Miriam Lord: Mattie insists Harris is hanging out with bad company

Taoiseach allowing Minister for Health to cavort with people from Amnesty – McGrath

Mattie McGrath:  “I’m asking you, Taoiseach, to have some accountability for your Ministers”

Mattie McGrath: “I’m asking you, Taoiseach, to have some accountability for your Ministers”

 

Arrest Simon Harris now. Because it’s not good when the Minister for Health is running around with a delinquent crowd of human rights hooligans, and illegally campaigning with them while they act with impunity outside of the law.

The law, that is, according to Mattie McGrath.

At the very least Leo Varadkar should keep the errant Harris and some of his Cabinet colleagues under control.

“I’m asking you, Taoiseach, to have some accountability for your Ministers,” pleaded McGrath, labouring under the delusion that Varadkar is turning a blind eye to Cabinet members “illegally” campaigning for abortion “with people who have acted outside the law”. These people, according to McGrath, are from Amnesty Ireland International.

Harris, apparently, is the worst offender, choosing “to spend his time campaigning with individuals and organisations that are in open defiance of Irish electoral law”.

The Minister looked across at him perplexed.

But that’s what Mattie believes. It was all written down in the script he carefully read from during Leaders’ Questions. The Independent TD for Tipperary, an ardent anti-abortion activist, was fit to be tied.

“A senior Minister in your Government is championing a group who made clear and illegal use of €120,000, and you think that is perfectly fine,” he thundered. “I find that staggering, Taoiseach... Where are your standards?”

Integrity

Having accused the Taoiseach of undermining “the integrity” of his own referendum campaign by allowing Harris cavort with people from Amnesty, McGrath then accused him of insulting the independence and integrity of the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) “which made the judgment against Amnesty Ireland”. Yet Harris is allowed to “champion them around the streets”.

The Taoiseach introduced Mattie to the facts, briskly deflating his conflation.

“In terms of Amnesty International, their current campaign is registered with Sipo, it’s above board, and I don’t believe anyone has produced any evidence to the contrary,” said Leo.

Mattie was referring to a different campaign which Amnesty “ran maybe a year or two ago, against which Sipo has made some negative findings” and which are being disputed in the courts. “I think it’s wrong to confuse the two,” the Taoiseach said, adding that “perhaps it is deliberate but, either way, it is wrong”.

Mattie wasn’t taking that. He came out fighting.

“I never mentioned Amnesty International,” he roared, to hoots of laughter from all sides. “Yes, you did,” shouted back Paschal Donohoe, as TDs guffawed in support.

“Amnesty Ireland,” insisted Mattie over the din. “Amnesty Ireland, I said. Excuse me, you’d want to listen!”

Same difference, as everybody in the Dáil chamber knew, which is why they found his indignation so funny.

“It’s very funny, yeah,” sulked Mattie, who also opened up a second line of attack on the Minister for Health.

Open debate

Harris, it seems, “is in hiding” , and he has failed to respond to “the numerous requests that have come to him, from the Save the 8th campaign and others, to conduct an open debate on this matter”.

Harris in hiding? Surely an oxymoron. He is the most visible Minister in Cabinet and a martyr to microphones. The cervical cancer scandal of the past two weeks has been the reason for that.

Earlier on, at a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee, Senator Ronán Mullen made the same charge against the Minister, accusing him of avoiding debate with anti-abortion groups in the run-up the the referendum. Harris replied he was more than happy to take part in debates once they were organised by independent bodies, such as RTÉ.

We have so much to look forward to in the next fortnight.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach strongly disagreed with McGrath when he declared that it was “absolutely clear” that the Government’s position was rapidly losing support among the public. “I believe this referendum is going to carry,” he predicted.

However, while glad that the campaign has largely been respectful so far and rarely personalised, Varadkar added: “I really do regret the extent to which some people, including Deputy McGrath, have sought to personalise this against Minister Harris and I think that is absolutely wrong... I don’t think he, or anyone on any side of this referendum, should be targeted personally in any way, whether it’s through posters or demands for one-to-one debate, or anything of that nature.”

Proposed legislation

He also very simply laid out the detail of the proposed legislation should the Eighth Amendment be repealed, stressing it would not, as suggested by McGrath, lead to unrestricted abortion after 12 weeks.

“If there isn’t a Yes vote, things will remain exactly as they are now. There will be no legislation. So women who are victims of rape, women who are pregnant as a result of incest or women who are just children themselves won’t be able to get the help they need in this country,” Varadkar said.

“I think those who are advocating a No vote need to explain why they would turn their backs on those women, and why they would give them the cold shoulder, because that’s what a No vote would mean.”

Mattie’s second question had a distinct legal twang to it as he argued that the outline of the legislation does not afford full protection to a viable baby.

“Oh, would you ever stop it,” sighed Fine Gael backbencher Kate O’Connell.

Across the floor, Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers shook her head and rolled her eyes.

Sounding like a senior counsel having completed an argument, Mattie triumphantly read: “This clearly demonstrates that all of the claims you and your Ministers are making in relation to protecting the child once it reaches viability are an absolute nonsense and are not worth the paper that they’re written on.”

Why can’t he admit there can be absolutely no guarantees given “around prohibition of abortion in either six, seven, eight or nine months? And that is the fact.”

The Taoiseach explained why.

Viability isn’t as simple as drawing a line at a set number of weeks into pregnancy. It is a matter of clinical judgment “taking into account the gestation, taking into account the size of the foetus and also the weight”. Two doctors – both on the specialist register – will decide this.

More conservative

He also dismissed McGrath’s assertion that Government proposals for “a restrictive abortion” system were “complete falsehoods”, saying the Irish Bill was “considerably more conservative” than what existed in the UK or the Netherlands Holland and “very similar” to the law in Germany.

“He sounded convincing. But then he is a politician. And, as everyone seems to be saying these days, politicians can’t be trusted. Can’t trust Leo. Can’t trust Mattie.

Just as well we can fall back on the politicians in Westminster to make the abortion decisions for us so.

Paragons, the lot of them.

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