Monday 22 December 2014

Backbench exile would be like slow death for Lucinda

Published 09/07/2013 | 17:00

THE truly historic decision to finally close St Patrick's institution for young offenders last week was eclipsed by the long-running political drama about the X-Case legislation.

Not for the first time, the rights of unborn children appear to outweigh the rights of those living. I don't recall any high-profile resignations or organised rallies about the human rights of children in care or detention over the years.

Two women, Lucinda and Savita, will loom large in the torturous narrative of Irish abortion law. I was listening to Praveen Halappanavar's gentle voice on the radio when the leaflet from the pro-life campaign was delivered.

Titled "Let them Live", it pictured a cute newborn wrapped up securely maternity-ward style. The message was stark and as usual misleading: 'Government's abortion legislation is dangerous and unjust'; 'Bill does cruel things to babies'; 'Life-ending not life-saving'; 'Opens up abortion on request'.

All of this expensive propaganda is aimed to heap pressure on TDs as the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill makes its rocky way through the Oireachtas.

The vote at second stage was easily carried by a large majority (85pc in favour). Those who voted against the bill will undoubtedly wear their opposition as a badge of honour. It was remarkable that a majority of Galway TDs voted against the measure; a significant act of conservative defiance by elected representatives of that constituency.

Having initiated proceedings against the HSE, Praveen is dissatisfied with the accounting for his wife's death. The inquest verdict was like a leaky boat. Although it found systemic failure, for which the hospital has apologised, no person was held responsible and some critical witnesses did not give evidence.

Some evidence was disputed and denied. Only the evidential rigour of discovery and cross-examination of witnesses in a court can explore and explain the outstanding discrepancies.

Praveen expressed ongoing distress and grief at the loss of his beloved wife which has plunged his family into a political and legal tragedy and global media attention. Despite receiving abusive mail to the contrary, he declares he has no wider agenda other than to vindicate his wife's life.

That he is a non-national in the midst of all this legal and political drama must be very isolating and difficult for him. He bears no hostility for the Irish people and acknowledges the kindness of friends and the general public. Would an Irish person have the resolve to carry on this battle? It would be easier just to slide away and try to heal.

How strange that an Indian couple resident so briefly in Ireland, a rare thing in itself, should be the catalyst for the long overdue legislation to protect women's lives when two constitutional rights collide in real time.

It is as though their foreignness shone a light on our domestic fudge and, even, hypocrisy. Praveen's loss of Savita and their unborn baby have forced us to face some hard and unspoken realities. We are awakened, finally, to the cruelty of compelling Irish women to leave Ireland to medically terminate non-viable foetuses.

We are reminded about the thousands of distressed women and even children, some of whom have been raped, who must travel to the UK for abortions. This legislation is so minimalist that the Taoiseach can honestly claim it simply clarifies but does not alter the existing law.

The public are way ahead of the body politic on this matter as polls indicate high levels of support for allowing abortion in cases of rape incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

It's a good job this bill does not have to be put to the people. It could conceivably be defeated by a combination of conservatives who feel it goes too far, and by liberals who know it is so modest as to be meagre.

As for Lucinda's dilemma, her amendments to the bill are such that for her there is no way back. To exit her ministerial post is a high price for such conservative legislation in my view. She has fallen for, and believes, all the absolutist inflexible rhetoric of the pro-life movement and is now seen as its political champion.

In this, she is undoubtedly sincere. But to suggest allowing separate legal representation for the unborn in the maternity ward to challenge termination requests under the act is a 20-year throwback to the disastrous X-Case intervention by the then Attorney General; it is an irrational and regressive suggestion.

Her choice tomorrow, therefore, will not be an impulsive one – she has proven political talents and experience. But the prospect of languishing on the backbenches after a heady and exemplary stint as Minister for European affairs would be akin to a slow death for Lucinda. Everything we know about her suggests that this is not her design.

Irish Independent

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