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Fine Gael must move on equal marriage at this Ard Fheis

5 March, 2012 3 comments

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 adoption. 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°.

Great Wicklow result

Precisely the five I’d have picked myself: Andrew Doyle (FG) – 16th count, Billy Timmins (FG) – 17th count, Simon Harris (FG) – 19th count, Anne Ferris (Lab) – 19th count and Stephen Donnelly (Ind) – 19th count.

This result, in the order elected, mirrors the result in Dublin South, where Independent Shane Ross, one Labour and three Fine Gael were elected.

I did fear through the count, delayed by Dick Roche’s demand for a recount in the unsuccessful hope that he might escape the ignominy of coming tenth, that Sinn Féin’s John Brady might get the fifth seat. Donnelly eventually passed out Brady on the 16th count, on the distribution of Tom Fortune’s votes, a Labour councillor who, like Donnelly, lives in Greystones. On the last count, Donnelly had a margin of 112 votes, and I’ll give credit to Brady for not requesting a partial recount even after they’d become the fashion here. I was impressed with Donnelly’s short campaign focused on the important national economic issue and he will be an asset to the Dáil.

I am glad from a party political level that Wicklow will be one of five constituencies to elect at least three Fine Gael TDs. Our three have a great balance between them in terms of personal strengths, backgrounds and geography. I’ve got to know them since joining the party in the summer of 2009, and am really pleased to see them get in. I remember saying at a meeting in Greystones before Christmas that to get three seats, the party would probably have to poll at least 38%. They got 39%, with a brilliant division of the vote, at 14%, 13% and 12% respectively.

And I have a personal fondness for Anne Ferris, as the candidate standing anywhere in this election whom I’ve known the longest, when I met her in the time coming up to the 1999 local elections, when she was a councillor and office manager for Liz McManus, then the only TD with a full-time constituency office in Bray (new TD Simon Harris has one as well now too).

Don’t mean to sound too gushing, I just am quite pleased, not many constituencies that returned just the ones I’d have picked myself.

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