independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Lise Hand: Taoiseach is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Enda's visage was sporting the sort of frozen expression that surely was worn by sea-captains of yore who suddenly found themselves sailing full steam ahead over the edge of their maps, into that vast expanse of uncharted sea marked 'Here Be Dragons'.

The Taoiseach's own Here Be Dragons is abortion.

It's the turbulent, treacherous, unknown ocean where a politician's career can be dashed on the rocks or where a rattled and mutinous crew might jump overboard.

And he's in Dragon Water now. After a mere 21 years of foot-dragging, prevarication, obfuscation and downright cowardice by successive administrations, legislation to deal with the Supreme Court ruling on the X case will – any day now – emerge blinking into the light.

There was an expectation that the draft legislation would be delivered by proud dada James Reilly at yesterday's cabinet meeting, but no.

The ship of state is in rough seas, the Labour and Fine Gael crews aren't co-existing happily below decks any more, with reports of all sorts of knife-fights breaking out.

Unsurprisingly, the Government's continuing evasive manoeuvres around the abortion issue drew fire from the opposition during Leaders' Questions yesterday.

Clare Daly was (wo)manning the guns for the Technical Group. "One would think, in a civilised society where it has been found that an innocent woman has died unnecessarily and where half of the population is not given an equal right to health nor has its health rights guaranteed, that the Taoiseach would be spurred into action," she sniped.

The Taoiseach set sail towards the Dragons with obvious discomfort.

"With regard to the issue of circumstances where there is a real and substantial threat to the life of a woman, that matter is under active consideration by the Government," he said, retreating into the comfort of jargon.

Clare was not mollified, and returned to the attack.

"I do not know what the Taoiseach is waiting for. Is he waiting for his daughter, my daughter or someone else's wife to be in the same horrendous circumstance Savita's husband described? Abortion is a health issue. It is a human-rights issue," she charged.

But then Clare made a mistake. She got personal. "I'm not sure why you feel women's lives are less valuable than men's or that their health should be unnecessarily put at risk," she added.

A wriggling Taoiseach was off the hook. Now he could respond to the insult, and dodge answering the actual question. "I completely reject the deputy's assertion that anybody in this House values the lives of women less than anybody else," he retorted.

"There are two lives involved here – the life of the mother and the life of the unborn. It's not a matter to be treated flippantly, glibly or with the kind of remarks you've made," he scolded.

But if it was a let-off, it was merely a short one. His repeated emphasis on the "two lives" involved in this most volatile of minefields where law collides with emotion was a public nod to the pro-life group within Fine Gael, but won't have appeased others in his own party and in Labour who hold a range of pro-choice views.

On one side of him is the devil, on the other, the deep blue sea.

Irish Independent

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