HERE we go again. Another day of national humiliation, another day of public mortification, another reason to hang our collective heads in shame. I make no judgment whatever on any decisions made in Galway Hospital. They remain beyond my view. What is clearly in view is the repeated failure of Dail Eireann to legislate decisively on an issue that is clearly going to remain with us, and could only have been avoided so far because dear old bloody Britain is next door to solve most of our abortion problems for us.
Look. This failure is not some departure from some norm of political accountability and moral clarity. The norm is failure. The norm is fudge. The norm is imprecision. The norm is that we only act on difficult issues when we are commanded to by Europe; so much for the "Republic".
You've probably forgotten that the only reason women have equal pay is because Europe ordered us to implement it. Incredible as it might now seem, back in the 1970s, the ICTU actually opposed equal pay – and whenever a powerful special interest group flexes its power in Ireland, politicians become strangely compliant.
Equally, our evil laws against male homosexual acts remained in place until Europe ordered us to remove them. So too did the laws against the sale of condoms. As recently as 1991, Virgin Megastore in Dublin was fined £400 for selling condoms to an undercover garda. Virgin Megastore appealed, of course – and the appeal judge increased the fine to £500, observing that he was letting Virgin off lightly. He warned that each further condom sale could lead to a £5,000 fine, with an additional fine of £250 for each single day that condoms remained on sale, with possible imprisonment for the shop manager; and this at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
The minister responsible for the law which made this ludicrous prosecution possible was that legendary celibate Charles Haughey: he who coined the immortal expression, "an Irish solution to an Irish problem".
Well, at least he acted: which is more than you can say for the hundreds of TDs who have been through Dail Eireann since the famous X Case in 1992, which concerned a teenager made pregnant through rape – in itself, yet another cause of excruciating national embarrassment. Now no one seriously considering the issue of abortion can trivialise the moral dimensions involved: but merely because something is complex does not excuse our politicians the obligation to address it.
However, knowing that abortion clinics in London are themselves a British solution to an Irish problem, and despite the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that we must have abortion laws, our politicians have been content to kick the ball into the long grass of inertia, silence and a select committee or two. For over 20 years, now.
Why? Well, the multi-seat constituency is partly responsible: TDs who stick their necks out on any controversial issue could well be destroyed – and not by opponents from another party, but by rival party colleagues. But there is a larger cultural characteristic, which defines our political classes: no coherent political will, and a chronic lack of moral courage. How else could the IRA have been able to run a campaign from this Republic for a quarter of a century, with IRA army council members living at home, and keeping office hours, as if theirs was a normal business? The long grass in this case was the Special Criminal Court, whose palsied deliberations from the 1970s on gave the appearance of action of a kind, thereby enabling the State to do as little as possible.
You might think that this is an irrelevance. It is not. The same abject failure of political will connects our repeated inability to create policies both to deal with hazardous pregnancies and with a terrorist insurgency. The two issues have much in common, for both involve deeply held feelings and both are intimately related to life and death. And in both categories, inactivity has been the preferred choice of our political classes, because that way, the unpleasant consequences of a decisive action could not be laid at their door. Any effective counter-terrorist policy must impinge on some civil liberties, and equally, any coherent policy on abortion would lead to difficult medical and moral choices. And of course, any pro-active policies on either matter might well have damaged the political careers of TDs who had taken an electorally brave stand. The end-result has been a political consensus of artful passivity and prudent silence; truly, an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
But sins of omission have consequences also. Last weekend, the Taoiseach commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen Massacre, an atrocity that was only made possible by the pitiful failure of this State to impose its will on the IRA terror-gangs in the Border areas, throughout almost the entire Troubles. Perhaps in five years' time, some future Taoiseach and our bishops can proudly commemorate the 25th anniversary of the X Case, at Dublin Airport, aboard a Ryanair Abortion Special to London.