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‘You’ve a bigger agenda, don’t you?’ April 24, 2012

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Gender Issues.

Some of you may have seen the reports of Senator Rónán Mullens behaviour in a Leinster House meeting last week to three women who had pregnancies in which their babies were diagnosed with abnormalities “incompatible with life” . The women like thousands others travelled to Britain to have their pregnancies terminated.
The women had previously been interviewed in the Irish Times and last Friday appeared on the Late Late Show.
Its covered by Maman Poulet and by Broadsheeet.ie, it was also covered in the Irish Times.
The recent X-Case motion in the Dail and these women (and their partners) reminded me of how many stories of such cases I’d heard in the past year. They are tragic.
A few months ago a friend mentioned how one of his neighbours called in to say that another neighbour who was pregnant called in and asked him to “spread the word” that the baby wasn’t viable. They were going away for a few days and asked that when they got back people not to ask “how long are you gone?”, “must be soon now”, “enjoy your sleep while you can” and all the other platitudes.
Last month I got daily updates from another couple I know who were in a similar situation and had to go to England. Imagine the simple stupid things they had to think of, they had to get the dog minded, pack bags, all the stuff associated with travel and so on. It just makes an awful situation much much worse.
In these instances it is losing a baby plain and simple and trying to manage a horrific situation. Anyone who has lost a baby in any circumstances will know the heartache associated with it.
“The baby would have been born today” , “The baby would have been six months today” , “The baby would have been starting school today” … It’s a horrible sense of loss especially after the high of being told there’s a baby on the way. The plans, the telling expectant grandparents, uncles , aunts…..
… and Mullen allegedly asks one of these traumatized women … ‘You’ve a bigger agenda, don’t you?’

Ever so slightly related… whilst on the RTE site looking for last Fridays Late Late I found this on the RTE Player in the RTE TV50 section…

In the light of the tragic deaths in Granard the previous week of a teenage mother and her baby, The Women’s Programme discussed attitudes to teenage sexuality. Presented by Doireann Ní Bhriain, Nell McCafferty and Marian Finucane.

The Women’s Programme 06/02/1984


1. EWI - April 24, 2012

Ronan Mullen knows better than Irish women what they should be doing with their reproductive systems.

Actually, I’ve asked this question in a number of places, and no-one seems to know the answer; why hasn’t Mullen married yet like a good Catholic and raised a family?


EWI - April 24, 2012

Oh my. I’ve just looked at his Wikipedia entry, and apparently the mysterious person who has been bigging out his CV felt fit to include the important information that Ronan is the only former winner of the Irish Times debating competition to get elected to Dáil Éireann.

Err, right so.


Tomboktu - April 24, 2012

Surely it’s Seanad Éireann?


2. ghandi - April 24, 2012

Ronan Mullen’s response to the claims made in the IT that

“and Mullen allegedly asks one of these traumatized women … ‘You’ve a bigger agenda, don’t you?’

Sir, – The report in today’s Irish Times (April 23rd) concerning my conversation with a group of women and men who came to Leinster House last Wednesday is inaccurate and misleading.

The group, which included women who had ended their pregnancies by abortion because of very serious foetal disabilities, came to Leinster House to advocate that abortion be legalised in such cases.

Over the weekend, I was informed that there was a large amount of abusive commentary on social media following a statement by one of the women on the Late Late Show that a politician in Leinster House had been unpleasant to them.

I was contacted by a number of journalists because a blog post allegedly from the group who organised the briefing in the Oireachtas said that I was the politician in question.

The context of what happened is this: I was not able to be present for the start of last Wednesday’s briefing in the audio-visual room but it is not uncommon for politicians to come and go from such meetings as their schedule dictates. I arrived at the meeting and signed in, but had missed the introductions and the names of each person. Other politicians arrived later.

Not long after I arrived, a man at the top table who was clearly from one of the families involved, invited anyone present to explain why abortion shouldn’t be allowed in their situation. After a moment of silence, I tentatively offered my hand.

