Impressive words and actions from Varadkar on #RepealThe8th announcement but how media will frame the debate remains to be seen

THE ISSUE

After much urging to announce both date and format regarding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, Leo Varadkar’s government has finally done so.

THE MEDIA

Article by Rónán Duffy in The Journal on January 30, 2018

‘We’re asking people to trust women’: Repeal referendum to be held before the end of May

“We know that thousands of Irish women, women from every single county in Ireland, travel abroad for abortions every year. We know that women obtain abortion pills through the post to end their pregnancies without any medical support or counselling or supervision. So we already have abortion in Ireland, but it’s unsafe, unregulated and unlawful. In my opinion we cannot continue to export our problems and import our solutions,”

THE COMMENT

After much waiting, we have finally heard from the Irish Government on the issue of the Eighth Amendment, and for the most part it was the news we wanted to hear.  The referendum is to be held at the end of May, and for the most part, the vote is to be on a straight repeal.

It is natural for Pro-Choice campaigners to remain sceptical, however.

First, I have questions on this intervention by the Attorney General on the need to have wording left in the Constitution which allows the Oireachtas to legislate.  Why wasn’t this information given to both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee?  Or, if it was, then why are we choosing to ignore their findings?

And second, this quote from Duffy’s article concerns me…

Speaking at Government Buildings this evening about his own views on the referendum, Varadkar said that he would be campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Given that Micheal Martin of Fianna Fail has managed to contort his own position into something similar to the Taoiseach of late, I sincerely hope that the Irish mainstream media does not consider the two ‘Civil War party’ leaders to be the foremost spokespeople of the Yes campaign between now and the referendum.

They are both leaders of political organisations that have been given free votes to their parliamentarians so we would hope that parties with stated positions on Repeal, as well as other organisations, will be given sufficient time to present their case when the debate takes place in the public domain.

All of that remains to be seen, but for now, this can only be seen as a positive step.  JLP

#IANWAE

Ruth Coppinger TD highlights Government delay in carrying out recommendations of its own Citizens’ Assembly #RepealThe8th

THE ISSUE

Despite advice from both the Citizens Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee to proceed with a straight Yes/No referendum on Eighth Amendment Repeal, the Virtual Coalition Irish government of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the so-called Independent Alliance continues to drag its feet on setting a date.

THE MEDIA

Dáil Speech by Ruth Coppinger TD on Oireachtas.ie on January 17, 2018

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FRuthCoppingerTD%2Fvideos%2F1569784969778805%2F&show_text=0&width=560

“…this Dáil set up the Citizens’ Assembly in an outsourcing fashion and assumed it would come back with a much more minimal recommendation. There is always a danger when we entrust ordinary people with important decisions. They might actually listen, engage and fact-check the evidence they hear. They might come up with essentially compassionate and pro-choice recommendations. The recommendation of 12 weeks on request came from the Citizens’ Assembly.”

[full text of speech at the end of this post]

THE COMMENT

I can’t make a comment that’s any clearer than Deputy Coppinger’s statement to the Dáil and those of like-minded TDs.  We need a date for straight repeal referendum now.  Only then can the true debate begin.  JLP

#IANWAE

I am sharing time with Deputy Bríd Smith. I welcome the people who are in the Gallery for the debate but there are hundreds of people outside, members of the Strike 4 Repeal movement, in freezing cold temperatures, listening to the debate. Young people in this country are watching this issue like no other political issue and it will be the biggest political and social issue in 2018 and for many years to come. The people outside are waiting to hear the response of the Dáil to the all-party committee report and the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, and an action plan from Government outlining what will happen and when it will be implemented.

The nub of the issue is that people want a simple repeal referendum by late May because that is the optimal time for the maximum participation of young people. Lest anybody be under any illusion, young people are the people most affected by this decision. This Dáil is not made up of young people but of a very unrepresentative sample of society in many ways. They want a referendum that will lead to change and real abortion legislation.

At the very minimum, that legislation must provide for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. If anybody thinks that repeal can be avoided or that we can put it off until the autumn or until next year, if that was even contemplated, there would be a revolt among young people. If anyone thinks we can have a repeal referendum with very little change following it, that would also lead to a huge reaction. The tide cannot be held back on this issue any longer.

I have spoken on the issue of abortion a lot. I am tired of listening to myself, never mind what other people are tired of listening to. This is for a reason. It is because the idea of bodily autonomy is an absolute for young people. Abortion rights are what people want – not on this or that ground, not a “deserving” abortion. The concept of abortion rights is what most young people and a growing section of the population now believe in. Political parties cannot just hide behind repeal and think they can sail through the referendum without saying what will follow it. They cannot try to pretend they stand for things that they may not stand for. They can cut that out as well because—–

Deputy Simon Harris: We are not doing that.

Deputy Helen McEntee: We are not doing that.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: I am talking to the whole Dáil. In effect, this will be a referendum on abortion rights. In a sense, that is only natural. I do not think that this Dáil has the guts or the composition to bring in abortion legislation without a massive public endorsement and a push to do so. The concept of 12 weeks will be key in the referendum.

Solidarity-PBP is obviously pro-choice. It was the only fully pro-choice formation in the Dáil up until recent times. Hopefully, that will change. We have played a lead role in arguing this case and in the active movement for repeal. Solidarity-PBP recognises that these are historic recommendations. It is only four short years since the very same parties, arguing for change, voted in a 14-year jail sentence for women. That is a fact. What has brought this change about? We have heard many on the committee and others saying they were on a journey. The phrase has become very well worn and they have decontextualised it from the actual reality. People may have been on a journey but they were pushed to go on it, in many cases kicking and screaming. Change has been forced from outside. The evidence that was heard at the committee was very important. I played a role in arguing and advancing some of that evidence, very importantly in the case of the abortion pills, which are a crucial factor in the decision that has been reached and which have been cited by many people. The civil disobedience that was undertaken with regard to the abortion pills was also hugely important. The use of the abortion pill tripled in about three years, since particular actions were taken by organisations like ROSA and others. We need to be honest about where the change has come from.

We also need to be honest that this Dáil set up the Citizens’ Assembly in an outsourcing fashion and assumed it would come back with a much more minimal recommendation. There is always a danger when we entrust ordinary people with important decisions. They might actually listen, engage and fact-check the evidence they hear. They might come up with essentially compassionate and pro-choice recommendations. The recommendation of 12 weeks on request came from the Citizens’ Assembly. I also want to put on record that socioeconomic reasons up to 22 weeks unfortunately was not agreed by a majority of parties and groups but it was advanced by a strong minority. It was a bit of a cop-out, to be honest. Many women will not be able to fall in to a 12-week timeframe for many reasons and usually they will be the most vulnerable, the poorest and the youngest. All we are doing is continuing travel outside the State.

The other question I want to address is disability and severe abnormality. It is quite clear that people who are anti-abortion are going to use very emotive arguments about disability, Down’s Syndrome, etc. We have heard them already throughout this campaign. It is the case that the committee did not take a majority position of support in respect of severe abnormality. I take no moral lectures from anybody about a woman who would make a decision on those grounds. It is not a cake-walk bringing up a child with a severe disability. I refer particularly to parties and individuals who have done nothing to make their lives better and who have voted for cuts in disability services, etc.

The response of a huge number of Deputies has so far been to run for cover. A huge number have still not declared where they stand on this. If examining one’s conscience was an Olympic sport, numbers of Irish Deputies would be winning gold medals. There was a great play made around the time of the marriage equality referendum that everyone held hands in the Dáil and walked out and won the referendum. That was not the case and it will not be the case here because parties will not be united. There is not a party whip. The winning of the referendum will be down to huge numbers of active people, young people, women and communities.

For politicians who are feeling troubled, it is very simple. The two questions they need to ask and answer are these: first, whether they support abortion being legal or illegal, because it will continue regardless and, second, whether they actually support forcing people to remain pregnant who do not want to be pregnant. That is the logic of supporting a ban on abortion. People say there are extreme views on both sides. I do not think I have an extreme view. My view is that the person involved ultimately should make the decision. I think that is a humane view.

We need to give huge credit to the active campaigns like those from the people who are outside the House this evening. The protests have mushroomed in the last years, with the repeal jumpers being worn, people taking part in repeal protests and the strike for repeal. Women have themselves defied the unjust ban by ordering abortion pills online and we have seen events like the abortion pill train, bus, etc. that I mentioned. The recommendations of the committee arise from those social movements that have taken place on the ground.

Many people have invoked 1983 and 1984, the year that followed the eighth amendment, the crass hypocrisy around Ann Lovett, the Kerry babies, etc. There is now a growing movement for gender equality. We have seen it with Trump and with the #metoo movement. The movement taking place outside on repeal is the exact same. It is a movement for bodily autonomy and for abortion rights. The time is up now for politicians to be hiding on this issue. There is no hiding place left. Young people will not accept any further procrastination or restrictions.

I ask the Minister to state the date of the referendum. It has not been set. That is a key demand and question in the minds of people outside. The information we got from the Tánaiste earlier that the Government is not going to move a repeal Bill until early March is leaving it extremely tight. We need at least six weeks plus 30 days’ grace before the referendum can be called. Maybe the Minister would clarify that. To be clear, it has to be repeal simpliciter. This was debated by the committee. I do not have time to go into it. We will then need a complete scrapping of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

Irish Times lets Fine Gael off the hook big time in end-of-year love-in, er, I mean, podcast

THE ISSUE

The Irish political conversation is dominated by a narrative that insists the electorate’s only two options for government leadership are the so-called ‘Civil War’ parties.

THE MEDIA

Podcast by Irish Times – Inside Politics : ‘The Year In Politics’ on Tuesday, December 26, 2017

‘…people feel they can relate to these people more because they feel they have lived the same experiences they have…’

THE COMMENT

Over in the US, Donald Trump and his Republican-led government are constantly moaning and groaning under the weight of repeated challenging reporting from publications like the New York Times.  Too bad its Irish namesake doesn’t give our own recently-appointed political leader similar treatment, if this ‘end of year’ summary is anything to go by.

Essentially the all-male panel has given Leo Varadkar & co a free Party Political Podcast.  Wherever these are recorded, I pity the poor cleaning staff because they’ll have their work cut out removing all of Fine Gael’s 2017 political woes that have been swept under the carpet.

Apparently we are meant to have forgotten that this is the party that had to admit defeat on the water charges.  Well, when I say ‘admit’ defeat, I actually mean grudgingly concede it.

Apparently we are meant to have forgotten the fact that Varadkar rose to power under an electoral process within his party that was chronically tilted away from the grass roots members, meaning all he had to do was shmooze his way through his fellow TDs to get the nod.  This weighting method is very similar to that which saw Hillary Clinton controversially secure the 2016 Democratic nomination at the expense of Bernie Sanders.

Apparently we are meant to forget the homeless crisis still prevalent in the Republic, simply because the Taoiseach says so.

And apparently we are meant to forget the disgraceful whisteblower controversy which nearly sparked a Christmas election and ultimately cost the Tánaiste her job.

Nobody expects the mainstream media to completely ignore a government’s positives, but what this IT podcast has done is to summarize the Irish year in politics thusly…’Sure isn’t it great that our top cabinet members are all so young?‘ [paraphrase]

And as one of the leading bits of ‘evidence’ of the effects of having such youthful leadership, the ‘lads’ cite the Eighth Amendment debate.

Despite the fact that Fine Gael’s own Citizens Assembly recommends repeal and legislation, and despite the fact that the Oireachtas Committee recommends repeal and legislation, the government position at the time of this podcast was that a decision is yet to be made on how to proceed.  No guarantee has been forthcoming that a straight yes or no choice on repeal will be offered to the Irish public.

Yet somehow the panel twists this state of affairs into one that represents a sweeping generational change.  Well, for this conservative jurisdiction that may be true to an extent, but given that Fine Gael are the country’s most conservative mainstream party [just about ahead of Fianna Fáil], do we think these ‘young pretenders’ have reached their current positions by cultural revolution or because the elder statesmen ahead of them on the ladder gave them a helping hand along the way?

And the final insult for me from this podcast came when they made the most ludicrous segue from the potential impact of FG’s boy wonder on the Irish electorate to the ‘youthquake’ experienced in Britain’s general election campaign that brought Jeremy Corbyn extremely close to Number 10.  I had to switch it off after that so you’ll have to listen yourself to find out what they said after that.

