Kenny made repeated inquiries on referendum
LETTERS:Enda Kenny made repeated representations on behalf of constituents in 1981 and 1982 seeking to expedite the introduction of the “pro-life” amendment to the Constitution.
Newly released correspondence shows Kenny was prominent among TDs in writing to the Department of the Taoiseach on the issue.
Four months after the establishment of the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (Plac), Kenny wrote to then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald seeking the government’s official position on the proposed referendum. The Fine Gael-led government was coming under intense pressure from the Plac to honour a pre-election promise on the issue, and Kenny attached with his covering note – dated September 14th, 1981 – a letter from a constituent in Co Mayo.
A draft reply was formulated three days later, stressing the government was committed to introducing a referendum “without delay”. A handwritten note in the margin read: “Deputy Kenny phoned this a.m. requesting this letter from T.”
Kenny was prominent among TDs in writing to the Department of the Taoiseach, on each occasion representing constituents on the issue.
On November 3rd, he wrote requesting “individual replies . . . as soon as possible” to 12 letters addressed to him by students at Sacred Heart School in Westport. The dozen letters, which had almost identical wording and were written on school notepaper, sought to know when the referendum would be introduced.
He sought a further reply from the department a week later to an almost identical letter written on children’s notepaper, and on November 12th he wrote seeking an “appropriate reply” to a letter from the secretary of the Belmullet branch of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child.
The flurry of correspondence prompted some discussion in the department as to how to respond to such letters. Officials suggested a protocol whereby letters from TDs requesting government policy would receive the taoiseach’s signature but third-party letters would be signed by his private secretary. All contained the holding statement that the government was committed to the referendum and the wording was being examined by the attorney general.
Kenny wrote again to the department in June 1982, making representations for a Co Mayo priest who had urged the TD to “press urgently for the referendum”.
In the one-paragraph letter, the priest wrote “the sooner this legislation goes through and is added to our Constitution the less chance there is of the ‘free thinking’ public’s ideas getting a stronghold on our youth and in our Country”.
Kenny forwarded the correspondence to then taoiseach Charles Haughey, adding: “I would appreciate your comments and up to date position regarding this complex matter.”
The vast majority of the correspondence received by the department at the time was strongly in favour of the referendum. Dozens of letters were sent by religious congregations, including the Little Sisters of the Assumption, who wrote to FitzGerald before the February 1982 general election saying “over the past week-end we heard rumours that you are for abortion” and seeking clarification. FitzGerald replied, saying he was “very disturbed” to learn of such “malicious” hearsay.
One of the few voices against the referendum was the multidenominational Irish Council of the Churches, which wrote to say it was “firmly opposed to indiscriminate abortion” but stressed this “should be a matter for legislation by the Oireachtas and not for definition by the constitution”.
The Right to Choose Campaign also sent correspondence in July 1982 but the department declined to acknowledge it on the basis that it was a circular, “not even addressed to a member of government”.