Storms threatening the Irish liberal left’s hegemony?

Colette  Browne, ultra feminist, ultra liberal and cheerleader of the pro abortion campaign in Ireland seems worried – although she is trying to hide it.

She is not alone.

Deep down the “monstrous regiment” of men and women which manipulated the Irish political system to legislate for abortion on demand with the formula “I-demand-an-abortion-and-I will-kill-myself-if-you-don’t-give-me-what-I-want” know that they have awakened the conscience of a nation – and they fear the consequences.

Enda Kenny is widely seen as having betrayed those who elected him by wilting under the pressure from Ireland’s left-liberal league and put a very flawed – even from a purely legal point of view – abortion act on the statute books. The medical profession is is now telling him that his act is unworkable. No Irish politician in living memory has been looked on with such distaste or has been spoken of in such hostile terms as this man has.

After his perceived betrayal of the electorate Kenny then mercilessly punished his political party members who refused to go along with his folly. These have since begun to talk to each other about reform of the Irish political environment and in a language which is music to the ears of voters who for the life of the current Government, and longer, have experienced wholesale disenfranchisement.  This group now stands poised to put together a political option for these disenchanted voters. At a conservative estimate this group probably now constitutes more than 40% of the Irish electorate.

With an admirable strategy the reformers are not rushing to set up any definitive structure but are simply setting up a stall to attract politicians of any and all parties who are sick of the deceitful and self-serving politics which Kenny and his rump is now identified with. Just now, the water is being tested to find women and men for whom principle, integrity and decent human values come first. Policies will follow but will follow in a mould consistent with those values.

Kenny is currently trying to garner credit of Ireland’s tentative economic recovery. But Ireland’s relatively competent permanent public servants, the International Monetary Fund , the European Central Bank and the European Commission are the ones who have rescued Ireland from its notorious bailout. All the Irish political parties were complicit in the creation of the economic melt-down which necessitated the drastic measures which corrected it. Whatever party was in power when the bailout was forced on Ireland would have done what Kenny’s coalition government has had to do. No choice, no credit. The Irish people are not fools. They know this.

Colette Browne

So what is the problem for Browne et al? It is this. They see an embryonic political movement which has the potential to set at naught all their political scheming to turn Ireland into a “progressive” and “modern” society made to their own image and likeness. They want to kill off this embryo before it has a chance to complicate their lives and their dream. Browne’s chosen tactic, employed in a recent column in the Irish Independent, was cynicism and abuse.

Other than a love of spouting meaningless banalities about the need for unspecified change and reform . . . what does the Reform Alliance (the provisional designation of the new movement) stand for? She asks.

Rhetorically she wonders why we are so convinced that we need a new political party when no one knows what it will stand for. Something of a non sequitor there?

In her response to the case for a new party put by an independent member of the existing Dáil (parliament) she retorts: “Sounds great doesn’t it? A thrusting new young party to enter the political fray and shake up the cosy-consensus politics that has come to dominate Leinster House.”

She asks: “Where does it stand on economic issues? With none of its members voting against the Government on any money bill, can we assume that they support the Government’s economic policies?

“What about social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage? We know that the members have a very conservative attitude to abortion but does this conservatism also seep into other areas?”

She knows full well that at this stage this movement is not about policies because there is no party yet to have an articulated policy. What she and others want is that these individuals might act prematurely so that they could then be slaughtered. She knows full well what some of them are thinking but she and others cannot properly begin their attack until policies are articulated. This is very frustrating.

Ms Lucinda Creighton, Browne reminds us all,  has previously stated that she is against gay marriage and another member, Fidelma Healy Eames, has railed against the “scale and pace” of social legislation undertaken by the Government. Lucinda Creighton, formerly a Kenny government minister was the most prominent member sacked by him for her disobedience to the machine. She is clearly the driving force behind the new movement – and consequently the number one target that the liberal left want to get their teeth into. But she is too wily for them.

Browne then goes on to moan about the sameness of Irish political parties and analyses the problem pretty well: Irish voters now have no meaningful choice when they go to the polls. She does not put it this way, but the truth is that in recent elections Irish voters were presented with a range of politically corrected puppets of the liberal and equally monolithic Irish media to chose from. But clearly Browne does not like what she sees coming down the tracks and her strategy is to shout to us all, “Don’t be fooled – this is just more of the same.” That is where a great number of Irish people hope she is wrong. There is now an expectation that the local and European election in a few months time will show the true state of Irish political opinion. Some see these elections and the national elections due in over a year’s time as an opportunity for the biggest shake-up in Irish politics in 80 or 90 years.

“Truly shocking denial of basic human rights”

Luca Volontè

The ruthless totalitarian tendency of the Irish Government seems to be coming to the attention of some politicians on the continent of Europe. The Chairperson of the Group of the European People’s Party in the Council of Europe and a member of the Italian Parliament, Luca Volontè, has declared that it is “truly shocking to see the government of an advanced Western country trying to deny the basic human rights of its own citizens like this.” He is talking about the Irish government of Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore.

