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

Wednesday, 11 May 1983

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 100 No. 8

First Page Previous Page Page of 6 Next Page Last Page

Atógadh an díospóireacht ar leasú Uimh. 1:

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

“ndiúltaíonn Seanad Éireann an dara léamh a thabhairt don Bhille um an Octhú 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. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I am availing of the opportunity to put before the House my beliefs regarding the amendment. Having listened to and read some of the debates and literature put forward by supporters of the pro-life amendment and anti-amendment I have decided to speak in support of the amendment, that is the original wording. I support this because it will give the best constitutional protection to the unborn and will leave to the [857] people the ultimate decision in regard to legislation on abortion. This is very important legislation because the passing of this amendment will confer on a defenceless group the same constitutional protection we all enjoy.

The amendment proposed by this Bill means that abortion could not be made legal here through legislation or by a judicial decision of the Supreme Court. Such an amendment is most desirable. We are all aware that abortion is prohibited under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, but we also know that this can be changed at any time by the Oireachtas or by any Government who had a majority in favour of such a change. If it is changed by the court it will take place without constitutional amendment. At least in a proposed change in legislation it would be debated in this House.

It has been suggested and put forward by certain groups that abortion could never happen here legally. Perhaps this will convince a small number of people but it is not in accordance with the facts. It would be a very good exercise to look at some of the statistics both here and world-wide in so far as this issue is concerned. We must remember that 75 per cent of countries have abortion laws. We have seen the progression over the years during which it has been regularised in so many different countries, in England in 1967, the United States in 1973, France in 1975, Germany in 1976, Italy in 1978, Holland in 1981 and many other countries as well. It was said in all of these countries that abortion would never be available on demand under any circumstances. The historical fact is there to disprove their claim. It was brought about in America by a Supreme Court ruling. Now the United States of America are fighting to have a pro-life amendment inserted in their Constitution. Abortion can be opposed by a Supreme Court ruling. They are finding it extraordinarily difficult to have such an amendment inserted in their Constitution despite the support of many people. It was stated it would never happen there but it did and it is more difficult to alter when it has become legalised.

It is a statistical fact that 55 million [858] unborn are killed by surgical operations every year. That amounts to 150,000 per day. I am not unmindful of abortions that have been performed in England on Irish women since abortion became legalised in Britain in 1967. I understand the figure is approximately 35,000. The Minister for Health says that the passing of this amendment which will prohibit abortion becoming legal in Ireland will not stop the trail of Irish women seeking abortions in the clinics in Britain. He says that a solution to the grave problem of abortion is not to be found in a constitutional amendment: it is rather to be found in a serious analysis of the reasons why so many of our people raised in an atmosphere of respect for human life decide to seek abortion. The answer can be found in the pressures experienced by many vulnerable women, particularly unmarried women, who find themselves pregnant. This pressure comes from the immediate family, relatives, neighbours and friends many of whom would vote in favour of the amendment contained in this Bill but who would apply a different feeling when the problem confronts them personally. He says as Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare he proposes to give special attention to these services which may reduce the pressure on those who are led to seek abortion in Britain. He is very much aware of the valiant effort made by statutory and voluntary organisations.

The Minister for Health is entitled to express his personal views on this matter when he said that an amendment to the Constitution will not stop people going to the United Kingdom for abortion and that we should be more concerned about the unmarried mother. The Minister is now in an ideal position to do something positive to help the unmarried mother. At this stage I wish to pay tribute to CURA who have as their special objective the care of unmarried mothers. The work of this organisation is impeded through lack of financial support and most of their excellent work is supported by voluntary donations and subscriptions. If the State and the Government are concerned about this situation they might ensure that these organisations get [859] adequate finance. In Limerick the local community contributes in no small way to ensuring that CURA have adequate finance to deal with the plight of unmarried mothers. Let us show that we care about our under-privileged people and unmarried mothers and let us ensure that local authorities will put an unmarried mother and her child on a priority housing list. Let us try to do something practical to help those unfortunate people. Despite the controversy surrounding the issue of the amendment, an overwhelming majority of the medical and legal professions support the Bill.

Senator Fitzsimons read a statement by University Professors of Obstetrics and Gynaecology yesterday and I would like to read the last paragraph which definitely states that they are very much in favour of the original wording.

We have found the original wording proposed for the Amendment to be entirely satisfactory. We believe that this wording would present us with no difficulties in the proper discharge of our professional responsibilities.

The legal profession also state they would find no difficulties in discharging their professional responsibilities. The overwhelming majority of people, when given an opportunity in the referendum, will also support the proposed amendment. The best medical and legal brains have given careful thought to the question of holding a referendum to protect the life of the unborn. The pro-life organisation campaign for this amendment to the Constitution are trying to help the unborn and to give them the right to life. However, as in any campaign there can also be opposition. Some people oppose for the sake of opposing and are joined by many in the bandwagon. They say it is sectarian and tend to label Roman Catholics as the last bastion of conservatism against social progress. It is not new. It is obvious that the pro-life movement stepped in to defend the unborn and social values which we hold.

Senator Flor O'Mahony mentioned that Fianna Fáil first made a commitment to the pro-life amendment but, according [860] to my information, it was the Taoiseach, Leader of Fine Gael, who first gave the commitment to the pro-life amendment in May 1981 on behalf of his party. It was at that time too the Vice-President of the Fine Gael Party, Miss Marie Stack, said she would favour abortion in certain circumstances. That statement definitely intensified the campaign for the pro-life amendment. Some weeks later the Leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Haughey, gave a seal of commitment on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party. Consequently, the amendment was not an issue in the election of June 1981 when the Coalition with Deputy FitzGerald as Taoiseach took office.

No progress was made during the life of that Government. By October the wording for a positive pro-life amendment had been worked out and it was introduced by Fianna Fáil in Dáil Éireann on 6 November 1982. On 3 November the Fine Gael Press Office issued a statement as follows:

The Fine Gael Party welcomes the form of the Amendment to the Constitution proposed by the Government. The Amendment as proposed is worded in positive terms, designed to strengthen the Constitutional protection of life, as proposed by the Leader of Fine Gael in his Ard-Fheis speech. At its meeting today, the Fine Gael Party decided to support the Amendment and in Government to initiate legislation with a view to a referendum to be held by the end of March next.

On 4 November 1982 on “Today Tonight” the Taoiseach said:

What we had proposed, and I pressed this very strongly in my Ard-Fheis speech, was that it should be literally a pro-life amendment which would strengthen the protection of life, the life of the unborn, and I was very relieved the amendment took that form. I feared it might take the other form and when we examined it carefully and saw the wording of it and took advice on it, it seemed to us that it was about as good a formula as you could get.

[861] They definitely sought advice previous to giving a commitment to this special wording. I am sure the advice was from their top legal adviser who now seems to think he advised them wrongly. They also took advice from the Attorney General and the DPP also stated that he would find difficulty in bringing some prosecutions but as is known now, the DPP was found wrong twice this week.

Fine Gael as a group here have decided to abstain. Every group and every Member has a right to vote either for or against any issue in this House or abstain if he feels it is the proper thing to do. Senator Flor O'Mahony appealed to them to vote for the Labour amendment to this legislation. They should vote in favour of the amendment because they gave a good commitment to the electorate that they would introduce legislation to hold this referendum. Senator Robinson said in her contribution last week that if the Fine Gael Senators of the largest group abstain on this issue, refuse to accept their responsibilities and are not satisfied that it is a clear proposal being put to the people in the referendum we have sounded the death knell of this House. She also said that those Senators who sit here and do not discharge their responsibilities have negated their own mandate and that those Senators who tour from one end of the country to the other to get their mandate would have negated it, diminished it and failed to rise to their responsibilities. That was a very strong lecture to the Fine Gael people and she is the last person who should lecture in regard to abstaining in divisions or votes in this House as she has the best record for abstaining on divisions and votes. In two months last year, June and July, she abstained no fewer than six times, even though there was important legislation going through. She abstained on the motion for extradition proceedings and also twice on Committee Stage of a National Community Development Bill. She also abstained twice on the Courts Bill when a division was called. She also abstained twice on the Bill dealing with family law on Committee Stage. People in glasshouses should not throw stones and it was very presumptuous of the Senator [862] to lecture Fine Gael as to how they should vote and for neglecting their responsibilities by abstaining.

Speaking in the Dáil on 8 March 1983 Deputy Alice Glenn stated she would like to comment on those within and without the House who criticised the Taoiseach for having committed himself to include the promotion of this constitutional amendment in an election policy document. She said her volume of correspondence prompted her to say that if he had failed to recognise this issue as of paramount importance to the Irish people, he would not be Taoiseach today. Definitely the——

Mr. O'Leary: Information on Sean A OLeary  Zoom on Sean A OLeary  On a point of order, I hesitate to interrupt any Deputy during his contribution, but if he is reading from the record of the other House we should have the reference.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  I am sure the Senator will give the reference.

Mr. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  It is from the Official Report. I do not know the volume number.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  The Senator should not quote unless he can give the reference and the date.

Mr. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I am new to the House and I am sorry that I have not been able to give the reference but she said it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  It is said now and we will move on.

Mr. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  There were other candidates in the outgoing Seanad who said that they were anti-amendment and they lost their seats. That is on record too and they are blaming their anti-amendment stand for losing their seats.

This is a human rights issue and the Taoiseach when he committed himself to introducing this amendment in April 1981 treated it as such. It is a pity since taking office that he made a U-turn and made it a political issue. I am not committed to this amendment, because it is the Fianna Fáil wording, but because it [863] gives the right to life to the unborn purely on moral grounds. This important issue should be treated with dignity and not as a political issue. I was disappointed when I heard recently that the Taoiseach sent letters, I am aware of one letter received by one of my neighbours in connection with the referendum. I do not know the contents of this letter, but a neighbour received it. I also know people in my area who were very enthusiastic in the pro-life amendment campaign and have now become inactive. The Taoiseach should not intervene in such an important and moral issue.

My mind is clear on this issue. I speak from personal concern and for concern for the right to life of the unborn child. I support the general wording and I hope it will pass in this House and that it will get the necessary endorsement from the electorate.

Mr. Hourigan: Information on Richard V Hourigan  Zoom on Richard V Hourigan  I do not propose to go over a lot of the ground that has been travelled already. I should like to congratulate a number of Senators for their very excellent contributions to this House, particularly the contributions of our friends from Northern Ireland, Senator John Robb and Senator Rogers and also very worth-while contributions from Senator Higgins, Senator Robinson and Senator McGuinness. There are others too that one could mention but I heard their speeches and they were well presented and a credit to them.

I should like to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fennell, here this morning. I should also like, in his absence, to pay tribute to and compliment the Minister for Justice, my own constituency colleague in East Limerick, for the excellent work he is doing in the area of justice and to acknowledge the vast amount of work he has put into this very difficult subject of the referendum on abortion. I should like to place that on record and wish him well in the time ahead.

I should like to make some brief points. Firstly, I should like categorically and emphatically to place on record clearly in this House that I am opposed to abortion under any circumstances or for any [864] reasons. I agree with the concept of an amendment being written into our Constitution. I fully support any measures that will in a realistic, meaningful and positive way eliminate and prevent this horrific cancer of abortion in our society now, or at any time in the foreseeable future.

Perhaps all persons in this House share that view, but for the purposes of emphasis it needs to be stressed. I would go further and say that the majority of the persons in our society would be against abortion and indeed I have also indicated that all the Members of the Oireachtas are opposed to abortion. There may, however, be some degree of emphasis in the level of opposition to abortion by Members in the Dáil and Seanad. We must differentiate quite positively and clearly that the proposed referendum is not for or against abortion. This might be stating the obvious, but it needs stating. It is important to note that the amendment is not specifically for or against abortion.

Some will agree with the need for an amendment, some will not, even though those persons may share the same view with regard to being against abortion. At present, due to a lot of publicity a great deal of confusion exists in the minds of the electorate and, for that reason, there is a great responsibility to make certain that that confusion is removed so people are absolutely clear in their thinking as to what they are being asked to decide in due course. A number of speakers mentioned the greater need for what was referred to as a caring society. I, too, subscribe very fully to that and think that we have a very great need for a society that is more caring, more understanding and more appreciative of the problems of those persons who find themselves in a position where abortion becomes a question at all.

