Martin’s Gambit: Steal Repeal


Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin

Concerning the ‘seismic shift’ of Micheál Martin coming out as in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment, I’m a little surprised  people aren’t seeing the stroke that’s being played here.

Discerning the flow of the tide – be it from opinion poll data, focus groups, a cold hard look at the marriage equality vote – Micheál Martin and the FF leadership have seen the writing on the wall and realised that all indicators say that repeal will carry in a referendum.

At its 2017 Árd Fheis, FF voted conclusively to take a pro-life stance on the issue of the 8th Amendment. That position has not changed.

Martin, in my opinion, is now working tactically in order to secure a least-worst-option salvage operation and continues to act in the interests of his party, his support base, and cumanns all of which have registered a majority interest in a pro-life stance.

One of the most cynical aspects of the play has been for the leader to claim that he is speaking in a personal capacity.

This is unfathomable in a party that adhere’s strongly to the power of the grassroots and the assertion of that power through decisions of the Árd Fheis.

Martin is playing the long game with a pro-life agenda and you can guarantee that the party faithful’s concerns are being assuaged in constituency clinics the country over this morning. ‘Trust Micheál, he knows what he’s doing…’

Accepting that they cannot win to ‘save the 8th’ in a referendum, FF are now trying to insert an option C into what had been until now a binary debate.

Their new play is that the legal vacuum created by the repeal of the 8th would cause legal uncertainty and thus, if we cannot save the 8th, we must amend it.

This concept has been floating around the discourse in pro-life circles for some time now; see certain moderate pro-lifers on twitter for examples of this kite having been flown. The underlying fallacy of the argument here is that the (de Valera authored) constitution operated perfectly well between 1937 and 1983 with no 8th amendment in it whatsoever.

The 1983 vote was one to provide for extraordinary restrictions on access to abortion services at home and abroad in the face of rapidly changing medical technologies and access to alternative jurisdictions.

The genius of Martin’s new gambit is that he does not have to win over the electorate, just the Oireachtas – and FF have a controlling stake in the Dáil at the moment – a fact they like to keep as quiet as possible about.

In all referenda, there can only be an A or B question put to the electorate. The Oireachtas, through the Cabinet, determine and sanction the wording of every referendum in consultation with the Attorney General.

One of those two options has to be, by definition, to retain the 8th Amendment in the Art. 40.3.3 of the Constitution. The second box will either be to remove the article entirely or to replace it. Micheál Martin’s position yesterday was not for repeal of the 8th but rather for option B on the ballot paper to be amendment of the 8th.

Such a move would guarantee that the people do not have the option of doing what the repeal campaign has advocated for all along; what the constitutional convention advocated for; and what a majority of cabinet (excepting our still silent Taoiseach) has indicated to be their preferred option.

If Micheál Martin’s gambit play’s off, FF can then work towards the drafting of an amendment which ensures that access to abortion in Ireland is as restrictive as they deem desirable while appearing to look liberal. Such compositional gymnastics are a Fianna Fáil speciality: viz Haughey’s ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem’ on contraception back in 1979.

Confined to the safe and familiar territory of Leinster House and free from the rigours of real public debate, do not expect Micheál Martin’s ‘amend the 8th’ option to result in ‘free, safe, and legal’ abortion in Ireland. Expect instead applications to panels of medical experts, strict legal definitions on viability, and careful consideration and clauses on issues such as suicidal ideation.

Michaél Martin has rarely trumpeted the fact that he has had Fine Gael firmly in his grasp since the 2016 general election. All he has to do now is give a gentle tug on the rope and remind Dr Varadkar who is it that holds the power behind the throne.

If the wording of an amendment to the 8th amendment is not acceptable to FF, they can pull the plug on government in the morning – likely using some latent whistleblower scandal as a causus belli – and then we’ll be right back where we started from. Campaign funds squandered on a general election and little appetite for revisiting repeal any time soon.

Judging by the press reportage this master move in stroke politics has been swallowed hook line and sinker in many quarters with the media failing either to discern or to call out what has occurred.

It is particularly illuminating to see the’s article announcing Martin’s volte face where the video from Oireachtas TV cuts short of showing his clarification on amendment, instead cutting at the point where he says he favours repeal as if it was some sort of mic drop moment.

If, whenever this referendum is finally held, you find yourself staring at a ballot paper where the option for a clean and simple repeal of the 8th amendment does not appear, don’t say I didn’t warn you, and don’t forget about slippery Mick and his cunning trick.

Phryne Fisher is a Broadsheet reader.

Earlier: Ask A broadsheet Reader


39 thoughts on “Martin’s Gambit: Steal Repeal

  1. Mensonge

    Abortion has no place in the Constitution.
    Rights to healthcare has no place in the Constitution.
    The right of any citizen over his or her body has no place in the Constitution.
    Simple repeal is the only just question for the voters to answer.

