Tag Archives: abortion

Is Leo Varadkar Ireland’s first post-Catholic leader?

Leo Varadkar has secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party and is now in line to replace Enda Kenny as Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister.

Much is being made of the fact that Varadkar is openly gay and just 38, making him the Republic’s youngest leader. He is also the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. (Remember that Éamon de Valera, who spent several terms as Irish leader over a long stretch of the 20th century, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.)

The New York Times and other media noted that Varadkar comes to power two year after Irish voters approved same-sex marriage. The Times barely conceals its glee that Ireland “has rapidly been leaving its conservative Roman Catholic social traditions behind” and that Varadkar, though raised Catholic, does not practice the faith.

The U.K. Independent used a similar “once-staunchly Catholic country” formulation in its lead story, while initial coverage from RTE, BBC, NPR, CNN, The Guardian and other outlets did not mention religion.

Leo Varadkar is the new Fine Gael leader. Image from RTE.

Writing in The Irish Times, Miriam Lord observed that Fine Gael voters:

…patted themselves on the back for not making a big deal of the fact that Leo Varadkar is a gay man or that his father is an immigrant from India. Because it isn’t a big deal. Smiling at the way news outlets all over the world were announcing Catholic Ireland’s “first gay prime minister” when, sure, nobody paid a blind bit of difference to that at home, because why would they?

But, she concluded, “it was this very indifference to ‘origins and identity’ that made them feel very, very proud.”

Varadkar’s confirmation as taoiseach is expected–but not assured–later this month. He has said that he is committed to holding a referendum next year on whether to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, which has already bolstered the secular narrative of a post-Catholic Ireland.

Irish abortion fight takes modern twists

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
— ‘September 1913‘ by W. B. Yeats

As if last year’s referendum to approve same-sex marriage left any doubt about Ireland’s drift from conservative, religious-based values, a couple of stories this week add more evidence.

Two Irish women live-tweeted their trip to England so that one of them could get an abortion, which is banned in their home country. The Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution gives equal protection to a woman and a fetus, with a few rare exceptions that allow the procedure.

In a story with the usual whiff of pro-abortion, anti-Catholic glee, The New York Times reported:

Ireland has changed significantly in recent years. It became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015, and the Roman Catholic Church has lost its once-dominant role, in part because of a series of sexual abuse scandals.

Rose of Tralee statue in Town Park. What if she gets pregnant?

Rose of Tralee statue in Town Park. What if she gets pregnant?

A day after the tweet-by-tweet abortion trip, a contestant in the Rose of Tralee International Festival drew cheers from the audience when she called for repeal of the Eighth Amendment. According to The Irish Times, she said:

“I think we can do better here in Ireland. I think it is time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights. I would love to see a referendum on the eighth coming up soon. That would be my dream.”

The live broadcast of the 57th annual beauty and talent pageant also featured a man dressed as a priest who rushed the stage to protest on behalf of divorced fathers having equal visitation and other parenting rights. The Fathers 4 Justice group is known for high-profile demonstrations.

Two years ago, the Kerry-based festival crowned its first openly gay Rose.

Poll finds only modest support for United Ireland

A new RTÉ/BBC poll shows two thirds of respondents living in the Republic of Ireland favor political reunification of the island within their lifetime, but just under one third of those surveyed in Northern Ireland share the view.

The percentages drop to 36 percent and 13 percent, respectively, when the question of a united Ireland was framed as happening in the “short-medium term.”

Catholics living in Northern Ireland favor reunification by 27 percent, compared to just 3 percent among Protestants.

The survey also found that 74 percent of respondents living in the Republic had a “very or fairly positive” view of the 1916 Rising leaders, while just 25 percent of those in the North answered likewise.

The full survey also includes question about taxation, gay marriage and abortion. The results were part of an RTÉ special broadcast called Ireland’s Call, which can viewed here.

Ireland debates abortion ahead of 2016 election

Al Jazeera America has published a well-reported, two-part series about the growing abortion debate in Ireland.

Once the ultimate taboo, all but banished from newspapers and polite discussion, abortion is becoming an increasingly ubiquitous talking point in Ireland. … As Ireland prepares for its next general election in early 2016, the question of abortion rights is shaping up as a major fight in a year that has already seen seismic social change since the legal acceptance of same-sex marriage in May.

Read Part 1  /  Read Part 2

Best of the Blog, 2013

This is my first annual “Best of the Blog,” a look at some of the most important news stories, historical anniversaries and personal favorite posts of the past year. I am not numbering the list to avoid the appearance of rank. Most links are to my original posts.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year:

