The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly may not be as far ahead of the public as politicians are claiming. But we also need legislation to prevent the covert use, and abuse, of personal data in the context of a referendum.
It was nothing more than a delaying tactic, of course, when the government referred the issue of abortion to the Citizen’s Assembly. But twenty years from now, it is likely to be seen as a defining moment. The reality is that Ireland’s abortion laws deny women who become pregnant their human rights in a number of different ways. And the disheartening truth is that, between them, the politicians gathered in Dáil Éireann didn’t have the guts to put this right.
Their first instinct was to play for time. And so they figured out a way that they could kick the can down the road.
Their second was to acquire a fig leaf for whatever action they might be shamed into taking in the long run. It worked in relation to the referendum on same sex marriage: that issue was referred to the Citizen’s Assembly, which then recommended changing the constitution to allow gay men and women to marry.
With that piece of paper to hide behind, all the government had to do was act like obedient little boys and girls. And if any troglodytes shouted ‘foul’, they could plead that they were only doing what a representative group of citizens had sought.
In relation to abortion, a fig leaf would be even more helpful. You can imagine the cuter hoors among our political class chuckling up their sleeves. It was a good wheeze alright. Let the Assembly tell us what to do – and sure aren’t we only following orders either way! Some may have actively wanted any notion that our abortion laws should be liberalised to be rebuffed. Well, if that was what they had in mind, they had another thing coming.
DILEMMA OF CHOOSING
That the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly stunned the slow-coaches in Leinster House is an understatement. All the evidence confirms that the 89 citizens who ended up voting on the issue took the process extremely seriously. They listened attentively to the evidence presented to them by various medical and legal experts. They also sat patiently through the arguments put forward by Repeal the Eighth activists and anti-choice campaigners alike. And they listened closely to the Chairperson of the Assembly, Justice Mary Laffoy.
They then delivered what amounted to a political bombshell. A significant majority of 64% were in favour of allowing abortion, without restriction as to reason, up to 12 weeks. There was an even greater majority in favour of the availability of abortion in cases of rape and incest, as well as fatal foetal abnormality (89%). In effect, what the Citizens’ Assembly recommended would bring Irish abortion laws more or less into line with best European practice.
While the final details would need to be teased out as to how these recommendations might be enshrined into Irish law, it was, and it remains, a victory for common sense, respect, tolerance, compassion and inclusiveness.
The anti-choice brigade – what Hot Press dubbed the Anti-Happiness League many years ago – have tried to sensationalise the recommendations as “abortion on demand.” It is a phrase which totally disrespects the reality of how women think of, and deal with, abortion. It creates an image of women laughing all the way to the clinic, thinking that this is great craic altogether, and sure what harm if I am back again in a few months time.
The truth, is that no one wants to be confronted, ever, with the dilemma of choosing to have, or not to have, an abortion. The decision is not one that is taken lightly. But it is often the only thing to do, and women know it. The vast majority of women who have abortions are happy in the long run that they made the right choice.
There are women who regret it. It would be stupid to pretend otherwise. But then there are also millions of women all over the world who desperately regret that they didn’t have an abortion or who suffer terribly as a result of a pregnancy which goes full term.
PITIFUL, DISHONEST STUFF
Clearly, the consensus reached by the Citizens’ Assembly was not what the political establishment wanted. They were hoping for staider recommendations – for example, allowing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and maybe rape – that would allow them to wring their hands and piously proceed, while still occupying some mythical, high moral ground.
They wanted an easy get-out clause. Look, we are moving an inch! But when they got common sense, they protested. They argued that the Assembly was ahead of the people. And they began the process of pussy-footing and ass-covering, their obvious fear of Mothers of Ten everywhere in stark evidence.
It is important not to get too personal about issues of this kind. But it is necessary to put on the record just how appalling it was to hear Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, describe himself as coming from a “pro-life” background – and then trot out a story about a woman he knew who was a product of rape who got very angry when people suggested that she was not entitled to a life.
