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David Quinn: A fight over abortion is the last thing we need right now

Apart from this or that provision, no one has yet demonstrated in any substantial way how our current constitutional arrangement is failing us

The way things are going, the 1980s will soon be fully reformed before our very eyes. We already have the recession and shortly we will have 'divisive' social referenda.

All of the main parties are committed to a children's rights referendum so it looks like we're going to get that come what may. This one doesn't need to be divisive. It will all depend on how much power it intends giving the State over children.

If the proposed amendment gives the State too much power, then expect a big and nasty fight and the Government losing.

There is also a chance of another abortion referendum, or else abortion legislation. The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights just before Christmas regarding our abortion law has put the issue back on the political agenda.

That ruling, let it be said, is not binding and does not establish a right to abortion but it has put some wind back into the sails of pro-choice politicians, aided and abetted by a mostly pro-abortion media.

The ruling faces us with three choices. We ignore it, just as we ignored our own Supreme Court's X-case decision of 1992. We legislate for the X case, which in practice would allow for abortion right up to the end of pregnancy, or else we try to rescind the X-case ruling through another referendum.

The only route that is not divisive is to continue ignoring the 1992 judgment as we have been doing for 19 years now.

That seems to be Fine Gael's preferred option, although Enda Kenny has said he would establish an All-Party Oireachtas Committee to examine the issue.

Labour, on the other hand, is pro-abortion, pure and simple. It wants to legislate for the X case, but on the 'News at One' on Tuesday Eamon Gilmore went further and told Sean O'Rourke, in effect, that he favours abortion based on the British model.

In practice, that is abortion on demand. In Britain, the mother's 'health' or 'life' are the grounds for abortion, but, in practice, a woman can abort her child for any reason because a compliant doctor will always find a 'health' ground to justify it.

Why anyone would want us to adopt a British-style abortion law is, of course, anyone's guess.

According to the World Health Organisation, Ireland is the safest place in the world for women to have children. We are eight times safer than Britain, for example.

Labour thinks it can shift us to a British-style abortion law without an abortion referendum, but perhaps that is because Labour wants to replace our present Constitution entirely, so presumably it wants the 1983 pro-life amendment removed altogether.

As first announced by Eamon Gilmore last April and confirmed in a new policy document released yesterday, Labour wants to convene a constitutional convention consisting of experts and community representatives who would come up with a brand spanking new constitution supposedly more suited to our times.

Gilmore doesn't like the current one because he thinks it smacks too much of the 1930s. What this has to do with anything is anyone's guess. The American Constitution dates back to 1787 but no one suggests that this, in itself, is an argument against it. Gilmore will have to come up with a more substantive argument than this if he wants us to ditch the present Constitution.

It's true that certain of its provisions are rather archaic, for example, the protection it offers to women in the home. But in that case have a referendum to change those provisions rather than the whole thing.

Apart from this or that provision, no one has yet demonstrated in any substantial way how our current constitutional arrangement is failing us.

On the whole, Bunreacht na hEireann has proven to be an excellent guarantor of our civil and political rights and strikes a rather nice balance between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

In addition, any constitutional convention organised by Labour would be dominated by left-wing academics and NGOs. They would come up with a constitution stuffed full of socio-economic rights like a right to health, to housing, to an adequate standard of living etc.

In theory, this sounds fine. In practice, it would hand power to the judiciary at the expense of our elected representatives to decide how scarce resources should be allocated between the provision of health, education, welfare and so on.

This would be fundamentally undemocratic. Decisions as to the allocation of scarce resources belong to the voters acting through their elected representatives.

What Labour wants is social democracy imposed not through the ballot box and rescindable at the next election, but through the Constitution and the courts. Such a Constitution would be much more egalitarian, but much less democratic.

Above all, what voters really want after the next General Election is a government that will fix the economy. But what they might get instead is one dominated by Labour that will push the economy into an even deeper mess through bad policies, while at the same time plunging the country into a wholly unnecessary and divisive debate over social issues.

Irish Independent