Kenny’s stance on Bill brings closer the realisation of O’Connell’s aspirations
Hierarchy’s strong position is provoking hostility rather than agreement
The vehemence of the reaction to the Coalition’s solution from certain members of the hierarchy has come as a surprise to the political world. The Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh and the next Catholic Primate, Eamon Martin, delivered an uncompromising message to politicians during the week, asking them how they could “legislate for something which will interfere with the inviolable right to life of every human person”.
The decision of the hierarchy to depict the legislation as akin to abortion on demand, rather than the highly restrictive piece of legislation it actually is, has not had the desired effect. Far from intimidating TDs it is actually provoking the opposite reaction from many of those who consider themselves good Catholics.
The bishops have also completely misread Kenny’s character if they believe they can pressurise him on the issue.
One of Kenny’s outstanding characteristics is stubbornness; that is why he is in the Taoiseach’s office today after enduring years of being belittled by political opponents and the media.
In any case it is not as if there is public pressure on him to change his mind on abortion. The Irish Times poll during the week confirmed that there is overwhelming public support for the legislation to allow abortion where a mother’s life is in danger. The poll did disclose a degree of uneasiness about the suicide issue but it also showed there would be support for far more liberal legislation than that outlined in the Government’s legislation.
One way or another, the Bill will be passed by a massive majority even if the Government loses some backbenchers along the way. Kenny will have the distinction of having openly faced down the Catholic bishops on a major issue of controversy, something none of his predecessors managed to achieve.
Humiliating the church
The irony is that Kenny, as his visit to Bobbio showed, is no ultra-liberal with an agenda aimed at humiliating the church. He comes from the Catholic heartland of Fine Gael and has been pushed by circumstances into taking his stand on the abortion legislation. Crucially though, his long political experience has taught him to differentiate between his political responsibilities and the injunctions of the Catholic hierarchy.
Kenny is in good company. Back in 1837 Daniel O’Connell, the pioneer of Irish democracy, told the Commons that the time was coming when “the unholy union of church and state will be permanently severed in all countries professing the Catholic religion – to the securing I am confident, of the purity of the one and the consolidating safety of the other”.
It seems O’Connell’s aspirations have finally been achieved in his own country.