Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste Joan Burton a number of topical questions on the final sitting of the Dáil before the summer recess (July 17) in light of the UN HRC hearings in Geneva.
The Labour Party leader firmly ruled out any hope of new legislation for victims of rape and incest and those seeking terminations for medical reasons (TFMR).
Deputy Catherine Murphy: “This week’s damning review of our human rights practices by the United Nations Human Rights Committee makes for grim reading but it is hardly surprising. Our failure in regard to the Magdalen laundries survivors, the symphysiotomy survivors, those who spent time in mother and baby homes and those who were victims of clerical child abuse is shameful. However, we stand to repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not act to address the grossly discriminatory laws that govern abortion. The UN committee confirmed that we are in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by denying women the option to avail of abortion in certain circumstances, namely, rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and where a woman’s health is in danger. I would argue that we are not only in breach of the covenant but also in breach of basic humanity in denying an abortion to a woman who has been raped, is a victim of incest or has to endure carrying to full term a pregnancy when there is no prospect of delivering a live baby. I found it profoundly chilling to listen to the remarks of the principal officer of the Department of Health who told the committee that denying these women the right to abortion was the will of the people. I question what people are meant. The eighth amendment to the Constitution was inserted more than 30 years ago and attitudes have changed significantly since then, as recent polls have shown.
The Labour Party is a socially progressive party. The Tánaiste is the leader of that party as well as the deputy leader of this country, and she is also one of the few women in a decision-making role in this Government. Is she going to use her powerful position to bring about change in this area and, if so, how is she going to do that?”
Tánaiste: “In regard to the issues arising around fatal foetal abnormalities, the Deputy will be aware that some time ago the Government legislated successfully in regard to the X case. That is reflected in our legislation and is an issue that both parties in Government have addressed. In regard to fatal foetal abnormalities, I am on record as stating that I would like to see a situation where it is possible to address them. As of yet we do not have agreement on that in the programme for Government. It is a personal position and I have been on public record in this regard over a long period.”
Deputy Catherine Murphy: “I know we have legacy issues and it is very uncomfortable to consider past failures in hindsight. We are asking how we allowed such things to happen and who was in power at the time, but will the pattern be repeated by people in power now, and will we have the same conversations in 30 years?”
Deputy John Halligan: “Exactly.”
Deputy Catherine Murphy: “The same committee might then be reviewing how the country dealt with issues like fatal foetal abnormalities, for example, or people who have been raped or subject to incest and who have been denied their human rights. The Tánaiste indicated her personal views are on the record but I ask her as Tánaiste – deputy leader of the country – and the leader of the Labour Party for her position on the issue.
I went to Liverpool Women’s Hospital with people who were part of a study group on fatal foetal abnormalities. People were put through a tortuous process where, for example, they would have had to retrieve the remains of a baby they wanted by way of something like DHL delivery, which is absolutely appalling. It is inhumane and we cannot rely on a 31 year old referendum decision, presuming that people have not moved on when so many events have taken place in this country. We need a referendum, as the Tánaiste knows, if we are to change that position. Does the Tánaiste accept we need a referendum and will she commit to working towards such a referendum?”
Tánaiste: “There has been an extensive process with the Constitutional Convention, which considered various issues and reported findings. As I pointed out, the Government and the Dáil has dealt with issues arising from the X case. Those had been unresolved over a very long period of years. We want a position in Ireland where every baby is a wanted baby. The Deputy spoke about cases and the people she accompanied in Liverpool, and those are tragic circumstances as the babies are wanted but their life outcomes were in doubt because of medical issues.
It was referenced in Geneva that on a previous occasion, the Irish people gave a view – as was their entitlement – on what they wanted reflected in the Constitution. I did not share the view at the time and my party and others like me recommended voting against the amendment to the Constitution. As a democrat, the Deputy must recognise that the people voted for the eighth amendment to the Constitution. The Government has legislated for and dealt with issues surrounding the X case, which has been a difficult issue in this country over a very long period. That is what was agreed in the programme for Government.”
