Citizens’ Assembly blunder - Error was not malicious so let’s move on

It is unfortunate that recruitment protocols around seven members of the Citizens’ Assembly were broken but

to suggest that it is anything more than that is at best disingenuous.

To suggest, as pro-life campaigner Cora Sherlock has, that the breach undermines the legitimacy of the decision to hold a referendum in May is a red herring of an entirely different colour, one almost on a par with President Trump’s suggestion that America should arm its teachers to counter gun attacks in schools.

Ms Sherlock’s assertion is also a reminder of the old rule of thumb — beware of those who oppose giving people a chance to vote on public-interest issues.

This is not the first time pro-life campaigners have expressed dissatisfaction with the public process of trying to come to a full understanding of the issues involved — possibly because their view has not prevailed. Ms Sherlock’s view was echoed by PLC spokesperson Dr Ruth Cullen who said: “What has transpired brings the entire Citizens’ Assembly process into serious disrepute.”

Responding, the assembly chairperson, retired supreme court Judge Mary Laffoy, was unequivocal: “This has no

impact on the work of the Assembly ... I want to assure the public in the clearest possible terms, that I am satisfied that this is an isolated incident and that it has no impact.”

How you respond to those positions, one the polar opposite of the other probably depends on your position on the Eighth but it is undeniable that there has been a concerted campaign to undermine how both the Citizens’ Assembly and the joint Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment are perceived — especially since their conclusions made it impossible to continue, after decades of simmering unease, to defer a vote on the issue.

The chairperson of the Oireachtas committee, Senator Catherine Noone, has said that despite efforts to hear from experts who would put the medical case for retaining the Eighth no Irish-based consultants or GPs made themselves available.

Some anti-abortion doctors asked to speak to the committee chose not to. Declining the opportunity, US-based professor of paediatrics Martin McCaffrey described the committee as a “kangaroo court”. His view pretty much

reflected the position of two members — Senator Rónán Mullen and Mattie McGrath TD — who expressed their unease with how conflicting positions were facilitated.

To those old enough to remember the early divorce, contraception and abortion campaigns, the row provoked by this recruitment blunder, one that no-one has suggested was malicious or contrived to skew the assembly’s findings, must seem a very modest storm in a very small teacup. It pales in comparison with some of the storm-trooping of those campaigns when the status quo ruled with an iron and proudly intolerant fist.

One of the tactics used by Brexit campaigners was, if you could not win the argument, to undermine those who made them because they wanted to stay in Europe. Could that strategy be in play here? Surely not.


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