5 July 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The failure of Monaghan Co Council to debate an Urgent Business Motion at its meeting on Monday on the subject of The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill currently before the national legislators was an opportunity missed.

Local elected representatives rarely turn down the chance to make their views known on the issues of the day – and there is no issue more topical at the present time that the Government’s decision to amend the country’s laws on abortion.

In strict procedural terms, it is debatable whether the motion submitted in the names of the three Fianna Fáil members present at Monday’s meeting met the ‘Urgent Business’ test which the county authority members apply when determining whether they should depart from the set agenda of their monthly public meetings to permit debate on a particular topic.

The motion did coincide with the beginning of the Bill’s passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas – but the abortion debate has been raging for months now and concerned public representatives have had ample opportunity to table the subject for discussion on local authority agendas in the conventional way.

Perhaps the proposed debate wasn’t really that ‘urgent’, and in any case changing the law on abortion is not something Monaghan Co Council can have much influence upon.
But there is ample precedent for the authority interpreting the criterion of urgency with liberality when a topical issue arises on which they really want to get their views across to the public – and local councils on a monthly basis spend a good deal of time discussing matters beyond their powers of influence.

Patently, there was tactical political motivation for the motion being put forward on Monday, and motivations of political pragmatism active in the voting decisions that resulted in it not being taken.

Both are understandable in the political scheme of things – but the outcome amounted to something of an under-evaluation of the local authority debating forum.

It would have added greatly to the public debate on this issue to hear the viewpoints of the diversity of political and non-aligned representation that makes up the membership of Monaghan Co Council, and the broad range of individual perspectives councillors could have brought to bear.

It might have lent a balance to the discussion of the pending abortion legislation which has largely been lacking in our county, where one side of the argument has been forcefully and cogently made while the opposing view has been mostly quiescent.

A Co Council discussion would have been welcomed both by those whose views conform broadly to the pro-life side of the debate, and who appear to represent the majority viewpoint on this issue in our area, and by those whose stance is in conformity with the pro-choice argument that has not been given much public utterance in the ongoing local discourse.
It is also important that the people who effectively employ local public representatives by voting them into office should know what their views are on important issues.

Councillors will have been lobbied on this matter – perhaps not as intensively as TDs, but they can be in no doubt that there is a body of opinion in their constituencies with very strong feelings about the legislation that is being enacted.
Monday presented an opportunity for the councillors to clarify their positions. The majority decision to demur means that they will be judged – in some cases harshly and inaccurately no doubt – on their silence.

A question does arise that perhaps offers some mitigation of the Council decision – has a climate been created in our county where open discussion of the abortion issue is not possible?

Many people are certainly keeping their views on the subject to themselves – they have no taste for the liberalisation of abortion, but feel that some form of legislative change is necessary to address particular instances of medical emergency.

They choose to keep their own counsel on the matter because of the understandable moral conflict the achievement of balance in this difficult area of legislation creates – and perhaps also because they fear that, if they offer a moderated view, they will incur opprobrium from those who have been very vocal in arguing that supporting any amendment of the existing law is a pro-abortion choice.

Many local public representatives are perhaps similarly convinced that offering a nuanced view on the subject will see them branded as abortion supporters – and perhaps they have also been inclined to keep their own counsel by the intrusive and intimidating nature of some of the lobbying tactics that have been directed towards national politicians in this constituency.

It is unfortunate if a climate has been created around the abortion debate in our county that counsels many to silence – and we are sure this would not have been the deliberate intent of the majority of those who have articulated the pro-life argument in this locality with objectivity and from a perspective of deeply sincere religious or moral conviction.

A full debate on the Urgent Business Motion that came before Monaghan Co Council on Monday might have redressed this situation. It is a pity the opportunity wasn’t availed of.

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