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Garret's 'constitutional crusade' is still puzzling

GARRET FitzGerald, who took office as Taoiseach in June 1981, puzzled the nation by announcing a "constitutional crusade" -- without explaining what he would crusade for or against.

The question remains unanswered, and State papers for 1981 supply little or no useful detail.

It has always been assumed that FitzGerald essentially meant permitting divorce and revising Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.

The first assumption provoked predictable reactions, including some from perhaps surprising quarters. Des O'Malley, then regarded as a likely future Fianna Fail leader, opposed changing Articles 2 or 3.

Sile de Valera, then a Fianna Fail deputy, attacked the Taoiseach on a wider front in a speech at Kilmichael, Co Cork.

She criticised him for "failure to speak out" on behalf of nationalists in Northern Ireland, and said it was naive to think that progress could be achieved by getting rid of the two Articles.

Dr James Kavanagh, auxiliary bishop of Dublin, said he was "hurt" because the Taoiseach had called the Republic a sectarian State. But the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, took a more relaxed view. He said that we had only starting thinking in 1968-69 about how we could make ourselves attractive to Northern Ireland, and forecast that divorce could be legalised within 10 years.

Abortion, soon to become an enormous issue, raised more intense feelings and attracted more correspondence to the Taoiseach.

To the letters he received, he replied that "the government is unalterably opposed to the legalisation of abortion and is committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure that an appropriate constitutional amendment is brought forward without delay".

A young Fine Gael deputy called Enda Kenny forwarded to the Taoiseach, in the usual manner, a letter on the subject which he had received from a constituent.

His accompanying note read: "Kindly let me have the government's position re attached."

Evidently the future Taoiseach was a man of few words in 1981.

Irish Independent