Former Taoiseach John Bruton has hit out at Health Minister Simon Harris for showing a lack of respect to people with different views on issues like abortion. He also said there is a contradiction in modern Ireland between concern for how children died in Mother and Baby homes decades ago, and a lack of concern for unborn children who will lose their lives by abortion.
Speaking at the pro-life education dinner in Dublin this evening attended by some 800 guests, Mr Bruton insisted that the May 25 referendum decision “sits very uneasily beside the deep and genuine concern expressed in all quarters for the welfare of boys and girls after they have been born, and the strong laws we have passed to protect them.
“It also sits uneasily beside the expressions of concern about where and how babies who died 50 years ago in Mother and Baby homes were buried.
“Where and how will the supposedly non ‘viable’ babies who will be aborted in Irish hospital be buried? What care will Church and State take to ensure that they are buried with dignity? Or will they be treated as mere hospital waste?” he asked.
Recalling how Mr Harris spoke of the vote for abortion as a sign of “a Brighter Ireland”. He pointed out that “it will not be a bright Ireland for the little babies who will have their lives ended before being allowed to see the light of a single Irish day”.
He said that “the reaction of those who won the referendum was not always magnanimous, or respectful of the pluralist nature of Irish society and Irish values”. Referring to Mr Harris, he said that the Health Minister “did not seem to me to display the balance and attentiveness to other points of view that one would like to see in someone who will be deciding on the detailed content of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.”
“I hope that this was just elation, in the immediate aftermath of winning a political battle, and that he will now show tolerance and inclusiveness, when considering amendments to the legislation he has proposed.
“In a mature Republic one would listen to and deal respectfully with the arguments and values of the other side on any important issue. That did not happen during the years of preparation of the referendum, and the mantra of ‘compassion’ was deemed sufficient to end all argument about the basic question of when life begins, when a life becomes a human, and hence when it ought to acquire human rights,” Mr Bruton told guests.
Mr Bruton also criticised the fact that many human rights groups actively campaigned for abortion rather than defending the right to life. “Human rights organisations justly pride themselves in speaking up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, or for those whose voices are not heard because they are politically powerless or simply unpopular.
“In Ireland in the recent referendum, that did not really happen. Irish human rights organisations ignored unborn children as if they were ‘unpersons’. “When the unborn child has its life deliberately ended, it is not presented as a victim.
“Apparently it is only victims who survive who count. But every abortion involves a death, a victim. A victim that never gets the chance to become a survivor,” he said.
He also warned that pro-life doctors may be targeted and criminalised if they refuse to facilitate abortion under new Government proposals. He also criticised Minister for Health Simon Harris for showing a lack of respect to people with different views.
Speaking at the pro-life education dinner in Dublin this evening attended by some 800 guests, Mr Bruton referred to the fact that doctors who object to abortion will be obliged under the proposed new law to refer the patient to someone else for an abortion. He pointed out that “This is aiding and abetting the abortion”.
“I fear that doctors who are known to oppose abortion will be targeted under this clause by people wishing to catch them out and put them under threat of criminal prosecution because of their religious or human rights beliefs.
“There have been examples of this sort of targeting in other fields, where there are strong but conflicting views in the population,” he said.
Mr Bruton said that “rather than place this burden on doctors who believe abortion is wrong, it would be more sensible to publish an affirmative list of those who have no conscientious objection to doing abortions”.
Speaking to guests about the May25 abortion referendum, Mr Bruton said that “I know everyone here feels a deep sense of disappointment at the decision the people took to remove the protection of the lives of unborn Irish boys and girls from the constitution”.
He insisted that “the arguments advanced by those of us who favoured retaining the Eighth Amendment were valid, and remain so. They were philosophically coherent, and expressed a thought out value system, that protects the weak and the voiceless.
“There was no engagement, by the proponents of Repeal, with the question of when life begins, with when a human life should be recognised as a person, and hence when it ought to acquire human rights.
“That question was too difficult, too profound, so it was effectively ignored in the preparation of the abortion referendum, in the Citizens’ Assembly, the Oireachtas Committee and the Dáil and Seanad debates,” he told the audience.
He encouraged pro-life voters to continue to insist that the right to life is above all other rights. “The pro life case is that the right to life is the primary right, because, without life, one simply cannot exercise other rights. It flows from that that the primary responsibility, of the State, and of each of us as citizens, is to protect life.
“Proponents of abortion either put other rights ahead of the right to life, or do not recognise a life before birth as human with human rights, at all. A clear hierarchy of human rights is replaced by pure pragmatism. Everything is contingent, nothing is fundamental,” he warned.
Looking to the future, he said that people who uphold the right to life “
must work to building a climate of opinion, within families and in the wider public, that will support women in making the courageous decision to allow their child to be born.
“That can be encouraged by public debate, and by conversation with friends. People who believe unborn babies are human, and should enjoy some basic human rights, should not be afraid to take part in these conversations.
“Whatever their view of whether abortion should be a criminal offence, many people will agree that babies before birth are human, and that they should be allowed to be born,” he said.
Mr Bruton – who served as Taoiseach from 1994-1997 – called on the Government to be more financially supportive to families with children.
“Creating a supportive environment for new life will also involve giving greater recognition to the cost of rearing children in both our welfare and our tax codes. Children are recognised in the welfare system, but not in the tax code. The child tax allowance was abolished many years ago, while the tax allowance or tax credit for adults living in the same household has been steadily increased. That was perverse.
“In light of the ageing of our society, and the costs that will entail for families and the tax-paying public, we should regard financial supports for families with children both as socially progressive, and as an investment in our own future,” he said.
Mr Bruton also criticised groupthink in the media. “There can be a conformist consensus in the media. Professional journalists are forced to report under tight deadlines on many things of which they cannot be expected to have a deep knowledge. So they write their reports to fit into the existing consensus among their journalistic colleagues.
“The result is often superficiality, one sidedness, conformity and dogmatism. That sort of conformism contributed to development of the Celtic bubble. It also drowned out pro-life arguments in recent times,” he said.