A letter from… an Irish minister in exile
John McNeil Scott reflects on how Ireland has both grown and regressed
Margaret Atwood famously described the Canada/US border as the world’s longest one-way mirror. Similarly, the view from west to east across the Irish Sea is always clear, while looking east to west obscures British vision in a fog of unfamiliarity.
On this side of the water, news concerning Ireland, when reported, is often interpreted in terms of how it surprises or confirms British stereotypes of Ireland. There seems to be heightened English interest in Irish national life where sex, reproduction and religion intersect, so it’s not surprising that the recent constitutional referendum to remove the prohibition of abortion in the Republic of Ireland attracted attention.
The first time I ever voted was in 1983, when conservative campaigners forced the government to propose an amendment to Ireland’s constitution. The eighth amendment declared that in any pregnancy, the ‘right to life’ of both foetus and mother must be given equal weight. I voted against – the losing side. I thought then, and now, that abortion should be treated in carefully drafted legislation and that writing it into the country’s constitution was not the way to do that.
In the intervening decades there have been many tragic cases, supreme court actions and legislation. In one of the most shameful of the cases we know about, Savita Halappanavar was denied treatment during a miscarriage and died. Many argue that this case’s publicity made a repeal of the ill-conceived provision inevitable. …
John McNeil Scott is Principal of the Scottish United Reformed and Congregational College. He is from Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland
This is an extract from an article that was published in the July/August 2018 edition of Reform