Not a term you hear much these days, fornication. For those of you without the benefit of a Catholic education, fornication is the sin of having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse, a puzzling concept in a day and age when few still believe in sex after marriage.
Michelle Mulherin’s (FG) use of the word in a Dáil debate was amusing, but rather distracted from the issue. This being that the courts have found – years ago – that there are circumstances where a woman has a right to an abortion, but the legislature has never overturned existing or created new law to decriminalise it in those circumstances. It’s such a touchy subject that even an ostensibly woman-friendly party like Labour are avoiding it. (This attempt to correct the situation was sponsored by the tiny Socialist party.)
The basic problem is that the issue is not open to reasoned debate – not when a significant proportion of people (probably a minority now, but still a blocking one) stick with the Pope‘s opinion that human life and its concomitant rights begin at the moment of conception. It’s an extremist position, but it effectively closes down the subject. If abortion is murder, how can you even discuss it?
Others do take different stances. That humanity begins at birth, or that there is some stage of development after which a foetus may be said to be human. The latter though is really passing the buck. There is no medical definition of humanity, the start of human life – conception, birth, some point in between – is a matter of how you define life and how you define humanity, a philosophical question with no definitive answer in science, or indeed in scripture.
This being the case, can we not accept that the only relevant opinion here is that of the woman?
Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael minister for transport, has accused state broadcaster RTÉ of “liberal bias”. Yes, his exact words. Just like he was on Fox News. Brings an entire new meaning to the term Irish Republican, doesn’t it?
Though it is sometimes hard to tell where Fine Gael are coming from politically, if you had to characterise them in a single word then “Liberal” would have been it. They’re a good fit for what it traditionally means – in Europe: In favour of individual freedom, including the freedom to use the advantages you were born into. So, laissez-faire economics and no particular interest in your private life.
But he seems to be using it in the American sense, where the phrase liberal bias has come to be coded language for anything not conservative, Christian and pro-Republican. Witness Conservapedia, the online encyclopaedia invented to provide information free from Wikipedia’s liberal bias – by which they mean evolution and other non-Biblical aberrations. In this mindset, neutrality itself is liberal bias.
I don’t claim RTÉ have no problems with objectivity, and I am sure that Varadkar is not actually a Creationist. But it is more than worrying to see a politician adopting the rhetoric of wilful ignorance. Does he really want to align himself with the likes of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum?
If you refuse to have anything to do with all of a certain racial or ethnic group then yes, you’re a racist. Even if some people from that group did you wrong – Hell, even if everyone you ever met from that group did you wrong.
If you punish a person with a certain skin colour or a certain religion or a certain accent because of your feelings about other people from that group, then you are thinking as a bigot thinks. You are mistreating perfectly innocent people because “they’re all the same”. And that is evil.
Yes there probably are Africans in Naas who are rude and awkward and belligerent. They are wrong to be. But I am also sure there are rude and awkward and belligerent Irish people in almost every city on Earth. If public representatives in those cities refused to deal with their Irish constituents, what would you call them? You’d call them racists.
Having done nothing to repudiate the last administration’s nationalisation of private debts, what did the government expect? The only reason the judge’s pay referendum passed was that a lot of the public thought it would hurt lawyers, whom after the Tribunal bills they hate almost as much.
People have had it demonstrated to them quite clearly that one party cannot (or won’t) do anything to reverse the mistakes of another. It makes it look like government is powerless in the face of our financial dependence on the EU. Which, when it comes down to it, seems to really mean dependence on major continental banks – the very banks by and large who lent excessively to ours. It should be eye-opening that the candidate of Sinn Féin, the only major party that declares it would repudiate the banks debts, out-polled Fine Gael‘s two to one.
Democracy has been suborned by capitalism when it should have been circumscribing it, and now it begins to feel like an exercise in futility. What sort of turnout is 52% for the most fiercely-contested Presidential election in the history of the state plus two referendums? Half of the population don’t think there’s any point. And the worrying thing is, they may be the half that’s right.
