Saturday 22 October 2016

Fine Gael treats pro-life voters with contempt - to Fianna Fáil's gain

Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30

Acting Finance Minister Michael Noonan and acting Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald before talks with Fianna Fáil on the formation of a government at Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke
Acting Finance Minister Michael Noonan and acting Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald before talks with Fianna Fáil on the formation of a government at Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke

Like the tragic, ill-fated Blanche Dubois in 'A Streetcar Named Desire', Enda Kenny and Fine Gael must now "depend on the kindness of strangers" if they are to have any hope of clinging to power for long.

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The "strangers" in this case are, of course, the Independent TDs and Fianna Fáil. One of the Independents is Katherine Zappone, a left-wing TD representing Dublin South West. She has said she will support a Fine Gael-led minority government. One reason for this, she explains, is that she has been given a commitment that such a government will address the issue of the Eighth Amendment. That is to say, it will pave the way towards repealing, or perhaps amending, it.

Come to think of it, Katherine should find out exactly what Fine Gael has committed to. Before the 2011 election, it told the Pro-Life Campaign it would not legislate for the X Case, but then the party went right out and did it anyway in 2013.

Has Fine Gael told her it wants to repeal our pro-life amendment, or that it wants to replace it with a somewhat less restrictive amendment, or that it will simply convene a so-called citizen's assembly? It would be good to know.

Fine Gael's willingness to throw the right-to-life question under the bus again is another example of its ruthless pragmatism.

Meanwhile, Labour is leaning heavily towards not going into government again so soon, but according to one newspaper report last weekend, if it did, it would want a referendum to repeal the pro-life amendment to be at or near to the top of the shopping list, with the referendum to be delivered very soon.

Presumably, that would mean by this time next year.

It is telling that Labour still places such priority on this issue. Clearly the party has learned absolutely nothing from its disastrous election result. Yes, it's true that we voted for same-sex marriage last year by a big margin. And yes, it's true that Labour forced Fine Gael to pass the country's first abortion law in 2013.

But neither of these two things did Labour the remotest bit of good on election day. Ordinary voters are not interested in the party's liberal agenda. Erstwhile Labour supporters are interested in bread-and-butter issues. The message does not seem to have properly reached party headquarters.

It is not as though Labour didn't try very hard to leverage the issue of abortion into votes when it saw its election campaign was tanking badly.

With about a week to go, it made a very big deal of the issue, organising a photo opportunity and telling voters that it would make repeal of the Eighth Amendment a non-negotiable condition of entering government.

Did that work with voters? Nope. It worked no better for Labour on this occasion than when its candidate Eoin Holmes in the Meath East by-election of 2013 made a big deal of his support for abortion and gay marriage and lost his deposit.

Labour learnt nothing from that experience either.

We are told that the general public is demanding an abortion referendum. There is very little evidence of that and plenty to the contrary. It is no good waving opinion polls about the place. Opinion polls measure breadth of feeling at best, not depth of feeling.

Contacted by a pollster, a majority might say they want a referendum, but if they felt very strongly about it, that would have come out in the election. It did not.

We know that there is genuine public demand for something when politicians hear about that something constantly in their clinics or on the doorsteps. Water charges would be a good example of that.

Candidates only rarely heard members of the public talking about the abortion issue as they went from door to door during the election and when they did, the person was more likely to be pro-life than pro-choice.

There is, of course, big media demand for a referendum and big demand from various NGOs. But that is emphatically not the same as big public demand, any more than this or that opinion poll is proof of real public demand.

But why not have a referendum anyway, pro-choice campaigners demand. Isn't putting it to the people the democratic thing to do?

Well, it might be if there was real, grass-roots demand for a referendum instead of an astro-turf campaign that only looks like a grass-roots campaign until you look a little more closely.

In the absence of real public demand for one, why hold it? Why not hold a referendum on Irish membership of the EU while we're at it? Of course, there is no media demand for that, but again let's not confuse media demand and public demand.

On the other hand, it will be argued that we should hold a referendum regardless, because the Eighth Amendment violates the rights of women and because it violates international law.

As to the second point, it does not violate international law. There is no right to abortion in international law and UN committees that pretend otherwise are doing exactly that, pretending. In any event, interpretations of international law by these committees are not legally binding on us.

As to the first point, that it violates women's rights, it can much more strongly be argued that abortion violates the right to life of unborn human beings in a much more radical and final way and that is why there should be no referendum. What other group of human beings should have its right to life put up for grabs?

To return to Fine Gael, it has treated pro-life voters with growing contempt during its years in power. Fine Gael ought to have learnt during the General Election that outside Dublin 4 and 6 (if even there), there are no votes in supporting abortion, while in rural areas there are certainly votes to be lost.

What Fine Gael is really telling thousands of pro-life voters up and down the country is that there is absolutely no place in the party for them. It is waving two fingers directly in their faces and has been doing so for some time now.

Will some Fine Gael TDs and senators please ask their party hierarchy whether this is really the wisest thing to do?

As it is, many pro-life voters now opt for Fianna Fáil and pro-life Independents and have done so for some time. Fine Gael is now telling all other pro-life voters to do the same thing and never come back.

Irish Independent

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