By and large, the persons faced with that dilemma are unmarried girls and women. These are the people, in the main, who go to the United Kingdom and to other places each year, numbering perhaps 5,000 or more, for abortions. We must create an atmosphere, an environment in which we remove the sort of [865] stigma that is associated with illegitimate children and so on. Frankly, this horrible and inappropriate term of describing somebody as being illegitimate is something that we must remove from our attitudes and from society generally. That, coupled with a general and better understanding of the situation, is one very important measure in this matter which we are discussing here today.

There are, as has been acknowledged already, few or no legal or illegal abortions in Ireland. We export our problems elsewhere. It is an indictment of ourselves that this is happening to the extent that it is. On a world-wide basis approximate figures suggest that about 70 million persons undergo abortions every year. This brings home to us the enormity of the question and why abortion has attracted such political interest.

The only areas of disagreement which exist at present with regard to abortion are, first, whether the Constitution should be amended; my view is that it should; secondly, perhaps the most difficult area of disagreement, the form of the amendment. The views of people in the medical and legal professions differ with regard to the form of wording that would cope adequately with this situation. We must ensure that we have an amendment that gives adequate protection to the unborn and also to the expectant mother. We would be irresponsible otherwise.

I would like to correct one point which was stressed by a number of people in the Fianna Fáil benches. The Taoiseach, Deputy Garret FitzGerald, and the Fine Gael Party at Cabinet and other levels, accepted the wording proposed by Fianna Fáil. It was accepted on a preliminary examination but when deeper examination of this important subject was carried out and the matter studied fully and medical and legal advice obtained, it was found that the amendment as proposed by Fianna Fáil left a great deal to be desired. Therefore, concern on the part of the Fine Gael Party brought about a change of thinking with regard to the wording. It is important that all concerned appreciate that Fine Gael as a party did not, just for the sake [866] of changing some words, set about doing that. As was said in this House yesterday, it would have been politically a very easy way out for our party to accept the words produced, but our earnestness and deep conviction of the need of a correct set of words to present to the people, led us to examine this subject exhaustively. Our party had many in-depth deliberations at every level and finally came up with the wording which we regret did not pass through Dáil Éireann. The amendment before us now has been approved by Dáil Éireann. I make that point for the benefit of two persons whom I have heard in this Chamber decrying the Taoiseach's acceptance of the amendment, Senator John Ellis and Senator Rory Kiely. I hope that explains our position and that we as a party accepted the amendment in good faith and on deeper examination found that amendment to be seriously wanting.

We must not treat the life of the unborn in a trivial way. As, has been said, life of the unborn as well as life of the born must be cherished and must, under no circumstances, be made a political issue, a political football, but unfortunately that is what happened. In certain areas abortion has been condoned. Personally, I would not accept it. People have agreed with the concept of abortion in cases of malformation of the foetus, rape or danger to the life of the mother. These cases do not warrant support for abortion. To be consistent, I would like to make the point that uterine cancer and ectopic pregnancy in accord with the 1861 Act justify morally, ethically, legally and every other way the termination of a pregnancy, but the primary objective here is the curing of the patient, not the termination of the pregnancy.

We must not overlook the area of certain contraceptive methods such as IUDs and abortifacients. There is at present a grave danger that the wording passed by Dáil Éireann may produce the effect opposite to that intended. Those who introduced the wording did it in good faith but it is quite conceivable it could have a rebound effect.

The whole area of reconciliation of the aspirations, hopes and beliefs of all the people of Ireland is important and we [867] must not ignore this factor. The minorities in our society, be they in the North or South, must not be ignored. Senator Robb made this point excellently in his contribution to this House in recent days, as did other speakers.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the sentiments, views and proposals put forward in the Labour Party motion before this House. It is quite understandable that people would put forward that motion but, as was mentioned yesterday by the Leader of the House, Senator Dooge, we must be realistic about this matter and understand that we can determine the date of the referendum. We can delay the referendum but can we do anything about the wording that will go before the people? As indicated yesterday, with a 20 majority in favour of the present wording, the likelihood of that being altered is extremely remote. For that reason I would not agree with the persons who call into question when it suits them our right as a party to adopt whatever stance we believe to be correct in a voting situation. Our party's decision to abstain from this vote is based on commonsense and logic and has not prevented the persons at this side of the House from standing up and expressing their point of view with regard to abortion, the referendum and the wording proposed for the referendum. It is quite unfair, quite unreasonable to claim that we are reneging on our responsibilities. We are not. Senators who are accustomed to voting and divisions of all sorts know that they have three options in voting. You can vote for or against or you can abstain. It is nothing new for any group of persons for very valid, sound reasons to abstain from voting on an issue.

I would like to see both the Fianna Fáil amendment and the amendment which was rejected by the Dáil cast aside and the matter referred to an all-party committee who would discuss the problem soberly and calmly. We do not live in the ideal situation that would allow that, but it would be extremely useful if it were possible.

I emphasise that as a party we are [868] adopting a realistic attitude, a realistic approach now and at a later stage in the debate we will have more to say on the various aspects. It is absolute scandalous that persons are being labelled by people within this House and outside it for taking a stand on this very important and extremely delicate matter. It is wrong in the extreme that a concerted effort at tagging people, identifying and classifying them is being made on a very consistent basis. None of us in politics should allow this matter to become the sort of political football that others have tried to make it.

I reiterate my absolute and total opposition to abortion under any circumstances whatsoever. I am doubtful about the adequacy of the wording produced by Fianna Fáil to cater for the very important subject that we are dealing with. In conclusion, the Minister of State, Deputy Hegarty, has joined us, and I would like to welcome him to this House and wish him well in his time ahead.

Dr. O'Donoghue: Information on Martin O'Donoghue  Zoom on Martin O'Donoghue  We have already had quite a long discussion and debate both in this House and elsewhere on the question of this Bill so I do not propose at this stage to speak at great length. There are a number of points, however, which I feel even at this late stage might well be worth reiterating in some cases or perhaps making for the first time.

As I see it there are two stages to the business before the Seanad. First of all there is the issue of the principle of the Bill, whether or not in principle we should have a Bill to amend the Constitution along the lines of the debate. Secondly, there is the issue of what is the best way in which to proceed if we agree in principle, in other words, what precise form of words should be put before the people in any referendum. I would like to take it in each of those two steps.

By now we are all aware of the way in which the debate arose, the points that emerged, the manner in which it was dealt with both inside and outside the Oireachtas. Most of us feel that the situation at present is not exactly the happiest. For that reason many people in all sincerity are saying that it would be better [869] if we did not have a referendum and that, therefore, this Bill should be rejected and so forth. I do not share that view because, whether we like it or not, the issue did arise. Whether we agree or not with the manner in which it was handled it has been so handled, and, irrespective of our earlier views, positions or preferences, a Bill has been passed by the Dáil and has come before the Seanad and as Senators we must deal with the situation now in as responsible and positive a manner possible.

On the first question, should a Bill be passed by the Oireachtas, should there therefore be a referendum? From listening to speeches and contributions and elsewhere it seems that the vast majority of Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas take the view that there should be a declaration in some form along the lines of the pro-life proposal. I would have thought that the overwhelmingly majority position was that we should have a Bill rather than deny a Bill of this nature.

Some of the practical problems and more difficult issues that arise have been raised both in the Seanad and elsewhere. I do not want to try to deal with them now because many of them might more appropriately arise on Committee Stage, but at this point I would like to comment on just two aspects. The first is the suggestion that if we proceed with legislation along these lines we are behaving in some sectarian fashion. We are all aware by now that these sectarian notes or strains are creeping into each of the discussions. Surely it is one of our tasks, indeed one of our duties as politicians, as leaders and shapers of public opinion, to make sure that that tendency is checked, halted, dealt with and put aside. It should not become a sectarian issue.

In the first instance, the matter was not raised by any Church, or any sectarian group. Secondly, although we have heard about differences of views as between different denominations, Churches or religious groups of one form or another, it is also right to remind ourselves that there are variations or differences of opinion within the Churches and religious groupings. It is not correct for anyone to [870] start developing the notion that this must inevitably become or be seen as a sectarian matter. This is one aspect in which if we go about our business in the right way we will be able to channel and direct public opinion and debate on the matter so as to avoid the development of any such sectarian accusations or tendencies. That is one very important aspect to which we should all devote sufficient thought and energy both inside the House and outside. I would like to feel that we are capable of ensuring that, whatever the final outcome, we can manage to avoid a sectarian element of any nature developing and being in any sense embedded in the minds of the people. Some people may think that that is too naive, too ambitious, or too optimistic a hope but since we are dealing with an issue on which legitimate differences of opinion are held and expressed I do not think there is anything unreasonable in expressing that viewpoint.

Another aspect I will touch on briefly is the suggestion made very sincerely by a number of speakers that if we have this genuine pro-life commitment we should be looking at the whole range of ways in which life is threatened, destroyed, abused and so on. We are very conscious of the other ways in which so little respect is shown for life in our society today. Any of us who listened to Senator Robb last week were especially moved by many of the points he made. While I entirely agree with him that we should have a wider concern for life at all stages, I cannot take the view that because one is not in a position to deal with everything one should not deal with a particular issue. It might well be that there are more urgent, more terrible forms of destruction of life taking place around us, but that does not alter the fact that we have been presented with a pro-life type of issue and therefore we should deal with it. Most legislation in most societies proceeds on a piecemeal basis: you deal with one issue as it arises, so therefore regardless of what our views may be on other pro-life aspects — many of us would find ourselves in agreement on the need to develop a more positive pro-life attitude in our community — we should direct our energies to that as [871] quickly as possible but in the meantime we must deal on its merits with the matter that has come before us. Irrespective of whether we think that it is the most urgent, it is here and therefore let us do our business.

Those are the main points I will make on the general principle of the Bill except finally to note — as most speakers have done — that we must not allow ourselves to be confused into allowing other people to imply that, whatever opinions are expressed on the proposed pro-life amendment, we should not allow ourselves to be labelled as pro- or anti-abortion. Everybody in the Oireachtas recognises that the range of opinions expressed, while they may take varying positions on the merits of the pro-life amendment or the form of words, have indicated that the speakers have been opposed to abortion. We must ensure that the message is conveyed to the people that people in the Oireachtas who have spoken against the pro-life amendment or who have spoken against particular forms of words for it are sincere in their opposition to abortion. This is one of the other ways in which we should be able to avoid any sectarian element creeping into any public debate. Since all of the churches are unanimous in their opposition to abortion we should be able to frame some form of declaration of general principle suitable to our Constitution that would have a positive pro-life attitude without having to force people into being labelled as pro- or anti-abortion. The question of abortion must be a matter of legislation and not of a general Constitution declaration. That is the way in which it has been dealt with and the way in which it will continue to be dealt with in this country. We are dealing with a proposal for a declaration in principle in the Constitution to affirm the status, the right of unborn children. I would like to feel that we are capable of producing an acceptable form of wording.

That brings me on to the manner in which we should conduct our business. If there is widespread agreement in principle, then I do not find it easy to understand the procedures being adopted here [872] where Fine Gael are abstaining on Second Stage. I say that in no sense of opposition or wishing to stir up party views. One unfortunate thing that has happened in this debate is that we appear to have been forced into different party positions on it, whereas on a matter of this nature we should be working for the widest possible basis of support and understanding among the people as a whole and, therefore, among the political parties. For that reason I think it should be handled differently here in the Seanad because if we reject the Bill at this Stage there will be no further debate in this House, whereas if we pass Second Stage and if people are unhappy with the form of words contained in the Bill, then we can have further debate on Committee Stage and consider various forms of words. We can see if there are ways in which the wording in the Bill as it came to us from the Dáil can be improved.

