Bishops set to lobby politicians in abortion campaign
DÁIL DEPUTIES and Ministers will be lobbied by bishops and priests as part of a full-scale campaign of opposition if there is any attempt by the Government to legislate for abortion.
The Church’s position was confirmed by the Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady, yesterday who suggested another referendum on abortion was possibly the only solution to deal with the controversial issue.
His comments drew a swift response from Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, who said it would be a retrograde step if the Catholic Church went back to dictating to elected representatives how to address the issue of abortion.
Previous referenda on the issue proved extremely divisive and involved often bitter clashes between Church and State figures.
The Government last year established an expert group, chaired by Mr Justice Seán Ryan of the High Court, to examine how best to implement the 2010 decision of the European Court of Human Rights that the State had violated the rights of a woman who had cancer who said she was forced to travel abroad to get an abortion, and to provide a legislative basis for the Supreme Court’s ruling in the X case.
A report from the expert group has not yet been delivered to Government but if it is seen to recommend legalising abortion, the Catholic Church has made clear a strong drive will be launched to persuade the Government not to take any such action.
As to the form this campaign would take, informed church sources told The Irish Times priests would be equipped with ample, high-quality “pro-life” material for preaching and personal contact with parishioners.
The church would also co-operate with lay organisations, including non-Catholic ones, in such a campaign. Church members, the source said, would be “encouraged to contact their local public representatives to say they do not want abortion in Ireland and pointing out that this country is recognised as the safest place in the world to have a child”.
Priests and laity would lobby public representatives with a view to “raising awareness among the political class with material consisting of reasoned argument and correct facts”. Bishops would also speak to politicians.
“Why not? They are citizens like you and I,” the well-placed source close to church thinking said.
A Fine Gael Government TD, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed lobbying on the issue by priests and laity, as well as the bishop of the diocese, had already been taking place for about six months.
A number of Fine Gael TDs have already made clear they would also oppose abortion legislation.
When asked yesterday how the church would react if the Government decided to legalise the carrying out of abortions, Cardinal Brady told RTÉ’s This Week radio programme that the response would include a “media campaign” and “lobbying public representatives”.
Mr Rabbitte, on the same programme, said he would be “somewhat surprised at the cardinal’s reference to lobbying and engaging with, canvassing, public representatives and so on, on the matter.
“I don’t have any objection to any of the churches stating its position and making it clear, but I think it would be a retrogressive step if we were to go back to the days of the Catholic Church dictating to elected public representatives how [they] should address an issue,” he said.
Responding to the remarks, Dr John Murray of The Iona Institute said: “It is Minister Rabbitte’s comment that is actually retrograde. First of all, lobbying is not the same as dictating.
“Secondly, why should business organisations or farming organisations or trades unions be allowed to lobby politicians but the churches cannot do this?”