. We need a much more informed input and that can surely come about in a more relaxed Chamber of the Seanad if we were to take up the time available and the opportunity available to us, in advance of the promotion of legislation in the Dáil, to have discussed such things as the implications of neutrality, the implications of illegitimacy, the implications of divorce or marital breakdown, family planning and so on, not to pre-empt the debate but to open it up.

I should like now to discuss the reasons for our constitutional schizophrenia. which I will identify, the need to make a distinction between the functions of the Church and State and the Government and the State, the need to recognise the right to be different in the State and the need to ask ourselves what sort of a State we would want. Whatever the result of this referendum and the proposal to insert a pro-life amendment as the ultimate protection to the unborn child into the Constitution of the Irish Republic, the effect of the debate has been to [679] expose this constitutional schizophrenia from which the Irish Republic and indeed the island of Ireland suffers. Is it a Constitution fairer for the whole of Ireland or only for part of it? Is it a Constitution that is concerned with the claims of consensus or solely with the right of majorities? the implications of the Constitution, in particular with reference to Articles 2 and 3, have been debated over and over again. While these Articles are now thought by legal opinion to express an aspiration to Irish unity rather than a sustainable legal claim by the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland, it is the way in which they have been portrayed and perceived that matters most in the consciousness of those Irish people who are engaged on the opposite sides of the battle lines drawn up in the long-standing quarrel between us. In that respect they are indeed acclaimed, irredentist or impertinent, depending from which side of the dyke you come.

Firstly, then, the question arises, and the question must be answered when dealing with such a fundamental issue as a pro-life amendment to protect the unborn: are those who support the Constitution, in particular those who are promoting change in it, prepared to state clearly and categorically whether they see this Constitution as one appropriate to the Twenty-six counties of the Irish Republic or one appropriate to the thirty-two counties of Ireland?

Secondly, in this constitutional debate let us ask ourselves whether the Constitution should be the expression of majority ethos, what has been referred to as the moral majority, or whether it should not be the means of endorsing a national consensus within which marginal people and minority people could feel comfortable and secure. Certainly, if such people do not feel they belong, they will suffer from frustration; and ultimately such frustration must lead to a desire to drop out, separate, secede and in the final analysis be the cause of further violence.

Therefore let us have consideration for the feelings, the ideas, the hopes for the future for those who have no input in this debate other than through my unrepresentative [680] voice. I refer to the Irish minority, the Northern Irish Protestants. Imagine what this debate would be like if the 60 Members here were augmented by another 20 from what is called the Black North. Should the traditional implications of Articles 2 and 3 be dear to the hearts of those who have pursued the insertion of this amendment into the Irish Constitution, we who are only too tragically aware of the implications of that Constitution can only hope that they give some thought for those who feel threatened by these implications, yet who have little or no effective voice in a debate such as this.

Furthermore, the people of the Irish Republic in general and those pursuing this amendment in particular should at least consider whether Twenty-six county consensus, let alone Thirty-two county aspirations, will be enhanced as a result of this protracted affair. They might also ask themselves if it will not now open the floodgates for constitutional amendments on many matters such as the ban on divorce, Irish neutrality and so on. While public debate has the advantage of raising the level of consciousness about those matters under scrutiny, any Constitution which becomes a political football is likely to become also a formula for division rather than an expression of unity. Regardless of whether a majority pass the proposed amendment it does not follow that there will be consensus for it. There could not be, once the leaders of the minority Churches in Ireland had expressed grave reservations about its implictions to the point of registering their very strong objections to the use of the Constitution for the promotion of this amendment. Because of that and because it deals with life and death issues, I would say here again that the split in consciences which has bedevilled Christendom, and particularly Christendom in Ireland since the time of the Reformation, that this split above all else needs pro-life ideals for healing — not specific pro-life amendments placed in the Constitution at the expense of hope on the long road to unity through consensus.

Let us suppose, however, that those who will vote for this amendment [681] acknowledge the dangers that now ensue from increasing piecemeal challenges to the Constitution and either seek its rewriting or, alternatively, acknowledge that it will be rewritten in the event of an all-Ireland settlement, in other words, that this Constitution is only temporary. Then it is up to us all to ask, as an indication of things to come, whether the Constitution should not indeed be promoting the means of evolving consensus rather than being seen to enshrine in its Articles another version of majority rules okay.

In this pro-life debate, photographs of lovely young people, who by some miracle escaped the assault of the curette-in-utero, have been exhibited to emphasise the ghastliness of abortion and the horror of its contemplation. Equally well, however, might we be shown healthy Japanese adults who were not in Nagasaki or Hiroshima when the bombs went off, and rightly it could be asked, why do we make more bombs? We could also show pictures of the young people of east and west Belfast and ask why we have to suffer the IRA and other official and unofficial shoot-to-kill organisations. There are many people, even in Ireland, who by chance, by timing, for some inexplicable reason, are killed long before their time through the barbaric actions and attitudes from which we have thus far failed to rid mankind. It is therefore vital that we develop in our people such a love of life that the idea of its destruction would be so abhorrent as well as so unnecessary that the curette, the knife, the bullet, the noose, the bomb and all nuclear blasphemy would be seen for what it is, a most repellent paradox, the use of death to promote a distorted vision of life.

