Michael Kirke was born in Co. Donegal and attended St. Eunan’s College in Letterkenny, 1957-1962. In 1966 he graduated from University College Dublin (History and Politics). In 1966 he began working on the editorial desk of The Evening Press in Dublin and in 1968 went to the newsroom of the Irish Press group of newspapers – contributing news and features to the group’s three titles, The Irish Press (morning paper), The Evening Press and The Sunday Press. In 1969 he went to Belfast and covered the initial unravelling of the Unionist hegemony in the province. Later that year he became the group’s education specialist. In 1973 took leave of absence to pursue postgraduate studies in education in Trinity College Dublin where he graduated in 1976. In 1978 he left journalism and moved into teaching. In 1981 was appointed headmaster of Rockbrook Park School in Dublin (www.rockbrook.ie). In 1994 resigned from that post and moved to live in the West of Ireland (Galway) where he began working part-time in media again. He is now back in Dublin working, among other things, as a freelance writer. His main interests are in political, cultural and educational affairs – as well as issues related to religious faith.
Maria Steen, one of Ireland’s most stalwart defenders of truth and life, reflected on the meaning and importance of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland last weekend in an Irish Times article this week.
As well as being a hopeful sign that her recent and relatively frequent columns in that paper might suggest that this dreadfully biased medium might be beginning to serve the reading public more honestly, her article was a reading of the Pope’s visit which took us deeper than most.
Read the entire article to get its full value. Her concluding remarks on the “hubris of our age” and the struggle now going on among all those who consider themselves Catholic over what reform of the Church should mean are particularly apt:
The hope of change that those calling for doctrinal reform seek is not personal change, but rather that the church deny fundamental truths to accommodate their ways of living. This is an old project.
St Paul wrote: “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
In Utopia, St Thomas More talked of how men would rather not change to conform to Christ’s rule, but instead prefer to bend it, as if it were a leaden yardstick, to suit themselves. Both he and St John Fisher – the only bishop in England to remain faithful to church teaching on marriage in the face of the persecution of Henry VIII – felt just how unaccommodating those who seek to accommodate Christ’s teaching to the way they live can be.
The hubris of our age is the idea that moral progress has tracked technological progress, so that our behaviour becomes the criterion by reference to which church teaching is to be judged, rather than the other way around.
Those who, in their arrogance and pride, believe themselves to be above God’s law are never far from abuse. This is what allowed abuses – clearly contrary to the law of the church – to be perpetrated and facilitated in the past.
Instead, the Christian is called to humility – which involves sacrificing oneself and one’s immediate desires to a greater cause. In a materialistic “throwaway” age, this message is a hard sell. How many really want to sacrifice immediate personal gratification for someone else or something greater?
And yet that is the message at the heart of the Christian family: duty, sacrifice and, above all, love.
RTÉ – After great interview with couple at Pro Cathedral, followed by wonderful testimony of Áine Stafford & Sam Shepherd (In Jesus, I found transcendent Truth, Goodness & Beauty”) … it’s back to the studio for some more moaning! 🙄
Who in this secular age can hear these voices crying in the wilderness? Who can deny, in good faith, that they tell us truths on which the future well-being of our race depends, indeed the very preservation of our civilization?
First, these words, written just over twenty years ago and rooted in Christian anthropology:
It must never be forgotten that the disordered use of sex tends progressively to destroy the person’s capacity to love by making pleasure, instead of sincere self-giving, the end of sexuality and by reducing other persons to objects of one’s own gratification. In this way the meaning of true love between a man and a woman (love always open to life) is weakened as well as the family itself. Moreover, this subsequently leads to disdain for the human life which could be conceived, which, in some situations, is then regarded as an evil that threatens personal pleasure. “The trivialization of sexuality is among the principal factors which have led to contempt for new life. Only a true love is able to protect life”.[i]
Who would have thought that in the space of those twenty odd years, this understanding of our nature and the foundations of our society would have been denied and forgotten so emphatically by a majority of the people of Ireland?
What has happened to cause this change, essentially a change in our perception of what it is to be human in the fullest sense, a radical change in the way we understand ourselves and our nature? Can it be the answer lies in these other words, also now heard only in the wilderness?
