Belief In The System

English: Lucinda Creighton, TD
Anti-abortion Minister Lucinda Creighton, who resigned rather than vote for her own government’s bill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So in the wake of the Savita Halappanavar tragedy, the Irish government rushes through legislation which… Would have done nothing to avert the Savita Halappanavar tragedy. We are left to explain this to a mystified world.

What they’ve done is take advantage of the mood to enact law that has been missing for two decades. In the X Case the Supreme Court found that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, introduced by anti-abortion campaigners to create a right to life for the unborn equal to the life of the pregnant woman, had the weird but logical consequence, where a pregnancy threatened both, of requiring abortion to be legal.

No government however had the political guts to enact this – until now. In the meantime we were left in an untenable limbo where not only was the law in conflict with the Constitution, but it was unclear whether or not one could save a woman’s life without going to prison. Medical professionals probably did intervene in ways that resulted in the death of foetuses, but had to do so almost clandestinely, studiously avoiding words like “abortion” or “termination”. We don’t know if this fear, uncertainty and doubt contributed to Savita’s death. (We may after the malpractice suit.) We do know though that the new law still does not allow the termination of a non-viable pregnancy like hers, an operation which she requested and which would have saved her life. The life of a foetus – even one that cannot survive – is still legally equal to hers.

So if the general thrust of this legislation was simply to clarify what the Supreme Court’s judgement had already made legal reality, why was there so much concerted opposition? There are a few reasons, the most prominent being that the danger of suicide was considered by the court to be a threat to life. Anti-abortion campaigners see in this a trojan horse. Soon women would be claiming to be suicidal to get an abortion when they weren’t really suicidal at all, merely desperate enough to pretend to be.

Yes it is all a bit strange.

But when it comes down to it, the main reason is of course belief. The Eighth Amendment was thirty years ago. In these slightly more sophisticated times, few admit to being motivated purely by religion. Dana, speaking on Tonight with Vincent Brown, weirdly attempted to justify her anti-abortion views with science. An embryo is a person because “All the DNA is there” – as if a plan is the same thing as the finished building.

Having a preconceived belief and misrepresenting the facts to fit it is of course the precise opposite of science. Complete opposition to abortion requires a supernatural mindset. You have to maintain that from the very beginning, the developing foetus has rights separate from and (at least) equal to those of the woman it is developing within – a difficult position to hold unless you subscribe to the idea that humanity arrives complete at the moment of conception by some miraculous process.

Which, as it should happen, is what Catholics and some other conservative Christian groups teach.

People are entitled to their beliefs of course. A huge proportion of Irish women could but do not avail of abortion services overseas, precisely because they have this outlook. Beliefs become a problem though when you try to make other people live by yours. You don’t have that right, even if you are a minister or TD. Especially if you are a minister or TD. All that can ever be enforced is what a society, by overwhelming consensus, accepts as necessary. And our law on this issue no longer reflects any such consensus. Perhaps a majority still believe that human life begins at conception, but few even of those are so dogmatic as to insist that this early life is equal in importance and humanity to that of the woman it abides within. Experience has shown this to be not a reasonable precept but a dangerous religious dogma foisted upon us by extremists.

The government did do right, but it did the least possible right. No one was ever really in favour of the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Bill, few are celebrating its passage. It’s just a workaround, a patch for the contradictions that will ensue from enshrining the equality of women and embryos in a Constitution. There will be more horrific situations, there will be more bad and unworkable law that no one really wants, until the day comes when we finally have the courage to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

(Apologies to mailing list subscribers who were accidentally sent a much earlier draft of this post.)

 

Is There One Brave TD?

Ballyhea
Click here to see me on Al Jazeera News! (Albeit briefly)

 

It’s often remarked how little Irish people are protesting, despite the cruelty of the cutbacks and the blatant injustice of much of the debt foisted upon us. You could come up with a variety of deep psychological explanations for this, but in doing so you might be overlooking one major factor: The lousy coverage that public resistance gets in the mainstream media.

Case in point, the brave folk of the Ballyhea Bondholder Bailout Protest have been marching every Sunday for two years now. But even when they brought their protest to the ECB in Frankfurt (you’ll remember, I went with them) they hardly won a mention from the press or TV.

Until last Sunday! Finally, they got on RTÉ main evening news. Why now all of a sudden? I think I know: Al Jazeera got wind of it. Would’ve been more than a little embarrassing for the national broadcaster if a story from their own country went big internationally and they didn’t even have footage.

You can see me there in the first few seconds. I’m on international TV! Don’t we look all brave in the January weather? In the Middle East they must think we’re downright superhuman.

But there are ways you can protest without risking pneumonia, with help of Contact.it. Yesterday a judge rejected a challenge to the legality of the government piping money directly from poor to rich, on the grounds that a private citizen does not (somehow) have the standing to take such a case. In his findings though, the judge did mention that a TD would.

So we’re looking for one brave TD. Contact.ie provide an email that will be sent to all of them, it’s just up to you to sign it. A suggested text is provided, but of course you can use your own.

Or you can use the one I wrote, which puts the case a little more starkly:

Dear TD,

We need someone to take a stand. The lending bubble, and subsequent channelling of the nation’s remaining wealth to the very institutions responsible for it, has sent one message and one message only to the people of this country: That we exist, that we live and work, not for ourselves or for the ones we love but purely for the further enrichment of these institutions and their owners; that they now effectively control our lives – and control you, our supposed representatives – as surely as if we were goods or livestock. We are being owned.

We need to reassert the purpose – indeed the existence – of democratic government. For once, a single TD could make all the difference.

Yours sincerely,

Help to stop the madness before the last of this country’s life is sucked away. You can send the letter here.

Another Presidential Assassination

Banner of the Irish Blueshirts.
You mention Fine Gael and far-right militants in the same article, and the automatic image search comes out with the Blueshirt flag. Stop editorialising, image search.

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.

Break The Dress Code

Love Parade 2007 in Essen
Less shirt, more pink

We voted for change. All we’re going to get is a change of clothes.

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.