This is the stand I will take as a person utterly opposed to abortion, who cannot now think at this moment of any situation, in spite of my training, in which I could carry out what I have been trained to do and live easily with myself. So why then should I be anti-amendment? It is because of the contradiction, bordering on hyprocrisy, of so much high-minded pro-lite sentiment, that sentiment, even [682] that conviction, that can focus so specifically on one aspect of the pro-life question while remaining blind to so many other aspects in our society which are quite anti-life. Pious platitudes on paper, on the one hand, while disease, death, pollution, poverty, unemployment and powerlessness above all else run rampant on the other. One in ten of our youngsters in parts of Dublin are on heroin, the highest rate of alcoholism in Europe, nervous breakdown and marriage break-up left, right and centre, people shot in front of their families in living rooms and at their front doors and even a whiff, from time to time, of sympathy for nuclearism and interest in NATO. The psychiatric hospitals are full in Ireland and prisoners are being turned away at the doors for the want of accommodation. Law and order is in the balance; vigilantes vie with muggers. It is perhaps surprising, indeed, that there are not even more women driven in desperation to the boats for abortion than there are at present.

The pro-life amendment, if passed into the Constitution can only prove one thing with certainty, that the majority of the people of the Irish Republic want a pro-life amendment in their Constitution. Will it change anything else? It will not produce a pro-life society. It will not reduce the demand for abortion. Above all else, it is a sad reflection that the attitude of the people of Ireland to abortion cannot be trusted, that their judges cannot be trusted, that their TDs cannot be trusted, that the Protestant position is in some manner suspect in this respect and that even the Canon Law, recently enunciated by His Holiness the Pope in relation to abortion is insufficient sanction against it in relation to his people in Ireland.

Protestants do not want abortion anymore than Catholics want it, yet some Protestants, like some Catholics, are driven to it or succumb to it as a short-term expedient for a horrific long-term problem, a problem that will plague the conscience of the individual as much as it indicts the self-righteousness of the society which would rather say that it should not happen, or because of the [683] Constitution, cannot happen, instead of facing up to the consequences of its causes and effects. Certainly, Protestants have a different view than Catholics on this matter as well as on other matters and the Catholic point of view is not absolute either. It is surely the ultimate irony for Ireland, and for the people of Ireland, when less than four years after the Papal visit and only some months on from the publication of the new Canon Law which retains excommunication for any Catholic involved, either morally or physically in abortion, that the Irish people should have to adopt this amendment. Is this not indicating a lack of confidence not only in the institutions to which I have alluded but also, and quite remarkably, in the effectiveness of the law of the church from whose members the most vocal and persistent support for this amendment has come.

It would seem, therefore, that regardless of how seedy our society is in reality, we can put our heads in the sand like ostriches just as long as the Constitution is drafted as though it were a latter day version of the Gospels. Surely, in this debate, as in others dealing with man's imperfection, we should acknowledge that it is right and proper for our philosophers and our theologians to point to the highest idealism of man as the goal towards which we must aspire and in this respect our hope must remain in the affirmation of life over death as long as there is breath in us. Christ affirmed life to the very end, even though He knew that life, as we know it, would come to an end. In victory of the Cross he reached across. He set our standards but He knew our failings and for these He showed the way of redemption. So it is with the Church. It can excommunicate, but it can also recommunicate if, in the context of the Christian message, there is repentance and penance. It is therefore the duty, the moral obligation of the Christian Churches to keep in focus our Christian idealism. Equally, it is for the State to cope with our imperfections, not to confuse its role with that of the Church and to acknowledge that the society which cannot give love to a mother and child in [684] distress is little less abhorrent than the abortion that a tormented woman feels she must have in order to have some future for herself in that society to which she belongs.

While we are endeavouring to rewrite the Irish Constitution for the saints, what about the sinners, let alone those others who question the wording of this specific amendment or who ask sincerely whether it is necessary to have such an amendment at a time when so many people in Ireland are beginning to ask what is the purpose of life at all, as they look around in vain for opportunities for work, employment, development and meaningful participation. In the absence of a charismatic leader such as Tito, a monarch, a long tradition of unity, a unified religion, the Constitution must remain the talisman in which those who aspire to Irish unity can place their hope. Yet, because of the divisive, and at times bitter debate which has been unleashed by this long drawn out amendment issue, the Constitution which the Irish Republic now has will almost certainly come under repeated attack, Article by Article, with all the consequences for disunity and disharmony that this is bound to have.

In this state of constitutional schizophrenia to which I have alluded and because of the peculiar conflict of loyalties and identities within Ireland at this time, the result of amending the Constitution in this manner inevitably raises the question as to whether the Irish Republic should not be trying to draft a new temporary Constitution. As such it could hold aloft idealism in general terms seeking to embrace all and exclude none, a pro-life affirmation, if you wish, indicating above all else trust in the people, trust in the law, a trust in Parliament and a confidence in the Churches, that the Churches are, as best they can, sincerely trying to interpret the word of God as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ despite the differences and the split in Christendom I have alluded to. Such an interim Constitution could hold aloft a challenge to those who do not at present belong to the jurisdiction, a challenge to build with people here a society constructed on pro-life obligations.

[685] Such a Constitution would face reality and acknowledge our imperfections rather than pretending that they do not exist. This would not only be a challenge but also an invitation for the people of Ireland to grow in unity. Whether or not then the Irish Republic considers drafting such a new interim Constitution, I hope that I shall live to see the day when the people of all Ireland acknowledging clearly the separate roles of Church and State will draft a Constitution that will set the tone for a pro-life society that acknowledges differences sincerely held and that is based on our trust rather than on our fears. Such a Constitution will not alone respect the right to life and the right to a working life and a participating life but it will also indicate respect for the environment without which the right to life is increasingly rendered meaningless.

