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Mary McAleese has 'no intention' of going to confession after voting Yes in abortion referendum

She spoke out following comments by Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran


Former President Mary McAleese.

Former President Mary McAleese.

Former President Mary McAleese.

Former president Mary McAleese has said she has not gone to confession after voting Yes in last month’s abortion referendum and has “no intention whatsoever” of doing so.

She spoke out following comments by Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran that Catholics who had voted Yes, intending that abortion would be the outcome of their vote, should go to confession.

Appearing at a conference at the weekend, organised by the Catholic lay group We Are Church Ireland in Dublin’s Gonzaga College, Dr McAleese told former TV3 journalist Ursula Halligan: “I had no hesitation at the end of the day when it came to the vote – I absolutely voted Yes.”

She added that, since voting, she has not gone to confession to repent her decision and has “no intention whatsoever” of doing so.

Asked about Bishop Doran’s stance on confession, Dr McAleese said: “These are man-made rules, these are not statements of an infallible Church.”

She said the Yes votes in the same-sex marriage referendum and the abortion referendum by ordinary people who were baptised into that Church and are subject to the canon rules of that Church was a statement by these Catholics that their freedom of conscience trumps the curial Church’s idea of what is a mortal sin.


Dr McAleese told how she had originally supported the introduction of the Eighth Amendment.

She explained that when the referendum on its insertion into the Constitution was held in 1983, she supported it because there was no statute-based law and she saw it as an opportunity to clarify the situation legally even if it was for very limited abortion where a woman’s life was in danger.

“I have always regarded myself as someone who would have valued the life of the mother and also the life of the little baby,” she said.

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However, she added that the report into the death of Savita Halappanavar “implicates the Eighth Amendment” and that “came between me and my peace of mind”, specifically as she had met Ms Halappanavar, whom she described as “pure wonderful”.

“We have to give those who have to operate the laws clear sight and ways of dealing with these issues,” she said. 

Dr McAleese met Ms Halappanavar when she was organising an event for dental students at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

“She introduced herself to me as a dental person as she knew that I am, unfortunately, surrounded by dentists,” Ms McAleese joked in reference to her husband Martin’s  profession.

“She was dressed in the most beautiful Indian costume – she was a beautiful girl.”

Asked how the meeting and what subsequently transpired affected her, Dr McAleese said: “I’ve a daughter around the same age who has had two babies and you like to think that if your daughter is pregnant that all will go well and that you are not going to follow two coffins...”

Meanwhile, Dr McAleese also revealed that she will take part in her first gay pride march in Dublin at the end of this month.

The Dublin Pride march, which takes place on June 30, is themed ‘We Are Family’, a reference to the Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families that will take place in Dublin this August.

She said she will be taking part in the march with “my gay son and his wonderful husband”, as well as her husband, daughters, some of her brothers and sisters and maybe even her elderly mother – if they can organise a wheelchair for her.

“We are family and that is what we will be showcasing – showcasing Ireland at its absolute best,” she said.

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