Thursday 30 December 2010

Fine Gael lacking courage and conviction in the Irish Abortion Debate

In my last post I wrote about the latest ECHR judgment concerning abortion - A, B and C v Ireland. On Tuesday the leader of the largest opposition party, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael, said that the issue was for an all-party committee to investigate, and would not commit to a referendum on the matter:

"Mr Kenny said abortion had been a very divisive issue in Ireland in the past and a re-run of those debates was not what the country needed right now.


“We had the X case way back in the 1990s and the European Court of Human Rights has given its decision now. This judgment required proper analysis and some in-depth discussion. What I would propose is that the next Oireachtas should establish a process to look at the core issues here. I am not going to shirk the issue but I am not going to predetermine what the outcome will be.”


“In this case, my view is that we should set up an appropriate all-party committee with terms of reference that would allow it to have access to the best legal advice, to the best medical advice . . . what should be done might range across a spectrum, from legislation to a list of State recommendations or regulations that the medical profession could adhere to and operate within,” he says.

“My position is I do not favour legalising abortion on demand. We have a situation where you have difficult, hard cases, and some people have gone through very difficult circumstances but there is an ECHR judgment, there is a Supreme Court decision and there is a constitutional position. If the next Oireachtas is to respond, it has got to determine what the facts are, the scale of the problem and the nature of it and see if we can arrive at a consensus on how to deal with it.”"

This is clearly a cop-out. It is understandable that the focus of FG in government would be the economic situation, but it's clear that FG don't know how to approach the matter at all. It's s clear example of the reluctance of the Irish political parties to think about these matters, never mind have a position on them.

The A, B, and C judgment basically said that Irish law did not ensure adequate access of women in Ireland to abortion where Irish law stated that they were entitled to it. The judgment quoted from reports, and it is clear that there have been research into this area before, and on a continuous basis. So if Kenny didn't want to draw attention to abortion as a devisive issue, he could have just stated that, said that a FG-led government would bring the law into line with the Constitution and the ECHR ruling.

The statement might be a result of tensions within the party (which is centre-right). Conservatives may want to retain strict abortion laws, while more liberal members may want to adopt more liberal abortion laws. From the Irish Times article it appears that Kenny wants abortion to be available where the mother's health would be affected, even if not on demand (currently it's only available if the mother's life is in danger). That would require a referendum.

There are 3 options:

1. Keep things the way they are, but make access to abortion were it's already permitted under the law more accessable in practical terms (the A, B and C line).

2. Have abortion were the mother health is in danger (also in cases of rape/incest/etc.).

3. Permit abortion on demand.

2 & 3 would require a constitutional amendment (which would have to be passed by referendum). In those cases you advocate a position and stick to it: the nitty-gritty of legislative work comes afterwards, when it permitted under the Constitution. The fundamental argument is political, and if the political parties cannot face up to taking a principled stand from wherever they stand on the political spectrum, it's a craven act of political cowardice.


  1. Its strange that you pick on FG on this issue, I know it is because of the interview in the Irish Times, but Labour and Fianna Fail are taking the exact same stance, as are the Greens I think. Sinn Fein is pro-life.

    So take it in perspective that no Irish Party wants to be associated with this.

  2. The Irish Times interview is pretty much the only reason - but then FG should probably take indecisive stances more quietly, like the other parties. It's a follow-up post to the last one, which bemoans the fact that Irish parties generally won't deal with the abortion issue, and this post is just to highlight the latest (very public) example of that.

    The points on the logical stances and debates apply to all parties, though.