Miriam Lord’s Sketch: One last push and a pointless Bill is born, to no joy, but to the relief of all involved
Rancorous debates, on abortion and abolition, finally came to a close
One last push . . . and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was passed. The result was never in doubt. The handful of Senators who spent hours screaming and kicking against it finally ran out of time.
“Shame on ye!” shouted Fidelma Healy Eames. “Shame on ye!”
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war . . . ”
Going by his performances during the debates, the Fianna Fáil Senator behaved like a man fighting a civil war. He had no problem going over the top for the cause, and frequently did, his party colleague, Brian Ó Domhnail, by his side.
What care would be given to a woman after her abortion, he asked, as if the new legislation, which changes nothing, was going to lead to queues of suicidal women demanding terminations.
“Tis all very fine for the pseudo liberals and the pseudo feminists who argue it’s a woman’s right to choose . . . but as soon as that woman has had her abortion they’re no long interested.”
Rónán Mullen warned of dire consequences: “We are introducing an abortion regime here.”
In the end, they talked themselves out. “You’ll have blood on your hands for the rest of you life,” one anti-legislation senator was heard saying to a colleague before the vote.
Three members of Fianna Fáil voted with the Government – they had a free vote – Ned O’Sullivan, Averil Power and Mary White. “I thank the Government for having the courage to bring this Bill forward and I am confident that I represent the position of the majority of the Irish people,” said White. She was applauded by the other side of the house.
Former FF senator John Hanafin watched from the public gallery as the pseudo liberals and pseudo feminists cast their votes, with a majority of 39 for the Bill and 14 against.
The result was barely acknowledged. Those against the Bill went into a huddle, talking urgently to each other. Those who voted in favour left the chamber as quickly as possible. Relief was the overall feeling. There was nothing to celebrate on any side. The law won’t make any difference to the vast majority of Irish women who travel for terminations, but at least it was done.
Abortion. Abolition. Austerity.
With Seanad Éireann shutting shop for summer today, this Triple-A rated Oireachtas session finally comes to a welcome end.
The dispiriting debate on abortion came to a rancorous conclusion late in the evening. Its opponents are now pinning their hopes on the legal system.
The entertaining debate on holding a referendum to abolish the Upper House came to a crotchety conclusion late in the afternoon.
And there’s no sign of an end to austerity any time yet. They’ll all be back in September, in time to contemplate the Budget in October. Luckily for the Government, they hope the circus of a Seanad referendum will deflect the public.
Senators on all sides are unhappy at the idea of scrapping their beloved Seanad. But they also knew they had no chance of defeating the legislation. Time so for the second phase: the fight to save the Upper House; The Battle of the Indulged.
This was a chance for members to demonstrate their oratorical brilliance and show the public what they stand to lose if they reject their chamber’s claim to relevance.
Enda was the villain of the piece for suggesting the Seanad was surplus to requirements. He was compared to Robert Mugabe, Mussolini and the Wizard of Oz in the course of the debate.
David Norris was beside himself. “A very sad day for Seanad Éireann,” he said, lowering the decibel level for a few seconds to prove how seriously he viewed the matter.
Fianna Fáil’s Denis O’Donovan was so dismayed by how his Government counterparts intended to vote that he was moved to quote his grandfather: “May he never be fat, the man who wears two faces under the one hat.” A dark day.
Peter Mathews, when he wasn’t sitting forlornly on the plinth, took up a perch in the press box for the abortion debate. Peter, who relinquished the party whip when he voted against Fine Gael in the Dáil vote, is in the process of being evicted from his office. Except he doesn’t want to go.
Opposition Senators praised him for his brave stand. Peter looked suitably heroic.
Melodrama as Healy-Eames, also late of the Fine Gael parish, declared the abolition vote to be “a defining moment in our history” but one which would be won by “reasoned debate”. Oh dear.
‘Loyalty to the crown’
Marc MacSharry thundered against Government Senators voting “on their loyalty to the crown, as it were” and following party orders. “That’s fundamentally wrong” said the man from Fianna Fáil, without as much as a blush.
Rónán Mullen: we thought he was referring to his own performance during the abortion debate, but he was likening Enda to the Wizard of Oz: “A relatively small man hidden behind a smokescreen of advisers and handlers but making a loud noise, and certainly managing to scare all the people under his command.”
“Most of the people” carolled a defiant Healy Eames.
Opposition Senators were disgusted by the actions of their Government colleagues. “They have completely failed to man up or woman up and resist this grubby little proposal,” sniffed Mullen. The vote was called. Cat calls were directed at the Yes camp. “Turkeys and Christmas! Look at the turkeys voting for Christmas!”
“It’s now over to the people,” said the Cathaoirleach, as the chamber caught its breath with Feargal Quinn’s universally welcomed Construction Contracts Bill.
An excellent example of what the Seanad can do.