It says a lot about the state of the parties in Ireland right now that the ‘government’ candidate and Sinn Féin’s were neck-and-neck all the way. In fact as I write they’ve just been eliminated together.
A quick explanation: In the Single Transferable Vote electoral system, you number candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference. Votes are initially distributed according to the first preference, after which the candidate with the fewest is eliminated and the votes that went to them are transferred to the one marked as second. This process continues until one candidate has a ‘quota’ of votes, which in a presidential election is simply 50% of the valid poll. (If someone had gotten over 50% of the first preference votes the contest would have been over then and there of course, but that rarely happens.)
This is good because it takes into account the fact that voters may not only prefer one candidate, but particularly despise another. For instance I gave Seán Gallagher my seventh preference – out of seven candidates. (I could actually have not numbered him at all, but mathematically it would have made no difference.) A simple majority system can actually help the most-despised get elected, if their opposition is split among the less objectionable candidates. A case in point is 1990, where it would have given us Brian Lenihan Snr as President.
Sinn Féin’s McGuinness and Fine Gael‘s Mitchell were eliminated simultaneously because distributing the next-preference votes of either could not have elected the other, a logically valid time-saver. It is now theoretically possible that their redistributed votes could push Seán Gallagher over the finish line ahead of Michael D. Higgins in the most astonishing electoral reversal since, well, since yesterday. But that won’t happen. Both Sinn Féin and Fine Gael voters are going to strongly prefer the official Labour candidate over the unofficial Fianna Fáil. In fact all other candidates have conceded, so the count is something of a formality at this stage.
But to get back to the original point, Michael D. was never really seen as representative of government – perhaps because he’s a socialist. Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell was taken by the electorate to be the official candidate of a government swept to power in February on a mandate for change – yet there is little between his vote and that for the man who is widely believed to have been leader of the IRA. I was surprised by this. I really thought Martin McGuinness would do better.
Could Norris have won? No, not now. He was the fun candidate. I am not saying he wasn’t a perfectly serious candidate as well, but he more than anyone else stood for liberation from tiresome, hopeless, party-controlled politics, and if he was going to be elected it would have been on a wave of joyful voting against the establishment. The sheer fact that his ex-partner had committed rape was inevitably going to take the wind out of that.
I wish he had been allowed to continue though. I’d like to have voted for him, if only to say that what he did wrong was forgiveable.
If indeed he did something wrong. From reading the actual letters (PDF) he sent to Israel, I don’t think he represented himself as speaking on behalf of the Irish people or government, or even his constituents. The only part that seems to have been on official Senate paper was the brief and rather bland character reference. The long, detailed plea for leniency appears to have originally been a separate document sent in a personal capacity.
The question of whether he should have pleaded for leniency at all in such a case remains, and I think that was a mistake for a person in his position. But I wouldn’t want to vote for someone who never did a stupid thing for love.
So now, bizarrely, it’s Gay Mitchell’s turn. He’s the candidate of Fine Gael, the party leading the newly-elected government, and so very arguably the favourite since Norris’s departure. Mitchell too made an appeal to a foreign judiciary, in 2003 when he was FG’s spokesman on foreign affairs. His though was for a man due to be executed for the murder of a doctor and his bodyguard, outside an abortion clinic in Florida.
Mitchell says that it was in the context of a consistent campaign against the death penalty. All I will say is, it had better be.
I will never support any TD who votes to enforce a dress code in the Dáil. A silly thing to be upset about? It is not – because this stands for something.
We voted for people who rejected the uniform. We voted for men who refused to wear suits. We voted for those who did not dress up in fancy clothes to show that they were important. This stood for something.
And now the established parties tell us, “You cannot have those people.
“You must have more people like us. You must have the obedient, the conforming, the place-holders. Your choice is what we say it is. Whoever you vote for, the establishment wins.”
This is the message the major parties want to send us. It is not acceptable.