Here’s to a 2018 where Ireland’s political establishment, both in Leinster House and the media, are called to account whenever they ignore at best, or put down at worst, progressive issues.  JLP

#IANWAE

Inevitable attack on #RepealThe8th movement targets Amnesty Ireland and Colm O’Gorman

THE ISSUE

Colm O’Gorman is both Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland and a leader of the #RepealThe8th campaign, thus making him a prime target for the so-called ‘Pro-Life’ movement.

THE MEDIA

Article by Amnesty International from Amnesty.ie on Friday, December 8, 2017

CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS UNDER THREAT FROM DRACONIAN LAW AND AMNESTY COULD FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES

SIPOC wrote to Amnesty International Ireland only last year to acknowledge that its work on reforming Ireland’s abortion laws, which includes the work supported by the OSF grant, was not in breach of the [Electoral] Act

THE COMMENT

My attention was drawn to this matter by a string of ‘outrage’ posts from the usual right-wing suspects on Twitter such as John McGuirk and Evert Bopp.

The perennial trolls make several references to supposed ‘illegal actions’ by Amnesty.ie and have been recycling the same argument all weekend.  Obviously only a fool would take their social media opinions at face value without making an effort to get Amnesty’s side of the story, which is very different as you can see by the above link.

What interests me about this is how the law in question is being applied.  Ireland is great at passing laws but when it comes to enforcing them, not so much.  While it does look like Amnesty was in technical violation of the said Act, it also seems that they were singled out by the authority in question, after previously being advised that they were ok.

Imagine a road with a 60km speed limit on which cars travel daily above and beyond that level without penalty.  Suddenly a group of ‘concerned citizens’ inform the gardaí about one vehicle in particular, after which an officer is dispatched with a speed gun to patrol the road to catch that one suspect without checking all the others.

We could use another analogy, calling this a political equivalent of racial profiling.  Amnesty [and by extension the Irish mainstream media for not covering this to the liking of Messrs McGuirk and Bopp] are being accused of political bias when you would have to question the motives of those who initiated this controversy by registering a string of complaints with SIPOC.

I wonder how much scrutiny of funding the likes of Iona Institute and Libertas could handle.

With public opinion strongly in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, it was inevitable that the so-called ‘Pro-Life’ movement would work behind the scenes to pull any kind of stunt they could to try and tip the scales the other way.  It’s a shame that they have managed to persuade and official body to help them in their cause, but hopefully enough people see sense to realise for what it is and not take it any further.

#IANWAE

Big step for #RepealThe8th movement as Oireachtas committee set to back up Citizens’ Assembly

THE ISSUE

The Irish Government has been considering the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution which enshrined the protection of unborn children after a referendum in 1983.

THE MEDIA

Article by Sarah Bardon in Irish Times on Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Oireachtas committee set to recommend repeal of Eighth Amendment

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher said trying to replace or amend article 40.3.3 is not practical, insisting a straight repeal is the only option.

THE COMMENT

I’m no fan of Fianna Fáil but when they or Fine Gael or indeed any political party falls on the right side of an issue I’m happy to give them their due.

After hearing the opinion of experts from all points on the vast spectrum of this issue, first the Citizens’ Assembly and now a multi-party Oireachtas Committee, it seems the will of the Irish people has changed drastically from the two-thirds yes vote from the referendum back in Ireland’s Dark Ages, also known as the 80s.

Of course the so-called Pro Life movement is making accusations of ‘bias’ because apparently their ‘side’ of the argument didn’t get the 50/50 coverage they wanted but as I said earlier, it’s a spectrum rather than a two-sided coin and the Iona Institute position lies only at one extreme end and thus should receive a proportionate amount of exposure.

It’s not over yet though – this article simply states that the committee is ‘set to recommend’ repeal.  They still have to actually recommend it.  Then the Dáil needs to organise a referendum for straight repeal with a simple yes or no option for the Irish people, not some fudge involving complicated wording.

Here’s hoping the committee members go on to back up their words with action next week.

#IANWAE