Michelle Mulherin: The Saturday Night Show Transcript


Michelle Mulherin TD interviewed by Brendan O’Connor on last night’s Saturday Night Show on RTE 1.

Brendan O’Connor: ‘Michelle, were you surprised at the reaction to the use of the word ‘fornication?”

Michelle Mulherin: “I have to say I was, and the reason I was is that in the context in which it was used it made sense. The context in which it was used was a religion context. Basically what I was saying in relation to the word, in using the word was, abortion is murder is sin from a religious perspective but then so is hate, greed and fornication but they’re not crimes. So some things that are perceived from a religious perspective as sin  are not necessarily things we want to criminalise and so on. Why I said that is I just wanted us to take a step back in relation to the whole issue of abortion because it’s twenty years since the X case and it’s a hot topic, it’s a hot topic in the sense that nobody in the middle ground really wants to talk about it. So really it’s controlled by extreme liberals who maybe want abortion ‘on demand’ or whatever or someone who is really religious and has extremely religious views about it. But it’s not a straightforward issue. What I did on the day in question, when this bill was put before the Dail, I just opened up the argument and I also looked at the whole issue of maybe how we have developed in our society. Say, 30 years ago you couldn’t access contraception, a married couple couldn’t get contraception without going to their GP. We had to have a court case over that. Homosexuality was illegal, we know up until quite recently divorce was illegal. All of those things were on religious grounds. We have come forward over a period of time and the world hasn’t ended. Now, it’s not as simple as that either. Because I have my own personal views. I don’t agree with abortion, right.”

O’Connor: “In any case?”

Mulherin: “I accept the X case in the sense that it decided that in a situation where the mother’s life was at risk then in that limited circumstance there could be a termination.

O’Connor: “And only in that limited circumstance?”

Mulherin: “Yes.”

O’Connor: “Can I ask you what you thought, so, of the women we saw in the Irish Times this week and on the Late Late Show last night when they were in a situation where, what’s the term they used, had children that had conditions which were incompatible with life. I didn’t want to get straight down to…I wanted to discuss other issues around it. Do you think the women should have had to travel? It clearly added to their pain a lot at what was obviously a very difficult time for them.”

Mulherin: “Look, I mean that’s an awful hard question to answer. It’s a very, very tough, it is a very, very sensitive issue because there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t have a view on it. But just maybe take a little step back from it and say first of all, in general, when we make laws, it’s hard to make a good law on ‘hard cases’. It generally is hard to legislate for it.”

O’Connor: “Can I just say though, we’re not going to re-run the abortion debate here. This law; there’s lot of hard cases around abortion isn’t there? Do we have to make a law around hard cases in this situation?”

Mulherin: “Well, can you tell me what that law is?”

O’Connor: “I can’t.”

Mulherin: “Pardon? Because I did an interview with somebody else on the radio and at the top of the interview they said that I don’t agree with abortion on demand, OK?  And then later on in the interview the interviewer said ‘well, why should women have to put up with that situation?’ so that’s when I posed the question to him, ‘Where is the middle ground on this? Who gets to decide and in what circumstances?’ Can I just bring it to something else.”

O’Connor: “Is that not what we rely on legislators for? To deal with incredibly sensitive issues like this. To look at the situation of those women say last night and possibly say maybe we’re adding a lot to their pain by forcing them to travel in this situation.’ Is that not what government is about? Finding ways around kind of things that are nuanced and that are difficult?”

Mulherin: “Well, the government to me, when we’re passing laws, we have to talk to people, we have to dialogue, there’s no magic wand in relation to abortion. In fact, you could say that one could never win with the subject. What I’m particularly focused on, let’s have a conversation about, yeah we’ve developed as a society, but there are still a lot of very immature attitudes towards sex.”

O’Connor: “And this is where fornication comes into it then. What did you mean specifically? I know you used the word carefully, for a reason, you didn’t use it casually. What did you mean by fornication when you said it?”

Mulherin: “Well, I meant what the word means. The word means ‘consensual sex between adults who are not married to each other’. That’s what I meant.”

O’Connor: “And do you think fornication is wrong?”

Mulherin: “Do I think fornication is wrong? I don’t think it’s a crime. From a scriptural point of view it is wrong. There is no doubt about it. Whether we like it or not, whether it’s cool or not, fashionable or not’.”

O’Connor: “You, personally, would be against sex outside of marriage, would you?”

Mulherin: “As an ideal I would, but we fall short on ideal cause we’re human, OK? There’s lots of ideals there. This is my point. we have great aspirations as human beings to go for all sorts of ideals. Unfortunately lots of times we don’t make the mark. Now, to talk about practical living and maybe even parking religion, em, in instances, let’s say there are 4,500- 5,000 women who feel that they need to go to Britain for a termination of their pregnancy, now in some of those cases, at least, we can say that there is obviously unprotected sex involved, perhaps casual encounters etc. Now, I’m not a prude, Brendan, or anything like that but, as a woman, you have an awful lot to lose, and getting pregnant could be one of the best things that could happen you. You could get AIDS, you could get some other sexually transmitted disease that you’ll be dealing with for the rest of your life.”

