Business as usual amid political inaction on abortion

Analysis: Small number of politicians not shy about taking to airwaves over controversy

Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists opposite one another on  Dublin’s O’Connell Street during opposing rallies in July 2013. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists opposite one another on Dublin’s O’Connell Street during opposing rallies in July 2013. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 10:40

Politicians cannot be blamed for attempting to take advantage of the traditional summer news vacuum to switch their phones off and get away from it all. However, when a significant story such as the latest Irish abortion controversy breaks, the silence of our elected representatives is striking.

A small and familiar number of politicians on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum – Labour Senator Ivana Bacik and Independent Senator Rónán Mullen to name two – have not been shy about taking to the airwaves.

The majority of Oireachtas members, however, are much less keen to voice their views.

Some caution that the full facts of the case have yet to come into the public domain. Others are taking a break and are either uncontactable or admit they are simply not up to speed on the tragic story.

A further cohort will probably always be allergic to entering into any discussion whatsoever about the issue of abortion, which they consider politically toxic.

This means that large numbers of voters who now identify themselves as being in the “middle ground” in the debate are effectively left without a spokesperson in a controversy that will certainly outlive the current Government.

Intense hearings and heated discussions led to the recently enacted Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. The controversial legislation has now faced its first public test and, in the view of many observers in both the anti- abortion and pro-choice camps, it has failed.

Senior Coalition figures have made it clear that there is simply no political appetite for a new referendum on the issue, however.

Fine Gael, which lost a clutch of Senators and TDs – including the prominent former junior minister Lucinda Creighton over the new law – appears not to want to return to the issue under any circumstances.

The Labour Party, for the most part, says it has no mandate to take the matter any further.

The party’s Wicklow TD Anne Ferris stands apart from colleagues when she says the matter is too urgent to be left to the next government.

She has made the case for including a fresh national poll on abortion among the clutch of referendums already planned for next year.

“We should not kick it to touch,” is Ferris’s assessment of the issue.

Government Ministers have pledged that the Coalition will demonstrate a revitalised agenda-setting energy when normal political service resumes next month. However it appears it will be business as usual by way of inaction when it comes to dealing with this most contentious of issues.

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