I was not called by the chairperson and it was only after several other speakers that I was invited to speak. Like other politicians, I was deeply conscious of the sensitivity of the situation and the respect due to all persons present. I sympathised with the families and offered my perspective on why I felt that abortion was not the best response in that situation.

At one point, the same man accused me of smirking while I was speaking. I was taken aback by this. It was absolutely untrue. I felt that it was a comment designed to portray me unsympathetically. I did however feel uncomfortable at that point with the atmosphere that had been generated in the room and I replied that I was probably grimacing. I invited the families present to be in touch with us individually for friendly and respectful dialogue, independently of their involvement with the Irish Family Planning Association and the National Women’s Council who appear to have arranged the meeting. I have concerns about the policies of both organisations in relation to abortion and their disregard for the rights of unborn children, and I have addressed this publicly before.

The chairwoman of the meeting, who was from the National Women’s Council, finished by saying that the abortion bill before the Dail that day (proposed by Clare Daly TD) was just a first step. If that day’s bill were to pass it would effectively provide for abortion without time limits on a mental health ground, which I believe from the experiences of other jurisdictions would amount to abortion on demand. The most up to date studies show that if anything abortion increases mental ill-health among women – it certainly is not a treatment for it.

As the meeting finished and we were leaving, I made it my business to shake hands and speak with some of the persons present and other politicians were doing likewise. Finally, as the others were talking, I offered my hand to the gentleman with whom I had the earlier exchange. He took my hand reluctantly but said he disliked me and my argumentative style. When I tried to explain that I wanted a sincere and respectful exchange of views, he bristled and motioned me away. It was at that point that I asked whether there was a separate agenda here as this was not what normally happened when politicians came along to follow up with people who came in to lobby them. The question was not asked in either a rhetorical or leading manner. I only asked the question once because it was clear that the man did not wish to speak with me.

When Aoife Carr of the Irish Times contacted me I told her that all the politicians had been respectful at all times and, asked about my interaction with the women, I said that all my comments to them were in the open forum. I invited her to come back to me with any precise comment by a particular person and I would try and confirm or otherwise then from memory.

In today’s Irish Times it is reported that I twice said to a man called James Burke, “You’ve got a bigger agenda here James, don’t you.” This was not put to me by the Irish Times. Had this been put to me, I would have explained what actually happened, how the question was not put in this way and the fact that I did not know James’s name at the time.

I want to put on record that I deeply sympathise with the women in this case while remaining true to my own view that even severely disabled babies with a short life expectancy deserve to be allowed live their natural life. I strongly support the establishment of facilities to support women and families in this tragic situation.

I do regret any attempt by various lobbying groups to use such sad cases to pursue a much wider abortion agenda. I also regret any attempt, whether by misrepresentation, scorn or invective, to marginalise the contribution of pro-life persons or to intimidate them from entering the debate. I am surprised that such a brief exchange, which was entirely courteous on my side, should cause such a furore on social media and provide the basis for an article in the Irish Times. I call on the media to treat everybody fairly and with respect, and to ensure a balanced treatment of these very sensitive issues at all times. Yours, etc,

Senator Rónán Mullen,


Wendy Lyon - April 25, 2012

Ronan Mullen’s response to the claims made in the IT that

“and Mullen allegedly asks one of these traumatized women … ‘You’ve a bigger agenda, don’t you?’

“It was at that point that I asked whether there was a separate agenda here”

I think we can stop using the scare word “allegedly” once someone has admitted to doing something – even if they construct a lengthy reply to rationalise why they did it.


3. Mark - April 24, 2012

Was Mullen being ironic with his vile comment. So who is bankrolling Mr. “Bigger Agenda” himself?

Being a good Catholic does not seem to be compatible with being a good Christian.


4. Jim Monaghan - April 24, 2012

Major shocks in Drogheda report – irishhealth.com
http://www.irishhealth.com/article.html?id=907027 Feb 2006 – The long-awaited report into the high level of caesarean hysterectomies at Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda has said Dr Michael Neary

Woman awarded €450k over symphysiotomy – RTÉ News
http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/0323/symphysiotomy.html23 Mar 2012 – A Co Louth woman who was subjected to a symphysiotomy procedure over 40 years ago has been awarded €450000 by the High Court.

There is a smell of hypocrisy about the place about these issues when you consider the above and the attempts of the great and the god o cover up and ignore.


5. Mark P - April 24, 2012

While Mullen is clearly a rather unlovely character when it comes to social issues, and abortion in particular, I have to admit that I’m a little bit take aback at the coverage this has received. Much as in the case of that Fine Gael clown who started on about “fornicating”, the coverage rather misses the central issues in the abortion debate.

Some backbencher yammering an about fornication or some independent Senator apparently being rude are not the key people keeping abortion illegal in all circumstances in this country. That would be the government as a whole.

Giving out yards about some random backwoodsman is an easy way for liberals to avoid confronting the reality that all of the main political parties, from Fine Gael to Labour, the Greens to the Progressive Democrats, and Fianna Fail to Sinn Fein (with a welcome recent wobble in the last case) have played their role in keeping abortion rights out of this island. It’s all too easy for journalists, who are nearly all supporters of one or other of these parties, to make themselves feel morally superior by putting the boot into some random relic of the 50s rather than subjecting the current political mainstream to hard scrutiny.

(I mean seriously, when it comes to assessing political significance of state jobs, indepedent Senators rank somewhere behind dog wardens).


WorldbyStorm - April 24, 2012

TBH, I think you raise a very fair point. Given the broader issue this does seem very cosmetic, though I think IELB was right to point to it, if only because it is a phenomenon.

But that’s interesting of itself because though you don’t use the term displacement activity a lot of what we’re seeing is (and the same with fornication – what’s lost is that she’s on the ‘winning’ side, most of us here, whatever our multivaried views on the issue are not).

Mind you, one point was made in all this that bears much closer scrutiny which when I get a mo I’ll post up something tomorrow about.


Mark P - April 24, 2012

I wasn’t criticising IELB there. As you point out, it is a phenomenon and it’s worth discussing.

The silver lining on the grey cloud of “displacement activity” is that it does at least show a significant change in social attitudes. Not so long ago, it would have been the women who were brave enough to speak out about their experiences in having a pregnancy terminated who would have been monstered in the press. Now it seems that it’s unacceptable to be perceived as rude or uncaring when dealing with at least a certain subset of women who have been forced to go abroad to get a termination. This probably doesn’t apply to women who have had “bad” abortions yet, but it does at least show some small progress.

Not progress in the law, mind you, which remains at square one. Thanks to Labour and Fine Gael, of course, not thanks to the irrelevant Ronan Mullen.


EamonnCork - April 24, 2012

We’ve moved on to some extent. There was a time when Cardinal Cathal Daly felt comfortable describing women who’d had abortions as, ‘The Murdering Mothers.’
I’d suspect, however, that when Mullen and his cohorts are talking in private the language might not be very different.


dmfod - April 24, 2012

Interesting article here on the increasingly common distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ abortions in Irish discourse http://politico.ie/social-issues/8488-abortion-resistance-and-the-politics-of-death-and-grief.html

Two of the women on the Late Late show also distinguished their abortions for medical reasons from what they both termed ‘social abortions’. I’m not saying they intended this, but that language seems to me to trivialise the choice of abortion for non-medical reasons by making it sound like being a ‘social drinker’ or a ‘social smoker’.

The John Murray show the other day featured two women who had carried pregnancies to term after getting an Edwards syndrome diagnosis, which one of the Late Late show women had also faced. 95%+ of such cases miscarry and nearly all the rest die soon after birth. One of the women’s daughters has miraculously survived to age 16, but is unable to speak or walk and can only eat through a tube. Interestingly, both women said they would never impose their personal choice on anyone else and agreed the decision whether to abort was something only the woman in that situation should be able to make.

The empathy with which such awful cases are now handled in the media is striking and it would be nice if that could be extended to all women who find themselves deciding whether to abort, for whatever reason. Instead, there seems to be a judgmental good/bad abortion dynamic emerging, which is better than the previous no abortion under any circumstances line, but is still a long way off a full pro-choice position. It seems if people can easily imagine they would personally choose abortion in a given situation they are for it, but otherwise the state is still to have the right to force women to go abroad.


