They tried to out-Catholic each other

Donal O’Keefe at urges repeal of the Eight Amendment.

I’m in my mid-forties and the early 1980s were the backdrop of my early teens. I have odd, snapshot recollections of the time. I remember those frantic men and women with their rosary beads and their placards of aborted foetuses and the mania that seemed to grip the country. It was a very strange time in Ireland.

I remember Garret and Charlie like Saint George and the Dragon, seemingly locked in eternal conflict for the Taoiseach’s job, and I remember 1983, the year after GUBU, when they tried to out-Catholic each other as both agreed to support the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign’s amendment to outlaw abortion.

In later life, Fitzgerald at least had the decency to regret his actions.

You don’t want politicians trying to out-Catholic each other. That’s a party game out of nightmares.

Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, the only such in the democratic world, is our abiding legacy of that bizarre and feverish time and here’s Ireland’s dirty little secret: the truth is there was no danger at all in 1983 that Ireland would legalise abortion. The Eighth Amendment, for all the pain and the confusion and the alphabet soup of A, B, C, D, (and now P) X and Y grief it has caused over the past three decades, was never really about abortion.

Article 40.3.3 only exists because 31 years ago Catholic fundamentalists saw this as their line in the sand. With the spectres of contraception, divorce and homosexuality looming, they saw an open goal. This was their show of strength, their bulwark against the liberal onslaught.

It said abortion on the tin but it was about control. That’s the key to the creepy, sex-obsessed dogma behind this Constitutional aberration: control, not over souls – because the next world is never enough – but control over women’s bodies. After all, if your body isn’t even your own, your soul is hardly likely to go getting any flighty notions.

Is there any surer way of keeping women away from freedom than making sure they can never avoid pregnancy? Short of just plain locking them all up for life, that is.

The Eighth Amendment remains a minefield from a long-lost war, blighting lives unborn when it was planted. We need political leadership (although God help any politician trying to sell that at the Church gate collection) and we as an electorate need to grow up too. It’s past-time we became a proper secular democracy and dispensed with the rank hypocrisy of outsourcing 11 terminations a day to Perfidious Albion.

Last week, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, asked the consultant obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan whether medical guidelines would be helpful in dealing with cases such as this latest tragedy. Dr Boylan said they would, before adding “repeal of the Eighth Amendment would be even more helpful”.

Hard cases make bad law, goes the old legal maxim. Look at all the hard cases this bad law has made.

Repeal the Eighth Amendment.

H/t Barry Duke.



  1. Broga says

    The fundamentalist Roman Catholics are not content to decide on their own behaviour. They insist on forcing the ancient cruelties, based on superstition, on everyone else. The record of paedophilia, vicious abuse of children by nuns in their laundries and sickening hypocrisy of the priesthood in Ireland is well proven and documented. They must be opposed and defeated. And they will be. Reason and common sense, given an increasingly educated public, must triumph.

  2. Broga says

    RJW: The Anglicans are relatively harmless and the clergy are stressed. There was a report on the BBC about the demands on vicars from their parishioners and of a charity that provides clergy with a Retreat with counselling. I guess the RCs are probably even more stressed in view of their public celibacy and the guilt from their covert sexual activities. Two RC priests talking:

    First priest: Do you think we shall ever see married priests?

    Second priest: No. But I think our children will.

  3. RJW says

    @4 Broga,

    Yes, stress would definitely be an occupational hazard, particularly for those members of the clergy who have lost faith but who can’t, for various reasons, admit it and leave the Church.

    Who knows over the past 2000 years, how many religious apparatchiks actually believed or believe in Christianity, I can’t see how the Church could function as it does, if it were actually staffed by believers.

  4. Broga says

    @RJW: Thanks for the link. I am grateful to you for that. I have read a few of the books: Sam Harris; Ehrman, Dennett. I came across Dan Barker’s book on his leaving evangelical fundamentalism where he was a successful preacher. That offered insights into the struggle involved. Many years ago I got to know a recently qualified vicar (still a curate) and asked him if he really believed what he preached; virgin birth, resurrection; Adam and Eve etc. He said he did not and if he preached what he had learned in college, and what figured in their discussions, his congregation would be furious. The internet seems an increasing support for the non believing preachers.

  5. RJW says

    @6 Broga,

    Yes, it’s surprising how many unbelieving clergy stay in the Church because they can see no practical alternatives.

  6. Donal O'Keeffe says

    As the author of the original article in,, I should add that the column was written in the context of Ireland’s latest – but unlikely to be its last – “right-to-life” horror story. This time the very meaning of life and the very meaning of death were twisted and reduced to the stuff of nightmares as doctors, fearing prosecution for murder, denied a brain-dead pregnant woman a natural death.

    (Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor of the Irish Independent, covered that story in some depth here:

    The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution was foisted on supine politicians in 1983 and voted for by 850,000 people. The youngest of those voters are in their fifties now. The Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole wrote recently, and brilliantly, about the forces behind the Eighth Amendment. They were exactly who you think they were. Read O’Toole’s column here:

    That amendment gave us Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, which states that mother and unborn have equal rights to life and the State will vindicate those rights where practicable. In effect, a woman, a sentient person, is reduced in value to being of the same worth under Irish law as a days-old cluster of cells within her.


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