Tuesday 30 August 2016

Legislate now, or be damned

Published 18/11/2012 | 05:00

Vincent Browne put it very crudely – and correctly – speaking on his own programme on TV3 last Thursday night. "Nobody is pro-abortion," he said. There are many things about which nobody is "pro" which take place, within the confines of the law, in our society every day. Out of necessity. Of course, nobody is "pro" abortion. But in a civilised society, nobody should have the right to deny half the population the right to make a decision, always agonising , always in extremis, always in an area of imperfect judgement, which they consider absolutely necessary.

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In five short days, parliament and people have been convulsed by the abortion issue. And once more, as in 1982 and 1992, we have the spectacle of men, old and young, dancing on the head of a fallopian tube. Is legislating for the X Case opening the door to abortion on demand? Is legislating for the X Case enough – is it the doctors' right to choose by any other name? And while legislators might like it, is this a fair choice to put on doctors?

In 1986, speaking ahead of the ill-fated divorce referendum, one of the last of the Fine Gael public intellectuals, John Kelly, engaged in a crie de couer over a government that ''should even think of ... indulging in a year-long cat-fight about divorce''. Nothing epitomises the endemic adolescence of an Irish political system, which seems resolute only in a collective refusal to grow up, more than the relevance of Kelly's analysis to the consequences of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. It is, hopefully, still not too late for this debilitated State to avoid another dispiriting cat-fight over our ongoing inability to deal in a mature fashion with such 'moral issues'.

For this to be avoided, we must firstly not lose sight of the tragic fact that a young woman on the cusp of motherhood is dead. Out of respect, if that concept actually exists within our elites, an account must be rendered to her family and the citizens as to how this happened. It would be no bad thing if the rights to due process of the medical staff involved were respected too. And far more swiftly than the current leisurely three-month time-frame. As has been tragically demonstrated, procrastination is a killer.

Any ongoing national discussion should also be conducted with a great deal more dignity and honesty than the brawling disputations of the past week. But, whilst the spectacle of the deceased Savita Halappanavar being used to advance competing ideological agendas represents an atrocious coarsening of national debate, decorum should not stop us from engaging with the political issues her death has unveiled. There are some who claim that we should keep politics out of this debate. These, however, are cunning fools who actually use such a device as cover to hide their own moral cowardice for abortion, dealing as it does with life or death issues of human rights, is the most political of issues.

Politics is also applicable to the current debacle because the Princess-Diana style public fury over the death of Savita Halappanavar it is yet another consequence of a systemic failure by Irish politicians to do their job. Just like the collapse of our banks, the endemic vices of cowardice, indolence and the desire to play to the gallery have created the avoidable perfect storm of an individual tragedy, a national convulsion and international humiliation.

Sadly, despite the straightforward honesty of James Reilly and Eamon Gilmore, the will-of-the-wisp responses of the Taoiseach, have raised concerns that the old politics of a nod, wink and the sly choice of the easiest road is still in the ascendant. If this Government is any different to its predecessors, Mr Kenny must move swiftly to provide certainty and legislate or be damned.

Sunday Independent

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