WorldbyStorm - April 25, 2012

Re Mark P, tbh I wasn’t thinking you were saying IELB was wrong to post it up so much as indicating I didn’t think he was wrong to do so.

dmfod, I wonder if it’s quite as clear cut as that, a good/bad discourse? Given that there was practically an omerta on any serious discussion of the issue in relation to how those who had abortions felt etc and their experience it only seems logical that as times change the discourse would start to open up in smaller ways… I don’t think it’s all or nothing or that it indicates a hardening of attitudes towards those who have abortions for other reasons. The opposite I would think. Though there is a danger that it might slip back.


EamonnCork - April 24, 2012

I agree 100% with Mark P. In fact Mullen is the easiest and most obvious of targets, given that he’s never made any secret of his fundamentalist Catholic views. And the sneering at Mulherin, dim though she undoubtedly is and silly though her statements were, has a bit of a ‘let’s laugh at the bogman’ feel to it. Everyone can feel superior to these troglodytes and congratulate themselves on living in a society enlightened enough to laugh at them. Meanwhile it’s the worldview of Mullen and Mulherin which remains enshrined in law.
Having said that the sheer unpleasantness of Mullen’s letter, that trademark combination of self-pity, mentions of intimidation and marginalisation, and self-importance, ‘I call on,’ makes it easy to believe the worst of him.
It’s very simple to pontificate on the desirability of bringing a handicapped child on the world when you have no experience of either parenthood or looking after someone with a disability. And it takes a signal combination of effrontery and obnoxiousness to lecture people who’ve had to make difficult decisions like these. But then there’s never been an ounce of Christianity in the ‘pro-life’ zealots. Their brand of Catholicism was always about putting the boot in and letting other people know who was boss. Ray Darcy said the right thing in plain language the other day and is being hounded by a pack of Holy Joes who’ve never shown an ounce of contrition for the church’s misdeeds in this country. Bollocks to them.


GypsyBhoy - April 25, 2012

What did Darcy say? I used to dip into his show now and again but gave up listening to it because the chap Will turned me right off.


EamonnCork - April 25, 2012

He said the Catholic Church had ‘fucked up the country.’ Which was followed by a storm of faux indignation from the Church as they attempt to show their muscle by extracting an apology.


6. irishelectionliterature - April 24, 2012

Mullen is an easy Bogeyman alright and the faux liberals in FG and Labour have a lot to be ashamed of.

I suppose the main part of the post for me was ‘the progress’ in both the women coming out about having had abortions for these particular reasons and also the fact that privately I’ve heard of this happening on numerous occasions.
Even 10 years ago you wouldn’t have been told or know the circumstances behind many of this class of terminations.


EamonnCork - April 24, 2012

That’s true. And perhaps it speaks volumes about the contrast between the decency of the wider society and the timidity of the politicians, chickening out on the grounds that they’re preventing some backlash which wouldn’t happen in the country now.


EamonnCork - April 24, 2012

Of course that whole ‘bigger agenda’ thing is Holy Writ with Mullen, Quinn et al. The ‘bigger agenda’ being the plot by sinister international organisations to destroy Ireland’s position as a beacon of morality and Godliness in an impure world. I always wonder if they really believe that shit or if if they just trot it out cynically.


irishelectionliterature - April 24, 2012

They believe it , as do plenty of others.
You only have to look at the negative reaction to the likes of Father Flannery on various Catholic/ Religious blogs. There must be tens of thousands, if not more, that actually welcome getting regular copies of Alive in their door and read it enthusiastically nodding their heads and agreeing with the sentiments in it..

The Eucharistic Congress coming up soon is a great place for all these to meet up in a show of strength.


EamonnCork - April 24, 2012

Senator Mullen is apparently working on a plan to bring John McCormack back to life by divine intercession so he can sing Panus Angelicus at it.


smiffy - April 27, 2012

Now that I’d go to see.


7. dmfod - April 25, 2012

@wbs I agree it’s better that allowing abortion in some circumstances is now being considered, but I still think there’s a danger the consensus could settle at a new level of being anti-choice except in extreme medical circumstances, rather than progress in this area forming the first incremental step in progression towards a fully pro-choice regime.

Some of the trends in how the new discourse is being constructed would seem to point in this direction, as in making the strongest possible arguments for choice in extreme medical circumstances, there can be a tendency to legitimise it by means of a negative contrast with other, less “worthy”, “social” abortions.

This discursive strategy undermines the potential to progress towards a fully pro-choice position and, to put it in Marxist terminology, could result in ‘reformist reform’ that maintains the state’s fundamental prerogative to exercise control over women’s bodies, as opposed to ‘non-reformist’/’anti-reformist’ reform with the potental to lead to structural reform i.e. full bodily autonomy for women.

Linking arguments for limited reform in extreme medical cases to a wider pro-choice agenda could help ensure reforms are not ‘reformist’, but delinking it from a wider pro-choice agenda is more politically expedient in the short term, even for those who are pro-choice. Clare Daly and Ailbhe Smyth are always careful to link action in this area to a wider pro-choice agenda, but if this is finally legislated for in the Dail, Labour will be falling over themselves to distinguish it from support for abortion rights in general. Also many who support reform in this specific area are not necessarily pro-choice in other contexts and, to borrow Mullen’s phrase, don’t actually have a ‘bigger agenda’.


Mark P - April 25, 2012

In that regard, there were a couple of Sinn Fein supporters on Twitter first slagging off Labour for being hypocrites and voting against a socially progressive measure… and then defending SF for voting against abortion rights in the North on the grounds that Britain was full of irresponsible girls using abortion as a form of contraception!


Ed - April 25, 2012

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s partitionist thinking like that. O’Braidaigh was obviously onto something when he predicted they’d end up being another Free State party.


WorldbyStorm - April 25, 2012

I’ve been away from the computer today so I’m late to this. A number of thoughts strike me. I hope the situation isn’t as pessimistic as you paint it dmfod.

Firstly X has to be legislated for and if legislated for will be in advance of any legislation to deal with the cases of non-viable pregnancies and those seeking abortion for them – precisely because X doesn’t include those cases and the constitutional implications of X don’t address them (at least not clearly AFAIK).

So I’m dubious that a negative discourse centred on those abortions good/others bad holds up. They’re not blocking movement on this issue at all, at least not in the legislative arena.

And beyond the legislative arena arguably it is precisely examples like the non-viable ones which underscore that not merely should X be legislated for but also a raft of other instances where there are examples that are problematic in the extreme for those who cleave to an anti-abortion line. This isn’t pro-choice in and of itself, but it’s moving in a certain direction.

Secondly, it’s the right thing to do one way or another, by attempting to improve the situation as and when it is possible. Those women need support and there’s no legislative path for them, not X, not nothing.

Thirdly, there remains a significant societal antipathy to abortion and a pro-choice approach (and I’d think it’s a majority of those voting in the state) and that’s unlikely to change in the short term. It doesn’t seem to me to be dishonourable to improve matters as and where they can be improved. I worry that that is lost sight of, just how big the hill that has to climbed is from where we are and how much that necessitates coalitions having to be built of unlikely companions to progress matters and that the motivations will be sometimes contradictory. As long as progress occurs that’s fine.

And the point is that progress on some issues will lead to progress on others – otherwise why did Daly/Collins/Wallace push legislation forward on X when that’s falls far short of Daly’s ultimate objective? Any forthcoming legislation is going to be very hedged one way or another but if it incorporates X it will be an improvement on the status quo and that’s one little victory, as the saying has it.

The problem for the anti-abortion line is that once one breaches the absolutism of it then shades of grey enter the equation and so on and so forth. The crucial thing is to make the breaches, as said before because that’s right in and of itself and to point up that absolutism doesn’t and cannot work in regard to the issue.

And linked to that I’m not exercised by the fact that some people take different attitudes on abortion from pro-choice to only in limited circumstances to an absolute prohibition. I don’t think that honestly held views are problematic (bar stuff like branding women and those who support them as murderers). That’s the nature of the society we live in and the make up of it. If some who take differing viewpoints are willing to work on making life better for those in various instances all the better.

There have been shifts towards a less black/white approach and there will be more as time moves on.

But there’s also the point that political expedience isn’t the only thing that blocks movement forward.

As I noted before (and this is more in relation to Mark P), it’s not all about Labour, or indeed SF. They’re not – and particularly not the latter who, by Irish lights as a party which while explicitly not in favour of a pro-choice position, did the right thing – the real stumbling blocks on the road, however much the LP hasn’t helped.

Every SF and LP TD could have voted for the Daly/Collins/Wallace legislation and it wouldn’t have passed.

It’s FG and FF supporters, and yes, Independents and others who have to be persuaded to change. That’s the work of months and years (and perhaps, and this may seem pessimistic admittedly) decades. If so it’s precisely cases like those women and X which will demonstrate the fallacious approach of those who argue that abortion is a black/white issue.


Wendy Lyon - April 27, 2012

I don’t think the problem is attempting to legislate for some abortions while leaving others illegal (something that is unavoidable as long as Article 40.3.3 remains) – the problem is the use of language that describes some abortions as good and others as bad. I think that was the point dmfod was making. It’s perfectly possible to argue that Article 40.3.3 does not prohibit abortion under particular circumstances even if not others, without arguing that abortion is justified in those circumstances but not in others. Unfortunately some of those supporting legislation for X and for fatal foetal abnormality seem to be taking the latter course.


WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2012

I see how that can be argued, but doesn’t that run into a contradiction with how the campaign has been run hitherto by Daly et al. In a way it seems like it was always going to be a given since fact they were the ones who brought the representatives of fatal foetal abnormality into the Oireachtas weeks ago ( when it was clear from the IT articles etc that the latter considered themselves distinct from other women looking for abortion, at least in some respects), and Daly referenced them explicitly by name in paragraph three or four of her opening address on the legislation in the Dáil. Though I should add I’m no doubt out of the loop, so I’m not aware of who specifically is taking the latter course and how important is their voice.

What worries me is that perhaps I’m being far too optimistic here that this is an important step in the right direction.


Mark P - April 27, 2012

It is an important step in the right direction!

dmfod certainly wasn’t arguing otherwise. Tactically speaking, bringing forward legislation for X was exactly the correct thing to do. But you can argue for X legislation while still arguing that abortion should be freely available as a choice, as Clare Daly did, or you can argue that there should be abortion rights for these unfortunate women but not for those bad/irresponsible women, as some others do.


WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2012

Two thoughts, absolutely it can be argued in both those directions, but I’m wondering who precisely is arguing for the latter explicitly? [I guess one could argue that some of those who voted Yes that week did implicitly do that, but has that been taken any further?]. Secondly, my point about the campaign isn’t a criticism but more an observation that given how it was structured wasn’t it intrinsic to it that there could potentially be an overconcentration on the foetal abnormality situation as compared to other situations (though I don’t see that personally as a problem given how tough it is to progress this from the get go). I feel that was very evident in the referencing of them by many many of the contributions on the day.


Mark P - April 27, 2012

I think that the point is that even what is a correct strategy can have dangers and drawbacks inherent to it. Which is why it’s important for pro-choice campaigners to (a) argue the merits of X case legislation on its own terms but also (b) argue that legislation for X doesn’t go far enough.

There will be people who can be convinced of (a) who won’t continue down the road to (b) at least for the moment, but campaigners should avoid arguing their case in a way that actually discourages that movement.


WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2012

That’s a great point you make at the end there.


EamonnCork - April 25, 2012

In a strange way it’s slightly similar to the selling of liberalisation of family planning legislation on the grounds that contraception would save lives and prevent an AIDS epidemic. Which, true as that might have been, wasn’t really the main reason why contraception reform was necessary.
It’s a good point from dmfod and a good post but I suppose in a situation where abortion is completely illegal moving towards reform in increments might be the wisest thing to do tactically.
Though I suppose you could counter that by observing that for the ‘pro-life’ movement, any kind of abortion is equally objectionable.


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