Miriam Lord: Simon Harris reads his 'little list' during Seanad stint

Minister for Health draws attention to false claims from previous referendum campaigns

Before the date was even announced, the leader of Sinn Féin was out on the plinth and promising leadership, if not yet a definitive stance on abortion from her party.

But Mary Lou McDonald was right earlier when she told the Taoiseach in the Dáil that “the campaign is now under way.” Although it was nearer teatime by the time the official starter signalled the off.

The Seanad had to have its say first. After a lively session, the Upper House voted to hold a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, even if there was little new from either side in an argument which has been rehearsed for far too long.

So it was something of a relief when four Ministers walked out to the microphones in front of government buildings and finally announced the date of the referendum – May 25th.


The sooner, the better.

There are only so many times a person can hear a Senator or a TD earnestly declare that they were, indeed, born. We’ve all been there.

Because if we hadn’t been born, where would we be today?

On Tuesday night, one Senator, for the sake of completeness, helpfully pointed out to everyone that they started life as part of a pregnancy before being born – whether they liked it or not. The implication being that some people who favour Repeal and the introduction of safe and legal abortion within an early term limit would prefer not to have to have to admit that they first had to be conceived, carried and born in order to become the adult parliamentarians they are now.

Confusing stance

In Leinster House, discussion of abortion was confined to the Seanad yesterday, even if the confusing stance of the Tánaiste on the issue continued to fascinate. Having completely reversed his view that abortion within a 12-week timeframe is unacceptable, there were indications from Simon Coveney yesterday that his change of heart came with legislative concessions attached.

But Simon Harris, the Minister for Health, who is leading from the front in the campaign, didn't appear to know anything about them when he was asked.

While attending the Seanad debate over the last couple of days, Harris revealed he kept himself busy by “making up a little list” of examples of statements thrown out by campaigners in previous referendums which subsequently proved unfounded.

He reeled off quite a few, reminding many of us about things we had forgotten while remarking on how the same old names keep cropping up when “societal issues” are in focus.

Individuals had “gotten away” with a lot of scaremongering in the past. Simon Harris promised that this time, he will be holding them and their dire predictions to account before the votes are cast.

Remember the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill?

Go on so, if we must....

The Minister reminded us how lawyers and clinicians and other experts discussed the situation factually, but then politicians stood up and repeated “crude phrases” like “the floodgates will open” and “words to the effect that women will fake being suicidal”.

It never happened.

“Does anybody want to say ‘sorry, I got that wrong?” he asked.

And then there was the divorce referendum. Simon Harris was a child, looking at posters saying “Hello divorce, bye-bye Daddy.” He remembered other ones warning divorce would destroy Irish families and more saying kids would never see their dads ever again and that divorce rates would soar.

He quoted current figures. The Irish divorce rate is among the lowest in the world.

A question for the people involved in that campaign: “Do they want to now apologise and say they got that wrong, sorry about that?”

Popping up

Harris then he made an interesting point about how the same people keep popping up all the time in all these different campaigns.

“Funny how that happens,” he mused.

True, but maybe not that funny.

They were prominent in the Childrens’ Rights Referendum too, he recalled.

Ah yes, that was the one “when we thought: wouldn’t it be a good idea to actually say our children should have rights in our constitution?”

So what happened next, Simon?

“And they said: Oh, no, the State will come in and snatch your children in the middle of the night. Under-pressure parents will have their kids taken off them.”

True again. That’s what they said. And that never happened.

“Do they want to say sorry?” he asked, before moving to the former senator who tweeted that bringing in marriage equality could result in the end of Mother’s Day. Does she want to apologise for that tweet?

She, as it happened, was not far away. Fidelma Healy-Eames was in Buswell’s Hotel at the launch of a website designed to encourage women in crisis pregnancies to consider the option of adoption.

But back to Harris, who was “sick and tired” of hearing statements and accusation which turn out to be untrue with nobody ever challenging them afterwards.

“I will be holding people to account for the statements they make,” he declared. And while he would remain at all times respectful, he will not remain silent.

Simon, it seems, is taking the gloves off, but in a most respectful way.