Friday 28 October 2016

A note of caution for the President's wife

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

President Michael D Higgins's wife Sabina Photo: Anthony Woods
President Michael D Higgins's wife Sabina Photo: Anthony Woods

Since the early 1980s the question of abortion has convulsed the Irish nation on several occasions. Lamentably, some of what has passed for debate on the issue has at times amounted to mere personalised and hurtful abuse.

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The incoming Government is pledged to face the issue again via a citizens' assembly. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which was voted in in September 1983, and which has been the subject of periodic controversies since then, will again be scrutinised.

It is to be hoped that our next efforts to address this difficult and divisive issue will at least be measured and respectful of everyone involved. Those involved in the discourse will note with interest the contribution of Ms Sabina Higgins, wife of Uachtaráin na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, to a discussion in recent days.

Ms Higgins was addressing a debate of midwives organised by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland.

She addressed the difficult topic of fatal foetal abnormalities, which is a key issue in the upcoming debate. Ms Higgins expressed her dismay that women in this position were obliged to carry the pregnancy to full term.

"These are really outrages against women and outrages against the world and nature," Ms Higgins said.

Many people will champion the right of the President's wife, the same as any other citizen, to freedom of speech.

But the reality is that Ms Higgins, the President's wife, holds a special position in Irish public life. She is by definition closely associated with the President, and the high office of President, which has a central role in our Constitution.

For those good reasons, her contributions to this debate must be measured and sparing as we enter this vital phase.

New Government must avoid political paralysis

It took all of 10 weeks of pulling and dragging to put it together. And, in the end, it was bundled over the line in a most unedifying fashion. Let us all, however, now avoid undue levels of naysaying. The reality is that there is a huge workload awaiting our new Government.

There is the shameful crisis of homelessness, and problems at many levels in housing. Our health services are beset by many difficulties which urgently require attention.

Industrial relations are like a tinderbox as people who have suffered for the past eight years are seeking their share of the fruits of economic recovery. The list goes on and what the various problem sectors all have in common is an urgent demand for brave political decisions.

The last thing we need now is a weak and indecisive Government. But those of us who closely observed events at Leinster House last Friday may fear that a Government afflicted by political paralysis may be what we actually get.

All of us have been critical of the slow and sometimes lacklustre way our politicians went about government-making. But the political reality now is that we have a Government which most closely resembles the political configuration delivered by Ireland's voters on February 26.

The minority coalition is led by Fine Gael, the biggest party, be it ever so battered compared to the previous election. It has strong involvement from Independent TDs following an election which returned the largest number of such deputies in the State's history.

Now these Government members will be judged by their political courage and radical action.

Irish Independent

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