With less than two weeks to go to the vote on the Eighth Amendment, it’s been a relatively sane campaign. A few interventions, however, have been noteworthy.
Google’s decision to ban all advertising on the referendum is alarming. The internet giant has intervened in the democratic process through censorship.
This intervention will largely boost the yes side, as the no side had put huge emphasis on targeted online campaigning.
The ban has largely been welcomed by the yes side, who would be screaming blue murder about censorship and corporate undermining of democracy if they had been reliant on online campaigning.
Censorship, it would appear, is grand as long as the ‘right’ people or interests are being censored. Democracy is the loser here, and, once more, the unfettered power of internet giants is being exercised over citizens. Somebody is going to have to shout ‘stop’, pretty soon.
One of the more interesting interventions in the campaign has been Nell McCafferty’s. The veteran journalist’s contribution raised eyebrows because of its content and because of her record as a fighter for women’s rights going back nearly 50 years.
Last month, she told the ‘Women In Media’ conference that she is trying to make up her mind on abortion. “Is it the killing of a human being? Is it the end of potential life?” she asked, adding that she didn’t have the answer.
“But it’s not that I’m unable — I am unwilling to face some of the facts about abortion,” she said.
In some instances of abortion, she said, “they scrape the contents out of the womb. The pro-lifers are right. Out come the wee arms and legs, and I thought, ‘Oh, God, is this what I am advocating?’” Yet, she has come to the conclusion that it is.
“I believe that abortion is necessary, and [it is necessary] to have it as freely, legally, and widely as possible,” she said.
Her musings are most likely uncomfortable for the repealers. Nell is correct, though. We don’t talk about abortion, at least not those of us who oppose the constitutional ban on it.
Abortion involves the termination of something. Not life, certainly not in the way that most people consider life.
But something is terminated, something that if not interfered with, could, and usually would, develop into life.
I suspect that Nell’s view chimes with that of a great many people who are uneasy about what is involved in abortion, yet who believe that the constitutional ban must be removed.
For 35 years, the country has been chained to the constitutional provision, and those were years of great social change, of different perspectives on civil and human rights, and of the collapse of the authoritarian grip of the Church on society.
Abortion should be dealt with in legislation, according to the mores and values of the day. And at this point in the evolution of Irish society, there is an acceptance among a large cohort that there is a place for limited availability of the procedure.
The biggest flaw in the case for retention was exposed in comments made by the Bishop of Cloyne, William Crean, last week.
He asked parishioners not to concentrate on individual, difficult situations, which can be “sad and painful”, but to look at the wider implications of establishing what he called a “culture of abortion as a routine medical procedure”.
His comments betray the approach of the Church and the approach of many of the retainers. For them, the issue is not a function of the messy reality of life, but an abstract concept of what constitutes life, as defined by the tenets of their religion.
In this worldview, Ireland remains an insulated island in a world gone mad. The internet does not exist; neither does the abortion pill.
Britain, or other countries that acknowledge the necessity of the procedure, do not exist. In this view, the constitutional ban has kept Ireland pure.
They want to retain a constitutional ban in order to keep the numbers down, not to keep abortion out.
Whether repeal of the provision would substantially increase the instance of abortion is a moot point.
But using the Constitution to limit numbers, rather than ban something, is little short of ludicrous and wouldn’t be contemplated with any other issue.
Politicians, on the whole, have behaved themselves during the campaign. This has always been a thorny subject for the mainstream parties, but of the three now in the field — Sinn Féin having displaced Labour — Fine Gael appear to be handling it the best.
The party’s representatives come down on both sides, but, so far, there has been no open division, although few outside the cabinet are canvassing at all.
Fianna Fáil is not as lucky. The gathering of 31 of their Oireachtas members for a photocall for the no side reflects how deep the division is between some members and the party leader.
If the referendum proposal were to fail, it would deal a much bigger blow to Micheál
Martin than to Leo Varadkar.
One other noteworthy intervention concerns Sinn Féin’s decision to use the occasion of the referendum to promote their new party leader.
The Shinners are the only party to go down this road. A cheap grab for political capital is not unknown to all parties, but Sinn Féin is being particularly cynical.
While the other parties have finally grown up and recognised this primal issue as a matter of conscience, Sinn Féin continues to impose a whip on elected members.
The party’s position is that it favours repeal, but does not favour the proposal to permit abortion on request up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
As such, the party is kidding the electorate. While the 12-week proposal is not on the referendum ballot paper, voters are being asked, de facto, to vote on that basis.
In such a scenario, the approach of Sinn Féin might have been to keep the head down and quietly campaign for whatever it is they want.
That they are using the occasion to introduce their new president to the electorate smacks of high cynicism.
Hopefully, this cynicism is just a dying ember from the old party and Ms McDonald may, just like the referendum itself, begin to drag things into the modern world.
Hopefully, also, the referendum will pass. It’s high time that we moved away from an Irish solution to an Irish problem and faced up to the reality that life is messy and that this country can no longer be insulated from the real world.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved