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Analysis

Abortion strikes fear into so many politicians, but it hasn't gone away you know...

Analysis: Abortion, like no other issue in Irish politics, has proved to be intensely problematic and stressful for our – mostly male – elected politicians.

Abortion Legislation Voting Takes Place Gardaí between pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators outside Leinster House. Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

It was absolutely the most stressful time for me in the Dáil ever, either as an opposition whip or government whip.

GOVERNMENT CHIEF WHIP Paul Kehoe didn’t mince his words when it came to summing up the passage of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill through the Dáil two years ago.

Abortion, like no other issue in Irish politics, has proved to be intensely problematic and stressful for our – mostly male – elected politicians.

Kehoe, like many of his Fine Gael colleagues, failed to respond to TheJournal.ie‘s survey on the 8th Amendment last week.

Unlike so many other issues, TDs and Senators from the biggest party in the State just didn’t want to talk about it.

“Once bitten, twice shy,” was one deputy’s response when we pushed them. In other words, they got enough hassle during the 2013 debate on the issue that they’re not particularly keen to revisit it.

Meanwhile, around 4,000 Irish women travel to the UK every year to obtain an abortion. Some of them board flights or ferries in the most heartbreaking of circumstances where they know their baby has no chance of survival outside the womb.

Abortion exists in Ireland but our politicians, having ignored the X Case ruling for over two decades and failed to take any action on the poorly-worded 8th Amendment since its passing in 1983, choose to export the problem via Ryanair.

To his credit, Health Minister Leo Varadkar described the current Irish laws on abortion as “too restrictive” in a landmark Dáil speech last December.

But the government’s argument ever since has been that it has no mandate to call a referendum on the 8th Amendment in this term.

Labour push?

This has been backed by Labour which, despite being pro-choice for decades, does not seek to push this issue as much as it did the holding of the same-sex marriage referendum.

There was little or no effort to put the possible repeal of the 8th Amendment before the Constitutional Convention, the same forum where the marriage referendum proposal was backed.

With poll numbers not exactly setting the world alight it’s odd that no one in Labour has thought it might be a good idea to call for a referendum before the next election. Why not go for broke on an issue that appeals to its core vote and more besides?

The resistance in Fine Gael might have something to do with it. After all it is the bigger party in government. Its current policy on the 8th Amendment is that it has no policy.

This will presumably be developed in the run-up to the general election, but it’s clear from those Fine Gaelers who did respond to our survey that TDs and Senators are divided.

One Fine Gael deputy asked for some sort of online survey rather than having to pick either Yes or No (they could have said ‘don’t know’ if they wanted to). Many who resisted answering said the issue was too complex to boil down to a Yes or No answer.

There’s no denying this but there are plenty of other politicians willing to take a stance when we contacted them last week. In fact, 60 per cent who did respond to our survey said they favoured repeal.

Most of these came from Labour and Sinn Féin, two parties who’ve already voted to campaign for repeal at the next election.

Of the few in Fine Gael who also said Yes to repeal perhaps the words of one of them, Eoghan Murphy, in the Dáil last year best sum-up the argument that there should be a referendum in this government’s lifetime.

We put people in positions of leadership to lead.

On this issue, the government has shown some leadership but not nearly enough for too many Irish women.

Read: Most politicians want to repeal the 8th Amendment – just don’t ask Fine Gael

Read all TheJournal.ie’s 8th Amendment survey stories > 

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