Amending the Constitution in the manner proposed by the two major parties is unnecessary at this time, untimely, has been confusing to say the least and has been dangerously divisive. It will not achieve what is intended and may well encourage the delusion that Ireland is such a pure country that abortion as a problem does not exist. On the contrary, it is likely to increase. I cannot see how otherwise when we consider the increased pressure, rather than the increased compassion which will be shown to women who find themselves in the terrible situation of facing what they feel is either unwanted or feared pregnancy. I therefore oppose the attempt to amend the Constitution in this manner and suggest that we should all ask ourselves why so many Irish girls seek abortion as a way out and what we should do to make this less likely. Only by promoting a more enlightened, caring and communicating society will the thought of abortion, let alone the request for it, be less likely to pass through the tormented minds of women who all too frequently are left to carry the guilt for the rest of us.

I support the Labour Party's motion and, in particular, its social and political analysis of the issues involved. I would, however, go further, I would implore Fine Gael to reconsider their position in [686] relation to a free vote so that the conscience and the courage of those who are opposed to amending the Constitution in this manner may be liberated to give Ireland hope that in our difference lies our strength.

Mr. Fallon: Information on Sean Fallon  Zoom on Sean Fallon  It is not my intention to delay the passage of this Bill, a debate on which has been going on for quite a long time now. It is very important and has been debated at length. What we should remember initially is that some months ago the major political parties solemnly promised to put the same form of wording before the people of Ireland. Much has been said about the wording of the amendment, that it is unclear and so on. The amendment states that the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother guarantees in its laws to respect and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. On reading the Constitution one finds that it is very similar language to other Articles. Article 40, which deals with personal rights, states:

The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.

Another paragraph in that Article states:

The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen.

It seems that the wording is similar in many ways to existing Articles and for that reason this aspect of the debate has been over-exaggerated. We know the debate has gone on for a long time, and that the major parties promised to put this in the form of a referendum to the people. Yesterday's speech by the Minister for Justice, while short of words, as has been highlighted in one of today's papers — I am not blaming him for that because he has said a lot on it — disappointed me. He concluded his speech by saying that the Dáil has made its decision [687] and it was now a matter for this House to consider its attitude. That is a different approach because for any other Bill that comes before us it is usual for the Minister to say he recommends its acceptance. There is an absence of a will to succeed on this Bill. The Labour Party amendment says that it is not the proper subject for a proposal to be submitted to the people in a referendum. Yet Deputy Noonan, the Minister for Justice, on 9 February, said it was entirely appropriate that such a basic right as the right to life of the unborn should be explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. What is more basic and fundamental than the right to life? We have had all the legal and medical arguments and we can argue it any way we like but it is still a basic human right and fundamental issue and one which the Irish people will come out in their thousands to give it the full support it deserves in the referendum.

The issue at stake is one of the most sacred there is, the God-given right to life of the unborn. We all know that the right to life is under attack now throughout the world from an international campaign which is promoting abortion and which, it would seem, has its very active agents in Ireland. The same formula which was used in other countries seems to have been adopted here. They are throwing out half truths, innuendoes and are suggesting limited abortion until finally the whole scene becomes confused. In that way they hope it will be passed by the people or that it will be passed in some other way whether in a Dáil vote or by the Supreme Court or some European Court.

Such an amendment could be introduced by the Supreme Court and we have had experience of this in the past in the McGee case and we very nearly had in the Norris case on another issue. There is suspicion there that possibly in the future — I am not casting aspersions on the people there now — in 15 or 20 years time there may be people in the Supreme Court who might decide that this should be decided in a certain way. The European Court of Human Rights, which could be described as a permissive court, [688] if they got their hands on this issue would certainly pass it. We could have, as Deputy Oliver J. Flanagan said, a hung Dáil situation and this could be passed. The only way to deal with the problem, to seal off all possibilities of having legalised abortion here is in the form of an amendment to the Constitution on which the Irish people can vote.

Much has been made of the plea that this is a sectarian or religious issue. I do not accept that for a moment. It is a basic human rights issue. To support the view that it is not sectarian one could say that the amendment has been framed to protect and not to change the existing Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 which was enacted by a Protestant parliament mainly for a Protestant people. Those who are opposing the pro-life amendment say it is sectarian because it is in harmony with the Roman Catholic teaching, but it is also in harmony with the Church of Ireland teaching. In The Irish Press of 9 June, David Fraser, an eminent member of the Church of Ireland, strongly favoured the amendment. It is also in harmony with the teaching of the Baptist Church. In a radio programme in November 1982 Canon Dunlop stated that his Church considered abortion to be murder. He condemned murder whether it took place within the womb or outside the womb.

I believe that the fact that individual Protestant clergymen oppose the referendum does not justify calling it sectarian. It must also be remembered that there are some Catholic clergymen who are opposed to the amendment. The idea that it is sectarian is wrong. It is a human rights issue which should be decided by the people. It concerns the entire civilized society in which we live. It is not just a Catholic, Protestant or Jewish issue; it is a question of who lives or dies. The Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 says that everyone has the right to life, but we know that many unborn Irish children have been denied this right in abortion clinics since the British Act was introduced in 1967. Since that year there were two million abortions in those clinics. That is the situation as I understand it. My basic philosophy of life could not [689] allow me to agree with this situation being part of the Irish way of life.

Much has been said recently regarding the problem of the mother and the Taoiseach used the term “condemned to death”. Yet senior university professors of gynaecology said the opposite. They said they had read with astonishment the statement by the Taoiseach to the effect that the original wording for the constitutional amendment would probably condemn to death women whose lives are now saved by operations which have been performed within the law for more than a century in Ireland and in the United Kingdom.