For that reason I found myself taking the view totally opposite to that expressed by Senator Flor O'Mahony when he spoke yesterday. He was making the argument as to why the form of words was unacceptable. The form of the Labour party amendment before us is that the Bill should be rejected on the grounds that it is so unclear and ambiguous that it is not the proper subject for a proposal to be submitted to the people. If the wording is unclear and ambiguous how is it to be improved? Who is going to improve it? In the short time that this Seanad has been in existence many of its Members have said that they want to see the House provided with greater opportunities to debate in a more relaxed, less pressured party situation than normally exists in the Dáil, that it should be given opportunities to deal with issues at a sufficiently early stage so that all aspects can be considered in the calmest, most reasoned manner possible.

Could we not do that? Could we not help the Dáil if we continued our discussion on Committee Stage? If people then have possible amendments or improvements to the form of words let us have them. Would we not then be helping our colleagues in Dáil Éireann, and would we not also be discharging our own duties in [873] the fullest possible manner? That is why I have to say that I cannot understand why people want to reject the Bill on Second Stage. It seems to me that, if you reject it at this stage, you are saying the Seanad has nothing further to add on this subject. We should vote for the Bill on this stage and then, by all means, let us see what further progress can be made on Committee Stage.

I take the view, expressed, I thought in very fine phrase, by Senator Robb last week when he said that of course we all have our opinions, and views, and so on. He was making a point about the wording. If I recall his phrase correctly, he said to be human is to entertain the possibility of doubt. If we approach the actual detailed wording in that spirit, perhaps we will be able to help our colleagues in the Dáil, our respective parties and, above all, help the people as a whole. I do not think anyone in the Houses of the Oireachtas wants to see this issue become divisive, a source of friction, a possible source of further ill-feeling, or bitterness, which might extend for long periods of time into the future and sour public and political activity for many years to come.

For that reason I suggest that we in the Seanad should be willing to devote as much time as is necessary to the Bill. Let us debate, discuss and hammer out the merits of various kinds of wording. Let us then entertain the possibility of doubt and see whether, on later stages of the Bill, we still retain the wording as it has come before us from Dáil Éireann, or whether we can put forward some views which may be of help both to that House and to the people as a whole.

That brings me to my final comment at this juncture. Many people have spoken about the cost — I heard a figure of £1 million mentioned, and so forth — of such a referendum, and the implied waste associated with spending that amount of money. I do not agree with that view. It always seems to me that people continually run down the cost of democracy until they are faced with the alternative. If you look around the world today, there are many people in many nations who would gladly pay the very tiny cost that [874] goes with democratic discussion. What is £1 million when you weigh it up against the lives that have been butchered because people were not willing to indulge in democratic debate, not willing to have the patience or the courage to face up to issues and see them through to some conclusion, and settled too quickly for what they thought were acceptable solutions and then had to pay much more costly prices, costly in terms of lives, costly in terms of suffering and misery, and even costly in financial terms to many, if you want to take it to that mundane level? I would never agree with anyone who says we cannot afford the price of democratic discussion. I do not want to detain the House, but we could look around the world and say that if only people had been willing to spend a few more millions on further examination, debate and discussion, they might have succeeded in preventing far more costs and far more human misery and suffering.

On that note I will conclude by saying to the Seanad, as I argued earlier:

“Please do not rush into a hasty decision on Second Stage. If there is a sufficient basis for commitment to a pro-life amendment, let us agree at this stage that we should pass an amendment along those lines and let us, as the Seanad, see what we can do on Committee and Final Stages to advance the debate on the matter and contribute towards building a broader basis of understanding and consensus and support for such a measure”.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Where do I begin? So much has been said, and so many eloquent comments have been made about the amendment. The entire nation is confused and, more important, disinterested in the amendment. We have listened for months to experts, legal and medical, expounding diametrically opposite views on the implications of the words proposed in the Bill. It is evident that the form of words before this House has caused and will continue to cause uncertainty and division throughout the country, at a time when we need a sense of common purpose and unity of will to face the economic and social problems which [875] we as a people confront.

I left Wexford town yesterday knowing that 22 per cent of the work force had no jobs to go to, knowing that they, like the people of every other town and county in this country, look to these Houses for hope, for a sense of leadership, for a future. Instead, the burning question which preoccupies our time and the time of the media is the amendment. The mere words are now enough to turn off most minds and most ears. Senator Robinson said last week that the Seanad was on trial over this issue. Not only do I agree with those sentiments, but I believe that democracy itself is on trial.

The clear inference from the other House is that the elected representatives could not be trusted to carry out their solemn duty, that is, to reflect the wishes of the people. It was implied that shackles would have to be put upon them in case they would renege on that solemn duty. The public perception of politicians at this time is at a low ebb. The posturing and opportunism of many politicians on this issue have in no small way contributed to the low standing of our representative assemblies. The issues are great. Democracy itself, I contend, is on trial.

The Seanad has a function, an important function, in the examination and the discussion of legislation. The ball is now in our court. This House must take a view, and express a view to the nation. I am a new Senator and I find it more than a little disconcerting to hear many Senators in the corridors of this House privately expressing a view that the proposed wording is fraught with danger and, at the same time, those same Senators are happy to vote in a certain way when the division bells ring and they are asked to express their opinion. If this House has a role to play, it must be in asserting its conscience. If we have no role to play, if when the Dáil decides there can be no further scrutiny, no further examination can be made, then this House is irrelevant and should indeed be abolished. My view is that we have an opportunity now to analyse this Bill in a cooler, more rational way than was [876] open to the other House. To insert any item into the Constitution is a most serious step which demands the most careful examination and analysis.

Senator Robinson, among others, outlined the inadequacies of the so-called Fianna Fáil wording. The word “unborn” is not defined, and the possible interpretation which would be a matter, not for this House or any other House but for the Supreme Court, has already been put on the record of this House. The possible areas of conflict between the rights of the mother and child whereby a doctor could be precluded from treating a mother lest the unborn child which she is carrying be injured have also been voiced.

I do not intend to repeat the argument, but merely to state that I believe the present wording must not be passed. Much has been said both about the origins of this amendment and the tactics used so far in its advancement. I have no doubt that every Member of this House has come under pressure of one sort or another to take up a position on this issue. In itself, that is a good thing. People are interested in lobbying their elected representatives. That is good for democracy. That is a useful and healthy sign in any democracy. However, when the lobbying gives way to slander and innuendo, when to voice concern, or to raise a question, or to ask why the haste, leads you to be labelled as an abortionist, or as a child murderer, democracy has given way to the rule of the mob.

I should like to put on the record of this House one tiny example of this and, no doubt, there are umpteen examples of which every Member is aware. The Tánaiste's office received this post card on 19 April. It is headed: “The Right to Life is Above Politics.” I quote:

We the undersigned request you, our TD to vote on our behalf in favour of the original Pro-Life wording as accepted by Dr. Garret FitzGerald in November 1982.

The new wording is unacceptable because

(a) It gives no right to life to the unborn;

(b) It leaves the TD's free to bring in [877] limited abortion or even abortion on demand against the will of the Irish people.

Please reply to the undersigned.

It is signed by a person with a Kilkenny address. The Tánaiste's office replied to that letter. A few days later the following letter was received in the Tánaiste's office.

Dear Mr. Spring, I received a letter from your office this morning acknowledging receipt of a communication in connection with the wording of the constitutional amendment. I am writing to let you know that this letter whatever it contained was not sent by me nor did I give my consent or permission to any group to express any opinion on my behalf to your office or any other Government Minister.

Please do not waste your time and the states money replying to this letter but I just felt indignant that you are being lobbied in my name to support a view which I suspect is not one that I myself support.

Yours sincerely.

It is signed by the same person.

I was talking to another Deputy last night. On the day of the vote in the other House, he received 500 identical letters all demanding that he should take a certain stand. He took it upon himself not to reply to them all, but to go through them and find out those whom he knew from his own area, and who were his supporters, and he was told by them that they did not send any such letter, and they did not authorise anybody to use each said he did not authorise anybody to use his name on such a letter. Such are the tactics which have been used in this campaign so far.

are many concerned and rational people who support this amendment, and who are reasonable and temporate in their desire to prevent Ireland becoming a place where abortion is available and where life is devalued. However, the flames have been fanned and the atmosphere created whereby one would imagine that the Supreme Court had already declared the 1861 Act to be unconstitutional, [878] and abortion clinics already flourished in our land. Thankfully that is not the situation nor, I believe, is there a possibility that we would ever arrive at that position.

The clear majority of the Irish people oppose abortion, as do the overwhelming majority of Members of both Dáil and Seanad Éireann. It is clear that there is very little likelihood of the Supreme Court overturning the 1861 Act. So I ask: why the haste? Why the concern that the amendment must be passed now? What is needed now is a breathing space, a time lapse, a gap for both this House and the other House to re-examine the needs of the situation and to come up with suitable and appropriate wording for an amendment if, after proper and reasoned analysis, it is seen that an amendment is required.

This should never have become a political issue with politicians scoring points over one another in declaring their greater concern or their greater morality. I accuse no one in this House of being anti-life. We all have a pro-life view and are in politics in elected assemblies because we wish to improve the quality of life in our country. Shame on those who would make political capital out of this basic issue.

I am concerned that the forces adverted to last week in this House, the moral crusaders who are active in America and elsewhere, and who wish to transform their narrow view of morality into the creed of the nation, those who see a world of infinite greys in simple black and white, will use this most emotive and important issue to bring themselves into national prominence and national influence. There is a requirement from almost anybody who speaks against the amendment to make a personal statement of his or her own stance. That, in itself, is not without significance. However, I do so without reservation. I oppose abortion. I am desperately anxious to remove the factors in our society which make the terrible decision to have an abortion easier to live with for many women than to bring up a child in our society. It cannot be and is not an easy decision to make to take the lonely boat to England or wherever. [879] How damning it is of us that so many thousands of women find that preferable to living with their children here.

Senator Hanafin said last week that the adoption of this amendment will oblige us to get rid of our judgmental attitudes. I am afraid the campaign so far does not lend weight to this desirable aim. The judgemental attitudes are not only a part of our society, but seem to thrive in the current climate.

I must make one point in this debate about the use of the word “pro-life” to describe the supporters of the amendment. The clear implication is that those who do not support it, or have reservations about it, are less moral, in fact, are anti-life. I reject totally this assertion. Further, the constant references to the abortion referendum imply that we are deciding on the legislation of abortion. That is not true.

The Minister said this Bill is defective. It is not recommended by him or endorsed by him because obviously it is unclear and ambiguous and not the proper subject for a proposal to be submitted to the people in a referendum. That view was echoed by the Leader of the House yesterday. If the amendment before us is unsatisfactory, surely, we must seek to improve it. I am young and perhaps naive, but I reject the politics of despair which implies that the die is cast and that, although we should encourage the people to vote “no” to this set of words, we should not do so ourselves in this Chamber.

We are here. The Bill is before us. The motion sponsored by the Labour Party is before us. We have a responsibility and a role under the Constitution. It is not good enough to abdicate that responsibility and say the people will decide. What will the people decide? They will be given a choice between Tá or Níl on the wording set before them, printed on a ballot paper. Many who are totally opposed to abortion will, in conscience, have to vote Níl to those words. Many who though desperately afraid of those words and the implications they might have will in conscience vote Tá. The people have a right to know in advance [880] the full implications and significance of their votes. They should know exactly what they are voting for or against. It is the duty of the Oireachtas to provide that information and present them with a proper, clear and unambiguous choice.

Many Members on the Fianna Fáil benches are genuinely and deeply committed to the concept and idea of a united Ireland. It must surely be a cause of great concern to them to see the Fianna Fáil wording rejected by the three Northern Senators from both traditions. It must be a great source of personal agony for them to see as a result of their vote the broadening and widening of the rift that exists within our nation. I ask them, too, to think with great care on the implications of their votes in this House.

I read an article by Harold J. Bermann in Newsweek magazine of 9 May 1983. The article examined the nature of evil. It struck me that it was so apt to this debate. He said in that article that in America's greatest novel, Moby Dick, Melville warns against the self-righteousness that externalises evil and tries to crush it by force; Captain Ahab in wreaking vengeance on the white whale, the mono-maniac incarnation of malicious agencies, destroys himself and his crew. When we can externalise evil it copper-fastens our own smugness, our own self-righteousness. We can see evil as being separate from ourselves, and we need not look into our own hearts for reform and improvement.

