Tag: referendum

It’s ‘bogus argument’ time again, as Ireland’s right-wingers gear up for divorce referendum

A letter in today’s Irish Times:

And — oh look! — basically the very same letter in today’s Irish Independent:

This chap really does make heavy use of his letter-writing kit. It’s almost as though he is on some sort of campaign.

Here are some line-by-line hot takes:

“… we will be asked to facilitate more liberal divorce laws. We will also be asked to pave the way for the recognition of foreign divorces.”

Darn those foreigners! We don’t want their foreignness here!

We already have in our country too many victims of shattered households.

That may be, but it has nothing to do with divorce. Ireland’s divorce rate — 0.6% — is amongst the lowest in the world. It turns out that households shatter all by themselves, and that divorce laws have nothing to do with it.

Divorce is the end result of family break-up, not its cause. (I’m getting some serious “Hello Divorce, Bye Bye Daddy” flashbacks as I type this.)

“Those of us who are involved with homeless services, youth support or societies like St Vincent de Paul, are all too aware of the heartache and confusion caused by divorce and the fragmentation of families”

Caused by divorce” you say? This seems unlikely. In Ireland, divorce is only available after four years of separation. People who become homeless due to relationship breakdown become homeless straight away.

It is absolutely true that relationship breakdown is a risk factor for homelessness. For example, children of separated parents are more likely to become homeless, especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

But this is entirely different from the claim that divorce causes homelessness. If anything, having a legal divorce helps to make homelessness less likely, given the way courts mandate the provision of alimony and other financial security for family members.

It is the chaotic nature of non-divorce breakups — where no law or court determines what financial arrangements are made — that places families at financial risk.

You could say that this is one of the main reasons for divorce laws: to protect families from the chaos of unstructured and unregulated family breakdown.

“Every marriage worthy of the name has to try to withstand the storms of life; it is more than just a fair weather relationship.”

I repeat the point — Ireland has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. I think we get the fact that marriages are not fair weather relationships.

“My family and I will be voting No”

Ah, his family and he. Such a family guy. All about the family.

Remember the 90s? I sure as hell do….
(Pic: Newstalk.com)

Basically, his line — that liberalizing divorce laws will lead to an increase in family break-up — is a retread of what was run back in Ireland’s previous divorce referendum, in 1995.

I have written about that particular campaign, and the timelessness of its reactionary subtext, before.

But the argument holds no water. The ‘evidence’ presented — namely, that homelessness and family break-up exists — does not support the hypothesis — i.e., that reducing the mandatory waiting time for divorce will make homelessness worse.

Pic: Flickr/Free Stater

Meanwhile…it turns out our letter writer has been writing letters before.

Just last October, when writing to the Sligo Champion, he complained that the provision of abortion services would turn his local hospital into an “abattoir for infants.” In January, he popped up in the Irish Catholic to recommend that “spiritual counselling” be offered as treatment for women who suffer from “post-abortion trauma” (a mental health condition that, inconveniently for him, does not exist).

In past times, he was using the terms “foetus” and “child” interchangeably when discussing different types of abortion. Later he claimed that the “people of this area” — i.e. Sligo-Leitrim — “want the right to life of the unborn child to be protected” (the actual referendum result showed that 60% of them begged to differ).

Elsewhere he busied himself defending the Catholic Church from the Irish Times‘s terrible accusation that bishops had a habit of ‘dictating’ to the state. And he has popped up in the Irish Catholic on several occasions, at one point to offer a “big thank you to all our hard-working Catholic priests.”

I don’t know about you, but I think he might be a religious conservative.

And there it is. The folks to object to the mere existence of divorce, never mind the reduction of the mandatory waiting time, are all religious conservatives. That’s their beef. They don’t want divorce because, well, because Jesus.

You know, I’d nearly respect them more if they just said so, instead of trying to mount bogus arguments about X causing Y — as though they give a damn about using empirical evidence to resolve ethical questions.

Or about homelessness, for that matter.

Blasphemers of the world, unite

John Waters is/is not a professional contrarian who does/does not believe that blasphemy should/should not be removed from the Irish constitution:

waters2

Twitter: @FintanOToolbox

 

Here is John arguing/not arguing the point back in 2009:

The right to give expression to the religious concept of reality itself depends on the right to freedom of expression. If we move to censor criticism or the satirising of religion, we move also to what will no doubt be deemed a trade-off: the complete removal of signs of religiosity from public view.

If the proposed legislation were to become law, it would become more difficult to argue with, for example, attempts to remove the Angelus from national radio and television, because the continuation of this tradition might then quite reasonably be deemed an unjust provocation to those whose dissent would no longer be a matter of freedom of choice, but a potential crime subject to draconian penalties.

Indeed, John. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

* * *

(By the way, for those of you outside Ireland, this is what we refer to as ‘The Angelus’:

This televisual masterpiece is broadcast EVERY SINGLE DAY in Ireland, at six o’clock in the evening. It bumps back the broadcast schedule by one minute so that our main evening news broadcast show is called ‘The Six-One News’. Irish people think this is PERFECTLY NORMAL.)

* * *

The Irish constitution’s blasphemy clause was written in the days when lawmakers presumed there would only ever be one religion in Ireland. Let’s just say that assumption has proven somewhat anachronistic.

So there’s a problem. In a multi-faith society, the required legal test cannot ever be reasonably passed: any view contrary to any religion could be described as blasphemous to many (if not all) the others.

For example, when John Waters declares his belief in the Christian god, he is inadvertently blaspheming against all the other gods that people might choose to worship.

When he says his Hail Marys, he is blaspheming against Protestantism. And so on.

In essence, under this system, the most devout people are the biggest blasphemers.

* * *

If all that was required to justify a criminal prosecution was that someone find John Waters offensive, then I think society could survive. True, it’s not a very high bar, but on the other hand, we could all agree not to press charges.

The problem is that under the Irish constitution, even perfectly nice people (non-homophobes, for example) become guilty of blaspheming whenever they say their prayers, because devout non-coreligionists could find such prayerful utterances offensive to them.

And let’s not forget that in this system atheists find themselves on the wrong side of everyone. Declaring, or even making passing reference to, the non-existence of deities is liable to offend a whole pile of people (a problem exacerbated by the FACT that deities do not exist).

When you make offence-taking the threshold, we are all in trouble. We cannot possibly control who gets offended, nor can the authorities plausibly measure the quantum of offence we cause.

John Waters 2009 is right when he argues the following:

The idea that a form of expression can be prohibited because some people find it offensive is a recipe for the elimination of every contentious idea from the public square.

Therefore, I disagree with John Waters 2018 when he launches this campaign:

Believe in Respect said yesterday that the reference to blasphemy in the constitution protected against “grossly abusive, inflammatory or insulting language in relation to sacred matters and deeply held religious positions” and that its purpose was to “prevent the undermining of public order and morality”. The group said that anti-blasphemy laws protected free speech and the standard of debate in Ireland.

To play it safe, I should probably just declare that I am offended by everything John Waters has said since, oh I don’t know, let’s say 2010. (I would make a list, but I don’t think the internet is actually big enough for such a blog post.)

But despite that, I don’t want him arrested. John Waters can be offensive if he wants to. Which, of course, he does. That is, after all, the point of John Waters.

Take a look at @RepealBlasphemy for updates on what John Waters’ latest position on blasphemy might be. Or not be.

And vote ‘Yes’ on 26 October.

Or ‘No’.

But definitely ‘Yes’.

Those oh-so-convincing anti-repeal arguments re-capped (Greatest Hits version)

In the Irish abortion referendum, the ‘No’ side — those campaigning against the repeal of Ireland’s archaic Constitutional abortion ban — certainly had their work cut out.

The way the Constitution was worded meant they had to persuade the Irish electorate to defend all of the following: (a) forcing raped pubescent teens to carry unwanted pregnancies to term; (b) compelling incest victims to give birth to consanguineous offspring; (c) allowing critically ill pregnant women to bleed to death by making doctors too afraid to treat them; (d) trafficking parents whose unborn children have fatal foetal abnormalities to foreign countries in search of appropriate medical care, and then making them smuggle their cremated babies back to Ireland in hand luggage; and (e) threatening women who induce miscarriages in their own homes, or anyone who assists them in doing so, with a 14-year prison sentence for murder.

Ireland’s abortion ban had repeatedly been condemned. After several negative findings, the United Nations formally denounced Ireland in 2017 for adopting an approach that was “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.”

In other words, considering all the issues, the ‘No’ side had a difficult argument to sell.

So how exactly did they go about crafting the subtleties required to assuage voters’ concerns? How did they pitch their philosophical and ethical arguments to an increasingly sophisticated, critically aware, and well-read electorate?

Well, sit back and enjoy some hand-picked highlights from the ‘No’ side’s quite memorable campaign…

* * *

1. That time someone installed a giant ‘NO’ on Ben Bulben

Ben Bulben is a protected geological site in County Sligo. A mountain. Supposedly, a huge ‘NO’ installed on the side of a mountain was intended to persuade Ireland to put aside their reservations and vote to keep its internationally controversial abortion ban.

Sure, the ban produces terrible outcomes for women, their families, and wider society. Sure, the United Nations have condemned it. But a huge ‘NO’ installed on the side of a mountain? That really puts the whole issue into perspective, doesn’t it?

A ‘NO’ on Ben Bulben just makes you think.

Of course (spoiler alert), it turned out the Irish people are generally unswayed by moral argumentation conveyed on the sides of mountains. Seemingly they choose to prioritize women’s lives ahead of typographic masonry.

* * *

2. That time the Iona Institute started putting quotation marks around ‘mental health’ because, you know, mental health shmental health

This became something of a running theme.

The Iona Institute is a right-wing conservative Catholic think tank. They specialize in promoting awareness of research findings that happen to coincide with their preferred moral worldview, as if to imply they adopt an evidence-based approach when deciding whether or not to love Jesus.

Prominent anti-abortion campaigner Rónán Mullen went so far as to say this type of thing — repeatedly — on national television:

In other words, mental health is all in the mind (you see what I did there?).

As Fionnuala MacLiam pointed out on Twitter, such a claim runs counter to the pro-lifers’ usual trope that abortion itself damages mental health, by inducing something they call post-abortion syndrome.

Too bad that post-abortion syndrome is a myth.

In summary, the argument here is that (a) real mental health conditions are fake, whereas (b) fake mental health conditions are real.

This angle amounted to little more than mental health denial.

* * *

3. That time the Bishop of Ossory told us that having an abortion after being raped is actually far worse an experience than the rape itself

According to his interview on national radio, he knows this because he heard it from some women he spoke to.

Screenshot 2018-05-11 at 23.33.44

Coincidentally, this was the same day the Psychological Society of Ireland published a report stating that decades of research shows abortion does not hurt a woman’s mental health.

Presumably, however, rape does.

* * *

4. Or that time a pro-life parliamentarian suggested that mental health *was* important, and that women who have abortions could be considered de facto INSANE in order to receive reductions on their murder sentences

Er, yes. After spending weeks denying that mental health even exists, the ‘No’ side tried to switch the argument to imply that having an abortion was itself a sign of mental derangement.

As a psychologist I admit this strategy particularly irked me.

Its contorted logic — presented to parliament by the grandson of our republic’s first President — epitomized entirely the systematic inter-generational stigmatization of Irish women that the Eighth Amendment issue had come to symbolize.

It also revealed the panic that gripped the pro-life movement when public opinion began to overwhelm them in the campaign’s final days.

In some ways the idea represents a kind of cognitive dissonance. These people think their own position is so compelling that anyone who holds a different view to them must be mentally unstable. They think that no right-minded person would ever have an abortion. They just don’t get it.

The fact these people’s own grasp of reality is so poor will remain a one of life’s pathetic ironies.

They will never get it.

* * *

5. That time a Life Institute spokesperson argued that abortion statistics were inflated because they included Irish women who were not white

Here she is again in all her glory:

Obviously black women don’t count as Irish.

Or, indeed perhaps, as people.

* * *

6. That time the director of the Iona Institute mysteriously claimed there were 18,000 GPs in Ireland…

…when there are actually just 2,500. He had wanted to play down the proportion who supported a ‘Yes’ vote.