“Even nations with the most permissive abortion laws do not normally go so far as to trample on the basic right to conscientious objection.” Volontè, Chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute said in a statement two days ago.

Volontè, speaking of the Kenny government’s abortion legislation which will force health providers to act contrary to their ethically held principles, continued: “This bill claims human rights apply only to human beings, and not to institutions. But such a manipulative attempt at semantics casually disregards what it is that defines an institution, particularly a healthcare provider – at its core is an ethos, and individual employees who are dedicated to fulfilling that ethos. Far from seeking to maintain an amoral healthcare system, this bill will impose a new morality upon hospitals and those who serve in them, one which allows for no objection and uses all the authority of the State against any who would refuse to be accomplice to a clear moral evil.”

The cynically entitled “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act” – which, if honesty were the hall-mark of the Irish Government, would be entitled the “Selective Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act” – explicitly denies the right of conscientious objection and enforces a no-right-to-refuse condition upon 25 Hospitals.

Recalling his work as the President of the European People’s Party (the largest party) in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, Luca Volontè added that the Council of Europe´s Resolution 1763 clearly states:

“No person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.”

Such compulsion would be unprecedented in Ireland, and has been successfully challenged recently elsewhere.

In April this year, a Scottish Court ruled in the ‘Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board’ trial that two midwives could not be required to delegate, support or supervise staff who were involved in abortions. It looks like the Irish courts are going to be busy sorting out the human rights mess which the Irish government has created for itself with this legislation as it tramples on the rights of the unborn and on the rights of all its citizens.

Despite repeated refusals from the Irish Department of Health to work out an accommodation, Luca Volontè spoke of his hope for changes to the proposed law: “It is not unreasonable to ask for exemptions for staff (or institutions) on the grounds of conscience, whether they be religious or ethical; such accommodation is provided in many other Western nations which practice abortion. Freedom of thought and/or conscience is not only guaranteed by international law, it is innate to our human dignity. It is truly shocking to see the government of an advanced Western country trying to deny the basic human rights of its own citizens like this.”

(Reporting courtesy of Eurasia)

Signs of promise of a new Irish politics

Lucinda Creighton – not going away anytime soon

If anyone, in the aftermath of last week’s shameful political shenanigans in the Irish parliament, doubts the character and determination of sacked Minister, Lucinda Creighton, to be a force in the public life and politics of that country in the years ahead, let them begin by reading her blog entry today. It was published in the Irish Mail on Sunday and is now posted on Lucinda

This is not a manifesto for a future Irish politics but it is a preliminary for such a manifesto. It addresses from the depths of her heart and soul the concerns which thousands of Irish people share with here this week – not just on the issue of abortion but on the corruption in the very heart of a country which in just two and a half years will be celebrating the centenary of the beginning of its final battle for freedom and independence as a state among the nations of the earth. What freedom, what independence, many are asking? Lucinda Creighton seems to be on the verge of offering Ireland something to make that a redundant question.

On July 1st she delivered a speech in the Irish chamber of deputies, the Dail, in which she elaborated her concerns about abortion in a general societal sense, as well as focusing on specific aspects of the proposed and shamefully designated Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill which she considered, and still considers, to be deeply flawed.

In it she referred to an underlying cancer afflicting Irish public life – in politics, in business, and above all in the media. Reaction to that was near-apoplectic in some quarters. The cries of hurt and indignation from those who thought they were being targeted made headlines the next day

“My speech”, she correctly says, “was incorrectly picked up as singling out members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party for participating in group think. This is not what I said.”

“What I said in fact, was that group think is a negative feature in society, in the media and in political life. Increasingly we are all supposed to think and speak the same way. There is less and less room in this country for a diversity of opinion, for real and meaningful debate and for genuine analysis. We are all supposed to swim with the tide on every occasion. I consider this dangerous. I am certain that this is dangerous for our democracy.”

That is just as things are in Ireland and the daily exasperation of the millions who listen to and read what the Irish media turns out on a daily basis is sufficient evidence to prove it. When the manifesto for a New Ireland come this must be among the serious illnesses to which it will address itself.

Bloody but unbowed, Ms. Creighton tells us that “This was a long and difficult week, particularly for many in the Fine Gael party. Five of us argued for the right to express an alternative … view on this vitally important piece of legislation. We lost the internal battle to have our voices heard and our consciences respected. This is not a good thing for the democratic process in this State.

“Much of the commentary in the aftermath of Thursday’s vote confirmed to me that our media perpetuates the blind group think which prevailed and contributed to the economic collapse in this country.”

She tells of her “alarm” listening to one of Irish radio’s premier news analysis programmes on the morning after her historic stand against the “flawed” legislation.  “The level of analysis or understanding of what is happening in our shambolic Parliamentary system was alarming,” she said.

“A commentator from the Irish Times seemed only capable of understanding the events of the week in terms of ‘strength’, ‘power’ and ‘crushing opponents’. To him it was just a numbers game. He was entirely uninterested in the substance of the disagreement, or the fact that an important viewpoint was ignored or ‘whipped into line’.