O’Connor: “OK, well I think that’s a separate issue than what we’re talking about here. So the point that you’re making is that you think this is a debate aswel about people being careful when they have sex, yes?”

Mulherin: “Well, well I think that it’s about acknowledging that in some instances, abortion is being used as birth control.”

O’Connor: “You think that people are using abortion as birth control?”

Mulherin: “I think that some people are using it as birth control, yes.”

O’Connor: “From what I know, it seems to be a hugely traumatic thing for a woman to have an abortion and it’s something that affects them for the rest of their life. And I’m not questioning you, but you think that they use it quite casually as a form of birth control?”

Mulherin: “I’m not saying it’s casual, what I’m saying about immaturity towards our own bodily integrity, like, at the end of the day you’ve an awful lot to lose. Why, in this day and age, when we all know so much, it’s not so much that in this day and age we don’t know about the birds and the bees, we don’t know about contraception, we don’t know about condoms etc. We know all of these things. So why other than [when] someone is drunk or they’re getting out of their mind at a particular point in time, why get yourself in that situation in the first place? To me it’s a question of valuing oneself, and actually it’s not like I’m being cruel to other girls. I’m saying to girls and to girlfriends, friends I have here with me, that you know, at the end of the day, the whole push towards abortion and contraception etc. as part of the agenda for feminism, well hold on, it’s the woman who ends up holding the baby, so like if you’re out there and of course you’re going to have sex, you’re going to end up carrying the can, is that really the best you want to hope for for yourself?

O’Connor: “Which is why I suppose that people would say that women should be allowed to make these decisions about the consequences and their own bodies and everything.”

Mulherin: “OK, can I just make one point? I do agree that as we are growing as a society, we get to make choices in relation to our own sexual activity, behaviour and our own sexuality, but, I’m losing my train of thought now.. sorry..’

O’Connor: “From what I’ve been reading about you, if I’m right, what you were going to say is that we’ve got all these choices we can now make about our sexuality, rights etc. You’re very strong on that people should all have responsibilities that go with that, isn’t that right?”

Mulherin: “That’s right, yeah.”

O’Connor: “In a way you feel that society has become a bit permissive, possibly.”

Mulherin: “Well, this is what I think; I think that because maybe for a long time we’ve had excessive religiousness controlling that aspect which is a very personal thing, in a person, that we’ve now, and even now many people think ‘I don’t practice, I’m not Catholic, I’m not whatever, we’re still in the aftermath of it. I believe that entire reasoning in Ireland, it’s part of our legacy, is fundamentally tied up with religion. Therefore, people have gone the flipside. What I’m saying is that, this is here my own faith and my own beliefs come in is…”

O’Connor: “I think it would be only fair to say to people what your beliefs are.”

Mulherin: “OK, as I said to you from the outset, I’m not a ‘Holy Joe’, I’m not a fanatic, I’m a Catholic, I don’t go to mass religiously every Sunday, I go to funerals, funeral masses, things like that, etc.”

O’Connor: “You have to with your job I suppose.”

Mulherin: “You know a lot more people and it’s respect for the circumstances of people. I have had the opportunity to study scripture in an ecumenical situation, involved with Catholics, Presbyterians, and Church of Ireland, where people go together. We’re all traditions in Christianity, so there’s a Catholic tradition and so on, but what I’m saying is this that for me, I’m searching the same as other people, right, and I believe we have a spiritual dimension, and no more than we feed our bodies, we need to feed our souls. We don’t have to, that’s totally our choice, but I think the way that society has gone, we very much tend to value what we see and there is very little beyond that. There’s a cynicism. For me, what I believe and I take great comfort in, we have an inherent value in ourselves, each and every person is individual and each and every person is unique, and I’m not just talking about the unborn child here, I’m talking about the woman who’s perhaps potentially destroying her own life, her family’s life and so on, and even in a situation where we, we now have a high level of suicide in this country. We are not ‘human doings’ we are ‘human beings’ so I’m saying ‘let’s come at it from that point of view and mature as a nation in relation to our attitudes to sex. It’s not extremely one way or extremely another way. But we do respect, I respect, peoples’ sexual behaviour, fornication, call it what you want, that’s peoples’ choice, you know, it may not always be the best thing for them, it may not be the best thing for them to be doing but that’s the nature of Christianity, there’s that freedom, it’s not forcing something upon people.”

O’Connor: “Michelle, we could talk about this all night and I know that there’s going to be a lot more conversations like this over the next while. I think that your position is possibly more nuanced that people might have imagined, and I also think that you’re very brave to come out as you have done, and said some things that are unpopular and not trendy and that people are not going to agree with.’

Mulherin: “Can I say, am I allowed [to say one more thing]?”

O’Connor: “Very quickly.”

Mulherin: “I just want to say that you mentioned about the reaction and was I surprised, I read a lot of articles in papers arising out of my statement and one thing that struck me was that people hadn’t actually read my speech whatsoever, people were reacting emotionally to a word and my view point would be that there is a real liberal agenda there that is a bit upset now because they haven’t got politicians like myself shutting up on account of the clap trap of political correctness. We have to have straight talking, that’s my view.’

O’Connor: ‘OK, well that was certainly some straight talking. Ladies and gentlemen, Michelle Mulherin TD.”

Watch here.

Previously: She So Forni