Thursday 21 November 2019

James Downing: From Savita to Lucinda: The battle to win hearts

A Vigil For Life Rally
A Vigil For Life Rally

James Downing

ONE way or the other, this issue has been dragging its way through Dail Eireann for the past eight months. It is a subset of something which has recurred, too often with shameful personalised abuse masquerading as national debate, at various times for fully 30 years.

By 10pm today the draft abortion legislation should have cleared Dail Eireann, bringing things close to a political resolution of sorts. But a month ago we learnt that the Irish people had moved beyond the political classes, as an Ipsos-MRBI survey showed overwhelming backing not just for this legislation, but for more far-reaching measures.

Within the bubble of Leinster House, there is huge emphasis, gossip and speculation on the political consequences of this drama, which has been played out there since last November.

But it must also be acknowledged that the politicians who are laying career prospects on the line are the first to admit that this is ultimately not the issue.

The TDs and senators have been grappling with an elemental issue of principle which has not been easy and has caused serious division right across the globe.

The entire issue was undoubtedly stoked and official responses speeded up by the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway last October. It was the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving mothers that finally ensured the nation and its politicians once and for all confronted this issue.

But the realpolitik questions have centred on a compromise tabled by this Fine Gael/Labour Coalition, whether it will work politically – and whether the nation can move on, for a time at least. And, barring accidents and last-minute unforeseen disasters, the answers to those three questions are Yes, Yes and Yes.

This was Enda Kenny's first big test as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader and, quite simply, it looks like a win for him. Throughout he has shown political skill and considerable steel, above all, not wavering from his insistence on a party whipped vote from start to finish.

All signs now are that Mr Kenny will deliver legislation required by the Supreme Court since February 1992, doing something which five previous governments failed to do.

The outcome has to be recorded also as a win for the Labour Party and Eamon Gilmore, who have had few good days in the past two years and especially since the very early days of this Coalition.

Labour has quietly but forcefully insisted on this outcome, it has got it, and it is entitled to some political kudos.

It is the outcome of the party's own tough internal battles and 10 years of taking a clear and unambiguous national stance on a tricky issue with which not all its members are entirely comfortable.

Fianna Fail has been very scattered in its handling of this topic, with an enforced 'free vote' leaving party leader Micheal Martin looking isolated and weakened.

Sinn Fein also has been left with internal housekeeping issues around its talented Meath West TD, Peadar Toibin, who defied the party whip by voting No. But the political spotlight today will be entirely on EU Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, who, as things stand, is likely to burn brightly and briefly.

The fate of Ms Creighton and the other Fine Gael refuseniks will be the focus of many internal party battles and will pose very big internal challenges for Mr Kenny and his lieutenants in the coming weeks and months.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss