Mulherin ‘damaged by solo-run’
POLITICAL hari-kari is how some senior Fine Gael sources in Mayo have dubbed the outcome of the Michelle Mulherin media storm, as the aftershocks of her ‘fornication’ comments still dominate debate. They say they are shocked ‘that party handlers did not rein her in’ and ‘stop her appearance on Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday Night Show’ during which, critics say, she spoke incoherently about the issue.
Ironically, though during the rambling interaction with O’Connor, Ms Mulherin did clearly say: “I accept the X Case in the sense that in a situation where the mother’s life was at risk, then in that limited circumstance there could be a termination.”
Bizarrely, it was the enactment of the X Case judgement of 20 years ago – when the Supreme Court ruled that a 14-year-old rape victim was allowed travel to Britain for an abortion – that was the subject of the Private Member’s Bill, proposed by a group of Independent TDs. During the debate, Ms Mulherin made her controversial remarks about fornication being the single greatest cause of unwanted pregnancies in Ireland. She also used other incongruous terminology – unusual for a political debate – such as ‘the grace of God is so liberating’ and ‘our fallen nature’.
This is not the first time that Ms Mulherin has caused controversy since her election to the Dáil last year. Just weeks after she became a government deputy, she flouted party policy when she spoke out about the civil war in Libya, arguing that it was an ‘internal matter’. She said that coups were commonplace in Africa and that the opponents of Muammar Gadafy had taken up arms against their leader and were not using democratic means.
SOME of the senior Fine Gael figures who spoke frankly to The Mayo News yesterday about the present controversy declined to comment on the record about the political fallout. They all said she was damaged by the solo-run and should have been better advised.
Cllr Peter Flynn said that while he respected ‘the fact that Michelle has gone public on her opinions, they were not reflected clearly enough to the public and caused a lot of confusion’.
“I think the whole thing was poorly handled and the wording [fornication] used was inappropriate for the debate. If public representatives are going to go out on a limb, they need to be well-advised and they need to clearly say that such views are personal rather than those of the party at large,” Peter Flynn said, adding: “While I am not pro-abortion, what Michelle said did not reflect my viewpoint.”
Flynn went on to say that while he has ‘the height of respect for her as a politician’, he felt sure that ‘the Dublin-based media’ would spin her comments in such a way that people in the west would be portrayed as ‘locked in the dark ages and traditional ways’.
Her party colleague from the Ballina area, Cllr Jarlath Munnelly said: “Abortion is a very serious issue, and Michelle should have given more careful thought to her use of words.”
Sinn Féin’s Cllr Thérèse Ruane told The Mayo News that Deputy Mulherin’s ‘choice of words was bizarre and totally out of context with what was being discussed in the Dáil’.
“The proposed Bill aimed to protect women and girls who have been victims of rape, incest and sexual abuse and also women whose lives were in danger. As a woman, I don’t like to criticise other women politicians, but in her role as a legislator she needs to be responsible and leave out her personal views so that she can do the right thing to protect vulnerable women and girls,” Cllr Ruane said.
Defeated by the government (111 votes to 20), the Private Member’s Bill, was introduced by Socialist Party TD, Clare Daly; People Before Profit TD, Joan Collins; and Independent TD, Mick Wallace. Essentially, it sought to create a legal framework for abortion in Ireland where a woman’s life is at risk by enacting the 20-year-old X Case ruling.
On February 6, 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that a 14-year-old rape victim could travel to Britain for an abortion. In the interim, no government has legislated on that ruling.
Unsurprisingly, Ms Mulherin’s remarks in the Dáil (see below) left the media salivating for new angles. Over the weekend, her relationship with Kenyan man Danson Kole – whom she calls ‘a special friend’ – received front-page headlines as her personal life was put under the spotlight.
MEANWHILE, the kernel of her argument became lost in reams of coverage, not aided at all by Ms Mulherin at some points, who, before her election to Dáil Éireann, practised as a solicitor in her home town of Ballina.
Her position – which apparently is informed by a deep spirituality – was made clear in an Irish Daily Mail interview at the weekend, during which she argued there is a need for debate about abortion and about the fact that a lot of young people feel peer pressure about sex.
“Even though we feel we are so progressive and we live in a more permissive society and you can do what you want, sometimes there is a very immature dialogue about sex considering the life-changing consequences that sexual actions can have. So should we be more responsible? That’s the way I want to head as a society.
“I think there is a taboo about saying people are having casual sex and unprotected sex and pregnancies are resulting. As free as we are, that is a destructive thing,” she told Niamh Lyons, the Mail’s Political Correspondent.
The following day, Sunday Times columnist, Brenda Power argued that Ms Mulherin was ‘absolutely right’ but decried the fact that the word ‘fornication’, with all its archaic connotations, was still in the dictionary.
“Those 4,500 Irish women who have abortions in Britain each year are not travelling because their unborn babies have been diagnosed with catastrophic conditions. It is disingenuous to conflate those distressing cases with the wider social debate on legalised abortion in this country. Most of those women are aborting babies because they were unplanned and unwanted,” wrote Brenda Power.
She continued: “There is a legitimate argument for their right to do so in Ireland, but that’s really not the point here. Mulherin, it seemed to me, was questioning the absolute abdication of personal responsibility for behaviour that ends in unwanted pregnancies.”
Power observed that the PC liberal pack pilloried her as a Bible-bashing Neanderthal because she dared to suggest that abstinence, particularly among younger people, might be preferable to abortion.
She cited an interview in which Mulherin said: “Take religion out of it, and this is about opening a debate about responsible living – people are having casual sex and pregnancies arise that weren’t planned and aren’t wanted. Why can’t we talk about that, and why does it have to sound nerdy or particularly religious?”
Deputy Mulherin did not respond to a phone message left by The Mayo News yesterday.
WHAT MICHELLE MULHERIN SAID IN THE DÁIL
“The grace of God is so liberating and provides so many options to get the best out of life despite our fallen nature, and we all have that. Having said that, it is an ideal to aim for. In an ideal world there would be no unwanted pregnancies ad no unwanted babies, but we are far from living in an ideal world.
An honest and a scriptural view is that things are getting harder for people, so what then for the weak in our society?
She continued: “Abortion is murder, therefore sin, which is the religious argument, is no more sinful from a scriptural point of view, than all other sins we don’t legislate against, like greed, hate and fornication.
The latter, being fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”
FORNICATION: THE DEFINITION
Voluntary sexual intercourse outside marriage. Bible: Sexual immorality in general, especially adultery. (Collins Concise dictionary)
Origins: The Latin word for Romans having sex with prostitutes. The original word ‘fornix’ referred to the vaulted cellars where prostitutes consorted with men. It later developed into the Latin verb, ‘fornicari’, meaning to commit fornication.
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