“He seemed to believe that the only issue at hand was the fact that ‘only five’ TDs had voted against the legislation and this was somehow a great victory for the Government, its senior figures and Fine Gael. This is a sad and shallow analysis, which ignores the fundamental questions of democracy which were raised thoughout the last few weeks when elected Members of our Parliament were, in many instances, coerced and cajoled into voting for legislation they clearly considered to be faulty and against their better judgement.”

One of the most shocking spectacles in the drama in the Irish parliament last Thursday and into the early hours of Friday morning was the speech of a young woman member, Michelle Mulherrin, voting against her conscience after the whipping she had received from the party leader, Prime Minister, Enda Kenny. Ms. Creighton’s response to it says it all. “I understand completely the dilemma she found herself in. I was there too. I took a different decision, by voting against the legislation. She clearly wrestled with her ultimate decision and eventually decided to vote for it. She did so to avoid being “booted out” of Fine Gael, her party. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach listening to her speech in the Dáil Chamber – out of sadness for her, and the choice she has clearly been forced to take to avoid expulsion. There is something so, so wrong with this. Citizens of this country ought to be concerned at the words uttered by Michelle. They genuinely gave me a deep sense of foreboding.

“In every other modern western democracy that I have studied, public representatives are not and would never be, forced to choose between their conscience and their party. That is worth considering and reflecting upon. This includes Australia, New Zeland, the USA, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and many, many more. In my investigations I could not find any other democratic country on this planet that forces people to vote against their conscience. Ireland has the dubious distinction of standing alone in its denial of conscience. This is not something I am proud of. Nobody should be.”

“The great democrat and peace maker Mahatma Ghandi said ‘In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place’. This is correct. History has taught us what savagery and crimes against humanity can occur, when people abandon their conscience, for the sake of the quiet life, or worse, to satisfy personal ambition. Our State should guard against this, rather than try to normalise it. And we as citizens should demand that this be so.”

She concludes by saying that politicians in her country “really do need to stand up and be counted” – and there will be more cries of hurt and pain from the numerous public representatives who know very well that they have failed to do so, and who have not had the courage to tell the truth about their shame like Deputy Mulherrin.  Ms. Creighton sees the value of the discipline in parliamentary democracy. “I don’t advocate the abandonment of the Whip system. It is an essential fundament of a stable economy and a stable society. Coherent positions and voting by political parties are essential in the context of the annual Budget, all finance measures, social welfare measures and so on. But there it should stop.”

Finally, she has a word for those “commentators” who cheer the crushing of political opponents, and applaud the stifling of debate in Ireland. We are back to the driving force behind group think. They “do no service to either good journalism or good politics. In fact they are complicit with the rot in a system which so desperately needs changing. Their anxiety to take quotes and spin from ‘well placed sources’ may make their contributions sound plausible and knowledgeable. In fact, they are missing the real story.”

There has been a good deal of sympathising, moaning, regrets at the loss of a promising political voice in Irish politics over the past few days and this weekend. These words tell us that we need not worry. This is a voice which is not going away and for that the Irish should all – well, nearly all, – be very grateful. There will be no shortage of stories, real stories, coming down the line.

“When I use a word,” said Humpty-Dumpty Kenny “it means just what I intended it to mean, and neither more nor less.”

Paraphrasing Lord Hartley Shawcross: “The Dáil is sovereign; it can make any laws. It could ordain that all blue-eyed babies should be destroyed at birth, and because the Dáil so declared it, it would be legal.” More or less, setting aside the small complication of a Supreme Court appointed by the same sovereign and a Head of State who owes his position to the manipulation of the Fourth Estate. We will have legal abortion in Ireland in a matter of weeks.

Legal, but utterly immoral. It is not enough that Parliament “reflect” society. Parliament’s duty is seek justice and legislate according to the principles of that justice and right reason. In the Irish parliament’s debate on abortion – and debate was all it was, a debate without any determining effect – one member spoke of Ireland’s old law prohibiting the destruction of children awaiting birth as being “out of kilter with society”. Well, that parliament has now changed this and by an abuse of the spirit and letter of its Constitution has legalized the snuffing out of those lives.

Abuse? Yes. The party system, governed by a whip regime, the exercise of which in this case proved to be nothing short of totalitarian, has lead to this immoral law being passed and in the process of so doing  has denied the representatives of the people their fundamental right of personal political judgement and freedom of conscience.

But what was more frightening about the entire process which has led to the passing of this bad law was the abuse of language. Yesterday’s statement from the Pro Life Campaign  outlines some of it – the questions which the Parties-in-Power refused to answer or answered with blatant untruths. But it went much farther that this. It was indeed surreal. It reminded one of Alice in Wonderland.

‘“When I use a word,” said Humpty-Dumpty “it means just what I intended it to mean, and neither more nor less.”

“But,” said Alice, “the question is whether you can make a word mean different things.”

“Not so,” said Humpty-Dumpty,” the question is which is to be the master. That’s all”.’

Taoiseach Enda Kenny kept telling the Irish people that he was not changing Irish law, that he was not introducing abortion to Ireland, etc, etc. Yet the international Press, the pro-abortion lobbies across the world were rejoicing at what he was trying to do and are celebrating today. They grasped the truth of all this. Is he stupid? does he think the Irish people are stupid? Or is he Humpty Dumpty?

But Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall. Mr. Kenny’s natural political life is coming to an end. Most people expect that he will not contest another general election. Some regret that because they would like to see him fall like Humpty Dumpty.

“My end is my beginning”, Mary Queen of Scots, is reported to have said before she went to the block. Ex-Minister Lucinda Creighton will not go to the block but had she lived in the age of Mary she might have. Nevertheless, very many Irish people hope that Queen Mary’s words will apply to her – that Kenny’s taking of her political life will be just the beginning of a political life free from a system as corrupt as that which he sought to impose on her. She and the four party colleagues who broke from the straitjacket their leader tried to force them into – along with the senators of the party who will do the same over the next few hours – stand tall among the sad members of that party who professed themselves to be pro-life and then voted for abortion.

Ireland needs a new politics. Lucinda Creighton and her honourable colleagues offer a new hope that the disenfranchised Irish might get this.

Unintended consequences of Kenny’s final solution to an Irish problem?

Needing a radical shake-up

In view of the seismic rumblings now taking place in the lower strata of the political earth in Ireland, as the unintended consequences of the  Irish coalition government’s “ final solution” abortion legislation begin to unfold, it seems like time to look at the political future.

The quartet of rebel Fine Gael TDs expelled for voting against the Abortion Bill were promised yesterday at Ireland’s biggest ever public street demonstration that they will receive the full backing of the pro-life movement in the next election if they decide to run as independents.

The big political question now is what strategy will be best to bring about the formation of a new political landscape – the pre-election formation of a new party or the flooding of the Dail chamber with a new wave of independent, conscientious and intelligent members who will then put their heads together and collectively and  freely deliberate on the needs of the country and the common good of its people.

The Sunday Independent speculated today that the four deputies who have been whipped out of their party and other Fine Gael dissenters could be attracted to run for a new political party, now being actively advocated by a group led by Libertas founder, businessman Declan Ganley. It is another option but somewhat more complicated than getting new and better blood into Dail Eireann on the wave of revulsion against the old politics now sweeping the country.

That wave became stronger yesterday with the revelations about the emails and other messages which were doing the rounds before the last election, exposing further the barefaced audacity of the Taoiseach’s U-turn on abortion legislation.

The Independent reported:  In the run-up to election 2011, a “direct approach from Enda”, which was unsolicited, was made to the PLC, (Pro Life Campaign), seeking to associate Fine Gael with the views of the pro-life movement.

 One pro-life source said that once FG had made contact “they wouldn’t stay away from us, they were insatiable, they kept on coming back for more and more”.

 The claims are backed up by a series of e-mails, where on Saturday February 19, Fine Gael noted its strong pro-life stance and added: “We would be most appreciative of your support in spreading this message to your supporters at your earliest convenience.”

 A day later, another e-mail from Mr Kenny’s then legal adviser said the party would be “obliged if you would send to your supporters and post on your Facebook page” the FG position.

 One PLC source told the Sunday Independent they were told the hierarchy were “very anxious the message got out, that it would be put on Facebook as quickly as possible after that e-mail. Fine Gael headquarters made several calls over a period of days to ensure that the message was getting out on Facebook and on e-mail to pro-life supporters”.

 A spokesperson for PLC, Cora Sherlock, said: “Fine Gael went to extraordinary lengths, they courted us. It was made clear Enda Kenny was centrally involved and willing it on.”

 Fine Gael was not entirely united, though. At one point the pro-life camp was told: “Alan Shatter was trying to hold it up but he was told by the Taoiseach’s men to back off. Shatter stayed quiet – for once he knew what side his bread was buttered on.”

  Others were more supportive. One PLC source claimed the then Fine Gael front bencher Leo Varadkar “followed his letter up with a call to assure us how committed he was to the cause”.

 Fine Gael TD Simon Harris also sent an anxious e-mail in the final week of the campaign assuring PLC that: “I am happy and proud to assure you I am pro-life.”

New best friends, Harris and his leader, Kenny

 Mr Harris added the nervous plea of: “Please be assured of my support. I need No1 votes on Friday so I can be in a position to support these positions in Dail Eireann.”

 “I’ll smile and smile and be a villain” Richard III said to himself – according to William Shakespeare – on his way to medieval murder and mayhem before finally being butchered on the battlefield at Bosworth. Smiling young Mr. Harris may soon get his comeuppance

Conscience-free politics – truly bizarre

Two faces of Irish politics – Creighton and Kenny

Irish TAOISEACH (prime minister) Enda Kenny thinks politics is all about fixing things. He is a mechanic without a clue when it comes to principles – either philosophical or anthropological, not to talk of his bizarre theology. He is now is facing an unprecedented party rebellion for the very reason that he has failed on all these counts. Those who rebelled against him in the Irish parliament – and those who will do so over the next two weeks – know that there is more to life and the pursuit of the common good than “arranging things” so that those who want to can do what they like – regardless of its consequences.

This abortion Bill which the Irish parliament is about to pass into law will be the undoing of Kenny’s reputation as any kind of statesman. It may also be the undoing of his party and many are hoping that it may be the catalyst which will bring about a realignment of Irish political forces into a meaningful one where the illiberal ideologues of the left, and their populist followers, will be confronted with a politics guided by a true perception of humankind and its common good.

Kenny – and the governments of whatever party mixes which have been in power for the last 20 years – inherited a constitutional mess created by a rogue Supreme Court decision, the notorious “X” case decision, based on faulty evidence. This decision compromised the Irish Constitution’s guarantee of the right to life of children in their first nine months of life. Kenny and his acolytes’ ham-fisted effort to “fix” this mess is even more flawed than what it tried to fix.

Mr Kenny has adopted a hardline stance against those who voted against the Government’s legislation last night. He expelled all four members from the parliamentary party immediately, promising to end their political careers. But Irish people looking on at this debacle can now see a handful of principled politicians who are prepared to think about what they are being asked to sign their names to. On the other side they see a crowd of sheep following a leader who ordered them to vote with him, regardless of their conscience.

Both Ireland’s main political parties – whose origins go back to Ireland’s Civil War over 90 years ago – now look like unravelling. The Fianna Fail party leader, Michéal Martin, supports the legislation and if principled voices within the party had not prevailed he would also have denied its members freedom of conscience on this matter. Potentially the Irish parliament has now been divided into two camps, those from who conscience counts for something and those for who it clearly counts for nothing – for it it doesn’t pertain to matters of life and death what does to what does it pertain?

This unravelling will be no bad thing. There is every hope now that the women and men of principle – of any and no party – inside and outside the parliament might now come together to give an effective voice to a disenfranchised electorate disillusioned for at least a decade by a political culture devoid of anything other than a “fix-it-up-at-any-cost” mentality.

Lucinda Creighton, a Minister in Kenny’s government, whom all observers expect will take her stand against him on the issue next week, made a powerful defence of the dissidents’ case in the parliament yesterday and would be the natural leader if a new political force were it to emerge. If it does this will be no single issue movement but a movement based on a vision of human society and the true nature of humankind within it – just, free and enterprising. There are many currently outside the formal politics of the country who would have been ashamed to stand beside those currently in power but who would be very happy to cooperate and support those who are now revealing themselves as politician with principles.

Ms. Creighton put her cards on the table in the parliament in a long, articulate and detailed speech on Monday. At one point she told us that I’ve had people contact me in recent months condemning me for having a ‘moral’ or ethical concern about abortion. Some demanded that I leave my morals or conscience aside in order to support abortion. Now I must say that I find this bizarre.

There is an emerging consensus in Ireland which suggests that having a sense of morality has something to do with the Catholic Church. It is automatically assumed that if you consult your conscience, you are essentially consulting with Rome. This is deeply worrying. It is a lazy way of attempting to undermine the worth of an argument, without actually dealing with the substance. This is not just a Catholic issue, any more than it is a Protestant or Muslim issue. This is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue.

This was nothing less than a veiled criticism of her leader who has been proclaiming his peculiar brand of religion and politics around the country over the past few months – a very bizarre political philosophy indeed.

I wonder what one should consult when voting on a fundamental human rights issue such as this, Ms. Creighton continued, if not one’s own conscience? My personal view is that all I can do, when making a decision on life and death, and that is what we are considering here, is consult my conscience, which is based on my sense of what is right and what is wrong. What else can I consult? The latest opinion poll? The party hierarchy? The editor of the most popular newspaper?

I mentioned groupthink, which is a corrosive affliction in this country. We saw it in the Haughey era, we saw it during the Celtic Tiger era, and we see it on this question of abortion. It is easy to understand why people in positions of responsibility want thorny issues to simply disappear. It is far easier than risking conflict, unpopularity or worse; paying the price for speaking up…

Some were very offended by her groupthink remark. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? ‘Groupthinkers’ never see themselves as such.

This is a voice we have not heard in Irish politics for many years. This represents a political philosophy of depth and substance worthy of Ireland’s greatest political thinker, Edmund Burke. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a new era in Irish politics in which cant, posturing and “fixing” will be a thing of the grim past.

A further six Fine Gael may follow Ms. Creighton next week. With two thirds of Michéal Martin’s party voting contrary to his line and without any substantial policy differences between them and the Fine Gael rebels on other issues, there is every hope that the old outdated party structure might finally crumble.

Green shoots of an Irish Spring?


In the New York Times today Thomas Friedman raises a question posed by a former C.I.A. analyst which roused my curiosity and made me half wonder if it might not be a lead-in to a piece about our current discontents here in Ireland.

Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies? OK, our generally polite demonstrations on the pro-life issue have hardly been revolts. Nevertheless, the underlying anger and resentment which they reveal do not seem to be too far short of something more serious and do suggest that in them there might be a suggestion of the green shoots of an Irish Spring.

In mulling over the analyst’s question Friedman describes a political response which will be familiar to all in a Brazilian, Turkish or Russian context. But it also has a resonance in the context of many political conversations which I’m sure many of us have had on the island of Ireland. The rising discontent is palpable since it became clear that the bigger partner in our current government nakedly betrayed the trust which a sizeable portion of its electorate placed in it at the last general election on the issue of abortion.

The American analyst, Paul R. Pillar, in a recent essay in The National Interest, asks: “The governments being protested against were freely and democratically elected. With the ballot box available, why should there be recourse to the street?”

Friedman believes that the convergence of three phenomena provides an answer. Whatever about the other two, the first certainly has an uncomfortably familiar ring in the Irish contect. It is what he describes as the rise and proliferation of illiberal ‘majoritarian’ democracies. “In Russia, Turkey and today’s Egypt, we have seen mass demonstrations to protest ‘majoritarianism’ — ruling parties that were democratically elected (or “sort of” in Russia’s case) but interpret their elections as a writ to do whatever they want once in office, including ignoring the opposition, choking the news media and otherwise behaving in imperious or corrupt ways, as if democracy is only about the right to vote, not rights in general and especially minority rights.”

Rights is what is vexing the Irish electorate just now – not just any ordinary rights but what most people consider basic fundamental rights, like the right to life and the right of freedom of conscience. The discontented among the Irish consider that these rights are now being trampled on by their government. Not all politicians are ignoring what many consider to be the high-handed and deeply undemocratic behaviour or the ruling parties in government.  Some are resisting being dragooned into supporting the pro-abortion legislation now being pushed through the parliament.

One, who just yesterday declared his rebellion against the Party, summed up the basis for his revolt as follows:

“This bill is not in line with Fine Gael values and some of our long-term supporters are very distressed with the current state of affairs,” Fine Gael TD Terence Flanagan has told the Sunday Independent newspaper. “I am totally in favour of women getting all necessary supports during pregnancies,” he said, but added: “Most people would not be impressed with a TD who voted for something that they believed to be fundamentally wrong.”

Flanagan has declared that in the new law which will require Irish hoppitals to perform abortions there is “real and significant cultural change” being engineered in those institutions.

Highlighting one of the things which is driving pro-life Irish people to despair in their government, he pointed to the way in which the parliament has been simply going through the motions of debate and ignoring the arguments put before it. He said: “Over the course of two sets of hearings conducted by the Joint Committee on Health and Children, we were presented with compelling evidence that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal intent; in fact, it may even contribute to it.”

The Fine Gael TD said: “It gives me no pleasure to dissent from my party, but prior to the last general election, Fine Gael gave a commitment to the electorate that it was ‘opposed to the legalisation of abortion’. In deciding how to legislate on such a uniquely life-or-death issue as abortion, a legislator must have the freedom to follow his or her own conscience on the matter.” He added that he did not agree “with those who say we should set aside our own beliefs when we deal with so grave an issue”. As a legislator he considers that “I am constitutionally free to oppose this bill and I am conscientiously obliged to do so”.

What the protesters in Turkey, Russia and Egypt all have in common, Friedman argues, is a powerful sense of “theft,” a sense that the people who got elected are stealing something more than money: the people’s voice and right to participate in governance. Nothing can make a new democrat, someone who just earned the right to vote, angrier, he wrote. The Irish are not exactly “new democrats”. They have struggled against governments which imposed unjust laws before. They are angry now because they have to do what they never thought they might have to do – give vent to extra-parliamentary rage against their own elected government.

As Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef wrote in the Egyptian daily Al Shorouk last week, on the first anniversary of the election of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party: “We have a president who promised that a balanced constituent assembly would work on a constitution that everyone agrees on. We have a president who promised to be representative, but placed members of his Muslim Brotherhood in every position of power. We have a president and a party that broke all their promises, so the people have no choice but to take to the streets.”

The Irish now have a prime minister leading his party toward legislation which is the very opposite of what he promised them to get elected. Furthermore, he is doing so in spite of all the expert evidence being given to him that his proposed legislation is deeply flawed. He is seen as not even attempting to address this evidence with any kind of counter-argument. His actions are seen as having all the subtlety of a steamroller. It is the same fuel which is driving all discontented democracies.

Friedman’s second converging element is in the economic sphere and this is not absent from the Irish scene either. The rising anger he sees across democracies comes, he thinks, from the failure of governments to level with their electorates on what is really going on and in particular about all those things which are squeezing the middle class and the aspiring middle class, the working backbone of all electorates.

