Democ­racy deficit and lack of op­po­si­tion is dan­ger­ous

The Irish Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Breda O’Brien

Amend­ments that would have pre­vented abor­tion on the grounds of dis­abil­ity or gen­der have been rejected

Some 723,632 peo­ple voted against the re­moval of the Eighth Amend­ment. By way of com­par­i­son, 544,230 peo­ple gave their first pref­er­ence in the 2016 elec­tion to a Fine Gael can­di­date and 519,353 gave their first pref­er­ence to Fianna Fáil.

Given that far more peo­ple voted to re­tain the Eighth Amend­ment than voted for ei­ther of the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the con­tempt dis­played by them for No vot­ers is as­ton­ish­ing. Fianna Fáil has ut­terly failed in its role as an Op­po­si­tion party. It is very dan­ger­ous for democ­racy when ev­ery ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party marches in lock­step.

The Ref­er­en­dum Com­mis­sion said no one was vot­ing for any par­tic­u­lar form of leg­is­la­tion. Mr Jus­tice Peter Kelly, pres­i­dent of the High Court, up­held this view in a judg­ment on an un­suc­cess­ful chal­lenge to the out­come of the ref­er­en­dum. Yet the leg­is­la­tion cur­rently be­fore the Oireach­tas that gives ef­fect to the ref­er­en­dum is now be­ing treated as sacro­sanct and un­change­able.

No pro-life amend­ments are be­ing en­ter­tained and only a hand­ful of brave TDs and Sen­a­tors – in­clud­ing Peadar Tóibín, Carol Nolan, Mat­tie McGrath, Peter Fitz­patrick, Noel Gre­al­ish and the Healy-Rae broth­ers – are even at­tempt­ing to place amend­ments.

Amend­ments that would have pre­vented abor­tion on the grounds of dis­abil­ity or gen­der have been rejected by the health com­mit­tee, de­spite as­sur­ances that no abor­tions would be car­ried out on th­ese grounds. Dig­ni­fied dis­posal of re­mains has been rejected, as has manda­tory care for ba­bies born alive af­ter abor­tions. Even giv­ing women the choice to view an ul­tra­sound or to hear the heart­beat was rejected.Min­is­ter for Health Si­mon Har­ris re­ferred to the pro­posal to en­sure dig­ni­fied dis­posal of foetal re­mains as “ex­traor­di­nar­ily dis­taste­ful”.

Foetal re­mains

What is ex­traor­di­nar­ily dis­taste­ful is that in 2014, 10 Na­tional Health Ser­vice trusts ad­mit­ted burn­ing foetal re­mains along­side other rub­bish while two oth­ers used the bod­ies in “waste-to-en­ergy” plants which gen­er­ate power for heat. The re­mains in­cluded both mis­car­ried and ter­mi­nated un­born ba­bies. In short, hospi­tals were heated by burn­ing un­born ba­bies’ bod­ies. Given the out­cry that re­sulted in the UK, not to men­tion the out­cry re­gard­ing the Tuam ba­bies, it would seem only ba­sic de­cency to en­sure it does not hap­pen again.

A dis­re­gard for democ­racy is also ev­i­dent in the lack of con­sul­ta­tion of front­line health per­son­nel. The Min­is­ter has all but ig­nored the fact that the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers (NAGP) has pointed out that

85 per cent of its mem­bers do not want to carry out abor­tions. Even though some of th­ese doc­tors are will­ing to re­fer, many oth­ers wish to ex­er­cise free­dom of con­science and not be com­plicit in any way in tak­ing life. This would ob­vi­ously in­clude not re­fer­ring pa­tients to some­one else more will­ing to end early hu­man life.

In re­la­tion to GPs, the Min­is­ter has worked pri­mar­ily with the board of the Ir­ish Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers (ICGP), which is ab­jectly fail­ing to rep­re­sent the many GPs who sup­port or want to ex­er­cise free­dom of con­science.

More than 640 doc­tors, af­ter the fail­ure of other ef­forts to gain ac­count­abil­ity from the ICGP, called for an ex­tra­or­di­nary gen­eral meet­ing. Each of the sig­na­to­ries pro­vided their Med­i­cal Coun­cil regis­tra­tion num­ber. The ICGP claimed that the col­lec­tion of 640 on­line sig­na­tures was in­valid and that hard copy sig­na­tures should have been col­lected in­stead. This is an ex­tra­or­di­nary sug­ges­tion in an age, where, for ex­am­ple, re­newal of mem­ber­ship of pro­fes­sional bod­ies rou­tinely takes place on­line.

Cyn­i­cal and un­demo­cratic

The ICGP only agreed to hold an ex­tra­or­di­nary gen­eral meet­ing on De­cem­ber 2nd, when more than likely, the leg­is­la­tion will be com­pletely nailed down. This is both cyn­i­cal and un­demo­cratic. And it is not just GPs. Mid­wives, nurses, phar­ma­cists, hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tors – none of the front­line per­son­nel have been con­sulted.

Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail, head of the NAGP, who is pro-choice, pointed out a num­ber of prag­matic rea­sons for GPs to opt out of abor­tions. He said that it was claimed dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum that most GPs would only have to carry out one or two abor­tions a year.

He asked whether peo­ple would be com­fort­able go­ing to a sur­geon who car­ried out two op­er­a­tions a year? Ob­vi­ously not, be­cause the sur­geon would not have suf­fi­cient ex­pe­ri­ence. The same ap­plies to GPs and abor­tion. He also pointed out that there were plenty of doc­tors will­ing to carry out abor­tions, so why force the un­will­ing by threat­en­ing le­gal sanc­tions?

Why, in­deed? Per­haps be­cause we now live in an Ire­land that is so rigid, so nar­row, that any de­vi­a­tion from of­fi­cial dogma can­not be tol­er­ated.But this is the Gov­ern­ment whose so­lu­tion to the fact that there were 591 peo­ple on trol­leys one day last week was to sug­gest that health per­son­nel give up Christ­mas hol­i­days.

Mean­while, TDs and Sen­a­tors would en­joy al­most four weeks’ hol­i­days. We should not be sur­prised that the cur­rent Gov­ern­ment and many of the so-called Op­po­si­tion would pre­fer med­i­cal per­son­nel to be rub­ber-stamps rather than ac­tive, com­mit­ted pro­fes­sion­als.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.