Might the sky fall in on the Irish Government?

The question being asked in Ireland this morning is not whether the Government will win its ill-considered referendum asking its people to redefine marriage as a bond between people regardless of their sex, but whether it can long outlive the defeat of this proposal.

The Irish people are a warm-hearted lot but they are not irrational. Among the countries of Europe most tried by the debacle of the financial melt-down in the last decade, they were the ones who resisted the emotional response and knuckled down to sort it out. All observers now give them credit for this. The only rage which they gave vent to was in the face of another piece of gross mismanagement by their Government when it muddled its way through the realignment of the country’s water utility.

Despite what very suspect opinion polls – conducted through cell-phone users in many cases – are telling us, the writing on the wall for the Enda Kenny and his ministers is ominous. It has been a bad week for them – and it is still only Wednesday.

On Monday their star spokesman and campaign leader, Minister Simon Coveney, was pummelled on television by the reasoned legal and social policy arguments of his podium opponent, Senator Ronan Mullen, and pro-marriage supporters in the studio audience. He could not answer any questions convincingly and was left plucking emotional strings. His efforts, combined with similar responses from the pro-redefinition segment of the audience, did nothing but show that there simply are no rational arguments which can be advanced for this proposal, riddled as it is with inconsistencies.

Yesterday the Irish Times – now beginning to redeem itself in some eyes as an even-handed communicator of news and opinion – carried op-eds on the issue from two expert witnesses – to employ a legal metaphor – exposing the deep flaws in Government policy. Emeritus Regius Professor of Law in Trinity College, Dublin, William Binchy, exposed the fallacies in the Government’s arguments that the passing of this referendum would have no impact of the State’s child welfare laws. In the other piece, another former Trinity academic, sociologist and constitutional expert, Dr. Anthony Coughlan, argued that the impact of a ‘Yes’ vote would have repercussions beyond Ireland’s shores. By effectively nullifying a protocol won by Ireland under the Lisbon EU Treaty, the passing of the referendum could lead to same-sex marriage becoming an undeniable human right throughout all 28 EU states. For many this suggests that the entire project, funded as it is by international gender ideologists, is a Trojan Horse designed to destroy marriage across the European continent.

That was yesterday. Today we have news of another own-goal by the Government itself. The lead story in the online Irish Times this morning covers the retrospective withdrawal by a Government quango of funding for the Catholic Church’s marriage advisory council, ACCORD. Despite the attempt to dress this up as routine cost-cutting, the ineptly handled decision makes the Government look every inch the draconian agents that they are. People have been reminded that the Minister for Children – whose brief this comes under – is the same man who as Minister for Health two years ago shepherded the Government’s abortion legislation through parliament. After a thoroughly undemocratic exercise, he reminded Catholic hospitals that their funding would be cut if they did not implement that legislation as law required. He is now trying to tell people that the cutting of ACCORD’s funding has nothing to do with plans to redefine marriage. Good luck to him.

Add to this the truly scathing letter in this morning’s Irish Times from one of the country’s leading liberals, Emeritus Professor of History in University College Cork, John A. Murphy. It is not just the razor-sharp content of this letter which will dismay the Government. It is the fact that it comes from one of the country’s most respected historians, that he is one who has often been highly critical of the Catholic Church, and that his liberal credentials are impeccable.

Finally – although probably not, because it is still only 11.30 as this is written, – after a flood of ‘Yes’ endorsements from a range of celebrity sports stars, media people and pop stars, most of it mindless gushing of emotion, comes a very reasoned argument from one of the stars of Ireland’s most popular and most participative sport, Gaelic Football, the first cousin of Australian Rules Football. This comes from Dublin star, Ger Brennan, and again makes front page news in the largest circulation morning paper in the country, the Irish Independent.

Brennan writes, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that everybody is equal in dignity and it holds that marriage is a male-female union. I don’t think the Declaration of Human Rights is homophobic. I’m voting ‘No’”. Brennan’s well argued declaration, exuding respect for his gay friends and playing companions, will speak to his generation in a way that will worry a Government that thought it had that constituency in its grasp. This will put a serious dent in the Dublin metropolitan vote, as will Murphy’s in the second largest metropolitan area, Cork.

But the most significant element in all these interventions in the debate is not just that they question this proposal. It is that they place a massive question mark in people’s minds about the general competence of this Irish Government.

Right To Be Born Is Centre-stage in Ireland Again

The following post appeared on www.MercatorNet.com before Christmas.

The issue of the right to life of the unborn child became centre-stage in Ireland again in December with a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled on a case brought before it alleging the denial of human rights to three women who were unable to have abortions in Ireland because of its constitutional ban on the procedure. The rulings immediately set off a fire-storm of differing interpretations on the ruling and whether or not it obliges the Irish State to abandon its prohibition on abortion. Clearly the Pro-life activists and those wishing to see abortion available in Ireland were lining up for another all-out battle on the issue.

The Strasbourg-based court, which is separate from the EU, adjudicates on human rights issues among all 47 member states of the Council of Europe.

The identities of the women involved are confidential. They have only been known to the public as A, B and C. Two are Irish and one is a Lithuanian who was living in Ireland. After they failed to get an abortion in Ireland they travelled to the Britain for the procedure. The pro abortion campaign then took up their case and processed it through the Irish courts – but to no avail. Their last port of call was the ECHR which has now given its judgement.