Now, we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God: that we may know the things that are given us from God. Which things also we speak: not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God. For it is foolishness to him: and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.[ii]
Those were the words of St. Paul addressing the first followers of the Christian Way in the City of Corinth. They also, it appears, had lost their grasp of what that Way said about the human condition in this world and what the choices it presented to them obliged them to do. A four hundred year old note of explanation on that text clarifies what he meant:
The sensual man—the spiritual man. . .The sensual man is either he who is taken up with sensual pleasures, with carnal and worldly affections; or he who measureth divine mysteries by natural reason, sense, and human wisdom only. Now such a man has little or no notion of the things of God. Whereas the spiritual man is he who, in the mysteries of religion, takes not human sense for his guide: but submits his judgment to the decisions of the church, which he is commanded to hear and obey. For Christ hath promised to remain to the end of the world with his church, and to direct her in all things by the Spirit of truth.[iii]
Choice is good but choices have consequences and it is the consequences of our choices that are ultimately more important than whether or not we have the freedom to choose. The consequences of ignoring that the disordered use of sex tends progressively to destroy the person’s capacity to love will be far more devastating for both individual lives and for our society that would be any restrictions our laws might put on our right to choose freely life-styles which institutionalize the abuse of our nature.
But if our society, in its laws, customs and practices, does ignore the principles of good and evil all is not lost. The individual need not lose sight of those principles and this is precisely why adherence to the single greatest body of knowledge articulating moral truth to which history bears witness stands with us to protect us from the evils our folly might otherwise bring down upon ourselves. That body of knowledge is contained in the Magisterium of the Christ’s Church – its Sacred Scriptures and Traditions.
So those in Ireland today, indeed all of those throughout the world, who find themselves perplexed and bewildered by the insanities spewing out of modernity, post-modernity and cultural Marxism, do have a solution. Listen to the voices which are echoing in the wilderness created by those cultural aberrations and in thought word and deed try to live by them. The message of love at their heart – demanding and utterly counter-cultural as it is in this day and age – has the key to the future of our civilization just as it did in the day of the prophets of the Old Testament, in the New Testament when it was newly new, and in countless epochs since then when cultural forces were captivated by those who measure divine mysteries by natural reason, sense, and human wisdom only.
[i] THE TRUTH AND MEANING OF HUMAN SEXUALITY: Guidelines for Education within the Family, (section 105), THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY.
[ii] New Testament, Douay-Rheims, 1 Corinthians 2. 12ff
[iii] Ibid. Archbishop Challoner note on 1 Corinthians 2.
On June 8, 1978, a man with a craggy face and a beard came to Harvard University, where I was then a graduate student, to give the annual commencement address. The man was not a Harvard graduate. He was not a professor. He was not an American. He did not speak English. His address, given in his native Russian with simultaneous English translation, was not universally well-received. I suspect that some Harvard officials regretted their decision to invite him to speak.
The man’s name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He was a brilliant novelist who had spent several years as a political prisoner in the gulag in the Soviet Union. He was a strong Orthodox Christian and a fierce critic of atheistic communism and Soviet tyranny. His writings had exposed the corruption, cruelty, and injustice of the communist regime that had come to power in Russia in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and would remain in power until 1989—a regime that had enslaved its own people and reduced those of many other nations to serfdom under puppet governments. It was a regime as totalitarian and as murderous as the Nazi regime in Germany, which the U.S. and Britain had allied with the Soviets in World War II to defeat.
In 1978, the Cold War was raging, and the U.S. was still reeling from its humiliation in the disastrous war in Vietnam. Anti-Americanism was flourishing both abroad and at home. Many Americans—particularly young Americans—had lost faith in their country, its institutions, its principles, its culture, its traditions, its way of life. Some proposed communism as a superior system; many suggested what came to be known as “moral equivalency” between American democracy and Soviet communism. By 1978, to suggest such equivalency had become a mark of sophistication—something to distinguish one from the allegedly backward hicks and rubes who believed in the superiority of the American to the Soviet system. There were many such “sophisticated” people at Harvard. And Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came to Harvard to confront them and others.
His speech was not, however, an encomium to America or the West. On the contrary, it was a severe critique—one might even say a prophetic rebuke—and a warning. Of course, Solzhenitsyn did not argue for the moral equivalency, much less the superiority, of the Soviet system. He hated communism in all its dimensions and he loathed the gangsters who ruled the Soviet empire. What he faulted America (and the West more generally) for was its abandonment of its own moral and, especially, spiritual ideals and identity.
Read Robert P. George’s complete article in First Thingshere.
Ireland is a country divided in a divided world. The Republic of Ireland is not a fraction as divided from those six counties of Ulster in the United Kingdom, as it is by the division between the adherents of post-sixties modernity, and the adherents of a Christian culture which has been the hallmark of Western civilization for 2000 years. A cold, cold civil war continues unabated in Ireland. It is not a pleasant thought, but this conflict is nothing more or less than a race war, symbolized by the chilling rejection by two thirds of its voting electorate of the LoveBoth logo of the defenders of the right to life of human beings in their mothers’ wombs.
Any among the LoveBoth campaigners who happened to be able to endure the triumphalism of the victors in that historic referendum, will have wondered where their citizenship went last Saturday morning when they heard a (fairly) famous Irish journalist proclaim that at last Ireland was now “one nation”.
Yesterday, after a walk along St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, I posted what amounted to a kind of cry for help on social media, the only way I could find at the time of dealing with a troubling existential experience.
I admitted that I was unable to look at the faces of those who passed me. The thought that two in every three were prepared to allow the killing of children in the womb was too potent a spark for enmity for me to deal with. I just had to look away. God help us! I said.
It struck a chord with a good number of people. One in particular, from the other side of the divide, seemed to want to help me bridge the chasm I was facing.
“Can I ask a genuine question?” She said. “How do you feel Irish society can move forward together following the referendum as there are such strong feelings on both sides?”
For my part, I could only reply to this effect, “I just don’t know. I am doing my best to resist hostility – of which we are receiving so much it makes it very difficult. The objective moral reality of this is shattering.”
She responded, disclosing formally that she was “pro-choice” – which I knew already – saying that what concerned her was the ongoing split and that there didn’t seem to be any answers. “I…would like to think there is some way forward for all that is less divisive than (what) is happening now. Hopefully for all our sakes a more harmonious future awaits!” I felt unable to offer that hope. Why?
One of the biggest obstacles Ireland – and indeed the rest of the Western world faces when it comes to this particular battle in our ongoing culture war – is that there is no basis for dialogue so long as one side refuses to engage with the other on the central issue of identity at its heart. Throughout the campaign in Ireland the pro-abortion side studiously avoided using the word “baby”, the word “child”, even the word “mother”. What we got instead, constantly and repeatedly at every turn, were the words “health”, “compassion”, “choice” and “my body”.
At the evil heart of racism resides the irrational conviction that one category of human being is less than – or not at all a member of – our own species. History is replete with many sad examples of the consequences of racism: in another era, the English treatment of the Celtic peoples in general, and the Irish in particular, over many centuries; the enslavement of Africans over centuries of colonialism, working its way through the bloody American Civil War and only ending in that hemisphere – legally at least – with the civil rights legislation of relatively recent times, and with the end of apartheid in ours.
Wherever racism was rampant, for the length of time it took to overcome it, the members of the dominant strain of our species who fought against this evil force and identified with the oppressed, were abused and sometimes persecuted and murdered for their acceptance of the common humanity which they dared to proclaim. For as long as racism persists, racists refuse to debate the central premise of those who oppose them – the undeniable human identity of those it wishes to ignore, oppress, or, as in the case of Nazi Germany, eliminate altogether.
In the Irish referendum just concluded we have just had the latest example of this phenomenon. The defenders of the unborn humans in the wombs of their mothers again and again, scientifically, instinctively, morally, presented the case for the human identity of the gestating child. Again and again their arguments were sidestepped and ignored. There was no debate. For one side the child in the womb was simply not human, not of our race, so therefore the constitutional right to life enjoyed by those already born could not and should not be extended to these essentially alien things, mere invading “clumps of cells”. Now Ireland’s lawmakers are getting ready, on the basis of a mandate from two-thirds of the electorate, to pass a law to facilitate the killing of any among these non-beings whom other human beings decide should not live. All those who resist them will be deemed not part of the Irish nation and sidelined – at best.
