My column in The Kerryman. 24 July, 2013
I wrote here recently about the lack of useful anger in Ireland. I worried that we didn’t have the energy required to even just keep an eye on the people we’ve gifted power to. Then we had the spectacle of an all night sitting of the Dáil. I thought myself an energised and interested person as I sat up all night to watch our TDs make endless speeches, debate and vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
165 amendments were proposed. Every last TD was allowed speak. More and more time was allocated, so every little grievance, suggestion, opinion and plea was heard. In the end, not a single amendment, not first proposed by the Minister of Health, was passed. Not one.
Yes, it was a wonderfully entertaining event, if one is a political nerd. It was also a vital piece of legislation, if that is, one identifies as very strongly pro-life or pro-choice. I’m a political nerd and I’m very strongly pro-choice, yet the entire exercise has left me feeling profoundly empty.
There was a debate during the long hours of argument and counter argument about whether a woman, who was pregnant because of being raped should go to jail for five years or 14 years if she procured an abortion in this country. Five years or for fourteen? That was one of the highlights.
There was much talk of principles. Much talk of protecting our most vulnerable. Conscience was mentioned. Conscience? Did you know that the person who won the €93.9m Euromillions jackpot, barely makes it into the top 100 richest people in Ireland? Principles and conscience, when discussing legislation that will only impact on women too poor or too ill to travel to the UK.
Principles and conscience when 40 teenagers in 2011, raped while under 18, were made pregnant by their rapist. Nine of them had abortions. Today, unless they can jump through the hoops laid out by this legislation, they’d still have to travel to a foreign country for a termination.
From a pro-choice point of view this legislation is a step in the right direction, but a step so minuscule, it’d require specialist equipment to measure the distance gained.
The legislation itself however, being so poor, is less interesting than the actual process of its passage through the Dáil. To watch was to learn a great deal about what is wrong in this country.
When we vote for our TDs, we are electing a committee who are charged with the appointment of a government. We don’t choose the Government; the fellas from whom we beg Medical Cards, demand that potholes be filled and ask if they can speed up passport applications, choose our government.
What do they do with this awesome power? Watch how this legislation was passed. The process began last November when reports of Savita Halappanavar’s death first went national. Dáil Committees sat, experts were questioned, a draft Bill was published. And all these months later? Every TD who wanted to make an amendment was allowed propose one. Every TD who wanted to speak was allowed to do so. The Government sat and listened and then enacted the legislation exactly as it had always intended to do so anyway. That’s worth paying attention to.