They include a woman who received chemotherapy for cancer; a woman who ran the risk of an ectopic pregnancy; and a woman whose children were placed in care as she was unable to cope. Although the court has only found in favour of the first woman, the headlines are proclaiming that the ruling has found that Ireland has failed to properly guarantee the constitutional right to abortion to which a woman is entitled when her life is at risk.

This distinction harks back to an Irish Supreme Court ruling in the 1990s when the Irish Constitution’s prohibition on abortion was overruled by that court in the case of a young girl who had been statutorily raped and became pregnant. This was know as the “X” case, since the girl could not be named. The court, on the basis of an opinion – which many found medically questionable – that the girl was in danger of committing suicide, declared that her right to life took precedence over the life of the unborn child. A miscarriage ended that tragic story but the Court’s ruling left Ireland’s legal position on abortion in very disputed territory. The campaign behind the case of these women was designed to bring all this to a head and open up the possibility for women to have abortions in Ireland.

In this case the Irish Government defended the status quo on Ireland’s abortion laws, maintaining that it was based on “profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society”. Its legal team argued before the court that the ECHR had consistently recognised the traditions of different countries regarding the rights of unborn children and maintained that this case sought to undermine these principles and align Ireland with countries with more liberal abortion laws.

Nevertheless, the court unanimously ruled that the rights of one of the three women were breached because she had no “effective or accessible procedure” to establish her right to a lawful abortion. The woman’s case was that she had a rare form of cancer and feared it would relapse when she became pregnant. She was unable to find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued to term.

The court concluded that neither the “medical consultation nor litigation options” relied on by the Government constituted an “effective or accessible procedure”. “Consequently, the court concluded that Ireland had breached this applicant’s right to respect for her private life given the failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland.” The court ruled that there had been no violation of the rights of the two other women involved in the case – “A” and “B”.

The failure of the campaign to secure a ruling in its favour in all three cases gives some encouragement to the pro-life movement in Ireland – and indeed in Europe. It means that the Court, at its highest level, has not declared abortion as such to be a human right under the term of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ECHR ruling has put the issue back on the political agenda in Ireland and is likely to force all the political parties now heading into a General Election in Spring to adopt clear policies on the matter. They will not like this. Until now, with the exception of the left-wing Labour and green parties – the politicians have shied away from the issue knowing how complex it in fact is. It touches deep matters of conscience which they would rather not have to engage with.

Interestingly enough, this week the Fianna Fail Party, the main party in the present government has reached a historic low in opinion polls – because of its perceived mis-handling of the economy. As the most traditional party it would however, be seen as the natural pro-life party and might well see this issue as a life-line. Were it to take a very pro-life line on legislation – because whatever government comes in will now, it seems, have to frame legislation on this issue. The most recent opinion poll findings show that 70% of the public support constitutional protection for the unborn,13% oppose it and 16% don’t know or have no opinion.

The Irish Minister for Health, Mary Harney, seems to have accepted that the ECHR ruling will oblige the State to legislate to secure the human right which it maintains the Irish Constitution has denied to one of the women. Others dispute this obligation. Ms. Harney has said the Government would reflect on the ruling and take legal advice. She said the Government would have to come forward with proposals to reflect the ruling. Clearly kicking to touch she added, “However, this will take time as it is a highly sensitive and complex area.”

Professor William Binchy of Trinity College Dublin’s Law faculty, after the ECHR announced its decision, said that the ruling “would require detailed analysis over coming days but some clear points emerge immediately. The most important is that the judgment does not require Ireland to introduce legislation authorising abortion. On the contrary, it fully respects the entitlement of the Irish people to determine legal policy on protecting the lives of unborn children.”

Professor Binchy, an internationally renowned lawyer and author, has always been highly critical of the judgement in the “X” case referred to above. “The evidence over the past 18 years contradicts the medical assumptions of the X case decision. It is crucial to note that the judges in the X case heard no medical evidence. In the years since the ruling, the evidence has steadily built up confirming the opposite of what the judges had assumed – women who have abortions are more likely to commit suicide than women who continue with their pregnancy.”

As he sees it the Irish people must now make a choice. He says that if they were to choose to endorse the Supreme Court decision in X, – which is what the pro-abortion campaign will look for from the politicians – “this would involve legalising abortion contrary to existing medical practice and the best evidence of medical research. If on the other hand, the Irish people choose to endorse the current medical practice, they will be ensuring the continuation of Ireland’s world renowned safety record for mothers and babies during pregnancy.

“Any revisiting of the X case decision would need to take on board the evidence from these new studies that abortion involves significant risks for some women. Based on the current state of medical evidence alone, it would be irresponsible simply to introduce legislation along the lines of the X ruling as it would put at risk the mother’s life as well as taking the baby’s.

“The suggestion that because of this country’s pro-life ethos pregnant women are denied necessary medical treatments is simply not true. In fact, Ireland is a world leader in safety for pregnant mothers. The latest UN report on the safety of mothers during pregnancy found, of all 172 countries for which estimates are given, Ireland leads the world when it comes to safety for pregnant women.

“By all means, let us debate the abortion issue openly, honestly and with all the facts in front of us. But equally, we cannot shy away from the implications of what legal abortion would involve and the brutal reality of abortion, legal up to birth, in countries like Britain.

“What’s at stake in this debate is the value of life, and the sad experience is that once laws permitting abortion are introduced, they diminish the society’s respect for the inherent value of every human life, born or unborn. What we need now is a calm, respectful national discussion, in which the latest medical and scientific evidence is fully considered leading to a solution at a Constitutional level, which will ensure the full protection of all human beings, mothers and unborn children, on the basis of respect for their equal dignity and worth.”