The last element contributing to this convergence is the crucial one of means to an end. Democracies now have new weapons in their arsenals. “Thanks”‘ Friedman says, “to the proliferation of smart-phones, tablets, Twitter, Facebook and blogging, aggrieved individuals now have much more power to engage in, and require their leaders to engage in, two-way conversations — and they have much greater ability to link up with others who share their views to hold flash protests. As Leon Aron, the Russian historian at the American Enterprise Institute, put it, ‘the turnaround time’ between sense of grievance and action in today’s world is lightning fast and getting faster.” All this is also playing out in the Irish body-politic, playing a big part in bringing 40,000 demonstrators on to Dublin’s street in the beginning of June, the biggest pro-life demonstration in the country’s history.

The net result of Friedman’s convergence across the world is this: “Autocracy”, Friedman writes, “is less sustainable than ever. Democracies are more prevalent than ever — but they will also be more volatile than ever. Look for more people in the streets more often over more issues with more independent means to tell their stories at ever-louder decibels.” Why should Ireland be an exception?

Another front opens in the battle against Kenny abortion Bill

Colm Keaveney, T.D.

Another front has now emerged in the battle against Enda Kenny’s forces which just 24 hours ago seemed unstoppable. In a dramatic twist in the battle to prevent the introduction of abortion services to Ireland, a cross-party group of dissident Fine Gael, Labour and independent TDs and senators are proposing to invoke a little-known constitutional provision to force a referendum on the Government’s proposed legislation.

This is reported in the Irish Independent today. The paper’s political editor, John Drennan reports rebel Labour member of parliament and party chairman, Colm Keavney, who lost the party whip for dissent on another issue several months ago, as saying “This is a politically neutral initiative involving pro-life, pro-choice and non-committed figures. It is about those who are concerned about the escalating democratic deficit in the country.”

Drennan says that the petitioners are confident of securing a majority of the Seanad; however, the Dail is somewhat more problematic given the divided state of the opposition. The Sunday Independent has been told, however, that while “it will be difficult, it is achievable”.

The proposal is somewhat complex. Keaveney has pointed pointed out that the article in the Irish Constitution on which the initiative would be based, Article 27, would not provide a Constitutional referendum on abortion as such. In fact, it can only be applied to a Bill that does not contain a proposal for the amendment of the Constitution.

For the provision to be successful, a majority of sitting Senators (30) and at least one-third of the members of Dáil Eireann (55) are required to sign a petition, addressed to the President within days of the Bill being passed through the Dáil. The petition will ask Michael D Higgins not to sign the Bill into law until a referendum has been held. The referendum would not be about abortion services directly, but would ask if people wanted the Bill to be enacted or not. The process has never been used and the government has plans to scrap it altogether.

In a comment piece in the paper Drennan forsees troubled water ahead for Kenny in his own party and seems to see an inevitable fading of Kenny’s support if he forces reluctant members of parliament through the “yes” lobby to vote on this legislation.  Drennan paraphrases another former Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, speaking of a similar scenario: heavy indeed will be the hearts and even more reluctant still will be the steps of those who will be dragooned through the Yes lobby.

“They will vote “Ta” but not in spirit and they will resent Enda for it and the Taoiseach will have little to offer them in the way of worldly rewards to ease their pain. Ultimately, the most dangerous faction of all, if they stay, is the rogue white elephant of Enda’s embittered senators.” Kenny is proposing to abolish the Senate, the second house of the Irish parliament.

And, ironically, Drennan adds, whilst self preservation is Enda’s only core value, everything Enda is now doing to secure his power base only causes it to crumble a little further. The Taoiseach has carefully constructed a ‘chairman of the board’-style nodding, winking, broth of a cheery Western playboy political front. It took a while but Enda’s theatre of illusions is starting to fracture.

Shouting “stop” to a sickening charade of democracy

Two more Irish politicians have indicated their determination to oppose the abortion legislation of  Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. There is still only a handful of members of the Irish parliament who have so far come out in opposition to Kenny’s proposed legislation which is being forced through the two houses of the parliament. In what many see as a charade of democracy, where procedures are following the letter but certainly not the spirit of the rules of the political game, the Bill will pass into law in two weeks time unless some miracle change of heart occurs among the two hundred odd members making up the two houses of the  parliament. The handful of brave members of the ruling party whose right of conscience is being denied have as much hope at present as the lone protester standing in front of the tanks in Tienanmen Square 24 years ago.
Fine Gael Senator Tom Sheahan and Independent TD Denis Naughten have today added their voices to the opposition to  the Government’s proposed legislation and have announced that they will vote against it. Sheahan will do so at the cost of losing his parliamentary party membership, losing the party whip.
Senator Tom Sheahan confirmed that he would vote against the legislation given serious issues he has with it while Deputy Denis Naughten, a member of the Oireachtas Health Committee said that he wouldn’t be voting for the legislation if the provision for abortion on the grounds of suicide remains.
In a statement today Deputy Chairperson of the Pro Life Campaign Cora Sherlock welcomed the decision of  Senator  Sheahan and Deputy Naughten.
Ms. Sherlock said: “It is heartening that more Oireachtas Members understand what is really contained in this Bill and see how truly unjust it is.  For example the Bill permits abortion through the full nine months of pregnancy and it denies the fact that abortion, rather than being a treatment for suicidal ideation, actually exposes women to greater risk of negative mental health consequences.”
She continued: “We applaud those who are willing to stand up against this legislation.  They deserve our thanks. It is completely undemocratic that to date there has been no real debate in the Dáil on what the abortion Bill actually contains. If there was I expect that many more TDs and Senators would voice their opposition to it.”
“Our Taoiseach has ignored the right of conscience on this issue.   It is a shame that TDs and Senators are being forced to chose between their livelihood and their conscience”, Ms. Sherlock concluded.
Meanwhile a government minister, Lucinda Creighton, has again spoken of her reservations about the Bill. The Irish Times reported her as saying  yesterday, “Under the legislation, there are mechanisms for the mother to vindicate her right to life, which is absolutely correct and appropriate. But there is no mechanism for the unborn child,” Ms Creighton said during a working visit to Paris. “The challenge for the legislature is to balance the constitutional protection for both.”Such a measure would “not necessarily” mean that the attorney general would come into contact with the mother, “but could perhaps review the file”. There were “a variety of legal avenues”, she said. But “there has to be some consideration given to it as we go through the committee stage of the legislation.” Asked whether the draft legislation needed amendments, she replied, “Absolutely.”Ms Creighton said she still had deep reservations about the suicide clause, which would allow a suicidal pregnant woman to seek an abortion. “My views haven’t changed. I think the suicide clause is quite dubious.”“I always felt that our whip system is outmoded and used to excess. I would like to see a different approach. It would be good for our politics if members were able to express different opinions within reason, particularly on issues of conscience . . . People have very, very personal beliefs.”