There is slowly developing throughout our country a proper debate on this issue. I ask all Members of Seanad Éireann, and in particular today I look to the Fine Gael Members, to allow that debate to develop within these Houses. Senator after Senator on the Fine Gael side said these words are dangerous. They have a responsibility to allow the Oireachtas to re-examine them. Let the Bill go back to the Dáil. Let us all have the moral courage to demand an all-party committee to put a proper choice to the people, to allow a proper rational debate to develop free of the tactics I have outlined. I believe democracy is on trial, and I appeal to this House to have the courage to resist the forces who want to undermine [881] that democracy. I ask them to vote for the Labour Party proposal today.

Mrs. Bulbulia: Information on Katherine Bulbulia  Zoom on Katherine Bulbulia  I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this matter which has occupied the letters columns of the newspapers, the airwaves, our television stations and, indeed, the minds of a great number of people. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I wish him well in his portfolio which is a very interesting one, an innovative one, and despite the fact that we are in a time of grave economic crisis, I still feel that the area of arts and culture must be carefully cultivated and I have no doubt that, in his good hands, this will be the case.

I should like to state at the outset that, although we have listened to the arguments at great length, each Senator in his or her turn should not feel in any way inhibited from going over those arguments and speaking on them from a personal perspective. This, indeed, is what I intend to do. Prior to the general election of June 1981, when it became apparent that I would be a candidate and when I was ratified, I got a very charming, innocuous letter from proponents of this amendment requesting my support for a pro-life amendment to the Constitution, and asking me to state my position on abortion.

I was interested in the letter. I was interested in the subject because it was not the first time I had come up against decision-making in the area of abortion. If I may introduce a personal note, I should like to place on record the fact that together with my husband, who was pursuing a career in obstetrics and gynaecology in England and Scotland, I had the good fortune to have a very close insight into the working of large teaching hospitals in the area of obstetrics and gynaecology in Britain after the Bourne amendment had become law and when abortion, virtually on demand, was a feature of such maternity hospitals.

When my husband made application for senior registrar positions as he advanced in his career in obstetrics and gynaecology, one of the questions generally put at interview was: “But of course, doctor, you will participate and [882] take the workload from the obstetrician or gynaecologist in the area of abortion?” Now, my husband, who is not a Catholic, and who, indeed, is not a Christian has very serious reservations about abortion and is totally opposed to it. So, of course, he was unable to comply with this request which was made to him at interviews, and it became increasingly difficult to obtain senior registrar posts in obstetrics and gynaecology in teaching hospitals.

Consequently a joint decision was made to abandon what was a very promising career in obstetrics and gynaecology because the necessary compliance with the rules and regulations obtaining at that time were not possible. So, by a peculiar twist of fate and a complete turning of the wheel, I find myself back in Ireland as a result, to some extent, of the abortion issue and how we as a family faced it. I now find myself on my feet in Seanad Éireann speaking about the proposal to amend the Constitution. It is ironic, but I am very happy to have my feelings and my insights on this issue expressed and placed on record in this House.

When I got this very nice sounding, harmless, worthy letter from the pro-life amendment people I was very impressed by their proposals to insert an amendment into the Constitution because I am pro-life. Like the last speaker and indeed many other speakers who have addressed themselves to this issue, it is a great pity that one has to adopt a very defensive attitude on this and that before even embarking on discussing the issue one has to make a declaration that one is pro-life and anti-abortion. In order to set the record straight and so that there would be no area of ambiguity as far as I am concerned, I make this declaration. In many senses I resent having to make it and to me it points up some of the ugly features of this campaign, that people are forced to declare their position and to flaunt their colours, if you like, on this matter. It should go without saying that all elected Members of this Oireachtas and all responsible people in Irish society share the feeling that abortion is abhorrent.

Back again to the letter: I signed it. I [883] think it asked “Do you support the idea of a constitutional referendum to ensure that abortion will not become legal in Irish society?” I very happily signed it. “Do you or do you not support abortion?” I very happily signalled my position in that matter. The Leader of my party, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, had so indicated and the Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party had also made the same commitment.

On the face of it such an amendment seemed to be an expression of our Christian values and I little thought of the furore and the outburst and the controversy which it would subsequently provoke. I know for a fact that few, if any, of my parliamentary party colleagues in either of the Houses fully appreciated all the implications of this proposal at that time. Sadly some of them do not seem to appreciate the implications of that proposal even now. I still believe that a proclamation of the sanctity of human life, all human life including that of the unborn child, would be a signal expression of the aspirations of the Irish nation if such were possible. I am beginning to doubt that it is possible to do this, much as I would like to see it happen.

Some of the finest legal brains and the finest legal minds in this country have busied themselves since June 1981 in formulating an appropriate amendment with a distinct lack of success. Now the arguments put forward in favour of an amendment suggest that the Supreme Court might, in response to a test case, overturn the 1861 Act on the grounds that it infringed on the right to privacy. A precedent had been set in this country as a consequence of the McGee case in the area of contraception and in the United States the same thing has occurred in relation to abortion. The thrust of this argument at the time the letter was produced and the commitment made did not impress me as I believed the 1961 Act — and I still believe this — conferred adequate protection on the unborn child, but as an expression of the values we cherish I, at that time, welcomed the idea and I still welcome the idea if it is possible to do so.

[884] I was, and am, deeply concerned with the shocking statistics which suggest that officially 3,000, and possibly unofficially as many as twice that number, of Irish women per year are having abortions outside this State. These figures would suggest that as many as 50,000 Irish women living in Ireland today have undergone the degrading experience of abortion. I had hoped that a declaration of our respect for the sacredness of all human life, and in particular for the sacredness of the unborn child, would help to promote a climate of understanding and compassion for women who found themselves pregnant outside or sometimes inside marriage and that such a climate would encourage these women not to take this way out of their difficulty. I also hoped that society would become more compassionate and would open its heart to these women. No one in political life anticipated the complexities in all their disparate shapes that the amendment would bring about.

Since the inception of the campaign to amend the Constitution my thinking has developed on the matter and I suspect and I hope that I am not alone in that. I sense that outside this House, in the hairdressers, in the pubs, in the work place, in areas where people congregate, there is a shift in opinion and a change of emphasis in this area. I regard this as a hopeful sign. Now I have grave doubts of the wisdom of endorsing an amendment, and in particular this wording which is before the Seanad for our consideration. It is fraught with ambiguity and hidden dangers which are not immediately apparent. It sounds nice. I suspect that because it is pleasant sounding this is why it has got as far as it has got.

I do not propose to take up the time of the House in discussing the legal pitfalls of the wording of the amendment as I feel this has been most comprehensively dealt with by other speakers, notably Senator Mary Robinson who, in her eloquent and incisive speech, elaborated in great depth and detail the various legal pitfalls surrounding this particular wording. I would like it placed on the record that I concur with all that she has said in this area.

[885] I would now like to turn towards the groups who have espoused this amendment in its present wording and the manipulative tactics which they have employed. I freely acknowledge that many of the people were and are motivated by genuine concern for the right to life of the unborn child. However, the spectre of some of the most reactionary groups in Irish society has been at the helm of this campaign. These include the Knights of St. Columbanus, the Responsible Society, Mná na hÉireann, the League of Decency, and the Irish Family League to name but a few. I was interested to see that one of the chief people supporting this amendment, I think attached to the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, has gone on record as being opposed to another group which is quietly and compassionately working in our society: I refer to the society connected with the sexual needs of the disabled. I feel that this points up the very sick nature of some of the mentalities associated with this campaign, that they would instantly and unthinkingly and uncaringly slam and condemn an organisation which has had the sensitivity and the courage and the awareness to recognise that disabled people have a sexuality and that they must be helped to realise it in a caring, sensitive and compassionate way. I say this as someone who is proud to have been given a nomination to this Seanad by the Multiple Sclerosis Association of Ireland under whose flag I stand in the Seanad.

Previously these organisations which I referred to were involved in what I would describe as a partially failed attempt to block access and information and facilities in the area of contraception. Indeed one might say that the triduum of contraception, divorce and abortion exerts a peculiar fascination over these ultramontane groups. With their unrivalled grasp of logic they have deduced that the one is inextricably linked up with and leads to the other. There is no shortage among them of volunteers to cast the first stone. It is fortunate for the woman taken in adultery that they did not form part of the crowd who were judging her. They are indeed judgmental and condemnatory [886] and it is this aspect of the pro-amendment campaign which has so divided and polarised Irish society, particularly our young people. Those Senators who were watching the Late Late Show on last Saturday night will have seen very clearly and unequivocally the feeling of our young people in relation to this debate.

Many of the tactics employed by these people have been indefensible: for example, the screening of abortion procedures to impressionable and sensitive schoolchildren, many of whom because of our studied avoidance of sex education would not understand the full background which might lead a woman to have recourse to abortion and who would not even have grasped the basic elements and rudiments of human sexuality. I have actually come across a conversation being sagely conducted by nine-year olds on the topic of abortion. One says to the other “You can have it if you want it. You only have to go to England; you cannot have it here.” It was rather like saying “Would you like a sweet or would you not like a sweet?” In their nine-year old way that is how they were beginning to view this. It was an option, you could take one or you could leave one, you could have it or you need not have it. To me there was something obscene about this. Here were these tender, innocent young children and without any means of avoiding the situation they were being propelled into knowledge of abortion which is tragic, sickening and unfortunate but which happens to be a fact of life in our world. I have come across primary schoolchildren in Waterford where I live coming home from school with pieces of paper inviting parents to attend a meeting on abortion. These children could read, they would hand it to their mother, this would become a topic of conversation. This campaign has done our young children and our young people a gross disservice and I resent it deeply.

Fortunately in this campaign we were spared a visit from Fr. Marx and his infamous bottle with its contents. But, of course, the Wilkies came instead. This is a very interesting performance, a sort of upmarket pro-life peep show. Dr. Wilkie and his wife decided that they knew it all, [887] that they were here to preach to the innocent, unsuspecting Irish people about the virtues of their cause. I would like to quote, in support of my grave reservations about these people, from the Irish Medical Journal of April, 1983, Volume 76, No. 4. There is an article written by Dr. David Nowlan who is The Irish Times medical correspondent and in this article entitled “Second Opinion” with a sub-heading “Under Threat” he wrote:

Did nobody else find as disturbing as I did the presence in Ireland a few weeks ago of two Americans, ostensibly arguing against abortion, whose main objective seemed to be to undermine two of the most important institutions of our democratic state — the Oireachtas and the Supreme Court? You cannot, these foreigners were saying to my compatriots, trust the structures of your State if you are genuinely opposed to abortion — a singularly dangerous and remarkably subversive argument in a country where the vast majority of the population quite properly abhor abortion. The clear implication of their statements was that their knowledge of abortion was such that their recommendations would hold more validity than either our judiciary or our legislature. (This from a pair that did not even know exactly what are the structures of this nation — at least on the evidence of a radio interview.) The tone and content of their comments indicated their belief that they were in possession of the whole truth and that, therefore, none had any right to argue with them.

I find this kind of argumentation, on the basis of assertion, very difficult to bear. Interestingly enough, too, the visit of the Wilkies was a highly slick professional affair. At the conclusion of the lectures one could buy slides, pictures, videos and books on abortion. To me it smacked of commercialism, in addition to all the other things that were offensive about it.

This leads me to introduce my own sense of outrage as a Member of the Oireachtas at being portrayed as someone who could not be trusted to be [888] responsible in legislation concerning this very important issue. It is disappointing to observe that some of my colleagues in both Houses of the Oireachtas bought this particular argument. It leads one to question their interpretation of the functions of this House, and another House, their own role as legislators and the function of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, I will remind Senators, is the organ of the State to which has been left the onus of decision-making in sensitive areas which have been dodged by successive governments lacking in political will to grasp nettles which may be a painful and stinging exercise.