What gives? Well it’s a bit of a mystery. But as Aoife Barry pointed out on Twitter, 18,000 GPS locations were mapped on an Irish website a decade ago…

Maybe that’s what he was referring to?

It is a fundamental tenet of the scientific method that correlational reasoning is parlous.

The fact that 1,300 GPs supported repeal AND 18,000 points of interest were added to global positioning-system maps in 2008 seems, in retrospect, a particularly unconvincing correlation on which to base an argument against constitutional change.

* * *

7. Or that time he seemed to describe female bodies as “our property”, warning that providing women with bodily autonomy was akin to “nationalising half the housing stock”

Here he is again:

Cool the jets, snowflakes! David didn’t state that women’s bodies were men’s property. He merely implied that they were analogous to men’s property, because it was an analogy and that’s how analogies work.

David deleted this tweet, so even he might have seen the problem with this one.

* * *

8. That time the anti-abortion ‘Save the 8th’ campaign wheeled out a ‘psychiatric nurse’ who claimed to have assisted with abortions in an English clinic for five years but turned out actually to have worked just as a porter for 8 months…

…and who then — allegedly — misrepresented his qualifications by falsifying his certificates.

I think he was a member of the ‘Circulation Nurses with Fire Safety Training For ‘NO” group.

* * *

9. Or that time Save the 8th unlawfully used photographs of the Irish Defence Forces in press advertising, contrary to the Defence Act of 1954…

…in order to imply that while men can be trusted to protect children, women can’t.

The illegal use of our nation’s defence forces to support subliminally misogynistic messages about female child-killers was intended to convince the electorate to jail women for 14 years on murder charges for taking abortifacient pills in their own homes.

I guess it wasn’t effective.

* * *

10. Or that time Save the 8th used photographs of an apparently incompetent firefighter…

…to further imply that babies need to be protected from, not just fire, but also women.

It was perhaps a tad unfortunate that the firefighter they used seemed to know little or nothing about firefighting. Contrary to even basic practice standards, he was carrying the child in one arm, wearing no oxygen mask, and had his visor up.

I guess if you don’t know what you’re doing, then you just don’t know what you’re doing.

* * *

11. That time this guy…well, that time this guy produced this:

A sample lyric will capture the spirit of this haunting ditty for you: “Live and let live/In a land with Mammy and Daddy!

The ‘No’ side didn’t just have this guy though, they also had Crystal Swing. And Jim Corr.

The ‘Yes’ side had U2, Christy Moore, Hozier, Niall Horan, Pink, Lily Allen, Kate Nash, Boy George, Mark Hamill, Courteney Cox, Saoirse Ronan, Russell Crowe, Amy Huberman, Emma Watson, Cillian Murphy, Katherine Ryan, Sam Neil, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and many others.

If the referendum had been a sing-off/dance-off/act-off, I know which side my money would have been on.

* * *

12. That time an anti-abortion campaigner told the Drogheda Independent that allowing abortion would eventually reduce the pool of available Gaelic Football players

Yes. He really said it:

But at the end of the day, football is just a load of men kicking a bit of leather around a field, so I guess we’ll just have to get used to it.

* * *

And finally…

13. That time a public representative declared on radio that repealing Ireland’s abortion ban would lead to:
(a) the normalization of sex slavery;
(b) euthanasia;
(c) 14-year-olds being forced to have sex on demand;
and
(d) political assassinations.
Oh, and (e): it would make Hitler “very” happy

That is certainly quite a lot of consequences.

 

As a rider (if you will), he also offered this nugget of advice:

Mr Guckian also said Ireland should turn to a “culture of life” and to a “proper use of sex”.

This was the archetypal ‘slippery slope’ argument: Sure, the guy could be exaggerating. But could you really afford to take that chance? DO YOU WANT HITLER TO BE HAPPY? No, of course you don’t. Therefore, you must vote ‘No’.

Unless, of course, those various slippery slopes turn out to be illusory.

I suppose only time will tell now.

* * *

In the end, for some unbelievable reason, the Irish electorate were simply not swayed by all these powerful arguments…

 

Hmmm. I guess the Irish people have had enough of ‘experts’.

Democracy, folks. It’s out of control…

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