Friday 18 October 2019

Varadkar should revoke free vote after referendum

Prospect of TDs defying the will of the electorate poses a threat to democracy, writes Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar should show political leadership and revoke the free vote his TDs have been given on abortion, should a referendum on supporting unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy be passed.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin should do the exact same thing in his party. If the country votes for unrestricted abortion, TDs who do not enact the will of the electorate should be sacked from their respective parties.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney should have already been sacked by the Taoiseach for suggesting politicians will do what ever they damn well like if the referendum passes. Coveney implied TDs might not legislate for unrestricted abortion even if that's what people will be voting on.

Coveney should not be sacked for his view on abortion but rather for suggesting politicians will decide what happens after the referendum, not voters. Legislation for unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks is being drafted by Minister for Health Simon Harris and will be published before the referendum. If voters want that legislation enacted they should be asked to repeal the Eighth Amendment on the condition that will happen. They may not want that to happen but the options should be clear.

But back to political leadership on abortion. The so-called 'conscience vote' on abortion is nothing more than political cowardice. Political leaders do not want the hassle involved in reaching a consensus within their parties on an important area of public policy, which would make you think they have very little chance of convincing an entire nation. Politics is the art of reaching consensus through debate and negotiation.

People join political parties because they believe in the principles and ideologies underpinning the organisation's history. Within these parties the said same people seek to influence stances on policy. Thorny issues are debated h, agreement is reached, if necessary through democratic votes, and party policy is born.

The policies are open to change but, while in place, they are supported by the party members. Voters then vote for party representative based on those policies in the hope, and it is only hope, that these policies are legislated for. Abortion, we are told, is such a sensitive issue that our political leaders cannot be expected to take a party position on it. No one can tell a TD what to vote for while in the ballot box. But when they are elected to the parliament by the electorate they should be expected to do their bidding.

So it is reprehensible to think the people could pass a referendum seeking to have unrestricted abortion introduced and legislators could sit in the Dail and block the legislation. I'm not advocating a vote on abortion either way but the idea that government TDs could prevent the will of the people is worrying. In this country we like to look down our noses at the UK's Conservative Party and the issues they have on Brexit but a very similar scenario could develop here should the referendum pass, which is highly unlikely at present.

Varadkar will look as weak as British Prime Minister Theresa May if his TDs defy him on abortion as her MPs do on Brexit.

Sunday Independent

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