Am I wrong in equating this reality with racism? I may be. But until someone is prepared to come and talk to me about it, and show me the error of my ways, I cannot move from where I stand – for to me it seems exactly where we are.
The legend of Parsifal tells the story of a wound inflicted on mankind – in the person of King Amfortas. The wound festers and resists all attempts to heal it until the one true and pure knight, Parsifal, is found. He, the embodiment of truth, innocence and simplicity heals Amfortas and humanity.
Ireland, and indeed the secularist West as a whole, is inflicted with a deep and festering wound at whose heart lies the central issue in the debate over abortion, recognition of the human identity of the unborn. Until such time as a knight like Parsifal comes to our aid and gets us to face our willful cowardice in the face of this truth, then our crippling divisions will persist with all the pain that goes with them.
This article also appeared on the website, MercatorNet.com, where it attracted the following comments:
There is and will be a way to bridge the split. It is the one being realized in every pro-abortion country. It is called pragmatism. Being pro-abortion does not and cannot work. Ireland once was abundant in energetic intelligent people. They were Ireland’s only natural resource but with that resource they outpaced many countries like the Ukraine that has all the resources but insufficient people. Because you cannot run a free market economy with a declining population, I assure you that Ireland’s economy will decline exponentially as its population declines. Moreover because an abortion is only and always detrimental to the health of a woman, Ireland’s health care budget will spiral up which will put increasing pressure on health care providers to give their elders an early, dignified of course, death. All this and more will be realized all too late to reverse the trend. Don’t believe me? Ask any citizen of a Nordic country.
The words of James Joyce, which were once an offence to the people of his country, now, over one hundred years later, have become stunningly real for the estimated one third of Irish people who vainly tried to halt the tide of a modernity hostile to the unborn in the referendum which took place there on Friday.
In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus, talking about his country with his friend: “Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.” Too strong? No, says pro-life Ireland. What other interpretation is there when the majority in a country knowingly, willfully, declares that the deliberate killing of the unborn in the womb is permissible for no other reason than that it interferes with an individual’s comfort, convenience or life-style?
The Irish Government, willingly bowing to pressure, national and international, proposed to the electorate that the right to life of the unborn, guaranteed in its Constitution since 1983, be removed. This was to allow the legislature of the State to enact laws to facilitate unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks gestation and up to 24 weeks on grounds which, in practice, will be abortion on demand. Needless to say, the proposals as presented were less stark than that, but given the pattern of what has happened in every other country with a liberal abortion law, the reality will inevitably be termination on demand. All the dissembling in the world will not change that.
Among the slogans of the pro-abortion campaigners were “Trust women”, “Trust doctors” and “Trust politicians” – that last somewhat bizarre given the economic debacle Irish politicians visited on their country just ten years ago. With regard to the two former, campaigners for the right to life of unborn children were a little baffled by both women and doctors asking for trust with those very lives which they were claiming the right to choose to terminate. They complained that logic or reason played very little part in the pro-choice armory and that all the emphasis was on emotional exploitation of the hard cases – rape, incest, limited life prospects of the baby in the womb and more. The human right to life, the human nature of the child in the womb, even its very existence, the avoidance of the very word abortion, they complained, characterized the pro-choice campaign throughout.
But the truth is, the Government which put this proposal to the people cannot be blamed anymore. This result has now clearly shown that it is the express will of the majority of the people of Ireland – about 90% of its young electorate – that the child in the womb not be constitutionally guaranteed a right to life. Choice is the supreme moral norm. The good or evil of what is chosen is, apparently, a matter of indifference. What has shocked the dissenting third of the Irish people is that so many have failed to see that the killing of the unborn is an evil thing.
Once again, for a world which has habitually looked on Ireland as a bastion of family values and marriage, all this comes as a surprise. The first sign of this upheaval came just three years ago. Then, when a similar majority voted in a referendum to change the very meaning of marriage to allow gay people to marry, there was one question, “How did this happen so quickly?”
Many explained away that rejection of one of the social foundations binding a community They read it firstly as a sympathy vote for a minority. Secondly, it was thought of as the result of a failure to grasp the social consequences which pro-marriage campaigners warned of. Again, reason and logic were trumped by emotion and a deceitful misuse of the concept of human equality.
