Creighton finally lays her cards on the table without showing them all

Sketch: meandering Dáil debate will have little bearing on women leaving the State


A woman and her husband sit in the departure lounge at Dublin Airport, waiting to catch their flight to Liverpool. He holds her hand and wishes he could take their sadness away. It’s been like this since the doctor said their baby will not survive after birth.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” she says quietly.

He nods, lost for words.

“Deputy Terence Flanagan will lose the Fine Gael whip. He’ll have to leave the parliamentary party.”

Their flight is called. They pick up their overnight cases and continue their heartbreaking journey to the abortion clinic abroad.

In Cork Airport, there’s a similar scene.

A young girl sits with her mam, watching the board for details of their flight to Amsterdam. They don’t talk about the rape.

The girl looks out the window at the rain.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” murmurs her mother, slowly shaking her head. “Lucinda Creighton could lose the Fine Gael whip and, much more importantly, she will have to step down as Minister of State for European Affairs.”

The departure gate opens. They pick up their cabin bags and continue on their shattering journey to the abortion clinic abroad . . .

Back in Leinster House yesterday, we played the numbers game.

Ticking off the names of those Fine Gael deputies who say they will defy party instructions and vote against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Should it pass into legislation – and all the signs are that it will do so comfortably – nothing will change.

Except, emphasises the Taoiseach and his Ministers and those TDs in the party who are under considerable pressure to oppose this Bill, the circumstances where a woman can have a legal abortion here will become even more restricted than they are today.

All eyes were on Lucinda Creighton.

Her deep reservations about the legislation as it stands now is a matter of record. Until yesterday, she was able to avoid having to take a position on the debate due to her heavy workload during the EU presidency.

But that’s Lithuania’s baby now.

“Lucinda was unlucky with the timing. She could have been out of the country if the abortion vote was held during the presidency. That’s hard luck on her,” said a sympathetic colleague.

But yesterday morning, the deputy for Dublin South East had to lay her cards on the table. Which she did, but without showing them all.

Her speech on the Bill was very interesting, not least for the amount of red herrings she introduced during the course of it.

The Government’s stated aim to legislate for the confined parameters of a Supreme Court ruling brought Lucinda on a world tour.

She linked China’s single baby policy and female babies being aborted in India with what might happen here if the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is passed.

“The phenomenon of designer babies is one element that horrifies me most,” she said, going on to mention the joy of the Special Olympics “which saw children and adults with intellectual disabilities – and particularly Down syndrome – celebrated in this country like never before”.

Interestingly, Independent TD Finian McGrath, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, spoke before the Minister of State and said he is backing the legislation.

“When I was outside Leinster House protesting for more resources for people with disabilities, I didn’t see many of the people who are voting against this Bill standing alongside me,” he told us.

There were thoughtful and impassioned contributions from both sides of the debate.

Labour’s Róisín Shortall, who is outside the parliamentary party, made the case for the “middle ground”.

She believes there is no “deliberate intention to allow for a liberal abortion regime” and voiced concerns over the suicide clause in the Bill.

A number of deputies called for a referendum.

The Fianna Fáil deputies who contributed spoke against the Bill and flaunted their free vote in front of the whipped Fine Gael TDs.

“I believe, and I hope I’m wrong, that this legislation will open the floodgates to widespread abortion” said Eamon Ó Cuív.

Fine Gael’s Peter Fitzpatrick, another Government backbencher with reservations, said he had discussed the issue “with all the stakeholders” but having done a lot of research, he felt able to vote in favour.

His colleague, Regina Doherty, took umbrage at Creighton’s assertion that those who were voting for the Bill were victims of a “groupthink” mentality and spoke of the “endless sleepless nights” she had spent thinking about the issue.

The question of the availability of abortion in Ireland “boils down to location”, she pointed out. “It’s okay, but not on our doorstep.” This was echoed by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald. “We may say we have no abortion in Ireland, but in reality, we are just pretending.”

It was, said Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, “A British solution to an Irish problem.”

One of the most striking aspects of the debate was how proponents of the Bill spoke in simple terms while those against bolstered their arguments with liberal references to academic studies drawn from universities all around the world.

Galway West’s Noel Grealish, for example, cited a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry and followed that up with a Finnish study published in the European Journal of Public Health.

Charlie Flanagan, chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party wanted deputies to give “fact over fiction, accuracy over hype and stick to the Bill, no more”. Which is what the Taoiseach did.

The Minister for Justice sat beside him, and next to him sat Lucinda Creighton, trying out a Cabinet pew for size. Earlier, Alan Shatter said he found it “extraordinary” that situations in India and China had been introduced to the debate and hoped that “type of hyperbole” would not feature in future discussions.

As the Taoiseach spoke, categorically ruling out making the changes that Creighton called for in her contribution, his junior minister looked into the distance, her arms tightly folded across her body.

She didn’t look in the least bit reassured when Enda declared, “If I thought for one moment that this Bill would lead to the creation of a liberal abortion regime in Ireland, I would not endorse it.”

When he concluded, she left immediately, without a word or a glance to the Taoiseach or Ministers Shatter, Reilly and Fitzgerald.

Will she stay or will she join colleagues, including Peter Mathews, Brian Walsh and Terence Flanagan, and vote against?

Not that it will give any comfort or make a blind bit of difference to the women waiting in the airport departure lounges . . .