This is truly pitiful, dishonest stuff. No one who is pro-choice says or believes that anyone is “not entitled to a life.” What they do say is that it is entirely up to the woman who becomes pregnant, by whatever means, to decide whether or not she wants to continue with the pregnancy. The unassailable truth is that every embryo’s life is in the gift of the woman who carries it. If she commits suicide, then no birth will occur. This is a stark but unassailable fact of life.
I was going to say here that there was a time when it was deemed acceptable in Ireland to incarcerate a woman who was pregnant, to force her to have a child even if she desperately didn’t want to. As a sensitive and reasonable person, you might consider this unthinkable. But as recently as 2014, a refugee, who had been raped in her homeland, was actually carved open against her will to deliver the baby she was carrying by Caesarean section, after she had been denied an abortion. She is currently pursuing a case against the State for the damages inflicted on her. The same thing could happen again tomorrow.
So let us be clear about the pro-choice argument. If a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, it is a matter of basic human rights, that she is entitled to make a decision entirely on her own behalf, and without having to apologise to anyone, or to travel outside the jurisdiction in which she lives, to end that pregnancy by having an abortion, if that is what she chooses.
On the other hand, depending on her own personal religious, philosophical or personal convictions, she is equally perfectly entitled to decide to carry on with the pregnancy. And if she does so, she should be afforded every support that the State can offer, to assist her in carrying that decision through in a way that is least damaging, and makes her and her child as comfortable and as safe as possible.
This is important. Almost to a woman and a man, people who are pro-choice are hugely supportive of women who decide to have children. That is their track record. They want nothing more than that every woman, and every child, be given the best possible chance of flourishing and being happy, healthy and well educated. But they do not believe that it is right that any woman should be forced to go through with a pregnancy that threatens her sufficiently, in whatever way, for her to decide that she would prefer a termination.
USE OF PSY-OPS
I suspect that the recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly very accurately reflect how people under 50 in Ireland feel about the issue of abortion, and the regime that they want to see introduced here. Indeed, the Assembly may well reflect the views of the entire population: the idea of forcing a woman to go through with a deeply unwanted pregnancy is anathema to many of our older citizens too.
But, as was the case with the same sex marriage referendum, our politicians are far more conservative in relation to abortion rights than the people they represent. Well, they have no mandate to stifle the process of change. They should move forward quickly now and agree on how to frame a new, more liberal regime on abortion that fully respects the human rights of women.
One other point. If and when it comes to a referendum on abortion in Ireland, our electoral laws must be strong enough to ensure that the kind of treacherous, and probably illegal, use of personal data by right-wing forces, which underpinned the election victory of Donald Trump in the US, and which drove the success of the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum in the UK, cannot be repeated here.
The fact is that the democratic process is under direct threat from the military-style use of psy-ops, activated via the vast and unregulated global network of the internet and social media. The zealots behind the Anti Happiness League here in Ireland are perfectly capable of employing these tactics and of paying for them, if they feel that they have half a chance of getting away with it.
The time to act in relation to this is now. Not to do so would be a massive dereliction of duty on the part of our legislators.