It was not seen by the majority as an out and out rejection by the people of the teaching of the mainstream Christian churches. This, however, is different. This can hardly be seen as anything other than an upfront rejection by the majority of the Irish of the Christian teaching on the sacredness of human life, from the womb to the tomb – and beyond. There is no ambiguity here. There is little basis for a benign response, “they know not what they do.” It has all been done with astounding willfulness.
In this instance the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic leaders were almost all unanimous in the guidance they gave to their followers on the matter of the sacredness of life. On 16 May the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, explained in a statement:
“The Church must always be pro-life. That means that the Christian community must be a beacon of support for life especially at its most vulnerable moments and a beacon of support at vulnerable moments of any woman or man along their path of life.
“Christians must be pro-life when it comes to the unborn and those who are vulnerable at the end of their lives.”
The significance of all this in Irish history is twofold. She has now abandoned the principle held for at least 1500 years that all human life is sacred. She has joined the community of secularist nations where relativism rules the roost and life is allowed to flourish only on the basis of the choice of someone other than the living subject in the womb. This is where Ireland now stands – and if anything good might be said by pro life people about this, it is only that it is good to know where one stands.
The second and more general significance which this revolution has is what it says about Catholicism and the Christian Faith in Ireland. What is now clear is that the Irish people’s traditional culture, derived from Christian culture, is now rudderless. Its values with regard to life, the family – and its grasp of the Catholic Faith which has held firm for centuries in the face of “fire, dungeon and sword” – have now “all changed, changed utterly”. For many – well for approximately 32% – something other than “a terrible beauty” has dawned on them. They now face the challenge of starting again. But one third of a population is not the weakest of bases from which to start. This will be the challenge for all the Christian churches to take up, as it picks up the pieces.
There was evidence throughout this campaign of anti-Catholic sentiment – despite the efforts of the pro-life organizations to present their arguments on predominantly rational grounds, grounds of scientific evidence of the human nature of the child and grounds of natural rights and justice. A Catholic priest, an American working in Dublin, made this interesting response on social media to a correspondent who said that the vote was nothing more or less than a vote against the Catholic Church.
“Yes, the vote was a vote against the Church. To my mind, a strange way to think about human rights.” Then, after reflecting for a moment on the undoubted failures of the Church on many levels, and remarking on its servants’ sad record when it “always found the temptation to wed itself to power irresistible”, he concludes, “The Church arose in a pagan culture by being willing to die for truths, not kill for them. Profound humility and joyful witness to the good life is the way forward. The only way forward for the secular West is to figure out how to argue for love when it announces a loveless universe, and for the Church to live love so attractively it is irresistible despite being powerless.”
For the hard-working campaigners for the unborn who have sweated it out on the streets and the doorsteps of Ireland’s cities and towns for the past four months – a truly marathon run-in to a poll – there may echo in their ears the dying words of Hildebrand, that great medieval campaigner for truth and rights under the law, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile.”
On Friday, perhaps appropriately, the Catholic Church celebrated his feast day. To be a Christian in Ireland just now will, for many, have the taste of exile about it. It will demand not a little of the mettle of Hildebrand to begin again the mission to which all of them after all, by the very terms and conditions of their contract, are indeed committed.
A triumphant liberal pro-abortion columnist in yesterday’s Irish Times declared that “Middle Ireland” was dead. Now there is just Ireland. Without even thinking about the totalitarian implications of that proclamation, one third of Ireland probably begs to differ. They are already promising to make their voices heard loud and clear. Perhaps they will remain in exile for a while, strangers in a wilderness of moral social values. But they believe that eventually, by “living love so attractively that it will be irresistible, despite being powerless”, in the face of the secularist West and its “me, me, me” selfish and loveless universe, they can hope to triumph. They know that if it happened before it can happen again.