I have made little public comment on this issue, feeling that whatever the motives of its originators, it had succeeded in fostering an extremely tawdry level of debate in this society which was already bedevilled by other very, very pressing issues. It is true to say that there are a great number of people out there who feel that this issue does not impinge on their lives in any way. I can understand how they would feel this way because they are confronting extremely pressing economic issues: unemployment, redundancy, and all that must mean to an individual family. It must be very difficult for them to feel that the debate on the amendment has any relevance to their lives. But those of us who feel very deeply about the fabric of this society, about its shape, make and direction, recognise the fact that this particular debate is of fundamental importance. It must be considered side by side and in tandem with all the other very pressing issues which we are forced to confront also.

I said I had not spoken publicly on this issue to date, but quite recently something prompted me to do so. I refer to the vilification of a leading and respected clergyman, Dean Victor Griffin, by a Member of another House. This prompted me to speak in his defence at an ecumenical meeting in Waterford. I issued an apology to Dean Victor Griffin for the unwarranted attack which had been made on him. I publicly deprecated it and stated that I wished to be dissociated from it as, I suspected, would the majority of my party colleagues. At the [889] meeting, which was very well attended, this initiative was welcomed and I was thanked by, I would say, the majority of people there. So, feeling that it was significant and that it should receive a wider audience I issued a public statement in the matter. Subsequently I received several anonymous letters of a sectarian and racist content, couched in foul language, presumably from a member of the moral majority. I quote an example in order to illustrate the can of worms which is about to open on an unsuspecting Irish public. The letter goes as follows:

Dear Bul Bul (Ameer),

Do not apologise to Rev. Griffin and do not dare to speak for anyone except self.

He occupies a stolen Cathedral and has insulted many Irishmen.

Forsooth, my, dear the shit doth hit the fan. F---you and Griffin.

Further comment, fellow-Senators, is superfluous but it points up the degrading and disgusting level which this situation has given rise to and which is a cause for grave concern. I suspect among those people who with genuine concern advanced this proposition in the first place. I am sure that even they would blush on hearing the contents of that letter.

Now I feel that much hinges around the interpretation and the definitions which will be given to the wording in the proposed amendment which is before the House for consideration. I imagine that this will be gone into in great depth on Committee Stage, if indeed this Bill reaches Committee Stage in this House. Some of the fears which I share are that in the area of family planning we are facing a potentially threatening situation. Our family planning legislation is an obstacle course for many women, particularly for those who live in the rural areas. It has been described as an Irish solution to an Irish problem and I am very much afraid that what we are going to do in relation to this amendment will be yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem. I am heartened by the fact that the present Minister has recently [890] announced that he plans to introduce much needed reform in this area. To my mind there is overwhelming evidence to support the proposition that those groups pressing and proposing an amendment are not solely interested in placing a statement of principle in the Constitution. The very fact that they have succeeded in having their case come this far will give them a renewed vigour and impetus.

Because of the ambiguity surrounding the term “unborn” and its lack of definition, I would point out at this stage that it is not only an unknown legal concept, it is also an unknown medical or scientific concept. The way is paved for moves to render illegal certain accepted methods of contraception which are currently available to Irish women. The pro-amendment groups have been specific in that they regard life as starting from the moment of fertilisation. This is so despite the fact that Catholic practice has never treated fertilised ova lost before implantation as requiring church rites either baptism or burial. If however, it is interpreted that this category should be included in the phrase the “unborn”, then the amendment could be used to prevent the making available of IUD, low does oral contraceptives and the morning-after pill. The legal position of the IUD has never been clear. It appears that their importation is illegal, yet to date their insertion has never been questioned — yet another anomaly and ambiguity and an area of doubt in our Irish legislation which pertains to this particular issue.

If the amendment passes, the use of the IUD, the low does oral contraceptive and the morning-after pill would most probably be outlawed. This would put Ireland in a position unique in the world in relation to contraception. I may be accused of scaremongering or of raising a red herring but I would refer Senators to an article in The Guardian of Monday, March 21 1983, which details an investigation being carried out by Sir Thomas Hetherington, the DPP, following allegations by Life, an anti-abortion organisation in Britain. I will quote from that article:

[891] The Director of Public Prosecutions will decide this week whether to prosecute a pregnancy advisory service for supplying the morning-after contraceptive pill. His decision could affect not only the lives of the thousands of women who will take the pill this year to ensure that they do not get pregnant, but also the 250,000 women who are fitted with IUDs. Hundreds more will attempt to have test tube babies, and much of the country's research into infertility and genetic disorders.

Life which is an organisation similar to PLAC argues that a woman who takes the morning-after pill is actually having an abortion because it prevents the fertilised egg from implanting in the lining of the womb. Interestingly enough in today's Irish Independent, on page 22 we have the finding of the British Attorney General in this particular area and because it is so recent I would like to put it in full on to the record of this House. The reason for that is I feel it is a judgment which will have a bearing on the debate and indeed on the situation in which we find ourselves. It states:

Use of the “morning-after” pill is not the same as causing a miscarriage and is not criminal under the Offences Against the Person Act. Britain's Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, announced today.

His ruling came the day after the Family Planning Association mounted a campaign for the pill to be available through the National Health Service to all women — not only where there is emergency, such as unprotected intercourse, rape and failure of the mechanical methods of contraception.

The anti-abortion group Life, has claimed, however, that “post-coital contraception” contravenes the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

But Sir Michael said in a Commons written reply yesterday: “Such pills are intended to be taken by women following unprotected intercourse to inhibit implantation in the womb of any fertilised ovum.

The sole question for resolution [892] therefore is whether the prevention of implantation constitutes the procuring of a miscarriage within the meaning of sections 58 or 59 of the Act. The principles relating to interpretation of statutes require that the words of a statute be given the meaning which they bore at time the statute was passed. Further, since the words were used in a general statute, they are prima facie presumed to be used in their popular, ordinary or natural sense. In this context it is important to bear in mind that a failure to implant is something which may occur in the manner described above or quite spontaneously. Indeed in a significant proportion of cases the fertilised ovum is lost either prior to implantation or at the next menstruation. It is clear that, used in its ordinary sense the word “miscarriage” is not apt to describe a failure to implant whether it is spontaneous or not. Likewise, the phrase “procure a miscarriage” cannot be construed to include prevention of implantation. Whatever the state of medical knowledge in the nineteenth century the ordinary use of the word “miscarriage” related to interference at a stage of pre-natal development later than implantation. In the light of the above I have come to the conclusion that this form of post-coital treatment does not constitute a criminal offence within either sections 58 or 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, 1861. No proceedings are to be instituted.

That is the end of the statement in the Commons made by the British Attorney General. The report just goes on to conclude by saying:

Anti-abortion groups who recently reported two clinics in Sheffield and Birmingham to the police for prescribing the morning-after pill, challenged the Attorney General to state on what grounds the method was legal. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said “the morning after pill was an abortive agent. It would seek counsel's opinion in the issue”.

[893] So, for them, the matter is not resolved. If this amendment is passed we are seriously putting in jeopardy the health and well being of our women of child bearing years. The zealots who have assidiously promoted this campaign will hardly fold their tents and steal away silently into the night, though one would wish that this would be the case. They will gain in confidence and will most likely launch attacks against other matters which in their opinion are morally dubious.

The passing of this amendment could also interfere even further with access to safe, efficient contraception, thus driving more and more women on to the abortion trail. One should bear in mind that this is a very real possibility of the outcome of this entire campaign. The narrow concern of the pro-amendment people does not encompass these women who, in fear, shame and desperation make the very difficult and the very painful decision to seek abortion in England and elsewhere.

Family doctors of my acquaintance have told me of a curious side effect to this prolonged public debate. They tell of women who have had abortions coming to them in a state of heightened anguish and guilt because of the judgmental attitudes and self-righteous posturing on the part of many who have contributed to this debate. I dare say that priests, confessors and social workers could tell the same story if they were asked. Who will take away the burden of guilt from these women? Who will ease their pain? Who will help them to resolve the conflict situation which confronts them? Not the pro-amendment people who have no previous track record in areas of social concern. These women are the flotsam and jetsam of this debate and they will be left to the tender mercy of their own consciences. Occasional professionals and, one would hope, more clergy, may choose to see that they get the compassion and concern which is their due.

The Attorney General has seen fit to draw attention to the difficulty arising from the wording intended to protect the right to life of the mother as well as the life of the unborn child. The wording before us for consideration would in the opinion of the Attorney General probably [894] be interpreted by the courts to exclude operations to save the life of the mother that are now carried out in all our hospitals in accordance with the medical ethics and theology of all our churches. The Taoiseach said:

The possibility, even probability, that this would be the outcome of this wording and that the lives of mothers who are at present saved in cases of ectopic pregnancies or cancer of the womb would thus be endangered was conclusive.

As far as he and the Government were concerned this led them to repudiate this wording and to come forward with a wording which would avoid these pitfalls and would, in addition, have the benefit of not being sectarian and divisive. By doing this they were conscious of the fact that they ran a grave political risk but they had the integrity, the principle, the courage and determination to face this risk fairly and squarely and to bring forward for consideration a form of wording which avoided all those pitfalls.

The risk factor inherent in the wording has been swept to one side by the pro-amendment people. The question of choosing between mother and child never arises they assert, but this is not so. I will cite one example to Senators for their consideration of where there is a very delicate choice that must be made. Every day in the major medical centres in this country caesarean sections are carried out on mothers who are 28 to 30 weeks pregnant. Perhaps the most common indication for this is severe toxaemia which has not responded to conservative medical management.

The obstetrician is faced with an obligation to prevent the mother from having a stroke while at the same time giving the foetus the best opportunity for survival. In this situation the common practice is to try to carry the mother through to this stage of pregnancy, that is 28 to 30 weeks, when the foetus would be viable outside the womb. This brings about an end to mother's toxaemia but it is the beginning of a desperate fight for survival on the part of the neo-nates.

I would at this point like to compliment [895] county obstetricians who refer such patients, the neo-nates, to centres where they will have comprehensive care. Nowadays, a majority of these neo-nates survive after prolonged intensive care. However, a significant number will have to cope with the consequences of failure of management, despite the best efforts of the medical team involved. This in no way is meant to imply criticism of neonatal care which has been brought to a fine art by the dedicated and caring work of our Irish neo-natalogists. The type of handicap resulting from such failure of management, as I have alluded to, includes cerebal palsy, congenital deafness, blindness, residual lung damage and infection to which these tender, precious neo-nates are highly susceptible. On the other hand, if the pregnancy was allowed to proceed to 34 weeks the mother might have a stroke and the infant's chances of intact survival would be so much better at this particular stage of gestation but the mother would have to bear the handicap. Such handicap on the part of the mother would include stroke, bringing in its wake paralysis, perhaps blindness, deafness, intellectual impairment and, of course, kidney damage which would lead to incontinence.

The thrust of my argument in bringing this detailed example to the attention of the House is that this conflicts with the wording of the amendment in as far as it refers to the equal right to life of mother and child. The pro-amendment people would say that “due regard” covers this situation, but to me it seems like a very grey area indeed and one that clearly shows up the defects in the wording of the amendment before us.

I would like to know who will arbitrate between the equal right of the child versus that of the mother in this situation. At present there is a grace and favour arbitrator in the person of the obstetrician. If this amendment is incorporated into our Constitution, will each foetus caught up in such a situation have to be made a ward of court? We are on very thin ice indeed when an attempt is made, however well-meaning, to incorporate an [896] ill-defined, nice-sounding amendment into our Constitution.

I now turn to the area of ecumenism. This is an area and a movement which has been threatened——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  I do not like to interrupt the Senator but before she turns to that area I would like to hear the Leader of the House. We agreed to discuss the matter of an adjournment at this stage.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I have had discussions with the Whips. I am not quite sure how long more Senator Bulbulia wants to continue. I propose to the House that we adjourn for lunch. If Senator Bulbulia would move the adjournment at 1 o'clock we could resume at 2.30, if she agrees to that. We certainly do not want to curtail any contribution but it is obvious that there are some more wishing to offer. It would be appropriate to have a luncheon break and continue the debate afterwards. I understand the Minister will then wish to reply.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  Is that agreed?

