Sunday 17 November 2019

Abortion genie back out of the bottle and poised to dominate Dail in 2015

Already, its a case of new year, new crisis as abortion replaces Irish Water as the political hot potato that's set to haunt the Coalition

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Picture: Frank Mc Grath
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Picture: Frank Mc Grath

John Drennan

When the Coalition scrambled over the line of the old year in the manner of a nun who had just been dragged backwards through a blackthorn hedge,it might have hoped for some respite.

Instead, after less than a week, the New Year's first major crisis is already hissing at our poor battered combination.

After what appears to have consisted of twelve months of water-boarding (in every sense of the word) in 2014, the resurrection of an utterly unwanted furore about abortion will undoubtedly strike the Coalition as being unfair.

Sadly, as with the rest of its woes, the return of this nemesis is a disaster of its own making.

In the wake of their jerry-built response to the Savita tragedy, the political hierarchy was united over the desirability of sending the barking dog of our unreconstructed abortion regime into the political kennel.

Instead, the beast is back prowling the political moors, sending all little boys and girls, particularly of the Fine Gael stripe, cowering under the blankets.

So far the united response of the political hierarchy has been to shoo the terrible thing away.

Leo Varadkar, in fairness, came out and took the clear and "considered" position that our legislation is not right and not how it should be.

But, after his coruscating critique about the chilling consequences of our current regime, when it came to the rather more delicate issue of what to do about it, Leo resembled the sort of man who flees from the dance-floor just as the band announces the 'ladies choice' set.

Mr Varadkar might have been correct in noting the Government had "no electoral mandate" to take out the eighth amendment, but his political positioning resembled a judge who refuses to admit new evidence to a case.

It also left a politician who discreetly models himself on Donagh O'Malley wide open to the observation that we would have been waiting a long time for free education had Mr O'Malley taken a similarly tepid position.

In fairness to Leo, Lemass-style inducements to political courage were slow in arriving as Mr Kenny provided us with another patented example of the 'now you don't see him, now you still don't see him' school of leadership.

Meanwhile, our more subtle Tanaiste treated the voters to another master-class in her capacity in telling us how things should be. Once again, the slightly important codicil of how we might actually get there was omitted.

Despite its most anxious hopes, the outwardly bad news for the Coalition is that it is a long way from being out of the gap on this issue.

Within Labour, which is facing a critical conference in February, the Frankenstein of the abortion issue is a wound that is unlikely to be left alone.

Labour needs defining points of difference from Fine Gael if it is to survive, let alone thrive.

Should a revolt gather within the party on this issue, not even the loquacious cunning of Burton will be able to wrap the issue up in a silken thread of verbiage.

Intriguingly, within Fine Gael, too, sharp divisions are beginning to emerge between a party hierarchy steeped in the aspic of Jack Lynch's Ireland and a newer questioning breed of TD.

Having lost half a dozen TDs for being too liberal on abortion, 'Dear Leader' Enda can hardly afford to lose more for being too conservative.

Ultimately, the greatest difficulty the Coalition will face is that, once again, it is utterly out of touch with the voters on yet another issue.

Enda may for all of his grandstanding on Cloyne still quiver at the hiss of a bishop's soutane bustling down the corridor.

The citizens, however, want an end to the current grotesque relic of the age of GUBU.

It is all an unwelcome scenario for a Coalition that is already stressed out by its endemic unpopularity.

This growing mood was epitomised by Brendan Howlin's criticism, last week, of what the minister believes to be the excessively hysterical nature of the coverage of the Coalition.

Something of the upset amour propre of the scandalised older brother of the Prodigal Son may have surrounded the complaints by Mr Howlin about how the Government is not getting a fair shake.

Mr Howlin's case, however, is not without merit for the Coalition's achievement in navigating its way through the consequences of the banking guarantee, the bailout and the great European crisis of 2011 without crashing us further on to the fiscal rocks is a real one.

The problem, however, is that from this point on, the argument falls, for the great flaw that has landed the Coalition in a political tar-pit is that it has merely navigated us back to an unreformed version of from whence we started.

Once again, the Coalition is the architects of its own misfortune.

It is quite possible that before 'Dear Leader' Enda started rambling on about a "democratic revolution", bringing things back to where they were might have sufficed for a grudging renewal of their mandate.

However, Paddy, though he might not know precisely why, was quite taken by the "democratic revolution" thing.

The bad news for the Coalition is that until our dusty old political pragmatists are seen to act upon this desire, all of their other actions are without merit.

Ironically, in this regard, if it could but recognise it, repealing the Eighth Amendment offers it an opportunity.

Cowardice, opportunism and mendacity have been the defining aspects of our response to abortion for more than three decades.

A government that often doesn't appear to fully realise it is the one who is in power has the opportunity to act courageously in chopping down this rotten branch.

Just like boxing, in politics it's the punch you don't see coming that does all the damage.

In a world where Paddy is supposed to always vote with his pocket, no-one, to put it mildly, would blame 'Dear Leader' Enda for thinking one of those queer 'moral issues' such as abortion would not be a key factor for 2015.

If the Coalition is not very clever, however, abortion could evolve into the latter day equivalent of Yogi Berra's famous warning: "It's deja vu all over again".

In the Coalition's case, the deja vu we are talking about is the escalating fear that abortion, in 2015, will do all that Irish Water rendered on to this stuttering exhausted crew in 2014.

Whether the Coalition likes it or not, the abortion genie is out of the bottle. And those difficult women that Enda struggles so manfully to deal with are not going to stand for a continuation of the dark scenario outlined in the courts on Christmas week.

The Coalition has been wont to compare itself to a latter day Churchill.

It is not as attractive a comparison as our Grumpy Old Men like to imagine because after the post- war cheering died down, once the voters realised Mr Churchill merely planned to restore the UK of 1939, he was unceremoniously ejected from office.

How Fine Gael and Labour deal with abortion in 2015 is set to be the litmus test of their capacity for reform.

They may still be attracted to the familiar old succubus of trimming evasiveness. However, in a country still waiting for its "democratic revolution", this policy might instead hammer the last nail into their electoral coffin.

Sunday Independent

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