I was delighted of course that today the Fine Gael Ard Fheis supported the motion, “That this Ard Fheis calls on the Government to ensure that the Constitutional Convention prioritises an analysis of the proposals for same-sex marriage in Ireland”, proposed by Mark O’Meara for Portmarnock/Baldoyle Branch and Gen. Richard Mulcahy YFG, supported by DCU YFG. Unfortunately, as I was helping the management of the Executive elections, I was not myself at the debate, but I know that there is real enthusiasm in parts of the party on this, particularly in Young Fine Gael.
This question has progressed remarkably quickly in recent years here in and many other countries, and I am quite optimistic that this pace will continue. It is firmly now in the mainstream of politics. It could be the clearest and simplest reform of the Constitutional Convention. I think we have good reason then to hope for equality between all couples within this term of government, after a campaign with all-party support, which I do believe can be convincingly won. It will need a good, strong, confident campaign, and I’m looking forward to it.
One focus of the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, taking place in the National Convention Centre today and tomorrow, will have to be the upcoming referendum on the Fiscal Stability Treaty, a relatively short agreement between 25 of 27 EU countries. If we want this country to remain part of the mainstream of decisions on the euro, we will have to vote Yes. Because it only requires 12 member states to ratify it to come into effect, there is no possibility of voting No once to get better terms in a second vote. This was possible with Nice between 2001 and 2002 and with Lisbon between 2008 and 2009 as these needed the support of all then 15 and 27 member states to pass.
It is not a perfect treaty in that it is not comprehensive. As one designed to prevent the fiscal difficulties countries have found themselves in, I had hoped that it would address banking, which was where Ireland most particularly suffered, rather than a focus on public debt and deficit which was where Greece and Italy got into trouble. Specifically, I had hoped for a constitutional bar or limits on future guarantees by governments of investment debt.
But the Treaty does make sense. These are terms that should have been in place from 1992 with Maastricht, and in effect from 1999 with the introduction of the euro. Fiscal supervision is a naturally important part of a monetary union. The Irish people could certainly benefit from measures reqiring balanced budgets. It is not about imposing austerity, but about putting in places mechanisms to prevent a requirement for future austerity. It is a way of saying Never Again to fiscal imprudence. It is distinct from our fiscal program under the troika of the EC/ECB/IMF and those terms will not be affected by this Treaty. There is in fact very little that’s new in it.
We will also need to support this Treaty to gain access to the European Stability Mechanism, i.e. if we needed a further bailout. I don’t think we will need that. But if there were only a five percent chance that we would need to access this fund, we would surely not want to cut off that option for ourselves.
Though not a vote on our membership of the euro, it is a vote on the nature of that membership. If we vote No, we will be very clearly outside the mainstream of decision-making on our own currency.
This is not a partisan matter for me, one that I’m supporting because of my membership of Fine Gael. If anything, the reverse is in some part the case. I campaigned for the Lisbon Treaty in both 2008 and 2009, and it was after the second campaign that one of those I worked with in the offices of Ireland for Europe and Generation Yes, who is now President of Young Fine Gael, particularly encouraged me to get involved in Fine Gael. This will be the first European Treaty referendum fought with Fine Gael in government and we will have to launch a serious and focused campaign, fought on the merits of the compact itself. It will not be good enough to complain if other issues are brought into the debate. It will be up to the Yes side, in all parties and civic society groups, to steer the debate in the way that addresses the issue at stake.
So I look forward to a good campaign on this.
Rick Santorum did better last night than polling expected, winning the primaries in both Alabama and Mississippi. In only one of eight polls on Nate Silver’s blog was Santorum ahead in Alabama. Between them, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were expected to win these, where a sweep for one candidate or a split between them. Although Gingrich has had a poor campaign, his political base since 1979 has been in nearby Georgia, which he won on Tuesday, 6 March.
In the end, the results were:
Alabama: Santorum 35%, Gingrich 29%, Romney 29%, Paul 5%
Mississippi: Santorum 33%, Gingrich 31%, Romney 30%, Paul 4%
Now the tally between the states stand at 15–9–2 to Romney–Santorum–Gingrich. Romney has neither a convincing enough lead nor the momentum to to force the others out, so will muddle on.
Had Gingrich dropped out two weeks ago, we could have been looking at a 14–10–1 split instead; this assumes that most Gingrich voters would have voted for Santorum in Ohio, which Romney won by less than 1%, and in Georgia.