On March 9, it will be 30 years since the release of The Joshua Tree, a record that transformed U2 into the biggest rock band in the world. In this issue of Hot Press, we look back to the genesis of the album, how it was put together and and what made it work. And ask: has it stood the test of time?Read More
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It took the combined force of Hot Press' Editor Niall Stokes and U2 journalist extraordinaire Bill Graham to thrash it out with the four members of U2 back in 1987 to uncover the method and the magic behind their seminal album THe Joshua Tree.Read More
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This is 2016 and very strange and deeply disquieting things have been happening in the US and here in Ireland. It might help if we stopped singing the praises of people guilty of butchering their families, Niall Stokes said in The Message, written in that pregnant pause between the opening of the polling booths and the calculation of the result in the US election. Clearly an afterword is required…Read More
There was an Irish winner tonight, as the novel Solar Bones found favour with the judges, in an award which aims to reward genuine innovation...Read More
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It is just over 40 years, since Larry Mullen put the note on the noticeboard in Mount Temple Comprehensive, which led to the formation of U2. As various contributions to this special issue of Hot Press confirm, that gesture changed the world for millions of people all over the globe. But that they are still together is perhaps the band’s greatest achievement...Read More
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The Minister for Skills, Training and Innovation, John Halligan put his head above the parapet in relation to the laws on prostitution in Ireland. As it happens, he was right.Read More
Irish people have moved on in a way that is genuinely impressive. Dr. Lara Kelly’s testimony on abortion is one example. But there is a new honesty among Irish politicians too that gives cause for optimism.Read More
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It was an enthralling day of football at Euro 2016, with Ireland getting off to a solid start in Group E – only to be trumped by a brilliant Italian win over Belgium.Read More
Irish Water and Repealing the 8th can take a back-seat as the Euros kick-off in France. Now all we need are a few Shane Long hat-tricks to seal the deal...Read More
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Religious control of schools promotes inequality, prejudice, division – and worse. It is also against the founding spirit of the Republic. It must be challenged now.Read More
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Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need to end the posturing and hammer out a deal, which will provide the country with a sustainable government.Read More
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When Enya released Watermark in 1988, it WAS the beginning of one of the most remarkable chapters in the story of Irish music. With Nicky Ryan and Roma Ryan ever-present as collaborators, 80 million album sales and dozens of awards followed. Now, after a seven year hiatus, she is back with a new record, Dark Sky Island, and a determination to take the collective’s music to the world in a different way.Read More
Darkness seemed to be everywhere in 2015. It is hard to maintain any sense of hope, when barbarism is so militantly on the rise. But if we don't, we surely will be lost...Read More
The orchestrated jihadist attacks on Paris were an abomination. And the worst of the atrocities took place at a rock gig in the Bataclan, where 89 people died. So where do we go from here?Read More
As the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour finally approaches Irish shores, it's time to once again celebrate U2 - not just the best of Irish, but the greatest rock band in the world.Read More
As recently highlighted by Roopesh Panicker, it is outrageous that, in 2015, educational discrimination on the basis of religion is still the norm in Ireland.Read More
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"We're uncompromising. We're uncompromising to a fault I think. Because sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we wind-up up blind alleys. You know. Maybe Radio Ethiopia sucks. I Don't know. Me and Patti are the only ones that like it in the world. But I don't care 'cos when we put that on we feel great." - Lenny Kaye [First Published in Hot Press Volume 2 No 7, September 1978]Read More
The referendum on same sex marriage is an opportunity for the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respect – and in doing so to show the rest of the world what these words can really mean...Read More
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Irish people who genuinely believe in free speech need to support the scrapping of our blasphemy laws.Read More
These are turbulent times, as Sinn Fein and socialist Independents find themselves in the unprecedented situation of topping the opinion polls. However you view this, pause to be thankful that there is no hard-Right movement of significance in Ireland, and no apparent appetite for one...Read More
It was one of those special Dublin nights. The occasion was a fund-raiser for a new short film, entitled Descend, directed by Hedi Rose, and written by Irish-based Texan screenwriter Margaret Miller. The location was upstairs in The 51 Bar on Haddington Road.Read More
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The hacking of Jennifer Lawrence's phone, and the leaking of her private photos, was a criminal action – and much of the subsequent reaction was downright nasty.Read More
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Well known Dublin band are back with a crash, bang and wallop...Read More
