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The Current Constitutional Crisis

Even though the big topic today (news-wise) is the heads of bill for the abortion legislation, has anyone thought about the minor constitutional crisis brewing under the surface?

The media is reporting that certain members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party will not vote for the proposed legislation if it contains a provision to allow for terminations where the mother is suicidal. Irrespective of the medical evidence on this ground, the Supreme Court has held that this is a ground for the lawful termination of a pregnancy in the State. This ground has been put to the people on two occasions. On each occasion, they have refused to remove this ground. So, whether or not the medical evidence correlates with this legal criteria, it is part of Irish constitutional law.

The constitutional crisis here is the role of the TD. Is it to give effect to law and the constitution or their own will? The Irish constitution does not apply to the personal will or convictions of the politician. We have for years cried out for politicians that believe in what they are doing. However, this does not relate to politicians putting their personal beliefs before the law of the land.

It has been clearly shown that the ground of suicide forms part of the right to life of the mother. A plethora of cases and referenda has clearly shown, irrespective of the medical use and desirability of such intervention, that the law incorporates this ground. Therefore, what constituency is served by politicians; their beliefs or the citizens?

Surely if a politician is elected by their constituents then this is the group that they represent. Wasn’t this the problem with politics all along in Ireland? Self serving TDs who legislated for their own interests and not in line with what would benefit the country as a whole?

I can’t see any dividing line between the two. Personally, any politician that legislates on their own interests cannot be in anyway distinguished from what went before. At the end of the day, a TD should represent the views of the majority (bearing in mind any abuses that may be caused to a minority of citizens). At the very least, a TD owes their duty to the constitution and the democracy which it upholds.

TDs are elected to represent the will of the citizens (especially their constituents) and uphold the constitution. If the Supreme Court finds a right and the citizens are unwilling to reverse this finding, then the law must be upheld whatever their personal beliefs.

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ADI judgment is out…

Finally, the long awaited European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) decision on  Animal Defenders International v. United Kingdom has been released.

The importance of the judgment cannot be underestimated as it is now permissible for a country within the convention system to prevent political advertising from lobby groups. The case was taken on the basis of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression in line with certain restrictions.

The original Animal Defenders International case started when the lobby group sought to place a counter point advertisement to highlight the use of primates in entertainment. They wished to broadcast this ad but they were refused permission.

This is somewhat like the Irish case of Murphy v. Independent Radio and Television Commission which later went on to become Murphy v. Ireland in the ECtHR. Here, the defendant wished to place an ad in Dublin’s 98fm around lent for listeners to attend a meeting to talk about god. Those who get the DART regularly will see these ads around the train carriages. In this case the court applied a margin of appreciation to Ireland and did not find that Ireland violated the  Article 10 protection for freedom of expression. It restated the Irish judgment that religion and the Irish make a bad combination so best to keep them off the airwaves. The judgment was rightly criticized as deferring too much to the state instead of promoting full and free debate of matters of public interest.

The area of concern for the ADI case is that of political advertising. Political Advertising in Ireland is a highly regulated area. Kevin Rafter complied an excellent report on this area for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland detailing the Irish law in comparison to other jurisdictions. Yes, there is a logical fear that allowing a US style system of political advertising may lead to a free for all when it comes to elections (plus very annoying ad breaks full of candidates) but it does strike at the heart of freedom of expression. If some are allowed to place ads on television, for example, promoting their environmental credentials then why can another group criticise them in the same forum?

In the judgment today, the ECtHR has now set up a worrying line of precedent where full and free debate on national media, particularly the press is acceptable. However, the dissenting judgments are illuminating in their reasoning that such restrictions do interfere with freedom of expression. It also may demonstrate a trend that where political speech is in question, the ECtHR finds too readily in favour of the actions of the State involved.

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Is it time for a new feminism in Ireland?

The position of women in Irish society is highlighted again this weekend. Seemingly one qualified doctor is not enough to determine whether a woman is suicidal or not. Besides the whole abortion debate, it illustrates a worrying idea that ‘the women’s are not to be trusted’ (followed by someone shaking a stick at a camera in Salem).

This follows on from a week where maternity leave for female deputies and senators was rejected. Adding to a month where Croke Park II was found to be ‘anti women’ in an independent report. Furthermore, the role and value of women in the workplace was put in jeopardy by plans for income readjustment in the new Insolvency Regulations.

Is it just me or has the government launched some war on women?

So let me get this straight, the current government doesn’t trust women to do the following:

  • Have an independent economic role (Insolvency, Croke Park II)
  • Be able to accurately communicate the state of her mental health (Abortion)
  • Have financial supports when pregnant while acting as a public representative (Maternity Leave)

Does the government trust women to do anything at all?

Apart from the gender quotas legislation nothing much has changed for women. Oh and woe betide them if she decides to start a family while she has benefited from these quotas! Maternity leave should be there for women seeking to start a family. It should also be possible to split such leave between parents. But that’s an argument for another day.

The abortion issue is not just about life and where it begins but the value that society places on a woman. With the prohibition on abortion in Ireland, the status of a woman while pregnant is an uncomfortable question of which life takes precedence? Do we protect the mother or the child? Do we wait until both are at deaths door before intervention can be taken? In my opinion, the State has put the life of the mother below that of the life contingent (to borrow the X case phraseology) of the unborn child. The current draft legislation is unworkable and the only reasonable solution is to repeal the 8th Amendment.

When it comes to the economic value of women, we have only just developed from the days when women had to give up their jobs when they were married. Whether the Insolvency guidelines have been reformed or not, it still shows that the position of the mother in the workplace is viewed by some in power as more of a hobby which should be knocked on the head if and when childcare costs exceed her income.The fact that some women need, for their own sanity, a role outside of the home (which apparently women don’t know anyway).

Furthermore, the real insult by the government and the economic role of a woman is the reforms in Croke Park II. Thankfully, this shambles of an agreement was rejected by the grassroots civil and public servants. The agreement tried to push through amendments to working conditions which would have overwhelmingly have seen women placed in a worse position to their male colleagues. Flexible hours and leave to allow women to work around school timetables and holidays were to be cut. People may scoff at the conditions of the Public/Civil service, but it must be remembered than many shunned the lavish salaries of the Private sector in the Celtic Tiger period in order for a family friendly workplace.

The time has come for women to reassert their role in Irish Society and be counted. This is an economic and rights argument which needs to be heard. Is it time for feminism in Ireland to be re evaluated?

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