BRUCE ARNOLD WEDNESDAY MAY 23, 2018 writing on Front Page
It might have been written yesterday and indeed has only just now come to light, in the hour of our need. It is a fragment of a long-lost “Letter to the Hibernians,” bearing a striking resemblance to the first chapter of the Letter of St Paul to the Romans. With extraordinary prescience and authority, the first-century author describes in very clear terms the drastic consequences for society of the abandonment of fundamental moral norms. The Letter warns us in effect that we urgently need to correct our course on Friday next, before it is too late. We are truly on a precipice. I hope the following reflections on this timely Letter may dissuade at least a few readers from following the swarm of lemmings intent on leaping into the abyss.
The author of the Letter warns his readers about the effects on society of institutionalised deceit and the deliberate distortion of the truth – the retribution of God from heaven is being revealed against the ungodliness and injustice of human beings who in their injustice hold back the truth. While it is unfortunately commonplace for partisans of each side in a referendum to accuse the other side of telling half-truths, I feel fully justified in the present case in pointing to a deeper and wider deception.
The whole campaign by advocates of a Yes vote has focused on the inconvenience of travel for those seeking illegal abortions. They belittle the abusive consequences for the women involved, many of whom are traumatised. The rights of the unborn children, whose very lives are at imminent risk, have been systematically excluded from consideration. They are to be expelled from the protective womb of the Constitution so that they may be forcibly removed from their mothers’ wombs. The advocates of “compassion” have not dared to admit that they are in fact proposing the unrestricted abortion of healthy babies in Ireland.
The Letter makes clear that the immediate consequence of the deliberate rejection of truth is a darkening of the intellect and a marked deterioration in our cultural and political capacity to explore the truth about man and God – and so these people have no excuse … their arguments became futile and their uncomprehending minds were darkened.
Society, rejecting true knowledge, has recourse instead to foolish myths and superstitions. Modern fads, celebrity worship, political correctness, and a totalitarian control of public discourse, have become the order of the day – while they claimed to be wise, in fact, they were growing so stupid that they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an imitation.
Immoral behaviour is not excused in those who reject the Gospel. We all have an inner natural law, acknowledged in our Constitution, to guide our consciences. Unless we allow it to be corrupted or deformed, it assures us of fundamental truths and prevents our being easily deceived. When an objective standard for conscience is denied – as evidenced recently in our Supreme Court – society descends in a rapidly accelerating spiral of decay. The recent increase in abominable crimes against women is a sharp reminder of this alarming trend. Society begins to crumble because the essential social bond has withered and a moral collapse inexorably ensues.
The Letter accurately predicted all of this, many centuries ago. Human nature does not change – that is why God abandoned them in their inmost cravings to filthy practices of dishonouring their own bodies because they exchanged God’s truth for a lie and have worshipped and served the creature instead of the Creator. Intellectual deception and moral decay plumb new depths when they include a denial of the humanity of unborn children. These are consigned – for no reason at all – to the medical waste bins of an abortion clinic. With the legalisation of abortion on demand, the moral decay in society reaches an advanced stage — and so now they are steeped in all sorts of injustice, rottenness, greed, and malice … without brains, honour, love or pity.
We are invited on Friday 25 May to approve a law permitting a lethal assault and dismembering of an unborn child – without pity. The Letter warns us not just to avoid such unspeakable evil ourselves, but against approving the evil actions of others – those who behave like this deserve to die, yet they not only do it, but even applaud others who do the same. A Yes vote will be understood around the world as a round of applause for the advocates and purveyors of abortion.
If we approve the proposed amendment to the Constitution, we will have established a constitutional right to abortion, which will be very difficult to control or limit by legislation in any meaningful way. We will answer individually to our consciences and to God for the irreversible fatal consequences of such a decision. Remorse, as we watch the politics unfold after the event, will be too late. When we find we have indeed legalised abortion on demand, the Supreme Court might point to their fateful judgement of 7 March and say, “We told you so. You did not listen.” The awful deed will have been done. Those who vote Yes will have the blood of Abel on their hands. “And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”
It’s almost over. The world’s media, which has been observing this cold civil war from a distance with growing curiosity for the past three or four months, is now descending on this little island to shine its spotlight on the victors and the vanquished. Ireland’s people go to the polls on Friday, not to elect a new parliament but to express its sovereign will to its existing parliament on a matter of life and death.