Those six or eight important people who have dealt with such matters all their lives say they do not agree with the statement of the Taoiseach. Who am I to believe? Surely I must accept the word of those eminent gentlemen. The ethics committee of the Irish Medical Association investigated this matter and confirmed what those university professors said. One of those people is Professor Kieran O'Driscoll a very eminent gentleman with 35 years experience in this field. Surely his important contribution to this debate has to be acknowledged.

We could discuss this matter for ever and, unfortunately, there would be conflicting views, but it seems to me that the referendum that will be put before the people will be a positive declaration on the part of the State in respect of the right to life of the unborn. The only indisputable protection for the unborn child is one which would be clearly written into the Constitution. This will not change the existing law but it will protect it against a challenge by any individual or minority grouping. I sincerely hope that the Bill passes all Stages as quickly as possible in the Seanad and that it is put in the form of a referendum to the people. The people, when they know that this is a life and death situation, will, in my opinion, give it a resounding victory.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate. As one of the longest serving Members of this House I am conscious of our obligations here and of our ability [690] with our majority to pass or reject any motion that comes before us. We should take a more pragmatic approach in the national interest. The people of Ireland today are worried not about theological, legal or medical views of this proposed amendment to the Constitution. The country's major problems lie in the field of unemployment, job opportunity, cash flows in the private sector, the national finance and the burden of taxation. While this House could frustrate the passage of this legislation, I do not think we should do so. To send this measure back to the Dáil for a further three months would certainly divert the Government's attention from the pressing problems that are affecting in a very significant way the lives of our people. If I thought for a moment that even at this late stage we could have an all-party committee to tease out the pro's and con's of the problem and if after their deliberation we could be sure of having an all-party free vote in the House it would be quite a different proposition. This measure should be passed on to the people for a decision and, if I read the signs correctly, only a small percentage of our people seem to care one way or the other. Abortion is not an issue here. There is no demand for it. Even brucellosis strikes fear in the minds of the people of rural Ireland who always have been so attached to new life. I am totally opposed to abortion as a Catholic layman and as a family man I do not require the force of criminal law, not to mention a constitutional amendment, to help me live my life as a follower of Christ. It puzzles me that some Catholic Bishops, who have gone to press on this issue appear to have little faith in their own ability to instruct the Irish in the tenets of our cherished faith when they now demand and see as so important this measure to keep their flocks on the straight and narrow. I read, with some sadness, the editorial in The Irish Catholic of 21 April last which stated:

Democracy, if it means anything, must mean Government according to the wishes of the majority.

In the second paragraph it continued:

Many Deputies from all sides of the [691] House have indicated that they will accept such an amendment. Some have indicated that they will even vote against the Party on this issue. For this they are to be admired and no doubt the electorate will remember their courageous stand when the next election takes place.

This editor cannot have it both ways— democracy and majority rule, on the one hand and, on the other hand, lauding those who attack the basic principle of democratic government by encouraging Deputies to vote against the democratically reached majority decision of our parliamentary party system. In the Fine Gael Party that amounted to 90 per cent of the Oireachtas Members who had considered proposals of the Taoiseach and his Government. Perhaps the word “majority” may very well have a different meaning for different people.

At the same time I have considerable sympathy with those of our colleagues who quietly agonised over this problem and reached their own decisions without wallowing in the publicity and speculation. The pity is that the Opposition party did not allow free votes on this measure or indeed on any measure in the Oireachtas. There are many Fianna Fáil Deputies and Senators who are opposed to this particular form of wording but for their own strong party reasons they insist on making this a political question.

It is just two years since the Taoiseach launched his Constitutional crusade, thereby taking on the mantle of Tone and Davis, and I believe he embarked on a noble path. The Fianna Fáil Party honour Tone each year but this year their posturing will ring hollow. Why waste time and effort in commemorating a patriot if at the same time they have no interest in the views for which he stood?

This House had a very full debate on Ireland, North and South, in the opening session of the second last Seanad in October 1981. During the course of his very full speech the Taoiseach spoke of the need for our Constitution to be acceptable and comforting to every citizen in this country. Greater efforts [692] should be made to introduce a measure which should be acceptable to all the Churches and it is a tragedy that the Protestant Churches are not in favour of the measure before the House. This is one of the reasons I feel unsure and not in favour of this way of tackling this problem because it does not have equal regard for Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.

It is unfortunate that this amendment to our Constitution is proving so devastatingly divisive. I note with amazement that in so many speeches in another place there was little semblance of the charity of Christ running through them. Yet we are told that this is a moral question.

When a man or woman in the street thinks of abortion, and in particular this amendment, they see the problem as several thousand young single ladies going across to the United Kindgom to procure abortions. We all genuinely regret and abhor this situation but, remembering that this measure grants the right to life of the unborn with due regard to the equal rights of the mother, I should like to ask the Minister what effects this change in our Constitution will have on ordinary family life. Once the legislation is enacted everybody will be equally affected by it. It will not just be a matter of trying to prevent people from going to the UK for abortions but everybody living in the country must live within the law and the Constitution.

What effect will this change in the Constitution have on ordinary married life? How, for instance, will this amendment, if passed, affect a young married woman who suffers a miscarriage, which is an unfortunate everyday occurrence? Will it have any bearing or any effect having regard to the fact that it is proposed to give the embryo or the foetus equal rights or to give the matter equal rights to it? Will this legislation be treated differently by the courts or will the courts be subject to the letter of the law as in every other type of legislation? If the latter is the case then some people who are supporting this wording must explain now what the future holds for any young married woman who is unfortunate enough to have an ectopic pregnancy.