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  Yes.

Mrs. Bulbulia: Information on Katherine Bulbulia  Zoom on Katherine Bulbulia  I was going to discuss the matter of ecumenism which is an area which has been threatened by this debate and an area in which I am keenly interested. I feel it is a tragic feature of this debate that it should even threaten this movement in any way. I would fear that it might become a casualty of this debate because it has put a strain on the spirit of ecumenism, a spirit which has been having a steady though slow growth between the Protestant Churches themselves and towards Catholics. A reciprocal attitude is developing and, I hope, growing among Catholics, not as much as some Catholics might like. It is growing to some extent on an official level, although with a certain guarded blessing.

This infant movement which sprang from the Vatican Council — a movement towards common understanding and common action among Christians with the ultimate aim of full unity — to my mind has been severely jeopardised by [897] this proposal to amend the Constitution. Those of us who have seen in the ecumenical movement so much value and hope are shocked and indeed dismayed by the rush on the part of Church spokesmen to grab the tools of retrenchment and by the ensuing polarity which we have seen develop since the inception of this debate.

We have had an ongoing situation, peculiar to this country, of an appalling legacy of inter-religious and communal bitterness and strife which is the central factor in the frustrating situation in the North. I have deliberately engineered to be one of the final Fine Gael speakers because I wanted to listen to and digest the words of our Northern Senators who have spoken in this House on this topic. The very fact that they were nominated to this House had a significance and a purpose. They have a very special role to play in our deliberations, particularly in our deliberations which concern matters of this nature in areas where a blunt, crude majority should have no part, where we should be able to have consensus and where our decision making should be refined and sensitive. I have listened with great care to what they had to say.

This legacy of inter-religious strife and communal bitterness must be eliminated if we are to make any progress. It can only be eliminated by putting something else in its place, by building a new kind of Christian ethos, not for fear of or in opposition to the advance of secular ideas and institutions but rather working through and in these for the building of a new society. I still believe in the constitutional crusade. I was happy and proud when, as a neophyte Senator, I stood in this House and participated in that debate. For these reasons I put my name in the electoral ring and stood before the public in the constituency of Waterford and before the electorate in the Seanad election.

I believe that we can further these aims, that we can build a united Ireland, that we can seek consensus and that we can learn to live with the richness and diversity which is ours in the totality of this country. If I did not care so much [898] and if I did not want this so much I could be happily at home tending my garden and involving myself in a purely domestic role. It is because I care and because I want to participate in this movement forward which we must have if we are to progress in this country, that I have taken the step outside my kitchen to become involved in the world of affairs. I must put emphatically on the record of this House that there are many of us who have this vision. We will insist on presenting it and bringing it before the public because we believe that it is the only hope for going forward in this society.

In the Republic the need for inter-Church fellowship is of vital importance for the future. There are and will be growing pains but the ecumenical movement must continue to flourish in Ireland. One can only hope that this amendment, if passed, will not be a mortal wound from which it may not recover. This is a very real fear of mine. I shudder when I see on the television and hear on the radio conflicting views of Churchmen and I see a resurgence of something very polarised and very sectarian in attitudes which have been forced on people.

This should never have been the case. It is one of the tragedies of this entire debate that it has become the case. Our history, sadly, has robbed us of a natural secular dynamic. We recovered it through religious leadership and I must pay tribute to religious leaders that this has been the case. Our religious institutions have been important in helping us to recover this secular social dynamic. Now we are in the business of rebuilding it for ourselves. It is my contention that many of the groups in this society who are pressing for this amendment are doing so because they fear progress; they lack confidence in the ability of the Irish people and, indeed, especially in the ability of the legislators, to order their affairs with dignity, justice and intelligence.

These people have an instinctive mistrust of life and they fear the consequences of development. They are a hang-over from Jansenism which sees the human mind as essentially corrupt and something to be feared. Their attitude is negative rather than constructive and this [899] has been the tenor of the debate which has been long on rhetoric and short on compassion and common sense.

It is a notable feature of these organisations that none of them has been identified in the past with any truly pro-life activity. Their supporters have used such immoral tactics as sending threatening, anonymous, abusive letters, disrupting meetings of those opposed to their view, deliberately misrepresenting as pro-abortion those who beg to differ from them. Some of these organisations may even have infiltrated the civil service and other institutions of this State and may indeed have breached the trust imposed on them by leaking confidential documents in order to further their cause.

I was interested to hear the comments and the evidence brought forward in this debate by Senator Howlin about the manipulative, dishonest tactics that have been employed throughout the country in the course of this campaign. These people are guilty of intrigue which would have shamed the Borgias and it must be placed firmly on the record of this House that this is the case. I would like to ask Senators to contrast the type of hypocritical activity with the unobtrusive, ongoing, patient and truly caring work of bodies such as ALLY, CHERISH, AIM, AID, ADAPT, HOPE, who have not found it necessary to jump on the pro-life bandwagon of hyperbole but who prefer to cope with the problems as they are rather than what they might be. I would like to place on the record of this House a tribute to ALLY and its founder, the Dominican Father, Fergal O'Connor, who courageously and practically addressed himself to the problem of unwed mothers and started the first family placement scheme in this country. In the words of Myles na gCopaleen:

“This was before it was popular or profitable to do so”. The same Myles na gCopaleen would, no doubt, have had many wry and trenchant comments to make on the situation which obtains in this country today vis-a-vis the amendment.

I see in the family placement scheme for unwed mothers something of a halfway [900] house. It deals with dignity, skill, discretion and tact with a very acute human problem. I sometimes wonder if it does not feed our hypocrisy because it involves spiriting girls away to areas where they are unknown. It offers anonymity and, therefore, included in anonymity is the idea of shame. To be pregnant with child no matter what the circumstances are is not a matter for shame. I would like to see that placed on the record of this House, because I love life, I loved having my small children, I loved caring for them, I know that every woman instinctively — I speak as one of the few women in this House — knows the feeling I am talking about, the feeling of love, the feeling of nurture.

I have been fortunate enough never to have found myself in some of the dreadful circumstances which women who find themselves in this position must confront, but I have for them an enormous compassion. I hope that the family placement scheme will be but a halfway house in our social attitudes towards this problem. I hope that parents, friends, relatives, workmates of people who find themselves in this position will find it in their hearts to be non-judgmental, to be truly caring, to welcome the child and give love, concern and care to any woman who finds herself in a difficult pregnant situation.

Mention of ecumenism brings me on to the subject of pluralism which is a topic which is all embracing, is part of this debate and has been referred to by many Senators in the course of their contributions. You see, it is a vital ingredient in the receipe for a united Ireland by consent, which is the stated aim of all major political parties and is loosely interpeted as being the aim, the aspiration and the wish of the vast majority of Irish people. I sometimes think when the surface is scratched and they are being asked exactly what they mean by the sacrifices they would be prepared to make, that they have not really faced up to the consequences of and the entire situation surrounding this aim and aspiration. I feel the very idea of incorporating an amendment in our Constitution of the sort we are discussing today is at the kernel of [901] the whole idea of pluralism. This is why I was particularly interested in the views expressed by our Northern Senators which shed a great deal of light on the feelings towards this which they strongly hold is current in the North among all its people.

There can be no pluralism or ecumenism without tolerance. I spoke about a basic ingredient to a receipe. Tolerance is the basic ingredient in pluralism. What is tolerance? It is the recognition of and respect for a diversity of views and values based on the acceptance of inherent human rights and the dignity to be accorded to every person. True tolerance is not a negative attitude grudgingly conceding the right to existence of views and values which differ from ours but a positive attitude, seeing the diversity of pluralism in society, or ecumenism in Christianity as mutually enriching and stimulating.

The mark of a free or pluralist society is not that it abstains from making moral judgment or enforcing certain moral principles but is prepared to submit its proposed or actual moral legislation to the most rigorous scientific and informed examination. It must be continually open to serious and constructive views from whatever corner or quarter they may come and must have a willingness to change laws if necessary in the light of experience and reasonable public opinion. A pluralist society will be sceptical of authoritarianism or pressure groups whether ecclesiastical, political, racial. It will keep its legislation on moral matters to a minimum. I was interested to come across a contrasting view of pluralism. I have here two quotations on the subject. One is from Father Cleary and it is taken from the Sunday Independent of 10 April 1983. He has this to say about pluralism:

The latest catchphrase is pluralism. Sectarianism does not cover those who belong to no sect so some of our politicians have progressed from non-sectarism to pluralism. If they ever get their way and act logically on the statements they have made about a pluralist [902] society then we can look forward to legalised prostitution, nudism and, who knows, even cannibalism.

I ask Senators, are we to take this seriously? I resent such an extraordinary outburst from a cleric who is highly placed and who has a large readership. It is a distortion of what pluralism is about. I would like, with the permission of the House, to quote from Dean Victor Griffin, who, in The New Democrat, which is our new party political magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1, in an interview, answered the question: “What do Protestants understand by pluralism?” I would ask Senators to contrast this with the statement of Father Michael Cleary.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

Mrs. Bulbulia: Information on Katherine Bulbulia  Zoom on Katherine Bulbulia  Before we adjourned for lunch I was discussing a likely casualty of this debate and that is the concept of pluralism, an ideal which we should be working towards in our society, North and South, if we are to have the total freedom, independence and unity by consent which we all so earnestly desire and which our major political parties profess to be one of their main objectives. I was quoting two concepts of pluralism in stark contrast to each other. In order that Senators may regain the drift of the argument, I will read once again the quotation from the Sunday Independent of 10 April 1983 by Father Michael Cleary. He is a well known, well thought of and well liked Catholic priest and I know that he commands a certain following for his column in this newspaper but I am particularly interested in his views on pluralism which are caught in a time warp. He says:

The latest catchphrase is pluralism. Sectarianism does not cover those who belong to no sect so some of our politicians have progressed from non-sectarism to pluralism. If they ever get their way and act logically on the statements they have made about a pluralist society then we can look forward to legalised prostitution, nudism and, who knows, even cannibalism.

[903] This is the type of non sequitur logic that has tended to inform some of the, dare I say, reputable people who have made contributions in this debate. I would ask Senators to contrast this with a statement on pluralism which I am about to read which was made by Dean Victor Griffin. I am quoting from The New Democrat, a Fine Gael magazine, volume 1, of May 1983. In answer to the question “What do Protestants understand by pluralism?” Dean Victor Griffin replied:

They don't understand permissiveness, of which we are often accused. What we understand by a pluralist society is that there are certain common laws in society. There is a common ethos in our society, a Christian ethos, which has framed our society and which has a general consensus and a general acceptance, such as the sanctity of human life. However, within that consensus there are certain churches that hold different views. There are different views for example on the question of marriage. Some churches will say divorce should be permitted as maybe the lesser of two evils; maybe a marriage can die. There are different shades of opinion about when abortion should be permitted. Our view is that it is ruled out except in cases of strict and undeniable medical necessity.

So you have a variation. On contraception there are different views. There are various opinions among members of society within the framework of a general Christian ethos which we all accept.

Pluralism says that the State should not come down on one particular side more than on another. For example, the State should not say there should be total prohibition on divorce. It should not embody in its laws or in its Constitution one particular position or denominational position to the exclusion of others. In other words, where there is moral controversy and a difference of opinion the State should be neutral. The sole function of the State in a pluralist society is to ensure freedom for all within the context of a commonly agreed and accepted public law and morality.

Whether or not one agrees with Dean [904] Griffin's vision of what a pluralist society is, one will have to accept that it is a thoughtful, reflective piece of reasoning and a far cry from catch phrases such as cannibalism, nudism and legalised prostitution. Within the basic framework of public morality on which there is a general consensus and agreement, each denomination must have the right to preach and practice its own faith and moral disciplines and to offer guidance to its members. The State must not take sides and, in a morally controversial issue, enforce a particular moral view, even a majority view, on all its citizens.