We’re looking at a similar situation now. The next state up is Illinois, this coming Tuesday, and the latest polling shows Romney 35%, Santorum 31%, Gingrich 12% and Ron Paul 7%. New Gingrich is talking more about stopping Mitt Romney and less about becoming the next president of the United States. But he still intends to carry on to the Republican National Convention Tampa, Florida on 27–30 August.
If Gingrich did pull out, and Illinois Republicans voted for Santorum, Romney would be seriously damaged. Still more likely to be the nominee, but less likely than he is right now. It would be a one-on-one race between Santorum and Romney (with Paul picking up votes that would probably not otherwise go to either in the primaries). But with Gingrich’s sense of self-worth, seeing votes come in for his name as a candidate for president probably means more to Newt than damaging Romney’s chances. As it is, he serves simply as a spoiler for Romney.
Most of the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis meant little to me. There was nothing in Micheál Martin’s speech that made me feel that the party was on the cusp of a recovery or that they were going to offer a particularly distinctive voice. I acknowledge Martin’s apology on behalf of his party, but he could have made it stronger by referring directly to his time in cabinet. Philip O’Connor draws attention to his equivocations in this piece in The Journal. I found the whole speech, with all the time devoted to bins in Dublin, a little underwhelming. But of course I’d think that, wouldn’t I?
But I did notice that the Ard Fheis passed motions supporting marriage equality and for same-sex couples to be considered for that. They are to be commended for this, as is Martin for making his personal support clear on The Week in Politics last night. I noticed a lot of commentary on Facebook which was quite cynical in relation to this. But I don’t think it reflects any cynical attempt to gain votes which they weren’t interested in while they were in power, rather the very rapid social change on this matter. This is a growing norm, and as we look to what exists in other countries and in US states, very little has been offered on the other side.
I see no substantial reason that we would not see Fine Gael move in the same way. We might have a reputation because some of prominent members as being conservative and there is a Christian democratic tradition, but doesn’t necessarily mean an opposition to progress on this front. I’ve pointed on a number of occasions to the speech Charlie Flanagan made during the civil partnership debate. Others too from Fine Gael spoke during that same debate who stated explicitly or indirectly that civil partnership would only be a step towards equality, such as Dr James Reilly, Deirdre Clune and Simon Coveney, who gave a very honest speech on how he changed his own mind to support marriage. Of the 2011 intake, Seán Kyne urged Young Fine Gael members to vote for equal marriage at our summer school last July, and he as well as Simon Harris put questions recently to Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, to make provision for children of same-sex couples.
What ultimately matters is that we support this before the referendum, which I expect could be in the second half of this government’s term in office, around 2015, to give time for the Constitution Convention to deliberate on this and its other issues. There will be another Ard Fheis before then, but we should move now, and vote on this at our Ard Fheis at the end of March. We should not let time go as the only party not in support of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. We should also give ourselves the chance to include this the party’s submission to the Constitutional Convention.
As this is moving closer to being a reality, we are going to have to start thinking about the specifics of how this change should take place. I had previously followed on the logic of Zappone–Gilligan that this could be achieved legislatively by amending the Civil Registration Act 2004. This view was argued by constitutional lawyers Sen. Ivana Bacik, SC, and Gerard Hogan, now a High Court Justice. But having asked other constitutional lawyers, there is enough doubt on this that I know think it should be put to a referendum. Article 41 as a whole does envisage a heterosexual marriage, as seen in provisions (which should be amended, if not deleted) such as a recognition of the duties of mothers within the home. I have no doubt in my mind that with a good campaign, it can be won.
Considering other provisions in the Constitution prohibiting sex discrimination (Articles 9.1.3° and 16.1.1°–3°), I would propose:
Article 41 of the Constitution is hereby amended as follows:
(a) insert new subsection 2°, “Ní bheidh aon chosc ar phósadh idir bheirt toisc iad bheith fireann nó baineann.”, after section 1° of section 3 of the English text,
(b) insert new subsection 2°, “No two people may be excluded from marriage by reason of their sex.”, after section 1° of section 3 of the English text,
(b) subsections 2° and 3° of section 3 of both texts shall be numbered as subsections 3° and 4°.
First Foreign Policy gave us a Who said it? quiz with statements from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, and from Rick Santorum, Senator for Pennsylvania, 1994–2006 and second-place candidate in the ongoing Republican presidential primaries, from Foreign Policy. I guessed two of these wrong, it’s tough enough to discern one from the other.
Now Mad Magazine presents us with a similar quiz, with the front-runner in that primary race: