Sounding the alarm on proposed hate laws

Sounding the alarm on proposed hate laws Senator Rónán Mullen

The hate crimes legislation was discussed in the Seanad last week, with spirited contributions circulating on social media – especially from Senators Rónán Mullen and Michael McDowell (both raising serious concerns) and Senator Pauline O’Reilly (Green Party) supporting the legislation on the grounds of the common good.

This didn’t get much coverage in regular media, but on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, Friday) we got an interesting discussion between Senator O’Reilly and political commentator Keith Mills. Senator O’Reilly argued the legislation was for the safety and security of vulnerable and protected groups. She mentioned skin colour, race and sexual orientation but no mention of religious affiliation, which is also one of the nine characteristics protected in law. If I am offended by insults to my religious affiliation, will I be able to invoke the proposed legislation? Is it a kind of secular blasphemy legislation? She said people would still be able to express controversial views that some people may find offensive, but Keith Mills described it as “a charter for stopping people from expressing genuinely held views”. Considering the growing concerns from left and right, he said alarm bells should be ringing.

Alarm bells rarely ring on UK media in relation to abortion, and we get few pro-life voices. On Times Radio Breakfast (Tuesday) it was different. The jailing of a woman for carrying out a home abortion after misleading the authorities during Covid-19 about the gestational age of her unborn baby has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the UK, but the coverage on this show was reasonable. Rachel Clarke of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) debated with Madeline Paige of the Alliance of Pro-life Students and Catholic Voices UK. I thought Asmah Mir did a good job as neutral presenter, asking gentle but challenging questions of both sides. I’ve never heard pro-life spokespersons calling for the jailing of women who have had abortions, and Ms Paige wondered why the finger wasn’t being pointed at BPAS for pushing DIY abortions during the pandemic and even since. The debate got sidetracked over whether the baby whose life was ended in the womb was an ‘eight-month-old baby’, but the reality of how late this abortion was certainly hit home – as Ms Paige pointed out this was well past the age of viability.

Later, on Ali Miraj, (LBC, Tuesday) there was a detailed discussion with special guests and callers on the phone. Andrea Williams of Christian Concern flew the flag, very ably, for the pro-life argument. In the UK presenters of shows on independent radio are not required to keep their own views to themselves when dealing with controversial issues, which I think is a pity in terms of media neutrality. What surprised me was how the presenter blew many pro-choice arguments out of the water – something that very rarely happens over here. His main concern seemed to be against extending time limits on abortion access – for the most part it was set at 24 weeks, and as was pointed out many were arguing for this to be limited further, because babies were surviving earlier out of the womb. He thought it would be ‘bizarre’ and ‘barbaric’ to allow abortions up to birth. One caller criticised the court decision but was very vague when questioned about what limits she’d suggest. A male caller was concerned about the rights of fathers, though he had been involved previously in an abortion. I was pleasantly surprised by how many callers were against any liberalising changes. It was as if they could just about tolerate the current situation but thought any more would be a step too far.

The issue was revisited on Sunday Morning Live (BBC One) and as usual there was a balanced debate. Madeline Paige once again did well representing the pro-life perspective. She stressed the name given the baby in the court case (‘Lily’) and that the mother was eight months pregnant. Broadcaster Michelle Dewberry declared she was basically pro-choice, but was very critical of the law-breaking actions of the mother in this case and described late abortions as ‘killing children’. Comedian and activists Kate Smurthwaite saw an unwanted pregnancy as a woman’s body being ‘requisitioned’ and talked vaguely about ‘having the conversation’ when asked by Ms Dewberry if she’d favour abortion up to birth. Manna Mostaghum of Abortion Rights UK favoured decriminalisation, but said it wouldn’t mean deregulation.

Now where have I heard that language before?


Songs of Praise
BBC One Sunday June 25, 12.25pm
Aled Jones is on the Isle of Man to discover how the roots of Christianity stretch back over 1,500 years.

Hope ñ Our Lady of Knock
EWTN Sunday June 25, 9pm
A historical docudrama that covers the events leading up to and following the apparition of Our Lady, in Knock in 1897.

Father Brown
BBC One Friday June 30, 1.45pm
The Final Devotion: Father Brown joins forces with Flambeau to search for a lost treasure in a 15th-Century castle.