The sole function of the State, and I would submit the function of a constitution, must be to ensure freedom for all within the context of a generally agreed and accepted public order and morality. It follows that complex moral isues on which there are sincerely held but different points of view or shades of opinion, should not be the subject of a constitutional definition. In a pluralist State a Constitution should express a general consensus setting out basic human rights and responsibility and steer clear of controversial or divisive moral issues. Such issues should be the affair not of the State but of the particular Churches, each having the right to exercise its own moral disciplines and none having the right to enforce this on others. If people are truly believing and truly committed members of particular Churches it should not be necessary for the State to shore up the tenets of these Churches in its legislation and in its Constitution. Only in this way will we ensure in our democratic societies that the Church does not usurp the functions of the State and the State does not frustrate the role of the Churches.

In this way we should seek to keep a sense of proportion and obey the precept of our Lord to render unto Caeser the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. This is at the kernel of this argument and it is an even wider debate which, in the impassioned argumentation on both sides, is tending to be sidestepped though it is a very key issue.

It should be abundantly clear from all the arguments I have advanced in my [905] contribution to this debate that I find the wording ambiguous, fraught with danger, divisive and therefore, not a fit proposal to be submitted to the people in a referendum. We must keep certain facts before us at all times in this debate. The 1861 Act has never been challenged to date. It has served us well. Abortion is illegal in this country. There is no immediate likelihood of legislation. Not a single Member of the Oireachtas has declared himself or herself in favour of abortion.

I realise that there is a strong feeling that this entire matter has taken up far too much time already and that there are many more urgent matters in the minds of many people which need to be attended to. I cannot but be sympathetic with that point of view when I see the unemployment figures continuing to soar and I hear the clanging of factory gates as they close and I know the human misery, despair, anxiety and stress which this is causing so many of our people. But to my mind what we are discussing in this issue — and I know it is difficult for many people to accept this — is the single most important issue to have been debated in this country for a long time because it is about the very fabric of our society. It is about its shape, its make and its direction. It should never, ever have become a party political issue and we have shamed the issue and we have shamed life itself by having it treated in this manner. If I have been culpable of that because I have been a member of a political party I plead guilty but I am not so foolish as not to recognise what has happened and to state that it should never have happened.

Even at this late stage I appeal to the Taoiseach and to the leaders of all our political parties, where essentially the matter now rests, to reconsider the issue. It is not an urgent matter. Time is on our side. Why can we not, as many other Senators have said, set up a commission, some have said a political commission, an all-party commission? In view of the fact that it should not be a political issue, I would prefer to see a non-party political commission, a commission of people of deep thought and reflective attitudes, of [906] specialist backgrounds who would bring their minds to bear on this very vexed and complex issue. It should be examined beyond the heat of political crossfire. What is happening should not be happening, and those who recognise it should say “stop”. The findings of such a commission, if such were possible, could then be analysed by both Houses and a decision could be reached in a calm, reflective atmosphere.

As matters stand I support the Labour amendment and I am opposed to the wording under consideration. I have always in my life, even in my political life, adhered to the maxim that thought, speech and action should have an uninterrupted flow. I see no reason to depart from that on this occasion and I see every reason to adhere to it as firmly as I have in the past. I will not be abstaining on this issue.

I listened very carefully to Senator Dooge, the Leader of the House, when he explained our position of abstention. I respect his seniority. I respect his experience, but to my mind — and this is a personal opinion — we have been caught up in the niceties of parliamentary and political strategy, which the public, who look to the Houses of the Oireachtas for relevance and a reflection of their views, will be unable to comprehend. All they will be presented with will be the fact that this Bill, if this is what happens on Second Stage, will have passed through the Seanad and the vote, numerically speaking, will be presented to them. Naturally I do not wish to prejudge the outcome of this vote but it appears that it would be something in the order of 15 to 18, or something like that. This result will be a distortion of the accurate sentiments of this House, as expressed in many of the speeches which I have listened to intently during the course of this debate.

Interestingly enough, in a recent “Today Tonight” programme Deputy Michael Woods produced as his trump card, his finale, his winding up of his apologia for their position, the fact that the Fianna Fáil wording had been passed by a huge majority in the Dáil and he [907] quoted the figures 85 to 11. He conveniently ignored the fact that the Fine Gael group had found it incumbent on them to abstain and had not registered their abstention. It did not suit the purposes of his argument and it will not suit the purposes of arguments in the course of this debate throughout the country to present what is actually happening in this House. So it is my contention that by abstaining we are masking democracy. We are masking the real feelings of Senators in this House. I cannot be party to it. The kind of language, numerically speaking 85 to 11, is the kind of language the public understand. They do not understand the intricacies and the inner workings of the Seanad nor do they want to be bothered with them. They want to know if something got through and, if so by what majority.

The object of holding the referendum early so as to end the unpleasant and divisive debate as speedily as possible is a moot point. There is some relevance in that, but really it represents a sort of gazing into a crystal ball. Who can tell? It is making a judgment and a decision and I cannot be sure that that is so though I see that it may very well be the case. The thinking seems to be that if we get it out of the way quickly the issue will go away and we can get on to more important matters. I can see very clearly that it is not going to go away, no matter what the outcome of this vote or the outcome of the referendum. This is an issue that is going to fester. It is going to be used by people to suit their own purposes, to shore up their prejudices. The iron will enter into the souls of people as a result of this issue.

Leaving aside the tactical, strategic decisions that have been made by my grouping, I feel we have ignored something very important. The sole reason that I have involved myself in public life is about principle. We have an opportunity in this Seanad to influence the issue, to help the public to establish its thinking on this very important issue. We have an opportunity to stand up and be counted, and be counted on a principle. I do not feel that I can abstain in an issue where [908] it is important to stand up and be counted.

Senator Robinson in her speech asked “Who is going to explain to the people the complexities of this debate?” It is a question which I ask myself, because, as she mentioned, previous referenda have always been very clear-cut, simple, decision-making processes, and it has not been too arduous for the mind to grapple with the decisions involved. This is different. It is an issue which is going to the country which has bemused and dazed the public. On television they have heard the Master of Holles Street Maternity Hospital say one thing and the Master of the Rotunda say another. They have heard eminent legal minds wrangle. The have seen and heard clergymen wrangle. They have seen and heard politicians wrangle. How are they to understand what they are to do? So for this reason, and because there is so much ambiguity in it I must go along with the Labour motion. I do not find it easy to depart from the thinking of my colleagues on this issue but it is something that I must do and I would explain it to my colleagues in this forum.

Mrs. McAuliffe-Ennis: Information on Helena McAuliffeEnnis  Zoom on Helena McAuliffeEnnis  I should like to compliment the women Members of the Seanad for their conscientious and caring contributions to the debate. I should also like to pay particular tribute to my colleague, Senator Jack Harte, who insisted on coming out of hospital today to vote for the Labour Party motion.

There are various criteria by which it should be decided whether or not to ask the people to give their opinions and the criteria are as follows: that the subject matter should be sufficiently serious; that the subject matter should be sufficiently clear and that the call for a referendum should reflect the wishes of the people. The subject matter of abortion is sufficiently serious. The question of abortion being legalised in years to come is cartainly worrying. But what about abortion as it exists today? It is extraordinary that this proposed wording being put to the people does not address itself to the matter of 5,000 women leaving Ireland every year to have abortions. Am I to believe, [909] then, that we have no concern or no care about the problem of abortions so long as they are not performed on Irish soil? I am horrified at this attitude. By ignoring this glaring problem we are giving the Irish solution to the Irish problem.

With regard to the clarity of the words, they are so confusing that even leading medical and legal opinions in the country are seriously divided as to the repercussions of adopting the Fianna Fáil wording. The Churches of the country are divided on the proposed wording. The political parties are totally divided on the wording but, unfortunately, because of the Whip being applied we may never know how divided or concerned the members of the Opposition are.

The Irish Guild of Catholic Nurses have also expressed reservations. The Supreme Court, it has been claimed, cannot be trusted to keep a law to legalise abortion off our Statute Book. Is it not a fact, however, that the Supreme Court may have to make a ruling to define the meaning of the proposed wording? Will the Supreme Court not be put into the position of defining when life begins?

As it stands, there is no clear view on when life begins and this leaves open the possibility of a time being set right up to the viability of the foetus and that then we will have or may have abortion. What a terrible risk this is to take. Why proceed until this aspect is absolutely crystal clear? What will happen in the case of ectopic pregnancies and in the case of the woman with cancer of the womb? What is the situation with regard to women who suffer from epilepsy and the administration of the necessary drugs? What is the position of the woman with extremely high blood pressure or who is threatened with kidney failure or, more important, what will her position be? The Irish Guild of Catholic Nurses already have expressed reservations about what will happen in relation to ectopic pregnancies. The question must follow then, how much time does the conscious woman have on an operating table while medical opinion debates the legal issues?

No clear answers have been given on any of these issues and as a mother, I want to know what the answers are. I do [910] not want anybody's opinion on whether this might happen or that might happen, or I assure you it will not happen. I want it made clear to me before I can vote in favour of holding a referendum on this wording.

The question still remains as to what those in medical practice feel. Is there any chance that it could be coloured by the possibility that consultants may have no protection within the law if they act in favour of either the mother or the child? It is not good enough that our professional people may have to practise under such a cloud, no matter how remote this possibility may be.

Is this referendum at the express wish of the people? In recent television programmes it would appear that the electorate seem to be of the opinion that the referendum should not go ahead. People I have asked about the amendment have said, with few exceptions, that the amendment is not needed. People have said they have not a clue what the whole thing is about and that they are simply not going to vote. This vote, or abstention as I see it, is tantamount to saying, “Yes, we agree with the proposed wording”. It is appalling that the electorate should be asked to give views on something which they do not understand, something about which hysteria has been the order of the day. You might question the use of the word “hysteria”, but true evidence of the hysteria associated with this whole debate has been the display of total irresponsibility during its course through the Lower House.

I must also call into question the methods used by the pro-amendment lobby to bring into schools films, slides, pictures and samples to children who, in the main, do not even know how babies are made. I taught young children for nine years and I know that if such a display were to be brought into my classroom I would refuse to allow it to continue. It may well leave these unfortunate children with a horror of ever becoming parents. At home I have to ensure that I get to my own mail first. I will not tolerate my children opening a letter and being confronted with blatant and distorted propaganda, complete with horrific pictures.

[911] Will the mothers of Ireland over the next couple of weeks have to adopt this rush in the mornings to get to their mail once the lobbying of the electorate begins?

With reference to the letters which have been sent to TDs lobbying for support for the Fianna Fáil wording, which by the way were paid for by the taxpayer, not the TDs, and certainly not the pro-amendment lobby, they have in some cases been acknowledged and to my surprise letters are coming back from the people whose names are used stating that they did not sign, send or have anything to do with the said literature. Why is it necessary to use these methods? If the case is honest and right surely above board and reasonable argument alone could win the day.

Finally I should like to pay tribute to the Fine Gael Party for taking the courageous step of calling the wording into question. It has helped to alter one of the most significant attitudes, the old tag that if you are anti-amendment then you are pro-abortion. I would ask Fine Gael, having taken their courage in both hands, to persist with their questioning and support the Labour amendment here today so that more time will be available to discuss further this very serious matter. Who knows? There is an old saying, a week is a long time in politics and indeed three months is a much longer time in which anything could happen. Do not hesitate to send back this wording. I have always held the view that constitutional changes should originate from an all-party committee structure.

Mr. Howard: Information on Michael Howard  Zoom on Michael Howard  Perhaps the disadvantages of coming in at the end of a four-day debate on a subject as deep and as involved as this outweigh whatever advantages there may be. I had the opportunity of hearing most of the debate and I read the contributions that I did not have the opportunity to listen to. The one aspect of the entire debate that has emerged very clearly is the conviction and the sincerity of speakers on all sides on this difficult subject. I understand that yesterday a comment was made by a colleague to the effect that brief speeches, [912] to some degree, could be interpreted as showing a lack of concern or a lack of interest in the subject. I make that point because what I have to say will be relatively brief. In reference to the comment that was made yesterday, the duration, the length, the shortness as the case may be, of a contribution is no yardstick by which to measure the commitment, the concern or sincerity of the person making that contribution.