In doing so it will, in a constitutional referendum, tell its Government one of two things: either that it wishes to be part of what we might consider mainstream 21st century modernity, or that it wishes to swim against that particular current and declare that all human life is sacred and that, from conception to death, the right to life of each human being in its jurisdiction must be vindicated.
All wars are – to understate the case – unpleasant. Civil wars are especially so. In most wars you face your enemy on the battle field. In civil was you live and work side by side, rub shoulders, share train journeys with those who become your adversary. Believe me, there is something gut-wrenching about that.
Ireland is no stranger to civil war. The body count in the civil war which followed the victory which brought it legislative independence from Britain was greater that the war of independence itself. This civil war, although cold in character, is about an even more fundamental issue – the very right to life itself of the unborn.
In 1983, a far seeing group of ordinary Irish people perceived the cultural shift which was taking place in Western social values. The US Supreme court had made its judgement on Roe Vs Wade. The parliament in the neighbouring but considerably more influential island of Britain had legalised abortion, not with the intention of providing abortion on demand but in fact doing just that. They could see no guarantee that an Irish legislature, more influenced by a liberal national and international media than by the views and values of ordinary Irish people, would not follow the same path.
They made and promoted a proposal whereby an amendment would be made to the Irish Constitution guaranteeing the equal right to life of mothers and their unborn children – the very right which both British and American legislation had taken away. Cleverly seizing a moment in which the balance of party politics was fragile, they succeeded in getting an undertaking from legislators that such a proposal would be put to the people in a referendum. By something in the region of a two thirds majority of the electorate the proposal was accepted and became a foundation for the law of the State.
A significant proportion of the dissenting one third has, one might say, not had a decent night’s sleep since. Decade after decade they have organised themselves to undermine the will of that majority. Further referendums were held, court decisions were made which complicated matters, the United Nations and the European Courts were marshalled to rail against it. Opinion polls suggest that they have now swung the majority of Irish people against the right to life of the unborn. Friday’s poll, the only poll that counts, will confirm or refute that assessment. In the referendum the people are being asked, “yes” or “no” if they wish to remove the article from the constitution which was placed there thirty-five years ago.
The Irish Government, composed of a coalition of liberal conservatives and some quite left-wing independents, is campaigning for its removal, saying that because a significant number of Irish people go to Britain for abortion, the article has failed to do what it was intended to do. With the exception of some left-radical parties, there is no party whip in place and people and politicians opposing removal of the article argue that on the contrary, even with those travelling abroad for abortion, Ireland’s constitutional protection of the unborn has saved a hundred thousand lives since 1983.
The protagonists in this battle know that it is just that – a battle. The war of which it is part is a more universal one. Hence the interest of the international media in the outcome. For the Irish themselves they know that if the 21st century social warriors win, the next stage will be surrogacy, gender redefinitions and much more, all in line with the international cultural Marxist agenda.
The defenders of life will have to cope with that as best they can – but they will not go away quietly. Should the defenders of life win on Friday they know that they still have their work cut out for them to win back the minds and hearts which they have lost over decades of erosion by the media and the political establishment. They are up for it. They know that there will be no resting on laurels as they did after their 1983 victory.
The new news and opinion website, Front Page has just published an op.ed feature by a venerable Irish journalist, Bruce Arnold. It seems that some restrictions have been placed on Front Page by social media providers. Links to it on Twitter are being responded to with a 404 error message saying that the page does not exist.
Pending getting to the bottom of whatever glitch – or conspiracy, if that is the case – is behind this, this important and urgent analysis by Arnold is being published here on Garvan Hill in full.
It has been said that abortion pits a mother against her own child. If that is so, the law must act as a referee between them. In the vote on Friday next, we are that referee, because we will have to set the terms of our basic law. We are asked just one essential question. The unborn child is currently entitled to be recognised as a human life and protected as such by the law. Should we remove that constitutional protection, yes or no?
How should we decide? The first requirement of a referee or lawmaker is that she or he be fair. The referee must listen to both sides and judge impartially between them.
The basic case made on behalf of the Yes side, for removing constitutional protection from the unborn child, is that a mother wishing to abort her child has personal rights which must be always respected, whereas her child (at least up to 12 weeks gestation) can have no important rights at all. Even if a child could have some nebulous statutory right to life after 12 weeks, it must always yield to the right of the mother to protect her mental or physical health.
