DANIEL MCCONNELL: 32 TDs tried to deny you your say

You should all be ashamed of yourselves. All 32 of you.

Yes, those 32 of you elected members of Dáil Éireann who feel the people don’t deserve their say.

Just to make sure you realise I am talking about you, your picture is here beside this piece on this page.

Just to be absolutely sure here are your names: Bobby Aylward, Sean Barrett, Declan Breathnach, Mary Butler, Jackie Cahill, Sean Canney, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Michael Collins, John Curran, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher, Noel Grealish, Sean Haughey, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Mattie McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, Eugene Murphy, Carol Nolan, Kevin O’Keeffe, Frank O’Rourke, Éamon Ó Cuív, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, and Niamh Symth.

What am I talking about?

I am talking about the decision of TDs from all sides of the House last Wednesday to vote against allowing the people of this country have their say on the country’s abortion laws.

While the Dáil voted by 110 votes to 32 in the first vote of the day to hold a referendum, there was much shock at why so many Fianna Fáil TDs defied their party leader Micheál Martin on the simple question of holding a referendum.

This was not the substantive issue of the merits of abortion but merely a vote on a vote.

How dare you. You have got some nerve, you really do, as elected legislators.

How dare you be as arrogant as that to say the people do not deserve the right to have their say.

The very people who saw fit to put you in your €94,000-plus-expenses-a-year job.

Now I have a great deal of respect for some of the names on that list above and very little respect for some others who did not surprise me in what they did.

But, in truth, they should have known better than to seek to act in such a shamelessly anti-democratic fashion. It was an act of hostility on the people of this country and no reason put forward by those involved has come close to a sense of credibility which would justify such an act of political skulduggery.

Let’s go through some of them.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward said: “Once the Eighth Amendment is removed the fate of the unborn will be placed in the hands of the legislators”.

“Future governments with a strong majority, whether they lean hard to the left or hard to the right, could make further legislative change which the people of Ireland may have no control over. That is important,” he said.

I am a democrat, I had no problem with the question going to the people, but when I saw it set down and the wording that we were putting to the people, I couldn’t accept it. I agonised yesterday morning, because, as I say, I am a democrat, I had to put that against the wording, and when I read the Government’s wording, that’s when I decided to vote no. I personally could not put my signature to what I believed went against my core beliefs. I am glad this is going to the people, but I could not vote in favour of it.

Tipperary’s Jackie Cahill said he could not accept the wording, which would task the Dáil with legislating if the referendum is passed.

“I was not voting against a referendum,” he said. “I believe there should be a referendum but I was against the wording.” Louth TD Declan Breathnach also disagreed with the wording and claimed he had not been given the opportunity to table amendments. “I am a believer in democracy. I always said from day one that I was in favour of a referendum,” he said.

“I believe this has been badly handled from within the Dáil.”

Another of the 21 Fianna Fáil TDs who voted no is John McGuinness. He said: “I voted no at second stage just to exercise my right to comment on the actual process and the referendum insofar as they are talking about repealing the Eighth Amendment and taking away the protection for a child and a mother in the Constitution. 

They are going to then rely on the Dáil to introduce legislation at any time. I was one of the ones who didn’t continue voting. I wanted to put down a marker that I didn’t agree with the process or the wording.”

Party whip, Michael Moynihan, said it is “not acceptable to allow an Oireachtas, whatever its make-up, to decide” on the rights of the unborn.

Many people debating this 35 years ago would not have envisaged the type of Oireachtas we have today and who is to say what an Oireachtas of the future will be like? It could be ultraliberal or ultraconservative but God alone knows. I am standing by what is in the Constitution and it should not be repealed.

Sligo TD Eamon Scanlon says: “As a political class, can we be completely trusted on this issue? I do not think so.”

Such utterances are completely perverse.

So, they are insisting the process is flawed and they can’t support even putting the question to the people and politicians cannot be trusted to handle grown-up, complex issues like abortion.

They said the wording of the question was the issue, as is their fear that they themselves, the Oireachtas, cannot be trusted to do their job and legislate on grown-up, serious issues.

Well if that is the case, if you are not up to the job, pack it in and let someone else do it.

It is the job of the Oireachtas to make the laws of the land. Not just on easy issues, but on tricky, complex issues like abortion, migration rights, and many more.

But their rantings also ignore the fundamental aspect of democracy.

That it is the people who must have their say.

To deny that is a perversion of that democracy and, as John Halligan speaking to this newspaper said, represents an “affront to that democracy”.

Unlike other political commentators who have sought to rule this out, the decision of the 21 Fianna Fáil TDs to go against their leader at this point, in my view, was totally about sending their vulnerable leader a message.

Deeply unhappy about his decision to back the referendum, as well as the proposal to allow abortions in all cases up to 12 weeks, it is clear an organised movement from a small number of TDs influenced colleagues to make the stand.

Senior party figures have said that they know a small number of Fianna Fáil TDs influenced many others in voting against a bill to allow a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Martin, who previously came out strongly in favour of repeal and access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, was furious after the vote and stands diminished as a result.

The Fianna Fáil TDs who voted against holding a referendum rejected accusations that they acted to block democracy, but that is exactly what they did.

It would make you sick.


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