Brendan Howlin clashes with ex-Ictu boss Begg over referendum

David Begg said he ‘cannot in conscience vote to repeal’

David Begg insisted however that he was ‘not an absolutist in this matter’. File photograph:  Nick Bradshaw

David Begg insisted however that he was ‘not an absolutist in this matter’. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw


Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin has challenged former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions David Begg who said he “cannot in conscience vote to repeal the Eight Amendment”

Mr Howlin said: “David Begg is somebody I admire enormously and whose views I respect, but with whom I differ on the referendum to remove the 8th Amendment.”

He continued “David indicates that his position on this issue is not an absolutist one and that he would support change in the case of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

“However the one thing we are clear on is that to make that possible we need to repeal the 8th amendment. He refers to a possible legislative provision around 12 weeks as arbitrary though that proposal arises directly from the need to deal with has been termed by many on the No side as hard cases.”

This “was teased out at some length at the Oireachtas Committee reflecting the concerns of how to avoid retraumatising women in these situations, and the fact that thousands of Irish women are accessing the abortion pill up to 12 weeks without medical supervision,” Mr Howlin said.

“The Constitution is not the place to deal with complex medical issues, and the trauma faced by those who seek a termination in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities. Only legislation can conclusively deal with these areas to ensure women are treated with care and compassion at home in Ireland. ”

Mr Howlin continued that “two former attorneys general and a former Supreme Court Judge have also definitively said that such an amendment to Article 40.3.3 would be unworkable.”

Writing in the Dominican publication Doctrine and Life, Mr Begg said “some people say that the Constitution is not the place to deal with a matter as sensitive as abortion. I disagree. This is so fundamental to our values as a people that it is entirely appropriate to our Constitution,” he said.

He insisted however that he was “not an absolutist in this matter”. He would support change in the Eighth Amendment to deal with rape, fatal foetal abnormality, and “to remove any ambiguity about saving the life of the mother as a priority”.

Backed up by legislation “as was intended in 1983, and a model of social protection to obviate the socio-economic need for abortion,” these instances could be dealt with, he said.

He drew attention to a conclusion of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment that “the majority of terminations are for socio-economic reasons that are unrelated to foetal abnormality or to rape.”

This, he said, was “ a profound finding because it means that, in the majority of cases, abortion is not the only remedy available to our country. We could, for example, agree to increase overall levels of taxation and public expenditure in order to provide the supports and services that would rescue parents from the desperation caused by an unwanted pregnancy.”

The Oireachtas Committee’s recommended termination of pregnancy with no restrictions with a gestational limit of 12 weeks was “an arbitrary choice except insofar as it links in with the first trimester,” he said.

The recommendation was made arising from concerns about “verification of a rape, and that there is a need to avoid further traumatisation of a victim that would arise if some form of verification was required. This is an entirely reasonable concern,” he said.

But, he asked, “would it not be effective to have recourse, immediately after the rape, to the ‘Morning After’ pill or to other procedures that ensure pregnancy will not occur?”

Mr Howlin said that “I agree with David that we should invest more in supports for women with crisis pregnancies. I believe in doing that, but also in having a supportive environment that deals, in Ireland, with the reality of Irish abortions already taking place overseas. That is more likely to reduce the incidence over time rather than constitutional provisions that cannot work.”

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