Ours is an increasingly multi-cultural society. However, our vast State bureaucracy has refused to move with the times. Fundamental changes are needed if asylum seekers coming to Ireland are to receive justice.Read More
Your student years are a wonderful prospect, offering the possibilities of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll – but there is far more to them than that...Read More
The bare facts of a new case which surfaced last week are utterly shocking. Will this be the final straw that shames Ireland’s legislators into adopting a sensible abortion policy?Read More
Israel’s indiscriminate massacring of Palestinian men, women and children is an outrage, and they appear to have total impunity to carry on doing it. So how do we go about putting a stop to the slaughter?Read More
When Garth Brooks decided to launch his return to the live arena with a series of shows here, it was a huge statement of faith in Ireland and in his Irish fans.Read More
On the 20th anniversary of Riverdance, composer Bill Whelan looks back at the phenomenon he gave birth to, recalls the fateful decision to sack Michael Flatley, discusses the Limerick City Of Culture controversy and shares his thoughts on the future of music in an era when fewer and fewer people pay for records.Read More
The terrible truth is that there is nothing surprising about the revelations emerging about the treatment of young women and their children in mother and baby homes.Read More
The results of the local and European elections suggest that Labour is in deep trouble. With Sinn Féin beginning to leave the legacy of violence in the North behind, anything, it seems, can happen...Read More
The head of the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, may have been duly delivered on a plate – but the rot in the administration of justice runs far deeper than any one individual...Read More
The shocking story of a young family, forced to sleep in a car on the south side of Dublin, says it all about Ireland in 2014. The Government has to act decisively now or forever be shamed...Read More
And what impact does it have on their lives? These and other fascinating questions are tackled in the Global Drugs Survey, the Irish results of which we publish the issue...Read More
All sex workers are trafficked, slaves of a cruel exploitative patriarchy, working against their free will? Spare us the stereotypes...Read More
In Washington for St. Patrick's Day, an Taoiseach Enda Kenny pleaded for relief for Ireland's 50,000 US illegals. But what about those immigrants who are facing similar difficulties here in Ireland?Read More
On the one hand, hostilities in Crimea escalate to terrifying proportions. On the other, evidence mounts on a daily basis that the machinery of State here views its own citizens with deep contempt.Read More
Grief at the passing of Mary Stokes; and gratitude for her vision – and the richness that she brought to our lives...Read More
Have the Irish people put theocratic Catholic rule well and truly in the past? Are we witnessing the last dying kick of the reactionary religious bigots? Not if we let them win this important battle...Read More
We cannot predict the future. But we can play a part in shaping it. The time to get active is now.Read More
It's hard to muster up that Christmas feeling when every new week seems to bring another scandal into the foreground. But we’ll try!Read More
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Lou Reed was one of the greatest and most distinctive voices in modern music. His death is a major loss...Read More
The cut to the job seekers allowance seems designed to force young Irish men and women to emigrate. That way, the official view seems to be, they will cost the State nothing...Read More
As the debate over Arthur’s Day pushed even the Seanad referendum down the news agenda, you had to ask: where else in the western world would it happen?Read More
The referendum proposal is a cheap exercise in market research-driven politics that should be decisively rejected. What we need is properly thought-out reform, not political strokes.Read More
The suicide of Priory Hall resident Fiachra Daly shines a light on the squalid and incompetent nature of public life in Ireland and the myriad of ways in which the system leaves us, the citizens, to fend for ourselves.Read More
Slane girl was not a once off, but her treatment opens up several disturbing questions about the new technological age in which we live, where privacy is a concept under severe threat and the all-seeing eye of the State has a power the Stasi could only have dreamed of...Read More
The detention of a young Irish woman on substance trafficking charges is a grim reminder of the absurdity of our drugs laws and how they can potentially turn naive kids into criminals...Read More
British PM David Cameron’s pledge to crack down on online pornography will do nothing to help anybody. He may be playing to the gallery, but his entreaties should be resisted in the name of freedom...Read More
The heatwave may have obscured the possibility that drastic climate changes are afoot...Read More
Reflections on the extraordinary life and times of Peggy Stokes (pictured with Dermot Stokes), 1919-2013...Read More
Increasingly, people are realising that there is no rational explanation for the policy of mass medication by fluoridation of the water supply. We need to act fast before the damage to our reputation gathers momentum...Read More
No country is inherently special. Ireland will be judged rather by the kind of society we create – and by what our citizens can achieve…Read More
The ban on cannabis is narrow-minded, medically unjustified and helps line the pockets of criminals. Which is why Hot Press is spearheading a new campaign to reform the law...Read More