Deputy John Halligan: “So the Tánaiste will not agree to a new referendum.”
Over 9,000 families are to lose their One-Parent Family Payment from today.
The change is dependent on the age of the claimant’s children, along with when the payment began…
By this time next year, almost 60,000 families will have lost the One-Parent Family Payment. “What it actually means for the nearly 60,000 families that are going to be moved off next year is that a lot of them are going to be down money, and they are already extraordinarily poor families, who are finding it difficult to make ends meet”, said Karen Kiernan, chief executive of One Family…
Stephen Rogers reports in today’s Irish Examiner that less than 10% of the Government’s target number of positions on the Gateway initiative have been filled.
With just 270 positions filled on its Gateway job activation programme, the Government has had to change the criteria for access to the scheme to try to attract more participants.
Under the terms of the Gateway initiative, dole claimants who have been on the Live Register for more than two years are paid an extra €20 per week on top of their jobseeker’s allowance to work for local authorities. An average of 19.5 hours per week is on offer in areas including village enhancement schemes; landscaping; tourism ambassadors; animal control; and libraries, and each placement lasts for 22 months.
The Government set a target of 3,000 positions to be filled by the end of the year. Yet by the end of this week only 270 had been taken up since the scheme was introduced more than 18 months ago.
On last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne, Vincent was joined by Louise Bayliss of single parent action group SPARK Parents to review the papers.
A headline about the Labour leadership contest in the Irish Examiner grabbed her attention.
Vincent Browne: “Louise, what do you want to focus on?”
Louise Bayliss: “Well I’m just looking in here again. We’re having ‘Former Labour deputy backs Burton’, this is inside in the Irish Examiner, page 6 of the Irish Examiner. And you’re just looking at it and you’re saying Burton and…”
Browne: “This is [Labour stalwart and former government minister] Barry Desmond yeah.”
Louise Bayliss: “You’re looking and going [Joan]Burton and Alex White, you know what is the choice there? Like, I feel sorry, I genuinely I say this hand on heart, I feel sorry for grassroot Labour members who put their faith in Labour and are now coming up with a contest between Minister Burton and Alex White. I mean Minister Burton, I know I’m coming from a lone parent’s point of view but only two weeks ago I was at a meeting in the Department of Social Protection where they were talking about the cuts coming in place for lone parents and for some reason even though I would be very aware of what was happening, I never expected that they would make no exception for lone parents with a disabled child and they haven’t. And from next July, a lone parent with a disabled child will lose €86 a week from their weekly income when their child turns 7. For no other reason, their child turns 7, they lose €86 from their weekly income. 27% of their income, that’s a decision made specifically by Minister Burton. That’s not imposed on her by anybody, that was chosen by her and when we’ve tried to put this out she will not listen us. And then we have the other choice of..”
Browne: “Have you spoken to her about this?”
Bayliss: “We have spoken to her.”
Browne: “Person to person?”
Bayliss: “I actually have spoken to her person to person.”
Browne: “And what did she say?”
Bayliss: [Waves hand] “We’ll sort it out, we’ll sort it out. She basically would not debate with us. We’ve written to her. I spoke to her face to face and she just literally just waved me aside as if my concerns meant nothing and you know I think we’re talking about austerity and I do not know any other sector who could take a 27% cut in their income and yet a lone parent; 98% who are women, are going to lose 27% of their income because their disabled child turns 7. They are no more able to work when their child was 6. They are trapped at home and there’s nobody speaking up for them and you know when I look at this and I know that Labour grassroot members hear what I’m saying and they look and they have this choice to make between Minister White who defended medical card cuts and Minister Burton who thinks a lone parent with a disabled child can bear the most cuts, I feel saddened for the Labour party.”
Browne: “Do you think it makes any difference who’s Labour leader?”
Bayliss: “No, I don’t. At this stage, I don’t. Not from the choices that are made here.”
Labour leadership hopeful Joan Burton appeared on last night’s Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor to set out her stall and attempt to explain Labour’s betrayal of “the most vulnerable in society”.
Joan Burton: “…Simply creating an economy without a society is not enough.”
Brendan O’Connor: “A year ago you spoke about the limits of austerity. I presume you didn’t have this epiphany in the last week?
Joan Burton: “No.”
O’Connor: “If you had acted on this earlier…”
Burton: “Well a government is a collaborative effort. and I think you have to keep putting your ideas forward because obviously in modern politics there’s probably two different views. If you sort of look after very wealthy people and their wealth grows well some of that will trickle down. My view has always been very strongly – and it’s a Labour view – that you build a strong, eh, you build a strong middle class, people at work, people who pay the taxes, pay the PRSI, that keeps the social welfare system going and that you have to do that, there’s two different…One is building from the middle and the other is top down.”
O’Connor: “But I suppose the middle didn’t feel that ye were doing that. There were a lot of broken promises there and Joan really people felt terribly betrayed by you because you said certain things and you made certain promises and that was all gone.”
Burton: “I think what a lot of people felt and said to me was a sense of disappointment and ‘not this time’ and certainly I think the Labour party going into the last election made promises that the economic situation just didn’t allow us to do.”
O’Connor: “But had you not looked into the economic situation before you made the promises not to be smart about it.”
Burton:“Well a couple of things happened. First of all we inherited….you know I was the biggest critic of the bank guarantee because I advised the Labour Party to vote against it which we did. But the reality is once a national government has made a decision turning that around to change that decision, get relief on the bank debt…we’ve got relief now amounting probably to some €30 billion in terms of putting it out long term and getting lower interest rates but we still need the same amount again. That’s the art I suppose of government aswell as politics. You say this is my goal. Maybe it’s like building a team and if this is team Ireland it’s going to take time to get businesses and people back on their feet. And also as I say the social side, the social investment….”
O’Connor: “On the social side. There was this issue that was bubbling away probably for a year. It came to a crescendo around the time of the election and it’s finally being dealt with now. Why didn’t Labour spot the medical cards thing or do something about it? This should have been a classic kind of Labour core value stuff. The most vulnerable people in our society. It’s an overused phrase but a lot of these people were. How come you let it go as far as you let it go?”
Burton:“Well I think we got it wrong and for that I would like to apologise. The notion that anybody who had a long term serious illness like say Motor Neurone disease or parents of a child who had say Spina bifida or a Downs [syndrome]…”
O’Connor: “Did you not see it? Did you not see the all the stories in the papers for the last year? Did you think this was a peripheral issue?”
Burton: “Well remember we had the Troika on our backs for three years and happily they left. And then there started to be a bit of movement. Now I…the taoiseach has said tonight and I want to welcome what he said, that that [medical cards issue] is going to be sorted both in the review in terms of what is going to happen people in the future but also the people who lost the medical cards and obviously I know a lot of people personally who lost them and I have to say I couldn’t quite make out.”
O’Connor: “And that’s going to be fixed now.”
Burton: “…I, I, I hope it’s going to be fixed. That’s what we’re going to do. We will be talking about it at cabinet on Tuesday. You know for instance in Social Protection there are things which have been very difficult. In this period it’s been hard on different ministers in all levels of the government. At the same time if you go around Ireland we’re building new schools and rebuilding old schools everywhere. So that’s a social success and it puts people back to work.”
[Joan Burton, deputy leader of the Labour Party and Eamon Gilmore, former leader]
“They knew very well that they were destroying the Labour Party and with it the honourable social democratic tradition it represented. They decided to do it anyway.”
“…It has taken just three years for Sinn Féin to turn the logic of what Labour did in 2011 into stark electoral numbers. They are quite staggering: in 2011, Labour’s vote was twice Sinn Féin’s. In 2014, Sinn Féin’s was nearly three times Labour’s…”