The case made on behalf of unborn children is that they also have real human lives, already fully formed at 12 weeks, and that their lives are as much entitled to protection and respect before the moment of birth as afterward. Their right to life is already compromised by the established right of a mother to abort her child in cases of serious risk to the mother’s life, including a risk of suicide. The proposed amendment would remove all remaining elements of the right to life of the unborn child.
The act of ending, prematurely, a born human life is very widely considered to be an unjust act, although assisted suicide and euthanasia increasingly challenge this universal norm. In the case of the unborn child, however, ending its life will be seen differently by those convinced that it is inferior to a human being until birth, and by those convinced that its right to life must be considered as essentially equal to that of a born person.
The proponents of the 36th amendment argue that, in cases of rape or incest, some women “need” to end a pregnancy and that it is impossible to decide quickly, or in a short space of time, on the validity of these claims. This cannot happen at present because of the 8th Amendment. They propose, therefore, not just that every claim of rape or incest should be accepted without proof, but that any and every woman should be entitled to end her pregnancy, at least up to 12 weeks.
How are we to evaluate this proposition? If the concern is about incest or statutory rape, the proposed law could have restricted access to abortion on that ground to young women under the age of, say, eighteen. It does not. If it is about the rape of an adult woman, why wait until 12 weeks? And why not require the woman seeking an abortion to identify the perpetrator, as a pre-condition, and have the law pursue him afterward? If the General Scheme of the proposed legislation were serious about providing for “hard cases,” it could have specified various ways of reducing or eliminating the number of abortions which have nothing to do with these special circumstances.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that these “hard cases” are being used once again as a wedge to try to force open the door to a widespread availability of elective abortion in Ireland. The rational and scientific difficulty for the Yes side, in arguing that unborn human lives only become entitled to legal protection after they have successfully survived an unprotected life in the womb, is manifest.
An emerging position among pro-choice advocates, therefore, is to acknowledge that abortion does indeed involve the deliberate ending of a real human life, which is horrific in itself, but that this “reality” will happen anyway and that what is proposed is just a way of ameliorating the risks to women associated with unregulated or foreign abortions. It is even argued that legalising abortion in this way will lead eventually to a reduction in the total numbers of abortions.
Is this a morally acceptable approach to a fundamental law of the State? It has been tried and found wanting in Britain and elsewhere. Almost nine million deaths later, the 1967 abortion law in the UK has been shown to be an unmitigated disaster. Even the recent fall in the total numbers of abortions is due to the falling birth rate, not to any improvement in social attitudes.
It is not just wrong in practice, however, it is profoundly wrong in principle. Once we admit the reality of the human life of the unborn child, we begin to see the full horror of the choice being presented to us. Hard cases aside, we are asked to allow the willful ending of very many young lives (without so much as a nominal excuse) simply because their continued existence is regarded as burdensome to those responsible for bringing them into existence.
The stage of development of the unborn child does not mitigate the horror. Each of us is changing all the time. The question is, who or what is developing? That it is a “somebody” and not a “something” is a matter of scientific fact, confirmed by a natural moral sense and by virtually all moral authority.
No Christian can ignore the Word of God on this. It is perfectly clear in Scripture that a person is in relation with God from the first moment of his or her existence. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). The encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is first and foremost an encounter between John the Baptist (who ‘leapt in the womb’ at 6 months) and Jesus (at 2 weeks gestation in the womb of his mother). On the basis of rational scientific evidence confirmed by the authority of divine revelation, the matter is settled beyond dispute for a Christian.
At a time when slavery was acceptable, many believed that a slave was sub-human and could be maltreated or even killed by the person who owned him or her. Christians, voting on a law prohibiting the abuse or killing of slaves, could never accept the argument that, because others do not agree that the slave is a ‘person,’ they should refrain from ‘imposing their views’ on society. It would be profoundly immoral for a Christian to vote to permit such abuse, knowing as he or she does that a slave is indeed a human person.
It follows that a Christian cannot vote to exclude the unborn child from the protection of the law, even if the person proposing to kill the child does not accept that the child is a person. To deny the authority of reason and of faith on such an important matter would be to renounce one’s claim to be a Christian.