These are reasonable questions and [693] they are the questions that certainly upset me. If it were written into the Act that these were excepted then it would be a completely different proposal. Will somebody explain what other changes in Irish society the ordinary Irish family will experience if this measure is passed and put into our Constitution? The Minister for Health a couple of Sundays ago revealed the results of a survey which was carried out on the number of operations as a result of ectopic pregnancies for the year 1982 and it revealed that there were 500 such cases.

In the opinion of His Lordship of Kerry this law, if enacted, will be administered with common sense. I do not know what that means or whether there is going to be a special provision. A good deal of confusion has crept into the present debate on the proposed constitutional amendment. Misunderstandings have arisen and, most serious of all, facts have been deliberately ignored to such an extent that I feel a statement should be made to clarify the position for the people.

Fine Gael and the Fine Gael membership are opposed to abortion. I am opposed to abortion, as I believe the vast majority of people in Ireland to be. At least nobody has said that they want this facility. It has become quite clear over the last few months that the form of declaratory proposal advocated by many groups would be dangerous and a divisive move. To introduce unclear and imprecise concepts into the Constitution would simply throw the question of abortion back to the Supreme Court, who would have to interpret words such as “unborn”. This is precisely the scenario which the proamendment group wished to avoid in the first place. It is baffling therefore that the Fianna Fáil amendment should have been phrased in such a deliberately vague manner.

There is no satisfactory or easy solution but surely we do not want to put the medical practioners in a quandary in cases of cancer of the uterus or ectopic pregnancies. I want to know whether the wording of the amendment allows the status quo or is the mother's right to life proposed to be relegated to equal the [694] right to life of a fertilised ovum or a foetus, even if it is only a week in existence.

The Pro-Life Amendment Campaign stated on 17 April that a genuine constitutional prohibition on abortion would reinforce the present total legal ban, but it would not meet the position of those who, despite the existing law, believe that abortion should be permitted in certain limited cases. When one reads that and then reads Minister Desmond's statement that 500 such operations were necessary in 1982, it certainly is a problem which cannot be passed over lightly.

I know it has already been said, but the proposed amendment to the Constitution is fundamentally sectarian because the underlying principles on which the amendment is based are the principles of only one Church. The proposed amendment does not take into account the stated views and the principles of any other church, sect, denomination or religious group. It goes further than this in that it is offensive to the stated views and position of the minority Churches.

Despite the denial by the proponents of this amendment that it is sectarian and devisive, the fact remains that all the minority Churches have opposed it. Their position was clearly set out in July 1982 in a statement issued by the Irish Council of Churches representing the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Society of Friends. In addition, the Chief Rabbi, representing the Jewish Faith, has publicly stated that they too are opposed to this amendment. Those Churches have specifically issued statements from their governing bodies. The Methodist Church stated after its conference in Cork in 1981 and re-stated in its document issued on 22 January its total opposition to the introduction of any Constitutional amendment on abortion. To this particular amendment and to the holding of a referendum on the matter the Presbyterian Church issued a statement on 27 January 1983 as follows:

It is our considered opinion that the amendment should not be sent to a referendum and this amendment could [695] be the basis for State interference in personal privacy and ethics.

The Church of Ireland on 31 January 1983 re-issued a statement of the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church originally published on 18 November 1982. A spokesman drew particular attention to part of the statement as follows:

We gravely doubt the wisdom of using constitutional prohibitions as a means of dealing with the complex moral and social issues.

All the main Protestant Churches, together with the Jewish community have spoken out quite clearly against the referendum in direct and precise terms. Their opposition makes this referendum a sectarian issue by definition. No number of untruths and distortions, however often repeated by the Leader of the Opposition in particular and the proamendment lobby in general, will change this basic and fundamental fact. In the 60 years of the State's existence there has been no occasion where such insensitivity has been shown to the stated views of the minority Churches.

We have had differing opinions from our theologians. We have sharp divisions of opinion from our legal luminaries. We have had heated divisions in the medical profession. We have had for the first time in many years a serious split between the Churches, and I just said that all the Protestant Churches, the Society of Friends and the Jewish Community publicly object to this form of words.

At the end of the last century this country was sorely divided by the Parnell split. We had a civil war in the early twenties, splitting families and this country but this measure might yet prove even more divisive than of those already mentioned. This, to my mind, would be a tragedy. People are pre-occupied with economic pressures, with lack of jobs, problems of unemployment, the difficulties with cash flows in the private sector, endeavouring to keep the wheels of industry turning. People are not very interested in the theological, legal or medical views which are [696] being tossed back and forth by those who are involved in this entire campaign.

We have been forced to listen for weeks now to concern expressed for the unborn foetus. It is extraordinary that so many speakers who generated so much heat on this amendment question and who are so insistent on the absolute right to life of the unborn do not consider the services available to the children already born into loving families, especially those children who are born in the Midland Health Board region, the counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford, where the maternity and child care services are seriously underdeveloped. The five existing maternity units have no resident paediatrician. The Midland Health Board is the only health board in the Republic without a resident paediatrician. Is it not high time that we got our priorities right? The General Hospital in Portlaoise, which is the most developed of the five units in the Midland Health Board area and has the most deliveries and also a team of obstetricians, would seem for this reason among others as the most appropriate place to provide resident paediatric services. Those involved are moving altogether too slowly. There is not a sense of urgency. Yet it has been said many times there is no difficulty or problem in providing the funds to finance this referendum and to tie down the time of Ministers and Members of the Oireachtas for months debating the pros and cons of the issues, many of them completely over the heads of most of us.