Fine Gael’s Brian Walsh – one of the government party members who has already entered the field against the legislation – has warned Kenny that up to 10 of his colleagues will do the same.

“We now appear poised to enact legislation based on absurd premise that the suicidality of one human being can be abated by the death of another. This is medico-legal nonsense and a principle that I cannot support,” Mr Walsh said.

Highlighting the undemocratic character of the entire procedure – fearful nof what the outcome might be, Kenny refused to put the issue directly to the people in a referendum – Walsh accused the Government of designing parts of the legislation – particularly the inclusion of a clause to allow a pregnant woman claiming that she is suicidal the right to an abortion – to suit the politician, rather than the mother and the child.

Is intransigence at the heart of Kenny’s faux democratic machine a sign of panic ?

This blog post from political scientist Derek Lynch suggests that there might be folly or panic – or perhaps both – behind Enda Kenny’s denial of freedom of conscience to his parliamentary party. Implicitly it also raises the question that if the street opposition to the sham democracy now being played out in the Irish parliament seemed to threaten him more than it does at present, would he go down the same road as Erdogran and Rousseff?

A decision to stamp on dissent when such a move was neither technically nor politically necessary is a dramatic statement indeed. It is an aggressive kick in the face to those of other opinions. The leadership line is that there has been lengthy debate: this is simply closing that process according to the rules. Technically, that may be true. But when such an aggressive shutdown is not really required, it takes on an entirely different character. It is like Premier Erdogan ordering the riot police to charge or President Rousseff saying “show no mercy.” Endless debate on such sensitive matters is not surprising. It is no harm either if the numbers are in the bag and the actual legislation is safe.

This assertive line suggests a Government or a Taoiseach that feels the need to be assertive. It is a sort of machismo effect. But what lies behind it? And what will be the lasting impact?

Enda Kenny shares the widespread frustration at the behavior of the Church in the child abuse scandals. He believes very firmly in the unity and longevity of this present coalition with Labour. He may also be advised, not so much by “pragmatic” conservatives as by social democrat Fine Gaelers schooled in the Garrett FitzGerald years. While Kenny built his support by persuading Fine Gael conservatives that he was moving in a different direction, he now finds his interests “pragmatically” aligned with FG social democrats and a militantly secularist Labour Party. The assumption is that his conservative base will stick around because they have nowhere else to go and value personal loyalties anyway.


But all is not well with this assertive Enda Kenny. The surge of machismo reveals a panic at the heart of the machine. In fact, politicians in both major parties are experiencing the same phenomenon. They would like social policy to go away. For, it is very unlike economics. With economics, there is a whole constellation of variables always in flux: growth rates, exports, Asian markets, U.S. elections, Middle East wars, the price of onions, SARS … politicians cannot credibly promise to produce this or that result without qualification. But, with social policy, voters can ask – what do you believe? Do you believe that marriage is intrinsically a celebration of heterosexual love and commitment? Do you believe a foetus in the womb is a living human being? Of course, some will be able to say – it depends. But, listening to the debates, on all sides, it is clear that participants have direct answers to many of these questions. And these answers translate into policy choices that must ultimately be addressed by politicians. There is no external environment to reference.

It is this fact that has Irish politicians, especially in the center-right parties, in a state of absolute fear and pandemonium. They are challenged to show courage and personal honesty.

All pointing, might we dare to hope, to a new and meaningful alignment in Irish politics and a re-enfranchising of a sizeable swathe of the electorate who currently have no party to which the can in good conscience give their support?