It was a mixed week when it comes to issues surrounding the welfare of children.
There were so many welcome media debates alerting parents to the dangers of online grooming and abuse of children. I heard calls for the banning of smartphones in primary schools and I heard of the Government rightly supporting initiatives to keep children safe online even as they announced measures that will make them unsafe in the womb.
I heard the good news of our signing up to a convention (or parts of it) on the rights of people with disability, even as we saw the proposals to make some unborn children with disabilities (i.e. life-limiting conditions) an easier target for abortion. We heard proponents of human rights welcoming a measure that will have the effect of taking away human rights from a particularly vulnerable group – lots of confusion about our values, and on the most basic of rights.
The Eighth Amendment debate was particularly intense early in the week. On the Monday night we had that weirdly late and dour press conference, live on RTÉ News Now also interrupting Clare Byrne Live (RTÉ1) and saw that the Taoiseach, and ironically our Ministers for Health and Children, had bought into the pro-choice playbook, with their new mantra about abortion being “safe, legal and rare”.
The naiveté was breath-taking. Minister Zappone was asked about the “inherent contradiction” of her position, as she was Minister for Children. It wasn’t answered at first but she came back to it with the line that her position was okay because the unborn child, the foetus, only “holds the potential for human life that develops”. Curiously, the medical doctor beside her did not demur.
The next day we got a variety of reactions. On Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) Kate O’Connell TD, one of the strongest supporters of repeal and the proposed abortion legislation said “I am viscerally opposed to abortion”. What?
Mattie McGrath TD wasn’t having any of it, and likewise, on that day’s Lunchtime Live (Newstalk), Senator Rónán Mullen gave a robust challenge to the proposals. He said it was “not reasonable … to have a vote that proposes taking away somebody else’s human rights”.
In relation to women travelling abroad for abortion he said it was “a tragedy for the baby who doesn’t come back”.
That night on Prime Time (RTÉ1) there was a rather unusual pairing of Kate O’Connell TD and Danny Healy Rae TD. O’Connell was on message with “safe, legal and rare”, while Healy Rae gave a simple clear pro-life message, humanising the unborn child in a way that should resonate with rural Ireland.
Later that night there was an interesting debate on the Tonight show on TV3. Former Senator Fidelma Healy Eames was for inclusiveness – “I stand for both lives” – while Minister Regina Doherty TD was pro-repeal though she did believe that what was in a mother’s womb was, in fact, a baby.
On last Sunday’s The Week in Politics it was good to hear some relatively new voices defending the Eighth Amendment. Mary Butler TD (FF) impressed with her grasp of danger of the issues as did Michael Fitzmaurice TD (Ind).
Last Thursday the Tonight show turned to the question of child safety online. The always sensible and authoratative cyber psychologist Mary Aiken was seriously concerned about the matter and criticised the Irish Government for opting for such a low age of digital consent (e.g. able to make contracts with multi-national companies) at 13 years old when most other comparable countries favoured a 16-year-old limit. She outlined recent increases in anxiety, eating disorders and depression among young people as they went “crowd sourcing self-esteem online”.
I was glad to see Senator Catherine Noone (she of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment) agreeing about the proposed age in Ireland being too low, and as a member of the Children’s Committee showing strong concern for their welfare and safety online, though I’d get more enthusiastic if she showed as much concern for in-womb safety.
David Quinn made an important point about how much the state is beholden to the multi-national tech companies, suggesting we’d be like Greece without the sun if it wasn’t for them. That issue, and issue of voluntary bodies being beholden to the state, deserves further discussion…sometimes it’s like autoharp syndrome – too many strings attached.
Pick of the week
VOX NOSTRA WITH VLAD SMISHKEWYCH
RTÉ Lyric FM, Sunday, February 11, 7 am
Featuring the Requiem mass of Baroque throwback Juan García de Salazar, performed by Capilla Peñaflorida on this morning’s Vox Nostra.
FORGOTTEN HERITAGE: EUROPE AND THE EUCHARIST
EWTN, Monday, February 12, 8.30 am and 9.30 pm
Fr Owen Gorman and Fr John Hogan explore the 1879 Marian apparition of Knock and what it tells us about the Eucharistic heritage of Europe.
RTÉ2, Tuesday, February 13, 8.30 am
The children explore High Crosses, also the story of John baptising Jesus in the river.