Male and middle-aged: FF damaged by Seanad farce
Published 19/07/2013 | 05:00
THE outbursts from Fianna Fail senators in the Upper Chamber during the important abortion legislation debate have been stomach-churning and scary to say the least – and a horrible throwback to the worst sort of Irish conservative politics from the past.
Party leader Micheal Martin must be mortified by the contributions from some of his senators.
Perhaps we have not come as far as we thought.
In fact, the Seanad madness this week – coupled with the outrageous and sexist comments from Senator David Norris, and Fianna Fail Senator Marc McSharry's pathetic performance last month when he accused the Taoiseach of "clowning around Europe" and "urinating on the Seanad" – is as good an argument as any to have the House abolished.
The contributions of two Fianna Fail senators in particular over the last few days stand out and if they are representative, then the party is to be pitied and its future prospects called into question.
First, we had Senator Jim Walsh's gruesome and graphic description of abortion in the Seanad that left colleagues speechless and aghast.
I am between two minds about repeating them here, but it is important that the people of Ireland know the type of over-the-top and irresponsible comments that are being made by some parliamentarians in the chamber. They are on the public record and can be accessed on the Oireachtas website. In fact, here is the link if you want to go in and see the debate in full yourself. http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%2
On Tuesday Senator Walsh described abortion as a "medieval, barbaric procedure". He quoted Dr Anthony Levatino, a US obstetrician who performed as many as 1,200 abortions but re-evaluated his position after his daughter died in a tragic car accident.
It went along these lines. "Your patient has been feeling her baby kick for the last two months or more but now she is asleep on an operating room table. . . The first task is remove the laminaria that had earlier been placed in the cervix to dilate it sufficiently to allow the procedure you are about to perform. . . The first instrument you reach for is a 14-French suction catheter. . . Picture yourself introducing this catheter through the cervix and instructing the nurse to turn on the suction machine. . . With suction complete, look for your Sopher clamp. . . This instrument is for grasping and crushing tissue. When it gets hold of something, it does not let go."
He also branded women who have had abortions as alcohol and drug abusers, promiscuous and suicidal. What an insult to any woman who has had to have an abortion. Quoting from a booklet by Dr Pravin Thevathasan, Senator Walsh ranted: "Broken relationships are common. Flashbacks may occur, sometimes when passing hospitals or clinics. There may be alcohol abuse, or drug abuse or sexual promiscuity and other forms of addiction."
This was followed up by more madness from Fianna Fail Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, who stunned colleagues across all parties when he suggested allowing abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities was "depriving future Special Olympics athletes of being born".
He claimed allowing terminations in such circumstances could lead to babies with Down Syndrome being "left to die on sterilised trays".
"I know many people who have Down Syndrome who play an active part in citizenship within this country and who are representing this country in the Special Olympics. I think it's important if we are having this debate that we acknowledge that."
What an astounding contribution – to suggest there is any link between disability and fatal abnormalities, especially as the House was preparing for a discussion the same day on the Special Olympics.
Labour Senator Mary Moran, whose son Cillian (15) is a Special Olympics competitor, was appalled at his comments and asked yesterday for the senator to withdraw them. Incredibly, he didn't even stay in the Senate on Wednesday night to participate in the Special Olypmics debate.
So what does it all mean for Micheal Martin?
He made a virtue of offering his Fianna Fail colleagues in the Oireachtas a free vote, but, left to their own devices, 14 of 19 Fianna Fail TDs voted no to the ground-breaking legislation, and 10 of his 14 members in the Seanad followed suit.
While Mr Martin's future as leader seems to be secure for the present, he cannot look upon the performance of his party with anything but anguish and dismay. It also reminds him that there is a maverick element in Fianna Fail who don't sound like the sort of people that are going to bring the party to the promised land of a return to Government in the foreseeable future.
He has miserably failed to bring his party with him to support the legislation. His gamble to concede Fianna Fail's first ever free vote for its TDs and senators has seriously backfired.
Yes, I accept that many parliamentary party members have genuine strong views on this human and moral issue but it is clear that many – including those extremists who spoke so gruesomely in the Senate this week – are playing serious politics, looking at how their chances of being re-elected are best served.
Despite his efforts to re-focus and modernise the party, Mr Martin must face up to the fact that the opposite has happened. More than ever now Fianna Fail looks rural, male and middle-aged.
All the hard work of Mr Martin in the last two years to recover after the battering the party took from Fine Gael and Labour on the banking issue has been demolished with how the party has performed in the Senate this week on the abortion issue.
It is Enda Kenny who is coming out looking strong. He ruled out a free vote on the abortion legislation with unflinching determination. Yes, he lost a few of his soldiers along the way – but he has emerged intact.
There are very rocky times ahead for the Fianna Fail leader. He needs to rid his party of the mad mavericks and to get with the real world.