The Eighth Amendment argument is not going Mattie McGrath and Rónán Mullen’s way and they’re throwing the toys out of the pram, writes Donal O’Keeffe.
Last week Mattie McGrath TD and Senator Rónán Mullen, took to the Plinth for a press conference, telling assembled media they are actively considering their position on the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, which is examining options on changing the law on abortion.
Describing the committee as ‘a farce’ and ‘entirely skewed in favour of abortion’, neither would say whether they intend to absent themselves from proceedings, but McGrath said he didn’t have much confidence in the committee chair, Senator Catherine Noone.
In their statement, they asserted their “honest view that the credibility of the committee cannot be restored owing to how entirely slanted the process has become”. Ignoring that they could themselves invite witnesses, they complained that “over 20 groups and individuals pushing for abortion have been invited before the committee while only a handful of pro-life people have been invited.”
In a letter to the Irish Times, Catherine Stocker made an excellent observation this week.
“Senator Rónán Mullen and Mattie McGrath TD have called the commendable work of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eight Amendment a ‘farce’. They have further suggested that the committee is biased towards ‘pro-abortion’ contributors. It bears noting that the groups and individuals they describe as pro-abortion are the Irish Commission for Human Rights and Equality, the Irish Council of General Practitioners, the Masters of both the National Maternity Hospital and the Rotunda Hospital, and the World Health Organisation. The point cannot be made strongly enough that what they are construing as a stitch-up is, in fact, the legitimate consensus of evidence-based human rights and health organisations.”
Responding to McGrath and Mullen, the committee chair Senator Catherine Noone, said she has been very fair in allocating time to speakers. “And in many instances, the two individuals who have made the complaints have had a lot more time than other members. I have been very impartial at all times.”
Noone sounded a conciliatory note, but she did point out that while McGrath and Mullen were outside getting on TV, the committee was in session inside Leinster House and that might have been the appropriate venue in which to raise their concerns.
This would have rang true with many watching the committee sessions, especially given that it seemed to some of us that McGrath and Mullen seemed to barely attend committee sessions at all, coming in, causing a scene, shouting that the whole thing is just a propaganda exercise for abortion and leaving once their place on the Six One News is assured.
Why, it’s almost as though the two Oireachtas members representing the 1950s know that the jig is up. Oh, sure, the Church-gate crowd in Tipperary will still vote for Mattie, and enough NUI graduates will continue to lazily not vote against the empty husk channeling the shrieking shade of John Charles McQuaid, but they both know the tide of history has turned against them.
The lesson of the Citizens’ Assembly has not been lost on Mattie and Rónán, now busy getting their condemnation of the committee’s findings in early. The Citizens’ Assembly was a truly terrifying experience for Ireland’s ‘pro-life’ lobby. There was Enda Kenny’s smartarse kick to touch on abortion and it backfired completely.
The 99 members of the Citizens’ Assembly listened patiently and diligently and delivered a verdict which amounted to a body blow to the body politic, recommending that abortion be allowed in this State under a wide range of criteria. The Citizens’ Assembly chairperson, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, said “I am aware that the results caused surprise across some sections of society, but I truly believe they were reached not by chance or accident but following a thorough and rational thought process each member undertook as they stepped up to the ballot box.
“Each vote was underpinned by expert evidence received from 25 professionals across 80 hours of active assembly participation. This in turn was supplemented by hours of preparatory work on behalf of the members reading papers and submissions.”
It turns out that if you respect the intelligence and integrity of ‘ordinary’ Irish people, they’ll listen with compassion and decency and they’ll respond with honour and integrity.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said repeatedly he doesn’t believe the electorate is ready for the kind of abortion regime proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly. While that may well be true at the moment, it is irrelevant for two reasons. The first is that the electorate hasn’t yet considered the issue in the depth that the Citizens’ Assembly did, or been informed by the same breadth of expert advice.
The second reason Leo’s claim is irrelevant, ties in with something his predecessor used to say. Enda Kenny – who long ago campaigned for the Eighth – was fond of saying “Ah, but you can’t just repeal, you need something to replace it”.
One of a number of options being considered by the committee is repealing the Eighth and replacing it with legislation which would be ‘entrenched’ in the Constitution. In essence, replacing one unholy mess with another.
While there are legal uncertainties attaching to each option, it seems clear the least-worst option is a straightforward recommendation of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
If we repeal the Eighth, abortion will still remain illegal except in the circumstances prescribed in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. After that, it will then be up to the Oireachtas to amend or replace that Act.
12 women a day leave Ireland for terminations while our political classes hide behind the Eighth Amendment.
Let’s get the Eighth out of our Constitution and then let’s argue about abortion.
We have some of the best-paid legislators on the face of the planet. Let’s repeal the Eighth and demand they start legislating.