Leaving Amnesty more in sorrow than in anger

It is such a tragedy that Amnesty has taken away the focus from their great work by introducing abortion as a campaigning issue

The Kells Amnesty International Group will be having its last meeting today (June 23). For 30 years, this admirable group in Co. Meath have focused on the fine and worthy reasons why Amnesty was founded: to support prisoners of conscience, to oppose torture and the death penalty, and to work for refugees.

Sadly, however, Amnesty’s most recent crusade for abortion rights has proved to be simply too divisive for the Kells Amnesty Group. Their co-ordinator, Michael Browne, supported by other members (Anne Moore, Martin Flanagan, Dr Mary Coffey and Dr Danny Cusack) wrote a sensitive letter – more in sorrow than in anger – explaining that Amnesty Ireland’s decision to campaign actively for abortion had introduced too much disquiet among their members. 

Not only does the abortion issue cause division among the Amnesty group, wrote Michael Browne and his members, but it will draw people directly into Irish politics in an ideological way that will, necessarily, be adversarial. This takes away from the focus on the causes for which Amnesty was originally founded. 

It was a most impressive statement because it focused attention on all the compelling causes for which Amnesty was originally founded. And we shouldn’t forget those excellent causes – to be a light for prisoners for conscience, or those unjustly imprisoned; to oppose torture and to support refugees.

These causes are as urgent in our world today as ever they were. 


It is such a tragedy that Amnesty Ireland (and Amnesty International) has taken away the focus from their great work by introducing abortion as a campaigning issue. 

Why cannot they simply follow the template set, years ago, by the Women’s Institute in Britain? This is a matter of conscience and conscience must be respected. Yes, rescue women and girls from rape, support health measures, inform about fertility control, promote women’s education. But to turn abortion ‘rights’ into a crusading issue is a catastrophic judgement for Amnesty, and we must wonder how much it is due to the personal ambitions of those directing Amnesty’s policies at the top.

We must ask how much is it prompted by a vainglorious attempt by exhibitionistic leaders to be controversial, rather than prioritising Amnesty’s original victims, those who are in wretched circumstances, in prison hellholes, facing torture, death by execution, and, most ubiquitously, today, becoming refugees?

The Kells letter was deeply touching because it showed the genuine dedication by good people trying to continue serving the causes which help humanity – only to conclude that they must now wind up their group because the HQ of Amnesty, paradoxically, does not respect conscience.

But it was also touching because it called to mind that Amnesty originally was such a good cause, once well worth supporting. Perhaps some inspirational leader will come along and start a reformed version. 


Bob Geldof stunt not helpful to Brexit ‘remain’ campaign

I’ve always admired and defended Bob Geldof because I believe he was always completely genuine and committed in his compassion for the victims of African famine; and totally honest, too, in speaking out against corruption in politics or overseas aid. 

But he did the pro-EU ‘remain’ campaign few favours last week by appearing in a flotilla on the River Thames, making rude hand gestures at the Brexit opposition. As one newspaper remarked, it was a millionaire rock star showing contempt for unemployed fishermen (fishermen being among the most bitter critics of the EU and its fisheries policy).

I predict, however, that the ‘remain’ vote will win the British referendum on the grounds that bookies (who give victory to ‘remain’) are usually the most reliable of all forecasters. Bookies, or turf accountants, as they have been called, have no ‘agenda’. They are politically, and morally, neutral. They just look at the way the odds are shaping up.


I have a vote in this referendum, but I will be abstaining. I feel it would be too disloyal to Ireland to vote for Brexit, but I also believe that the EU is an unaccountable behemoth which has caused huge unemployment in the Club Med countries – more than 50% youth unemployment in Greece and Spain. Italy too is in dire straits, with constant economic crises. 

Getting back to Sir Bob, I’m not sure whether the EU’s tariff arrangements do Africa much favours either.


Flawless costumes and cool amorality

The Constant Wife, Somerset Maugham’s play written in 1926, is an almost laughably dated discourse on marriage and morals among the Mayfair set. But the current production, at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, has some of the most exquisite costumes I have ever seen on a stage. What frocks! Pure aesthetics!

The couture designer, Peter O’Brien, did the costumes and they are gorgeous, and flawlessly fitted. The play demonstrates cool amorality among the English upper classes, although Tara Egan-Langley, as Constance, shows just how to punish a straying husband in great style.

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