If one wished, it would indeed be possible to speak here for hours on end because so many aspects and so many side issues have been raised not alone here, in fact to a very small degree here, but in the general debate outside the House, that if a person were to follow these he would have material for hours on end to speak on the subject. But the reality is that, very likely, a person would be dealing with shadows and, indeed, shadows of many shapes rather than the subject or the substance of the issue that is at the root of this debate. That substance is the unwanted pregnancy, particularly of the single girl. There are two aspects to the contribution I intend to make and to some degree they may appear contradictory but they are not and I will endeavour to explain that as I proceed. I accept that there is a need to strengthen the law in relation to abortion but if we depend on the law alone to resolve the basic problem while ignoring at the same time compassion, support and the continued existence of an environment which rejects the girl in difficulty, we may as well admit defeat at this stage.

I am, I may add, one of many Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas who supported from the beginning the idea of a constitutional amendment dealing with the prohibition of abortion, but I did that not taking that amendment itself in isolation but as part of an effort—perhaps the first step on the road—that would successfully confront what I describe as the basic problem. I am satisfied that further steps are necessary and that without these further steps success cannot be attained.

I belong to quite a sizeable group of [913] people who reject abortion and who accept the set of values that follows from that point of view. I reject criticisms that have been made—particularly outside the House—that these values are in some ways outdated, that they belong to another age or that they are no longer relevant to society today. I believe that the undermining of these values is to a very great degree responsible, together with other factors, for the problems that we face in society today. I reject the suggestion that by advocating the retention of these values we are somehow reflecting the attitudes of a backward and ignorant society. I believe that the disappearance of many of these values and the undermining of them are responsible for many of the problems of today's society.

I do not want to see abortion legalised at any stage. I oppose it as totally evil and, like capital punishement, final and without reprieve. However I do not believe that the amendment alone will do much to solve the difficulties and distress of the girl in difficulty who, far too often, is condemned and rejected by her family and by society and is frequently left with no option but to take the boat to Britain. If we as a parliament, a people and a society pursue the line that by adopting this amendment and doing nothing further we have achieved our goal, then that attitude is totally superficial. I will go further and say that it may well represent hypocrisy of the highest order. If we content ourselves with that and refuse to work towards the improvement of the work towards the improvement of the environment within society which rejects the girl in difficulty, if we refuse to ensure that compassion and support are extended to her, we then share the blame for whatever lives are destroyed or blighted as a result.

Many speakers have referred to the campaign which has been waged in support of this amendment. I issue a challenge to people who were prominent in that campaign in proclaiming their self-righteousness, particularly to those who waved the flag of Christianity, to go further, if they are sincere, than simply advocating and ensuring that this amendment is adopted. If they are not prepared [914] to follow up with organising an environment within which there is compassion, support and sympathy, then the problem will continue as heretofore.

In relation to the position that the Fine Gael group are adopting in relation to this proposal, I attended a number of meetings at which the issue was discussed. The Fine Gael Party faced the difficult situation in which they found themselves as a result of advice from the highest legal opinion in the country with the utmost sincerity and with the intention of attempting to resolve it. I regret that now we cannot put before the people a wording of the amendment that would enjoy the support of the majority of the Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas and of the majority of the people outside. I am satisfied with the honesty with which my party approached this subject and with their decision also.

I conclude by repeating what I have said on a number of occasions, that I do not accept the passage of this amendment. I do not accept that enshrining it in the Constitution alone will resolve the difficulty which it is intended to resolve. To resolve that difficulty or even help to resolve it in some small way much more than the amendment is required. A change of attitude is needed. Compassion and support which have been denied in the past to people in difficulty should be forthcoming in the future. A new attitude and environment in which the girl in difficulty will not find herself rejected and condemned—as far too often she has been heretofore—is required.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  Ba mhaith liom i dtosach comghairdeas a ghabháil leis na Seanadóirí a labhair anseo go dtí seo. Cheap me go raibh an caighdeán go han-ard ar fad agus cé go raibh oráidí an-fhada ann bhí siad suimiúil i gcónaí. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas faoi leith a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Hanafin a bhí calma go leor agus mór go leor chun a rá anseo nach raibh pairtí Fhine Gael ar son an ghinmhillte.

One of the things which made my stay here in the Seanad a pleasant one was to hear a member of the Fianna Fáil Party publicly declaring, as Senator Hanafin [915] did, that we are not pro-abortion. I am sick and tired of hearing our party labelled pro-abortionist. I am sick and tired of hearing our Taoiseach, who in his effort to improve the wording of the amendment set out to change it, described as being soft on abortion. I regret that a size four football, at least, has been made out of this issue.

As I was returning from Donegal in my car one day I listened to the Leader of the Opposition speaking about avoiding making a political football of this issue by not campaigning for it. At the same time he went out of his way to try to nail the Government on the split that exists there at present. But then I suppose if an oxymoron is, in the English language, an apparent contradiction, maybe some of our top politicians and in particular the Leader of the Opposition, are the greatest political oxymorons.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  Which Moran is the Senator talking about now?

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  Senator Lanigan will never let me go without interrupting me. In speaking on this wording I have always been baffled by the fact that as the Fianna Fáil wording is regarded as being pro-life, positive, protecting the life of the unborn, it logically follows that it must also be anti-abortion.

Our wording has been anti-abortion and, in my view, it is automatically pro-life. Some people seem to have a terrible hang-up on the difference between the pro-life and anti-abortion wording. I cannot see what the difference is and I do not know why people have such a difficulty about it. For that reason I would like to think that in the future we will have an all-party committee to deal with a situation like this. We are playing with two sets of words, both of which are trying to achieve the same thing, and that is why I repeat that I am anti-abortion.

I do not want to sound as if I am better than anybody else, because I am not, but I also want to make sure that I am not worse than anybody else. I support this amendment. I regret very much that the wording is not acceptable to all sides and, like many of the people on this side of [916] the House, I have to make up my mind as to what is best to do. Many views are being expressed on both sides and so quoting from one person or another is rather a futile exercise. If you quote from one person pro the amendment you can equally quote from another source to give an opposite view.

If I was sure that the proposed wording would fail in the courts later on I certainly would oppose it today. Unfortunately, I do not know what the official result will be and we will never know until it is challenged in the courts. For that reason I do not feel that I am in a position to stop this amendment going through when in the long run it may be acceptable. I would be embarrassed if by my absentention I let wording go through that later on will be challenged in the courts and found defective. That to me would be a disaster.

I would like as well to come back to something that has been mentioned by a few speakers here already. I met a few very reasonable people who had very strong viewpoints on the pro-life amendment and they were willing to listen to anything I had to say. One of them unfortunately after four or five minutes talking to me and expressing her strong support of the pro-life amendment said,“You know, we are spoiling the single mothers by giving them so much of an allowance”. I said to her “How can you have it two ways?” If this amendment has done nothing more than this, it has highlighted the hypocrisy under which we live. This brings up another point. A short time ago a single girl in my area applied to the country council for a house. There were just herself and her child and she was not under starter's orders at all, because the one-child family automatically has three members, father, mother and child.

We are making a great song and dance that we must prevent abortion. At the same time we seem to have the old, outmoded rules for the single girl who if brave enough and maybe Christian enough to bring up her child will be punished severely by us because we say that she is not really a family, she does not count. We will have to change our thinking, and finance will be involved. We [917] cannot have it two ways. We should not tell girls that they cannot have abortions while at the same time continue to punish those who go through with their pregnancies.

I hope that the wording of this amendment will stand up in the courts. I have worries because of the advice we have got which I must balance against the views expressed by the Opposition. I hope that this will eventually turn out to be a successful wording. I can only wish it well at this stage.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  I would like to apologise to Senator Browne for my interruption. I got mixed up between Ogie Moran and oxymoron. I was not too sure.

Mr. Daly: Information on Jack Daly  Zoom on Jack Daly  A Leas-Chathaoirligh, I would like, as this is my first opportunity, to congratulate you on your election to the Chair and I will also take this opportunity to welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad.

I have two brief points to make. I know that for somebody to say he is going to be brief is usually the prelude to a long-winded speech.

I am pro-life. I am totally against abortion as I believe the overwhelming majority of the Irish people are against it. The second point is that when the dust of this battle is settled there should be a positive approach regarding the girls who are unfortunate enough to get into trouble. People must be educated in charity and when this campaign is over it is to be hoped that those with the time and energy will be prepared to help these unfortunates.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mrs. Fennell): Information on Nuala Fennell  Zoom on Nuala Fennell  When the Minister introduced this Bill he made it clear that he was doing so on the basis that the Dáil had made its decision and now it was a matter for this House to consider its attitude to the proposed amendment of the Constitution. I would like to thank Senators for their contributions. I would also like to put on record my appreciation of the thoughtful and constructive way in which they approached the subject.

The debate to which we have listened represents, in my view, an important [918] stage not only in the enactment of this Bill but in the developing national debate leading up to the referendum. The position of my party has been fully explained by the Leader of the House in his contribution. I would like, as Minister of State for Women's Affairs, to take this opportunity of putting on record some of my personal views. I am very honoured to have been in this House for a great deal of the debate. I was not here for as much as I would like to have heard. Indeed, it causes me regret that this House is not open to television and radio because I believe that the electorate could have benefited a great deal from the speeches made here. I found them to be eloquent, compassionate and tolerant and one would have wished to have found them in the other part of the Oireachtas. The debate here was short on abuse and prejudice and very generous in compassion.

I would like to relate to Committee Stage of the Bill in the Dáil and say that on that day I saw the nearest thing to parliamentary obscenity.

Mrs. Bulbulia: Information on Katherine Bulbulia  Zoom on Katherine Bulbulia  Hear, hear.

Mrs. Fennell: Information on Nuala Fennell  Zoom on Nuala Fennell  I was not in the House at the time. I listened to it in my office and I know that the newspapers afterwards commented on the fact that no woman spoke. I doubt if there were any women in the House. I can tell you that the women Members and I am sure many men Members must have been feeling in their heart and soul a deep sense of shame and regret because there was hurling of abuse about women's anatomy and women's biology across the House. I hope that this is something that I do not ever have to hear again.

In the event of this referendum going before the people I would like to say to voters, particularly women voters, to realise that they are not voting yes or no for or against abortion; they are voting for a constitutional amendment, the wording of which is primarily defective. It leaves unanswered the fundamental question of the point in time at which constitutional protection will be guaranteed. Secondly, the phrase “with due regard to equal right to life of the [919] mother” elevates the right to life of the foetus at whatever stage of its development to precisely the same right to life as is enjoyed by an adult human being. It has been suggested several times by speakers that it will be difficult for the electorate to understand that there is a great deal of confusion. I will certainly do all in my power to make sure that voters understand what is involved. There are such risks in this wording that we would be better without any amendment at all than to have the Fianna Fáil [920] wording, with all its risks and all its defects written into the Constitution.

Finally I will refer to some of the speeches. People made the suggestion that this should be a subject for an all-party committee. I believe on issues like this that we should have all-party committees. I would appeal to all parties in this House to think seriously now about another issue, the one of marital breakdown, and contribute to the all-party committee that has been proposed.

Question put: “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”.

Cassidy, Donie.
de Brún, Séamus.
Ellis, John.
Fallon, Seán.
Fitzsimons, Jack.
Hanafin, Des.
Hillery, Brian.
Honan, Tras.
Hussey, Thomas.
Kiely, Rory.
Killilea, Mark.
Lanigan, Mick.
Lynch, Michael.
Mullooly, Brian.
O'Toole, Martin J.
Ryan, Eoin.
Ryan, William.
Smith, Michael.

Bulbulia, Katharine.
Conway, Timmy.
Ferris, Michael.
Harte, John.
Higgins, Michael D.
Howlin, Brendan.
McAuliffe-Ennis, Helena.
McGuinness, Catherine I.B.
Magner, Pat.
O'Mahony, Flor.
Robb, John D.A.
Robinson, Mary T.W.
Rogers, Brid.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Ryan, Brendan.

Question declared carried.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 18 May 1983.


Last Updated: 14/09/2010 09:13:14 First Page Previous Page Page of 6 Next Page Last Page