Monday 24 October 2016

How Gilmore's disdain for church defines his politics

Published 05/07/2013 | 17:00

TO what extent is Eamon Gilmore's politics influenced by a deep disdain of the Catholic Church? The answer seems to me to be, to a very great extent.

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He has frequently criticised the Catholic Church. He was at it again in the Dail the other day during the debate on the abortion bill when once more he hearkened back to the days when we groaned under the yoke of a tyrannical church. (And yes, it was authoritarian).

That was before reassuring us that those days are over because now we live in a "free country, where freedom of religion and freedom of conscience is respected, upheld and defended".

Reading through his speech it wasn't so much the criticism of the church that grabbed the attention.

Instead, it was that he could say those words about freedom of conscience and religion without a trace of irony, without reflecting on the fact that he once belonged to a party that thought highly of the Soviet Union, a country that crushed freedom of conscience and religion.

What also makes his words so unbelievable in their audacity is that he could utter them when the whip was being so ruthlessly applied to members of the main government party who, in good conscience, cannot support this bill.

Nor does he appear to have reflected on the fact that the bill itself does not respect conscience rights. Pro-life doctors will be forced to facilitate abortion by referring women seeking a termination under the terms of the bill to pro-choice doctors. This is called 'coerced referral'.

In addition, Catholic hospitals like the Mater will have to perform abortions under the terms of the bill if ordered to by the HSE, even if the hospital does not believe the abortion is medically required.

In days of Catholic dominance in this country, doctors were forbidden from doing certain things. Dispensing contraception is one example. But they were never forced to do something that was against their beliefs.

Nor so far as I know was any Protestant hospital ever forced to act against its ethos by a Catholic-dominated State.

But this bill will require Catholic hospitals to act against their ethos.

It clearly has not dawned on our Tanaiste that he is now presiding over the imposition by the State of his morality, of his view of 'human rights'.

How can that be? Perhaps it is because of the groupthink that Lucinda Creighton so correctly highlighted in her speech on the same day.

That groupthink, which also led us into our present economic calamity, by definition marginalises and dismisses dissenting voices.

Every effort has been made to marginalise and dismiss opponents of the abortion bill as crazies and extremists, often through the brandishing of unrepresentative correspondence from some genuinely unhinged opponents of the bill, but also by the brandishing of opinion polls that purport to show the vast majority of the public are in favour of the bill.

It's true that 75pc or so of the public appear to back the bill, but when you dig a little deeper into the polls you also discover that barely half the public support the suicide ground which is the most contentious aspect of the bill.

Further adding to the groupthink is the quoting of 'factoids' by, among others, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

She told the Dail on Monday that the Irish abortion rate (4.1 per 1,000 women per annum) is lower than that of some European countries that permit abortion, but is higher than in certain other European countries that also permit abortion.

Would she like to list those countries? Our abortion rate is very low by European standards.

It is half the Dutch rate for example, and a quarter of the UK figure.

Ms Fitzgerald also referred to the Savita Halappanavar case as a justification for passing this bill. But that case has nothing to do with the bill's suicide provision.

Also, shouldn't she have cited the finding that the big contributor to Savita's death was the fact that the signs of a deadly and developing infection were missed by the hospital and they would have been missed with or without the law?

In addition, Ms Fitzgerald spoke about the issue of conscience in her speech pointing out that many members of the Oireachtas are voting for the bill with a clear conscience.

That's obviously correct.

But those voting for it in good conscience are not faced with loss of the party whip and de-selection at the next election.

This amounts to excommunication from Fine Gael.

It is much more draconian than anything the Catholic Church has to date inflicted on priests such as Fr Tony Flannery.

Indeed, Enda Kenny reminded reporters the other night that the expulsion (excommunication) of the rebels TDs from the parliamentary party was "automatic".

What does that remind you of?

IT is also interesting to compare the outraged reaction that greeted the censuring by the Vatican of Fr Flannery and others with the very muted reaction to the much greater punishment meted out to the four Fine Gael TDs who have so far lost the whip.

Those who have lost the party whip – Peter Mathews, Brian Walsh, Terence Flanagan and Billy Timmins and surely Lucinda Creighton shortly – deserve enormous credit for what they have done.

Apart from the principle they have stood up for, namely the right to life of pre-born children, they have shown us the true meaning of making a principled stand.

A principle means nothing unless you're willing to pay a price for it. They have.

Irish Independent

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