Saturday 3 December 2016

‘Repeal the Eighth’ debate descends into row over Catholic Taliban, red-baiting, snobbery and abortion pills

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

Published 25/10/2016 | 22:00

The Dáil debate on repealing the Eighth Amendment descended into a shouting match referencing the Catholic Taliban, snobbery, radical left-wing ideologies and red-baiting.

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One TD even goaded the Government to have her arrested after bringing an abortion pill into the Chamber.

Bríd Smith said she could be jailed for 14 years for procuring the tablet over the internet “but you ain’t going to do it because what's on your books and what's in your laws you know that if you dare to implement it you would bring hell-fire and brimstone down on top of this house and in wider society because we have moved on”.

However it was Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell who caused the largest ruckus when she accused the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit of using their Dáil time “to attack Fine Gael on all fronts and to try demonise the TDs who were democratically elected by their communities to represent them”.

She said their bill, which sought a referendum on repealing the section of the Constitution giving equal rights to a mother and her unborn child, was an attempt by Ms Smith and Ruth Coppinger to “disrupt the Citizens’ Assembly”.

“I support free, safe and legal access to abortion for any woman who wants it.  I would have a referendum tomorrow if it were possible but there is still no guarantee it would pass,” the Dublin Bay South TD said.

“That’s why I support the Citizens’ Assembly and the work it is doing to discuss the relevant legal and scientific facts around the Eighth.

“Those who want repeal have waited too long for a referendum to waste their opportunity to win it.”

She said the “reasonable approach” for the AAA-PBP would be to support the progress this government has made on the issue, but added: “Deputy Coppinger and her colleagues have a political radical left-wing ideology and they will rarely appeal to voters of the centre or centre-right.”

“However, you do not have an monopoly on caring about the Eighth or about women’s rights in this country. 

“I am ashamed of our nation’s record when it comes to this issues,” Ms O’Connell said.

However, she raised ire from the Opposition benches by suggesting that AAA-PBP are damaging the campaign for repealing the Eighth because many people feel it is a left-wing issue and that by supporting it they would be “guilty of endorsing the policies and activities of the extreme left”.

“These people do not feel aligned with those supported the false imprisonment of a former Tánaiste or who think that the Irish economy would benefit from socialist transformation,” she said.

During heated exchanges, Richard Boyd Barrett accused her of “red baiting”, saying: “If I hear the phrase the moderate centre again I will scream.”

He told the Dáil: “The Catholic Taliban have ruled people’s lives in this State for decades with the support of the two main parties.”

Ms Coppinger accused the Fine Gael backbencher of displaying “your snobbery and your true colours”.

During the debate Independent TDs who campaigned for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment before entering government were called “sell outs” for compromising with Fine Gael.

The Independent Alliance and Katherine Zappone faced a angry attack from the AAA-PBP after the Coalition agreed to reject the bill seeking an abortion referendum.

It will now be at least 2018 before there is a vote on the Eighth Amendment.

Transport Minister Shane Ross, who along with his Alliance colleagues had sought a free vote on the issue, denied that they had capitulated to Fine Gael.

“We would have much preferred to have a free vote but we’re in the business of compromising and moving this issue forward.

“We thought the best way forward was not to cause a crisis but to bring the issue in a very mature way to the public and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.

The bill will not progress through the Oireachtas as the Government placed a ‘reasoned amendment’, citing the work of the Citizens’ Assembly which is due to make a recommendation on the potential repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the first half of next year.

The AAA-PBP was particularly critical of Ms Zappone who she said was elected solely on a liberal agenda linked to the gay marriage referendum and the repeal of the restrictive abortion laws.

Ms Smith told the Dáil “cowards” had absented themselves during the X Case 21 years ago and history was repeating itself with the "hypocrisy of close your eyes, shut your mouth, pretend it wasn't happening".

Noting the tragic cases of Savita Halappanavar and Amanda Mellet, she warned: "If these tragedies happen again, be it on your head”. 

In his contribution to the debate, Health Minister Simon Harris said he wanted his generation to have a say on the issue.

“But I refuse to pretend it is as simple as those proposing this Bill present it. I realise as keenly as anyone else the long and complex history of abortion debate in this country,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said the Citizens’ Assembly should be allowed to do its work and help “shape debate”.

He said those proposing last night’s bill were “not doing the broader debate a service when it is introduced primarily to embarrass people”.

As part of the deal with the Independent Alliance, Fine Gael acknowledge that the group are not subject to a party whip on matters which were not addresses in either the Programme for Partnership Government or by decisions of Cabinet.

Sources said this may lead to free votes on issues of “lesser importance” in the future.

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