If anyone, in the aftermath of last week’s shameful political shenanigans in the Irish parliament, doubts the character and determination of sacked Minister, Lucinda Creighton, to be a force in the public life and politics of that country in the years ahead, let them begin by reading her blog entry today. It was published in the Irish Mail on Sunday and is now posted on Lucinda Creighton.ie.
This is not a manifesto for a future Irish politics but it is a preliminary for such a manifesto. It addresses from the depths of her heart and soul the concerns which thousands of Irish people share with here this week – not just on the issue of abortion but on the corruption in the very heart of a country which in just two and a half years will be celebrating the centenary of the beginning of its final battle for freedom and independence as a state among the nations of the earth. What freedom, what independence, many are asking? Lucinda Creighton seems to be on the verge of offering Ireland something to make that a redundant question.
On July 1st she delivered a speech in the Irish chamber of deputies, the Dail, in which she elaborated her concerns about abortion in a general societal sense, as well as focusing on specific aspects of the proposed and shamefully designated Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill which she considered, and still considers, to be deeply flawed.
In it she referred to an underlying cancer afflicting Irish public life – in politics, in business, and above all in the media. Reaction to that was near-apoplectic in some quarters. The cries of hurt and indignation from those who thought they were being targeted made headlines the next day
“My speech”, she correctly says, “was incorrectly picked up as singling out members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party for participating in group think. This is not what I said.”
“What I said in fact, was that group think is a negative feature in society, in the media and in political life. Increasingly we are all supposed to think and speak the same way. There is less and less room in this country for a diversity of opinion, for real and meaningful debate and for genuine analysis. We are all supposed to swim with the tide on every occasion. I consider this dangerous. I am certain that this is dangerous for our democracy.”
That is just as things are in Ireland and the daily exasperation of the millions who listen to and read what the Irish media turns out on a daily basis is sufficient evidence to prove it. When the manifesto for a New Ireland come this must be among the serious illnesses to which it will address itself.
Bloody but unbowed, Ms. Creighton tells us that “This was a long and difficult week, particularly for many in the Fine Gael party. Five of us argued for the right to express an alternative … view on this vitally important piece of legislation. We lost the internal battle to have our voices heard and our consciences respected. This is not a good thing for the democratic process in this State.
“Much of the commentary in the aftermath of Thursday’s vote confirmed to me that our media perpetuates the blind group think which prevailed and contributed to the economic collapse in this country.”
She tells of her “alarm” listening to one of Irish radio’s premier news analysis programmes on the morning after her historic stand against the “flawed” legislation. “The level of analysis or understanding of what is happening in our shambolic Parliamentary system was alarming,” she said.
“A commentator from the Irish Times seemed only capable of understanding the events of the week in terms of ‘strength’, ‘power’ and ‘crushing opponents’. To him it was just a numbers game. He was entirely uninterested in the substance of the disagreement, or the fact that an important viewpoint was ignored or ‘whipped into line’.
“He seemed to believe that the only issue at hand was the fact that ‘only five’ TDs had voted against the legislation and this was somehow a great victory for the Government, its senior figures and Fine Gael. This is a sad and shallow analysis, which ignores the fundamental questions of democracy which were raised thoughout the last few weeks when elected Members of our Parliament were, in many instances, coerced and cajoled into voting for legislation they clearly considered to be faulty and against their better judgement.”
One of the most shocking spectacles in the drama in the Irish parliament last Thursday and into the early hours of Friday morning was the speech of a young woman member, Michelle Mulherrin, voting against her conscience after the whipping she had received from the party leader, Prime Minister, Enda Kenny. Ms. Creighton’s response to it says it all. “I understand completely the dilemma she found herself in. I was there too. I took a different decision, by voting against the legislation. She clearly wrestled with her ultimate decision and eventually decided to vote for it. She did so to avoid being “booted out” of Fine Gael, her party. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach listening to her speech in the Dáil Chamber – out of sadness for her, and the choice she has clearly been forced to take to avoid expulsion. There is something so, so wrong with this. Citizens of this country ought to be concerned at the words uttered by Michelle. They genuinely gave me a deep sense of foreboding.
“In every other modern western democracy that I have studied, public representatives are not and would never be, forced to choose between their conscience and their party. That is worth considering and reflecting upon. This includes Australia, New Zeland, the USA, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and many, many more. In my investigations I could not find any other democratic country on this planet that forces people to vote against their conscience. Ireland has the dubious distinction of standing alone in its denial of conscience. This is not something I am proud of. Nobody should be.”
“The great democrat and peace maker Mahatma Ghandi said ‘In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place’. This is correct. History has taught us what savagery and crimes against humanity can occur, when people abandon their conscience, for the sake of the quiet life, or worse, to satisfy personal ambition. Our State should guard against this, rather than try to normalise it. And we as citizens should demand that this be so.”
She concludes by saying that politicians in her country “really do need to stand up and be counted” – and there will be more cries of hurt and pain from the numerous public representatives who know very well that they have failed to do so, and who have not had the courage to tell the truth about their shame like Deputy Mulherrin. Ms. Creighton sees the value of the discipline in parliamentary democracy. “I don’t advocate the abandonment of the Whip system. It is an essential fundament of a stable economy and a stable society. Coherent positions and voting by political parties are essential in the context of the annual Budget, all finance measures, social welfare measures and so on. But there it should stop.”
Finally, she has a word for those “commentators” who cheer the crushing of political opponents, and applaud the stifling of debate in Ireland. We are back to the driving force behind group think. They “do no service to either good journalism or good politics. In fact they are complicit with the rot in a system which so desperately needs changing. Their anxiety to take quotes and spin from ‘well placed sources’ may make their contributions sound plausible and knowledgeable. In fact, they are missing the real story.”
There has been a good deal of sympathising, moaning, regrets at the loss of a promising political voice in Irish politics over the past few days and this weekend. These words tell us that we need not worry. This is a voice which is not going away and for that the Irish should all – well, nearly all, – be very grateful. There will be no shortage of stories, real stories, coming down the line.
Michael Kirke is a freelance writer based in Dublin. He blogs at Garvan Hill, where this commentary was first published.