Abortion committee TDs under pressure from ‘intense lobbying’
Legitimacy of ‘cut-and-paste’ email campaigns questioned
Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer: “I would be very worried about the tone that’s taking place on Twitter and social media where there doesn’t seem to be any checks and balances.” Photograph: Eric Luke
TDs and Senators on the Eighth Amendment committee are under pressure from “intense lobbying” by anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates, according to Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer.
Mr Buttimer said committee members were being “inundated” with emails as they prepared to meet in public for the second time, on Wednesday afternoon, to discuss the constitutional issues raised by the report of the Citizens’ Assembly.
“We are all under pressure because intense lobbying creates pressure,” the Fine Gael Senator said. “I would be very worried about the tone that’s taking place on Twitter and social media where there doesn’t seem to be any checks and balances. There is lobbying on social media as well as emails.”
However, Mr Buttimer said it was important politicians remembered their duty as elected representatives and “don’t shy away from sensitive social issues”.
He said he would question the legitimacy of campaigns that involved sending “generic, cut-and-paste” emails.
Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly agreed many of the emails were so similar that she believed they must have been co-ordinated. She said she had received a large number from the pro-choice side in particular before and after last week’s meeting of the committee.
“We are subject to a fairly relentless campaign. The volume can be overwhelming. There was a barrage of emails over the space of 24 hours, about 150 or 200,” Ms O’Reilly said.
“All you can do to a cut-and-paste email is give a cut-and-paste reply. They don’t add to the debate. They do a disservice to their own cause. You can’t be expected to engage.”
Sinn Féin advocates repealing the Eighth Amendment and enacting legislation for abortion in limited circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.
Ms O’Reilly predicted communication from advocates would intensify as the committee continued its work.
“When we debated Mick Wallace’s Fatal Foetal Abnormalities Bill [defeated in the Dáil in July 2016] we were all inundated. There will be trigger points which will herald the unleashing of barrages,” she said
“I haven’t had people raise it with me in my constituency clinic, bar one lady who said, ‘Be measured in your approach, don’t be extreme.”
Fianna Fail TD James Browne from Wexford said he had also received large numbers of emails. “Nobody locally has stopped me on the street. There has been one or two from both sides who have mentioned it to me, most saying: ‘Listen to the evidence and keep an open mind’,” he said.
“There are more emails on it than any other topic at the moment, but I wouldn’t be particularly surprised at that. Some come from organisations, some are clearly just cut-and-paste. Some are very personal.
“Some are local, some from across the country. There’s a real mix. It doesn’t feel like I’m under siege. I expected it.”
The committee will on Wednesday discuss a paper submitted to the assembly by Brian Murray SC on the legal consequences of retention, repeal or amendment of article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.