Saturday 21 September 2019

Television review: The abortion referendum is not all that complicated....


Last week's Claire Byrne Live referendum special
Last week's Claire Byrne Live referendum special
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Since almost every discussion on the abortion referendum has included a line about how terribly complicated it all is, I have formed the view that is usually the correct one in these situations - that the opposite must be true.

How complicated is this? A small, but determined force of Catholic activists, have been striving for years, for decades even, to maintain the "special" position of their particular religion.

The issue - which happens to be abortion in this case - is secondary to the overall vision, which is that of a Constitution in which "Catholic teaching" is enshrined in a position of superiority. We know it's not all about abortion, because the same people have been campaigning on these "moral" issues in general for a long time. They have been against the "progressive" position on contraception, on divorce, on homosexuality, on anything else which is frowned upon by our old friend, the "Catholic teaching".

So the energy that is connecting these campaigns is what can best be described as Roman Catholicism.

That's not very complicated is it? The No campaign has within it a fiercely-committed religious element which seeks to advance its belief-system, in this case by preserving an article of the Constitution which itself is heavily influenced by that belief-system. Not complicated.

But seemingly it was too complicated for the participants in Claire Byrne Live, who managed to get through one of the longest arguments ever held on television on this matter, with not a mention of religion of any kind - an argument which went on for about 90 minutes, and still they couldn't get to the songs by the great Johnny Duhan and Roisin O that they'd promised.

How did they do that?

I wish I knew. Indeed I believe that we witnessed some sort of a miracle last Monday night, a wild and terrible battle about abortion in Ireland in which nobody mentioned Catholicism. It's the sort of thing that you'd imagine could only happen if they were trying to raise money for charity, a kind of an abortion talkathon, maybe an attempt to get into the Guinness World Records for the longest-ever public debate about abortion in which nobody mentions the elephant - or, if you like, the major world religion - in the room.

However they managed it, there is no doubt that underplaying the supernatural aspects, or actually not alluding to them at all, would favour the No side. Because when we're talking about religion, the next thing we're talking about is the fact that the main religion in this country has had, shall we say, a troubled relationship with issues of "morality" in recent decades. At which point their side is losing, and will continue to lose, all day long.

Because when we're talking about that particular religion, at some point in the course of the evening we're bound to be talking about notorious controversies which would tend to undermine any official contribution they might make.

But nobody was talking about any religion. Instead, the general direction of the Claire Byrne Live debate, drained of its faith-based aspects, was tending more towards the area of how abortion might involve the killing of babies.

This too, is not as complicated as it might seem.

Since most polls are saying that the majority of us do not accept the straightforward assertion that babies are being killed, this too is clearly a matter that is heavily influenced by one's belief-system. One's... what is the word I'm looking for here? One's... religion. Yes, that's it.

Thus the No side will frequently decry the idea of mere "politicians" adjudicating on such grave matters, though they would arguably not have the same problem with, say, an archbishop or two on the case. So it's really not that complicated - it's that old-time religion, fighting for its life.

You could wrap it up there, leaving plenty of time for Johnny Duhan, and plenty of time for Roisin O.

Claire Byrne Live (RTE1)


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