Saturday 24 February 2018

The Coalition does give a fig - a fig leaf, of course

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

There's a wardrobe somewhere inside Government Buildings, wherein resides a variety of useful garments. There's a hat, for throwing into the ring whenever an election/heave is underway. There is also a vest, close to which one keeps one's cards during run-ups to budgets and reshuffles.

And then there is the one-size-fits-all fig leaf, an invaluable accessory which successive governments frequently sport in an effort to spare their blushes.

This fig leaf can cover a multitude - it can be a legal fig leaf ("We can't do that because it isn't legal"); financial ("We had to pay bondholders because the Troika made us do it"), or constitutional ("We can't do a thing about it, because it's unconstitutional").

The Government sighs sorrowfully, reaches into the wardrobe for a piece of neckwear. "Look, our hands are tied," it bleats.

The fig leaf was paraded in fine style in the Dáil chamber yesterday, during a debate on Clare Daly's private members' bill on fatal foetal abnormalities. The proposed legislation put forward by the Independent TD doesn't seek to open that dreaded portal, The Floodgates, to allow abortion clinics stalk the land.

On the contrary, Clare's bill seeks to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. That's it. Not in cases of rape or incest and most certainly not because it's a crisis pregnancy.

It's a modest proposal, aimed at sparing dozens of women and their families the extra agony and shame of being forced to slip from the country like thieves in the night and travel to England in order to have an unviable foetus or dead baby removed from their womb.

But the Government refuses to accept Clare's amendment, deeming it "unconstitutional" on the advice of the Attorney General, Máire Whelan.

"The Bill is unconstitutional," stated Leo Varadkar, much to the frustration of the dozen opposition deputies in the chamber.

The anger spilled out of Clare as she appealed to the Health Minister. "I'm heartily sick of the nauseating hypocrisy we have had to endure in this House. There have been shallow words of sympathy and tears from deputies, 50 of whom are on the record of the House as saying something needs to be done. If people in here do not do it, who will do it?" she demanded.

Beside her, Mick Wallace was even more forthright about the Government's constitutional fig leaf. "Horses***," he told Leo.

But tragedies involving lost babies have touched so many families, including one member of the Dáil. In a moving and dignified speech, an emotional Richard Boyd Barrett spoke of his desolation 13 years ago when he and his partner discovered she was carrying a baby girl diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.

"It was a beautiful spring day exactly like today when we had to bury her. Myself, her mother and her two brothers think about her every day," he told the quiet chamber. "We have a tree, which a friend of ours kindly gave us at the time, planted on Killiney Hill to remind us of her and we go up there every year to remember her and think about how she might still be here," he said, the pain of his loss undimmed by the passage of the years.

Richard recounted the desperation of himself and his partner when they received the diagnosis. "We couldn't get our heads around that idea. We went to the ends of the earth from geneticists to doctors, got first, second and third opinions and looked at alternative medicine to see if it had some different perspective," he recalled.

Leo listened intently to the debate.

He explained that while he was pro-life, he believed that the 8th amendment of the Constitution is "too restrictive" and that he would be advocating that Fine Gael should campaign for its repeal in the next election.

But the Government isn't going to do anything about it now. And it most certainly won't be holding a referendum on whether to change the constitution to allow Clare Daly's amendment.

Yes, the Coalition legislated on the X-case, but only because the tragedy of Savita forced them to do so, after 20 years of craven avoidance of the European court ruling by previous administrations.

Never mind that polls have shown that there is considerable public support for terminations in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities. The Government knows what's best for us.

And the Government insists it's unconstitutional. Because the fig leaf told them so.

Irish Independent

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