I abhor abortion as I believe does everyone else here. I fear for the safety of some mothers of families whose lives would be threatened by this form of wording. There is a doubt there and I am not prepared to take that chance, hence I am opposed to this amendment. At the same time I want to take this opportunity to encourage more and more people to support and help organisations like CURA in the splendid work they do in trying to tackle the cause of the problem and assist people who find themsleves in the difficult situation of an unwanted pregnancy. I believe that every man, woman and child in this country should take a more Christian, more careful and [697] Christ-like view of the problem and they should at all times share and hold out a helping hand to people who find themsleves in these difficulties.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin David Senior Ryan  Zoom on Eoin David Senior Ryan  We have had some interesting and far-reaching speeches today, some of which seem to depart a little from the real question of what we are discussing and deciding. It must be pointed out that when this Bill was put before us, we were not asked to decide whether there should be an amendment to the Constitution or not; we were asked to decide whether the people should be allowed to have an amendment to the Constitution. It is dangerous to assume that we are the people who are deciding or should decide this. It cannot be denied that no matter what the views expressed here today, no matter how strong the convictions are of some people that we should not have an amendment to the Constitution, it is quite clear that there are many people throughout the country who feel very strongly that we should have an amendment. In the present position where there are so many people in favour of an amendment, quite clearly the situation has been reached where a referendum should be held and the people should be given an opportunity to express their view as to whether or not that amendment should be made.

It is the essence of democracy that the people should be consulted on a matter of this kind. Obviously we cannot do all our business by having referenda but at this stage it is quite clear that there is such widespread conviction one way or the other about it that the only way to resolve this matter is to have a referendum. This is the only way to resolve the controversy and to get on to the many other problems that face the country at present. We have had exhortations to be open-minded. Let us be open-minded enough to allow the people to decide on this matter.

It is being said, amongst other things, that the proposal to have this amendment shows a lack of confidence in the Oireachtas and in the Supreme Court. It is being suggested that it is unusual, dangerous and wrong to take power from the [698] Oireachtas to pass Bills in the future dealing with abortion. That is exactly what the Constitution is there to do. The section of the Constitution which deals with fundamental rights is there to do exactly that — to take power from the Oireachtas in regard to certain matters, in particular in dealing with fundamental rights. In enacting the Constitution originally the people deliberately enshrined in that Constitution fundamental rights in relation to personal liberty, in regard to inviolability of their dwellings and in regard to right of expression, right of assembly and the right to form associations. These are all regarded as fundamental rights so important that they must not be interfered with by the Oireachtas or ignored by the courts. Very deliberately these fundamental rights were included in the Constitution on the basis that the Oireachtas must not pass any Act which would interfere with these fundamental rights. To that extent, the power of the Oireachtas and the power of the courts have been interfered with deliberately by the Constitution.

What we are proposing to do, and what the people are being given an opportunity to do in this case, is to include another fundamental right in the Constitution to say that the right of the unborn should be protected under this part of the Constitution which deals with fundamental rights. We are not doing anything very different. We are not doing anything very new but merely adding a right that has not been clearly spelt out so far in the Constitution.

We have asked if there is any real necessity to do this. Can we not rely on the Oireachtas and the courts to do a right thing in the future? I would be prepared to say that there is no necessity at the present time. It is unlikely that the Oireachtas in the present day would change the position as it exists in the 1861 Act. There is no danger at present. Can we be sure that there will be no danger in five years or ten years in the future? Can we be sure that there would not be a change in the climate of public opinion or that in some future Government there might not be some transitory pressures which would induce them to introduce [699] some amendments in the law which would infringe against the situation where abortion is prohibited? This is a possibility. It must be regarded as something that might happen, perhaps not today or tomorrow but in the future.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that some time in the future, if the climate of public opinion changes and if people want to change the law in this respect, then they should not be able to do it easily. They would have to do it formally by an amendment of the Constitution. Of course, if the people want to do it at some time and are determined to do it, that is their right. The way to do it will be by an amendment of the Constitution. At least it will have to be done with due deliberation, formally, making it quite clear to everybody exactly what change they are making in our laws.

I accept the argument that it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would interpret the Constitution as it now stands in a way which would allow abortion but on the other hand, we must consider that it is a possibility at some time in the future. If one looks at what has happened in the Supreme Court in recent years, it is not entirely impossible that the Supreme Court would move in that direction unless the Constitution were altered in the way suggested. Already we have the right to privacy invoked in and adopted by the court in regard to contraception and the danger is that at some time in the future it might be extended to abortion. In a recent Supreme Court case, the Norris case dealing with homosexuality, the principle of a right to privacy was mentioned and was referred to by two of the judges in the court. Although the decision was not in that way — only a minority held it — nevertheless in regard to homosexuality it is quite clear that the Supreme Court is moving in the direction of saying the right to privacy is such that homosexuality should not be prohibited.

The United States Supreme Court held some time ago that the right to privacy was such that to prohibit abortion was unconstitutional. There is no doubt at all that in regard to this principle there is a move in that direction which might at [700] some time result in a decision by the Supreme Court that abortion may not be prohibited. The Supreme Court in America is a court which has considerable influence on the decisions of the court in this country. They have very often referred to the decisions in the US Supreme Court and it may be that at some time in the future they would adopt the same principle as the US Supreme Court.

I do not think that it is likely today or tomorrow, but it is something that might happen in the future. It is a possibility and the Constitution is there to protect the people of this country and to protect certain fundamental rights against possible infringements, not against something which is going to happen tomorrow: the Constitution is essentially a long-term document. It always tries to look ahead. It always tries to anticipate trends that might happen in the future which would interfere with fundamental rights. Many of the provisions of the Constitution, which was adopted in 1937, were not invoked for many years. There are still portions of the Constitution which only in recent years have been invoked and the importance of them realised. In the same way, we should be looking at the Constitution from time to time and amending it in a way which will ensure that in the long-term our fundamental rights will be protected. To that extent this amendment is something which should be very seriously considered, not because of a danger tomorrow or the next day but because of danger in the future.