    1. The Real Jane

      Agree completely. The eighth amendment is a failure in every respect. Not only does it not actually do what the problem life crowd would like, the side effects are utterly horrifying.

      1. Yellow Cheese Dog

        So you prefer the pointless, indiscriminate destruction of human life to the utterly horrifying prospect of an inconvenient motherhood.


  2. Yeah, Ok

    Super post, well done.

    It’s utterly disheartening that this is exactly what will happen and everyone knew that all along. Gambit is the perfect word.

  3. newsjustin

    Interesting Fisher.

    I honestly don’t know. I didn’t read/hear his speech in full so just assumed he’d just gone over to the dark side.

    I think removing the 8th, and advocating for it, is a terribly risky business for a pro-life politician to do.

    1. Yeah, Ok

      The 8th’s days as it currently stands are done, no matter which side you’re on. The battle has moved to what happens when it’s removed.
      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up with something that’s equally restrictive yet is attempted to be presented to the pro-choice side as a victory.

      1. newsjustin

        I disagree. The 8th amendment is certainly under threat.

        I think if the option could (It can’t) be put to the electorate to relax the 8th to cater for abortion in cases of FFA and rape, it would pass.

        But I don’t think the option of full repeal and carte blanche abortion up to 12 weeks will pass. Its certainly not the foregone conclusion you expect.

        People read too much into the SSM referendum result. Broadly speaking, people really like marriage and love and happy ever afters. Its an easy sell. People dont like abortion and thinking of dead human foetuses.

        1. Yeah, Ok

          I agree completely that the referendum won’t be a carbon copy of the SSM vote, and it’s a mistake for either side to assume that that’s where the lines are drawn in the debate.
          The citizens assembly showed that when information is presented rationally and without hysterics, pro-choice wins out comfortably. Unfortunately all that means in real life is that the campaign will be vicious, outrageous and probably often factually and deliberately wrong. Lies spread faster than truth after all.

  4. Not On Your Nelly

    Abortion chat. The best of all the chats. If we can’t keep the posts about abortion to once a day I might need to delete this app. These posts aren’t going to change anybody’s mind and they are exhausting. Circular arguments with people about nothing.

    1. realPolithicks

      Just as a heads up for you, you are allowed to not read any of the items posted on BS and you certainly don’t “have” to comment.

      1. italia'90

        Poor Nelly is offended by other people discussing important issues of the day.
        Perhaps a holiday to Trumpistan is in order?

          1. italia'90

            Somewhere in New England I think you said once or twice before? I remembered that right after I pressed the post comment button. In anyways, I don’t think they’ll find you.

          2. realPolithicks

            Yes, Massachusetts. Feel free to visit the most of North East, parts of the North West, California and maybe Chicago..that’s about it. The rest of the country can reasonably be referred to as “jesusland”.

  5. aine

    I knew it was too good to be true! people were fawning about his change of tack, but its all just political power play.
    After he said he believed that we should remove the 8th amendment he followed up with this
    “There remains a significant issue concerning whether we should simply remove the amendment or replace it.
    Before deciding on this I would like to see the legal advice which the government says is being prepared. However, I feel it is likely that we may need to agree a replacement which gives certainty to the Oireachtas’ right to legislate. This need not be a complex provision, but it may be the only way to prevent significant unintended consequences in future court cases which are inevitable.”

    Its likely what he is proposing would make abortion restrictive.

    His full speech is on the FF website

    The 2013 Act was a joke as well, even if you were suicidal they didn’t make it easy for you to get an abortion. Look at the case of teenage asylum seeker who was suicidal and went to the UK for an abortion only to find herself deported and put in care until she gave birth at 25wks

  6. Cian

    does a referendum have to be a yes/no question?
    or can it have multiple options and use single transferrable vote?

    1. newsjustin

      I believe it must be Yes/No.

      This was discussed recently at the citizens convention I think. Multiple choice is not allowed. Must be a majority vote, so highest vote out of, say 4 options, with 22% of the vote wouldn’t pass…for example.

      1. Cian

        It’s just that it’s not mentioned specifically in the Constitution and other countries have offered multiple options.
        If we use the usual “note your preferences in order” like we do for the Presidential election then the winner will have a majority.

        So is specified it in legislation that it must be a yes/no?

    2. GGA

      A referendum has to be Yes/No. There will not be a second option on the ballot paper because that’s not how constitutional referenda work. The options can only be “Do you want to remove the article?”, or “Do you want to replace Article XTZ with the following words: “… … … “?”. It can’t be both.
      There is a valid question about what type of laws the Oireachtas will pass post-referendum. That is a place where any party could have influence. Repeal won’t mean no laws or regulations on the topic, it will just mean that such laws will be subject to change without the need for a referendum.

  7. Frilly Qeane

    I don’t think its as convoluted as all that Miss Fisher

    Jim O’Callaghan’s circling is now too blatant for Meehall to ignore publicly
    its 8 days since Jim had his butties in the Irish Times splurge his plug about Downs Syndrome and Abortions

    and remember
    it was also the Irish Times that bonused Dublin 6 Jim a chunky headline for his “Sack Fitzgerald or we’ll walk”

    The game is firmly on – finally
    and the last thing Jim and his IT & other swanky pals need is Mary Hanafin breaking out and stealing his side of the fence with the FFers
    ’cause she reaches all 26 counties
    Dublin 6 Jim is only known as Miriam’s brother outside the M50

    Another thing, those very grassroot FFers won’t tolerate a parachute
    in any form

    1. nellyb

      FF are so outdated, they look like animated museum pieces, regardless of age. they better change fasht, before they lose their core vote to hospital corridors and nursing homes.

  8. Tina Tequila

    you’re gonna have to get Derek Mooney in to deal with the assertion that FF is “a party that adhere’s strongly to the power of the grassroots and the assertion of that power through decisions of the Árd Fheis”

    1. italia'90

      +1 I can’t wait to read his next contribution and how it’s Sinn Féin’s fault.
      He’s going to have to do some spinning, but have no fear, he’s very accomplished at it.
      I’m not a SF voter, but I’ll be sure to introduce myself to Derek next time I see him having his coffee in my local Applegreen.

  9. realPolithicks

    The important thing is that this awful amendment is repealed, having said that you need to be very careful about what replaces it. I heard Peadar Toibin being interviewed the other day basically saying that if we weren’t careful we’d end up in a place where women were able to decide for themselves whether to have an abortion or not. He seemed to find this an extraordinary and awful place to end up. These people want to continue controlling women as they have since the foundation of the state, it’s quite scary.

    1. ahjayzis

      Was that on the Irish Times politics podcast?

      Was genuinely shocked by his views. It felt like a recording from the 1980’s.

      1. realPolithicks

        Yes it was the IT podcast, I couldn’t believe what he was saying. Usually these guys are very careful to couch their views in concern for the welfare of the woman blah blah blah, but he was quite open in the opinion that women should not be “allowed” to make these decisions for them selves. It was very shocking to hear.

        1. TheRealJane

          Well, hopefully we’ll hear plenty of men discussing how it’s right and proper that fully competent adult women should not be allowed to have any part in deciding on their health and welfare. I think many people will be surprised at the level of antipathy towards women that they will reveal.

          1. realPolithicks

            I agree that you’ll get plenty of men expressing these views especially once the campaign really gets going. What I think will be surprising will be the number of women who come out and express the same views, Ireland is still a very conservative country.

      2. nellyb

        Not in defence of Tobin, but as an angle : these lads were brainwashed into gender supremacy since they were born – by parents, all male clergy, society. Overcoming lifetime of brainwashing ain’t an easy task for anyone – look at Myers, still struggling, though not a stupid man.
        I’d like to give due to many irish parents,and exclusively to them, – because there is a lot of sound men around. They don’t buy into that (intellectually impotent) supremacy and ARE real good friends, husbands and colleagues. So, say the prayer of humility to Tobin, he’s a toxic victim, but still a victim.

        1. Cian

          these lads were brainwashed into gender supremacy since they were born – by their primary carers: their mothers, female schoolteachers, and to a lesser extent the all male clergy and society.
          Fixed that for you.

        2. realPolithicks

          I get what you’re saying Nelly but I have to disagree to an extent. I’m a 55 year old man (probably one of the few people on BS who actually voted in the referendum in 1983), I grew up in inner city Dublin, attended a CBS where we were beaten regularly and was taught all of the same things that these people were yet I hold polar opposite views to them. They are adults who are responsible for what they think and say, lets not let them off the hook to easily on this.

  10. Rufty

    Jesus but this is awful dog **** masquerading as a piece of “journalism”. Like, I get the author hates FF but geez, there’s a time and a place. This article is so far removed from facts and clearly didn’t actually listen to Martin’s speech at all.

    Have a go at him about his time in government, fine. Have a go at FF for past ills. No problem. But this is ridiculous. It’s tin foil hat stuff at best and a vitriolic hate fantasy in more a realistic view of this “opinion piece”.

    We all know it’s easy to be cynical about politics but Jesus, the basic set up for this whole scenario doesn’t even begin to stack up. Let alone the correlation that a vote for marriage equality = vote to repeal the 8th. Personally I campaign side by side with people for SSM that are staunchly pro-life.

    If the author actually had half a clue they’d begin with admitting that basic fact and get some other basic facts right. Broadsheet, please restart doing done actual editorial work and not publish every scrap of muck that’s sent to ye.

    Everyone else, let’s move forward with this welcome news of Martin’s realisation that repeal is humane option and work together with what ever allies we have to get the repeal vote over the line.

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