Monday 26 September 2016

Sabina Higgins's intervention on abortion was unprecedented

Published 12/05/2016 | 02:30

Sabina Higgins (Picture: Tony Gavin)
Sabina Higgins (Picture: Tony Gavin)

The unprecedented public intervention on abortion by Sabina Higgins raises important concerns.

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I know personally of the quiet and constructive work for cross-border and cross-community relations by Martin McAleese while his spouse Mary was President of Ireland.

But I am at a loss to recall even one occasion when he somehow felt entitled to preach or advocate in public - either about that or about anything else - much less about any highly contentious and current political debates.

By her public intrusion into the extremely complex and highly sensitive debate on abortion, Ms Higgins has seriously damaged the office of President.

She was not at that event as just another private citizen. Nor did she either attend on the basis of any professional qualifications or expertise from her previous life.

But her public comments got attention for one reason only - the office held by the man to whom she is married.

There is no role under Irish law as 'First Lady'. And the role of her spouse, who holds a defined constitutional office, is certainly not to be partisan.

When Ms Higgins attends any event as a presidential spouse, she has no right to make partisan political comments of any kind.

I write as somebody who was vehemently and very actively opposed to the Eighth Amendment, and who has fought it passionately and publicly.

My principled objection to her unprecedented intervention has nothing whatsoever to do with either [a] that particular topic, nor [b] with the specific content of her public remarks.

Tom Carew

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Speaking for those without a voice

Sabina Higgins's remarks regarding the availability of abortion to mothers who receive devastating news while pregnant regarding the life expectancy of their unborn babies have been well covered in the media.

Any woman who hears that her baby will not live, or will not live for long is entitled to feel outraged, and to feel that outrage keenly.

So I find myself asking, how does a modern, caring, inclusive society help and support mothers who hear this devastating news? Does a modern society that espouses equality see the unborn as less equal in value? Here in Ireland should our first response be to repeal the Eighth Amendment? Ms Higgins, and many others, would like us to choose this option. This would allow legislation for broad access to abortion to be introduced fairly quickly. But are there other options?

Should we provide grief counselling for the mother and other family members? We all know someone who has lost a baby, often very early on in pregnancy, and people need to grieve and deal with the loss.

Should we be funding perinatal hospices? We have heard many stories from families who have spent precious minutes, hours or days with their children before their short lives ended.

Should we precipitate the inevitable death of a sick child by abortion? Should we shorten their lives because they are going to die anyway? Should we acknowledge the negative effects abortion can have on the mother's mental health? Should the decision be left to the mother alone?

Should we have an honest conversation about all of these issues?

It is easy to scream outrage. It is much harder to grapple with the painful realities which surround abortion. The irony, of course, is that speaking up for a weaker person's right to life is now seen as outrageous by some.

Mary O'Byrne


Redress the gender balance

When you see the stats it really makes you think: Women account for 52pc of the population of Ireland. However, when the 31st Dáil ended only 16pc of our elected representatives were female and since the foundation of the State in 1918 only 95 women had been elected to Dáil Éireann.

Of these ladies, only 15 had sat round the Cabinet table. Yet the Attorney General, Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice were all women. In Election 2016 in a reduced Dáil of 158 representatives from 166 there were 35 women elected, which constitutes 22pc of the TDs.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny had indicated that he would appoint an equal number of men and women to his Cabinet but only four ladies appeared behind him as he made a point of leading his new appointees into the hallowed chamber last Friday. Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Katherine Zappone took their places on the government bench and Regina Doherty is the new Government Chief Whip.

So to redress the balance will Enda appoint the requisite number to his team of junior ministers when he announces them shortly? If Enda is true to his word then there is no shortage of ability in his own party.

If we are to believe in all this talk of 'New Politics' then let's start thinking outside the box, Taoiseach.

Mike Geraghty


Let British decide themselves

Dan O'Brien, among others, have stated it would be a disastrous event if the people of the UK voted to leave the EU, with an almost apocalyptic outcome for all concerned. Stating any potential loss to both the Irish and UK economies in the event of a vote to leave the EU is a matter of opinion but still misses the point of holding the referendum in the first place.

Trying to intervene in a foreign nation's referendum in such terms is profoundly patronising.

You would imagine the citizens and institutions of Ireland would appreciate that 'interference' from another country would be recognised more than most.

When British PM David Cameron promised a referendum, he and his Conservative government were convinced that they would negotiate and extract 'ring-fenced' changes and reforms from fellow member states within the EU.

He did not get them and largely failed in his protracted talks and meetings with those who clearly have no real intention of reviewing and implementing the changes urgently needed within the EU.

Those who predict doom for the UK if it were to choose to leave the EU clearly have short and selective memories.

When the UK joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in 1990, it precipitated one of the worst recessions in the country. with interest rates rocketing past 15pc, record home repossessions, business collapses and inevitable unemployment.

So leave the decision-making to the British people and concentrate on our issues, of which there are many.

Paul Kennedy

Tuam, Co Galway

Irish Independent

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