War of words heats up inside and outside Leinster House
The pro-choice rally outside Leinster House last evening may have been considerably smaller than last week – the crowd numbered no more than a couple of hundred – but the Government would be most unwise to believe the wave of anger over the death of Savita and the lack of certainty around abortion legislation has begun to recede.
Instead, the tide has begun to turn in a more political – and hardline – direction. Quite a few of the banners and signs were pointedly directed at the Labour Party; one giant banner issued a stark ultimatum: 'Labour: Legislate or Leave Now'.
However, Labour's Aodhan O Riordain delivered a searing no-surrender defence of his party's campaign for X-case legislation in the Dail.
"The Labour Party, have fought a lonely battle on this front for 20 years. We as a party take the flak, the vulgar letters, the protests, the abusive phone-calls. It is our family members who are targeted. It is our homes that are picketed," he said.
The Dublin North-Central deputy added: "Neither I nor my party have any apology to make in the course that we are taking, because we know what it will result in – legislation."
Speeches included one from People Before Profit deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, who said he had been "depressed" by the previous night's abortion debate on Vincent Browne's TV show.
"It threw me back to 20 years ago when we had battles – in some case pitched battles. The idea that these people are still around – still trying to argue the toss over the lives and bodies of women in this country – is outrageous," he said.
But as both sides are hardening in this debate, both camps are beginning to zone in on the one option which was not included in the expert group's report which was published yesterday – the holding of a referendum.
Among the speeches outside Leinster House were several calls for a referendum to repeal the clause in the Eighth Amendment. Inside the Dail, on the second night of debate on ULA deputy Clare Daly's bill on the X case ruling, Mick Wallace also reckoned that a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment would have a majority backing.
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said that "to suggest that legislation for X is some kind of slippery slope to an open-ended liberal abortion regime is just wrong, it's not true", she said.
Health Minister James Reilly said he couldn't support the bill. "It is clear to me the great majority of our citizens regard the current situation as unsustainable," he said.
And in what was perhaps a coded message to those among his own backbenchers, he said: "Some people feel the Government is moving too quickly to address the issue – I respectfully suggest that the people of Ireland have waited long enough for their politicians to do what is right and necessary."
The Bill was defeated by 101 votes to 27, but the war of words is heating up.