Ireland's far-right are back on the streets again this month. There's two issues provoking their ire.
Firstly, abortion is back in the news. Ireland, along with Andorra, Poland, and Malta, severely restricts access to abortion. The recent opening of a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, attracted a small gathering of 200 protesters, who proceeded to sing religious hymns and worry their rosary beads. Meanwhile, in the Republic, the Government may soon have to legislate for the provision of safe access to abortion after over 20 years of failing to respond to referenda on the issue, which has led to sustained criticism from the UN Committee on Torture and the European Court of Human Rights.
Secondly, and proving once again that anti-abortionists don't actually give a damn about children once they born, they're campaigning against a referendum that would enshrine the rights of children in Ireland's constitution. The Children's Referendum, due to be held on November 11, is a response to seventeen major reports on child protection failings in Ireland since 1970. The referendum would ensure that the State recognises, for the first time, that children have rights and are placed at the centre of decision making; it would enable the children of married parents to be adopted where those parents have failed in their duty of care; and guarantee that the child's voice is heard in legal proceedings.
The referendum appears to have overwhelming public support, with only 4 per cent of decided voters opposed. But there's nothing like the scaremongering and lies spouted by the no side to confuse undecided voters.
The religious right is pushing the ludicrous scenario whereby the State gleefully rushes in and tears apart innocent families, forcibly placing children for adoption because it doesn't like the colour of mammy's roasary beads. They fundamentally reject the idea that evidence and facts, combined with the legal requirement to listen to the voice of the child that the amendment would introduce, could be used to form an opinion on the best interests of the child, and that this considered opinion could possibly carry more weight than whatever views or circumstances a parent wishes to impose on that child.
The religious right is not being disingenuous here - they're being utterly mendacious. What's most astounding in their mendacity is that they don't truly believe the scary story of the overzealous, overreaching State intent on tearing families apart. They know full well that what the referendum actually does is ensure that the child's voice is given equal status in law - hardly a successful recipe for ripping crying children from their innocent's parents arms.
What really motivates the religious right is an unshakeable, religiously-guided belief in the primacy of the married man and woman as the foundation of the family, the single most important unit in society, and one that the State has no right to intervene in, regardless of the circumstances. They are dismayed at the idea that the Biblical commandment, "Honour thy Father and Mother" could be challenged by a child daring to have its own mind, thoughts, and rights. And they are irrationally afraid that the State could in any way challenge whatever way any family decide to bring up their children, their children who should have no voice or thoughts of their own.
These are the same views that, notoriously, led a hardline Catholic called Mina Bean Uí Chroibín to help the parents at the centre of an incest case who starved, beat, and repeatedly raped their children for over a decade. With her help, the parents secured a High Court order against the Western Health Board from even going near the house, let alone moving the children. Parents can do what they want. The children endured many more years of abuse and neglect.
The Irish Groups Opposing Abortion and the Rights of Living Children
Let's look at all the groups actively campaigning against abortion in Ireland. Most also happen to be campaigning against the Children's Referendum, or else have members whose religious views also make them opposed to the referendum. They are all religiously motivated, and most of them also campaign to impose their religious views on public policy so that everybody in society lives, or is forced to live, according to Catholic doctrine. They all take extremely right-wing positions: there is no mainstream secular organisation which campaigns against abortion. Here is a showcase of Ireland's four per cent rump and the views they represent:
1. The Life Institute, a Catholic organisation active in Ireland, is opposed to abortion. They are also opposed to stem-cell research, as they believe embryonic cells are conceived beings with a God-given soul. They believe that sex before marriage is wrong and campaign to stop the life-saving cervical cancer vaccine being given to teenage girls. They have deliberately spread distortions and lies about the vaccine to try and scare parents from inoculating their children.
The Life Institute is also opposed to terminally ill people being allowed the bodily integrity to end their own lives. They are opposed to contraception. They are campaigning against the Children's Rights referendum They're also opposed to civil partnerships and gay people adopting.
2. Youth Defence: a far right-wing Catholic organisation with a history of violence and speaking at fascist events. Shares an address with the Life Institute, is the same organisation. Niamh Ui Briain, "of the Life Institute" is one of the founders of Youth Defence. Maria Mhic Mheanmain of the Life Institute is spokesperson for Parents Against Children, which opposes the Children's Referendum.
3. The Family and Life Movement: currently engaged in a major online advertising campaign. Have actively campaigned against equal rights or civil partnerships for gay people. Run a programme called "Educate for Life" in schools, where a team of speakers visit schools delivering a multi-media presentation on the development of the unborn baby.
4. Human Life International Ireland: right-wing Catholic organisation which has issued a "St. Michael archangel prayer for [the] downfall of "Children's Rights referendum".
5. The Iona Institute, a Catholic think-tank which "promotes the place of marriage and religion in society". Opposes access to contraception, sex outside marriage, and civil partnership for gay people. The organisation is headed by Catholic conservative social commentator, Irish journalist David Quinn. Quinn argues that "the pro-life struggle has nothing to do with saving 'Catholic Ireland' and has purely to do with saving unborn children." The organisation has spoken out against the Children's Referendum, on the grounds that "the State already has the power to protect children from both abuse and neglect" and that "it is the very condition of childhood that someone has to make decisions as to what is and is not in the best interests of children. In the vast majority of cases that has to be the parents."
6. The Pro-Life Campaign: Describes itself as a non-denominational lobby group. Its website lists three people who are involved: Geraldine Martin runs a Catholic children's charity, legal advisor Caroline Simons has spoken on "pro-life and pro-family movements" for Catholic TV stations and appears to oppose gay rights and attempts to reduce the global population. John O'Reilly, Secretary, was a prominent campaigner in Ireland's 1983 abortion referendum and was involved in an organisation called "The Council of Social Concern" which was closely connected to the Knights of Columbanus and acted as "an umbrella organisation for several small, extremely right wing Catholic organisations, including the League of Decency, Irish Family League, Society to Outlaw Pornography, Christian Political Action Movement, Mna Na hEireann, Pro Fide, Concerned Doctors' Group, Youth Alert, Viatores Christi, Nazareth Family Movement, and Parent Concern."
7. The Catholic Church. Earlier this month, the Catholic Church threw its resources behind the "Choose Life" campaign, a month-long campaign of prayer and lobbying to keep abortion out of Ireland. The issue has even been raised at the pulpits. In contrast, they have stayed silent on the Children's Referendum, despite many calls for them to come out in support; this is widely taken as a sign that church authorities, like many of the Catholic organisations listed here, are not in favour of it. Remember, this is the same organisation that systematically physically and sexually abused of thousands of Irish children over many generations, and who continue to go to great lengths to conceal their crimes - the torture and rape of children - and evade justice.
There is no convincing evidence that any statistically significant proportion of anti-abortion campaigners are not religiously motivated. Where were the secular voices at the Marie Stopes protest? Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of opposition of organised opposition to the Children's Referendum - - bar a miniscule group of three barely credible and extremist secularists - comes from the Catholic right.
They may be a four per cent rump, but they're organised and powerful. Next month, Ireland will almost certainly reject their message. But abortion is a live issue, and they won't go away until we accept their religious view that abortion is wrong because life begins when the soul is created at conception.
As for those people who consider themselves religious but liberal, or the occasional secularist who offers their support to anti-abortion groups on Facebook through that little like button? They should perhaps also bear in mind that they're also offering support to anti-gay, anti-contraception, anti-vaccine, anti-science, extreme-right wing conservative reactionaries who think children do not have any natural rights. If they don't represent you, perhaps it's time you
And if there really is many secularists out there who feel that these voices don't represent their anti-abortion or anti-referendum views, where are they?
Follow Peter McGuire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PeterMcGuireIE