Kicking the can down the road... the Fr Ted school of ecumenical politics
That would be an ecumenical matter. The deftly evasive slogan which Father Ted painstakingly drummed into the pickled brain of Father Jack - as the only appropriate reply to any question a visiting bishop might ask - has entered the language as an all-purpose escape-clause. Last week, however, Enda Kenny coined a phrase which could become just as popular among the eternally shifty. "This is a matter for the next government," the Taoiseach solemnly declared.
Kenny was talking about the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities - and who hasn't been talking about it in recent days? But, while expressions of sympathy for those affected by this profound trauma abounded in Leinster House, a willingness to do what is needed to enact legislative change in their favour was conspicuously absent. Recent opinion polls suggest that 87 per cent of the people support the right to abortion in cases where a mother has been given a fatal diagnosis for her unborn child. For most government politicians, however, the public mood is still too difficult to read.
Clare Daly's bill may not have been perfect but it could have provided the impetus for a concerted plan of action by all those TDs who claim to be horrified by the effect of the existing laws. What we actually got was a concerted plan of inaction. Fine Gael and, even more unforgivably, Labour deputies (with the honourable exception of Anne Ferris) cited the Attorney General's opinion that Daly's proposals were "unconstitutional" as the final word on the matter. Self-styled liberal crusaders in both parties obediently lined up to vote down the bill, suddenly exhibiting a fanatical devotion for the discipline of the whip that wouldn't look out of place in Fifty Shades Of Grey.