Senator B. Ryan said that he thought when he saw this amendment first that it was quite a good one but he gradually reached the other point of view. My position is the opposite. When this amendment was first discussed, I doubted very much whether it was necessary but as time went on and having heard the arguments against it I adopted the other point of view.

There are three points of view about this amendment. There are people who are against abortion, as everyone in this House is; there are those who have a number of reservations which would undermine their basic view and there are [701] others who are for abortion. Having listened to discussions and watched programmes about this amendment, I was amazed at the strength and persistence of people who are quite blatantly for abortion. They are a very small but strong minority. Some speakers earlier referred to pressure groups and suggested that this amendment was brought in, supported and pushed by pressure groups and that nobody else was in favour of it. These pressure groups were the people who initiated it and carried it on. If they were quite fair and balanced, they would have mentioned that there are very strong pressure groups the other way also — pressure groups against the amendment and in favour of abortion. There are groups such as, the Right to Choose; and Wellwoman. Those who advocate and adopt the slogan “the right to choose” have used the most arrogant and offensive slogan any pressure group has ever adopted.

The vast majority of people are against abortion but there are those who are for it and those who have some reservations. We should not dwell too much on pressure groups. We should not approach this question on the basis of who is on one side or the other side. Just because some of the people who are in favour of the amendment have overstated their case, have been uncharitable and said things that could not be defended and have acted in a way which is objectionable does not mean that the amendment is not a good thing. We must approach it on its merits as calmly as possible and consider whether it is necessary and should be adopted. It should be on the basis of what we, as Members of this House, think is right and not because of pressure groups who are involved and whether they are right.

This amendment is necessary. It will help to clarify the position in the Constitution so far as that is necessary. It will fortify the position and strengthen the protection for the unborn child. An amendment was put down in this House saying that the Bill should not be passed on the grounds that it is unclear and ambiguous and is not a proper subject to be submitted to the people in a referendum. [702] If one looks at the amendment proposed it is divided, roughly speaking, into three different sentences. The first part of it says the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and that is a perfectly clear statement of principle. There is nothing uncertain or vague about that. It is a statement of principle that the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn.

It has been suggested that the word “unborn” is uncertain because it is not followed by “unborn child”. This is a very pedantic point which really does not stand up to consideration. There are already in the Constitution a number of similar words used in Article 45.4.1º. There is reference to the “aged” and “infirm”. The same pedants would argue that it should be the “aged person” and the “infirm person”. That same use of what can be described as an adjective has been in the Constitution since its inception and has never been criticised before. There is not the slightest difficulty in anybody understanding what it means. In the same way, the “unborn” is a perfectly acceptable and valid way of dealing with this. There is nothing uncertain or vague about the use of “unborn”.

If one looks at the remainder of the proposed amendment to the Constitution it says “guarantees in its laws to respect and as far as is practicable by its laws to defend and vindicate that right”. That exact same sentence is already in the Constitution Article 40.3 — the State guarantees in its laws to respect and as far as is practicable by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal right of the citizen. To say that this wording is unclear or ambiguous does not stand up to examination. It is a statement of principle and the phrasing of the way in which it is to be upheld is exactly as already exists in the Constitution with regard to the personal rights of the citizen.

That criticism of the amendment is not valid or at least is no more than a rather pedantic technicality. It is true that the amendment may be subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court. If those who argue against it say that it should be so perfect, so comprehensive and so clear that it would never have to be interpreted [703] by the Supreme Court then we are asking for something which is quite impossible. Many parts of the Constitution have been subject to interpretation. This is inevitable. The Supreme Court is there to look at Articles of the Constitution, to interpret them and to see whether certain laws are contrary to the proper interpretation of the Constitution. This has happened to many Articles of the Constitution and, of course, it is quite possible that it will happen in regard to this one. That is not a valid criticism of it.

I am quite happy that the Constitution with this amendment will be much easier to interpret than the Constitution would be without it. It gives an equal right to the unborn, something which was not contained in the Constitution before, leaving a certain area which could have caused difficulty of interpretation. The Supreme Court, far from resenting or feeling that their rights are being infringed upon, will be very happy to have the Constitution amended and clarified in this way. It must be realised that, when people talk about leaving things to the Supreme Court, we can rely on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is not a body which makes laws. It is not a body which is there to express its own views on the morality of the people or the ethos of the people or anything else. It is there to do one thing in regard to the Constitution and that is to interpret it, not to say what they think the law should be or what the people should do or what the Constitution should contain. It is there to interpret the Constitution as it exists or as it is amended. The more comprehensive the Constitution is, as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the better they will like it. When we talk about relying on the Supreme Court to do the right thing, the fact is that unless the people give the Supreme Court a Constitution which is properly framed, the Supreme Court may be compelled at some time to do the wrong thing. It is not for them to say that the people were wrong or that the Constitution was wrong; they are there merely to say what the Constitution contains and what is the proper legal technical interpretation of [704] it. They may have to come to conclusions that they would not want to but it would be their duty to do so.

Many objections have been expressed to this amendment. One is in relation to the right of the mother and the danger there might be to her life. If and when this amendment is passed the ordinary law which will still be in force will be the 1861 Act. That of course prohibits abortion. There will not be any change in the law. Reference has been made to opinions expressed by the Attorney General and the DPP. I have the greatest respect for the Attorney General and the DPP and for their opinions. But they are merely opinions. I find it impossible to agree with their views as to the likely effect the amendment would have on the oridnary law from a practical point of view. I cannot see the Supreme Court deciding in any different way in relation to this question than they would at present. I do not believe that this changes the 1861 Act in any serious way. What it does is to ensure that the 1861 Act or some similar Act will remain in force and that nothing that departs from the principle of that Act will be introduced.

The wording of this amendment merely establishes the right to life of the unborn. It guarantees to respect that right, and, as far as practicable, to defend it. That is not an absolute statement. It does not interfere with the ordinary wording of the 1861 Act or do anything more than state that the unborn has rights and that they should be respected and, as far as practicable by our laws, defended.

From the practical point of view, we have had a statement from five of the leading professors of obstetrics and gynaecology that they were perfectly satisfied that the introduction of this amendment would present no difficulties to them in the proper discharge of their duties — in effect, that it would present no danger to the rights of the mother or no change from the present situation. The suggestion that this will cause a serious change in what doctors can or cannot do does not stand up to examination and should not be taken too seriously.

I must hark back to the introduction of the Constitution many years ago and the [705] reasons given why it should not be introduced. There was a campaign at that time which said that the rights of women and of the family would be totally interfered with and undermined. The arguments that were used against the Constitution at that time in relation to the rights of women were hair-raising. Of course it was seen as time went on that none of these dangers emerged and that, far from being a danger to the rights of women and so on, the Constitution has proved to be an extremely good and far-sighted document and one which has a tremendously good record from the point of view of fundamental rights.

The Bill is divisive in the sense that there are divided views about it. If there are divided views, then we must accept that. Some people think that the Bill and the amendment are good. Some people think they are not good. But this is not necessarily a reason for withdrawing the Bill. The people who are in favour of it are just as much entitled to have their point of view adopted as are the people who are against it.

I should like to refer to the time when the Constitution was enacted by the people. It could be said at that time that it was tremendously divisive because it was passed by only a relatively small number of people. There were many people against it.

Looking back, many of the people who were persuaded to vote against it did so for reasons which had no validity or foundation. We cannot have a consensus about everything. There was not a consensus about the Constitution at that time. Nevertheless there are very few people who would not say that by and large it has been an extremely good Constitution and has served its purpose very well indeed. We regret that it is divisive but that is not a good reason for withdrawing a Bill which has merit and which many people think is good.

Where do you start and finish about things being divisive? The Finance Bill is going through the Dáil at present. It is tremendously divisive. There is hardly a person in the country who does not feel that that Bill is divisive because it puts on too many taxes on the wrong people. Is [706] the Minister for Finance to withdraw it because it is divisive? How far do you go with this argument? If every measure that was divisive had to be withdrawn then we would have very little legislation.

It is unfortunate that many of the Churches are against this legislation. However, they are not against it because they disagree about the basic problem that is being dealt with. All the Churches are against abortion and in favour of having laws which will prohobit it. It is divisive merely in regard to how this problem should be dealt with, in regard to the mechanics and methods and whether it should be in the Constitution or dealt with by the ordinary law of the land. There is not any fundamental disagreement in the Churches about abortion, only a disagreement about the methods which should be adopted by the State to make sure that abortion is not permitted. This is merely one other fundamental right which is not properly included in the Constitution at present and which needs to be.

The United Nations in the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child said, among other things, that the unborn child needed legal protection as well as the born child. It is a fundamental right and not merely a right believed in by one Church or by one section of the community. It is not unreasonable to put it in the Constitution because, by doing so, we are doing no more than copperfastening the 1861 Act and ensuring that it is not interfered with or that if it goes it will only go when a similar Act has been introduced.

There has been a great deal of complaint about the waste of time and effort in relation to this amendment. We are told about other matters which are far more important. There have been about 30 or 40 different matters mentioned in the course of this debate that we should be concentrating on instead of having an amendment of the Constitution. I have never understood or accepted the argument that something should not be done because there is something else more important to be done. The other matters that have been mentioned are important and those who advocate them should do [707] something about them — introduce their own Bill or measure.

If we are to approach our problems on the basis that if we try to do A, somebody says B, C and D are much more important and if the person who is introducing A says: “maybe you are right about B, I will withdraw my measure for the moment”, and then the person who starts to introduce B will be told that C, D and E are more important we will never do anything. It is a totally invalid argument about any measure to say that it should not be introduced because something else is more important. Let us get around to them all in due course but we have to start somewhere and if something else is always more important then we will never do anything.

I agree that economics, finance and all the matters mentioned in the House are vitally important as are the problems of women who want an abortion or have an unwanted child. The Oireachtas and Government should be doing everything possible to deal with these problems. But merely to say that these problems are important is not to say that this matter is unimportant or that we should put this to one side until we see to all the other matters. Each can be done in due course.

This Bill should be passed quickly. I agree there has been a great deal of time wasted but the impression has been given that the people who are responsible for the waste of time are those who are in favour of this amendment. In so far as there was a waste of time, 90 per cent of time was taken up by those who opposed the amendment and are still opposing it. If this Bill, which was originally agreed by Fianna Fáil and unanimously adopted and agreed by Fine Gael, had been allowed to go to the people there would have been very little time and energy wasted and we could have got on to do the other things which are so important.

People are entitled to express their views. They may have valid reasons for opposing it and a long debate may be necessary. However one cannot, on the one hand, complain about the waste of time and ignore the fact, on the other [708] hand, that the length of the debate was caused entirely by those who have opposed the Bill. This Bill is necessary. It is the right of the people to express their views on this matter. It is the only way this controversy can be resolved and I would like to do what the Minister found himself unable to do, namely, to commend the Bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.


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