  • The most significant personal milestone of the year was the centennial of my grandfather’s May 1913 emigration from County Kerry. I detailed Willie Diggin’s trip in a series of posts and recently published book, “His Last Trip: An Irish-American Story.”
  • The year 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Irish Brigades fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg and Irish-Catholic anti-conscription riots in New York City. It was the 100th anniversary of the Dublin labor lockout and the formation of the Irish Volunteers.
  • Ireland also noted the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s return to his ancestral homeland in June 1963. November marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of America’s first Irish-Catholic president.
  • Ireland liberalized its abortion laws in 2013 after a contentious debate with the Catholic Church, including a controversial appearance at the Boston College commencement by Irish PM Enda Kenny. Kenny won the abortion battle, but his effort to abolish the Seanad Éireann was defeated in a nationwide referendum.
  • The Irish community in Boston was in the news with the trial and conviction of mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, and the election of new mayor Martin J. Walsh.
  • The Irish Independent obtained recorded telephone conversations between former Anglo Irish Bank executives that revealed the depth of deception leading up to a government bailout of the failed financial institution. The Irish banking scandal and property bust reached all the way to Tampa, where I have covered problems with a retail and entertainment complex called Channelside Bay Plaza.
  • The Gathering Ireland 2013 focused on increasing visitors to their ancestral homeland. Project officials said it delivered more than a quarter million overseas tourists as of Dec. 23.
  • RIP: The passing of Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013, was probably the most significant death in Ireland during the year. Watch New York Times video tribute. The death of Margaret Thatcher also caused quite a stir on the island, though hardly as affectionate.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and other global leaders attended the G8 Summit at County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Nevertheless, as the year ended, U.S. envoy Dr. Richard Haass and Northern Ireland political leaders were still trying to finalize on agreement to solve ongoing problems with flags, parades and the past.
  • The past year was the 125th anniversary of the murder of Kerry farmer John Foran, a victim of the agrarian violence so widespread across Ireland in general and Kerry in particular during the last quarter of the 19th century. I look forward to doing more research and writing about this episode and the period in the new year.
This image of Kerry was used to illustrate a New York Times story headlined "Lost In Ireland. I've had it posted at my desk since it was published in October 2010. In 2014, I'll be moving to Washington, D.C. and look forward to seeing what's beyond the hill.

This image of rural road in Kerry illustrated a New York Times story headlined “Lost In Ireland. It was published in October 2010. I’ve kept the picture posted at my work desk ever sense. In 2014 I’ll be moving to Washington, D.C. and look forward to seeing what’s beyond the hill.

Moore Street, partition demographics and abortion updates

Last October I wrote about efforts to block the redevelopment of Dublin’s historic Moore Street, scene of the rebels last stand in the 1916 Rising.

Happy to report that not only are the buildings being saved, but they will be repaired and conserved, the Irish Independent reports.


In May I wrote about the “People’s Referendum” that showed support for ending partition and noted a Facebook page for “Protestants for a United Ireland.”

Gerry Moriarty of The Irish Times filed this very interesting piece about “The Catholic unionists.”

Many nationalists – and quite a number of unionists – dismiss the notion of Catholic unionists. “They are like unicorns,” is an often-repeated line. “They don’t exist.” But though they are small in number, they are not mythical creatures, and they could have a role in determining the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.


I’ve written about Ireland’s abortion bill several times over the summer, most recently this July 11 post that compared and contrasted legislative debates in Ireland and Texas.

Nine days after I posted the blog, columnist Roth Douthat filed this column in The New York Times. I am not accusing him of copying me, only pointing out that somebody else was drawn by the coincidence.

Abortion laws nearing passage in Ireland…and Texas

The abortion question remains as contentious as ever in capitals as different as Dublin and Austin.

In Ireland, the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013” that liberalizes the procedure is nearing passage in the Dail. Several TD’s have bolted from their party leadership to vote against amendments to the the bill, a signal of the final vote, but it appears there is not enough support to defeat the proposed changes to Ireland’s longstanding abortion ban.

Texas legislators are also holding marathon meetings to pass a bill that places tougher new restrictions on abortion. It’s the second such session in a month after pro-choice protesters turned back an earlier effort.

In both places the abortion debate is marked by bitter words and other protest inside and outside the legislative chambers. Such contentiousness has been a fixture in America since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Debate over abortion isn’t entirely new in Ireland, but the likely passage of the current bill will take the cultural and political divisiveness to an uglier level.

The issue will not leave the headlines after lawmakers adjourn.

Marching in Ireland

Two big marches occurred in Ireland over the weekend, one a political protest in the heart of Dublin, the other a Protestant parade in rural County Donegal.

  • Some 7,000 Orangemen paraded in Rossnowlagh, the only such July 12th parade in the Republic of Ireland. “The march was highlighted as a tourist attraction for the first time as it received the official backing of the Government’s tourism initiative aimed at attracting the Irish diaspora to the country during 2013,” The Irish Times reported.
  • An estimated 35,000 anti-abortion protesters packed the streets of Dublin ahead of a crucial vote this week. Some carried signs that said, “Kill the bill! Not the child!” The Washington Post reported that speakers demanded that the government put its bill to a national referendum.

July 12

Not Northern Ireland. RTE photo of Orange Order parade in the Republic of Ireland.

Pro-life supporters rally in Dublin, Washington, D.C.

Pro-life campaigners rallied over the weekend in Dublin and Washington, D.C. against the Irish government’s proposal to change the nation’s restrictive abortion law.

Estimates of the Merrion Square crowd range from at least 20,000 to more than 40,000. About two-dozen people gathered outside the Irish embassy in the U.S. capitol.

In Ireland, spokesperson Caroline Simmons of the Pro Life Campaign said:

The turnout today shows that the middle ground of Irish opinion is increasingly concerned about the Government’s abortion legislation. There are people here who never attended a pro-life event before. The message is getting through that this legislation is not restrictive or about saving women and children’s lives, despite the repeated claims by the Taoiseach and his Government.

picture of crowd vigil(1)

June 9 rally in Dublin. Image from Pro Life Campaign

At the core of the debate is when to allow exceptions to Ireland’s restrictive abortion law to save the life of the mother. The issue flared last fall when a woman having a miscarriage died for lack of the procedure. The government’s bill is perhaps most controversial because it allows for abortion when the woman says she is suicidal.

The government’s vote is expected later this month or July. Prime minister Enda Kenny has said he will not allow ministers of his Fine Gael government a “free vote” outside the party voting block, putting him further at odds with Catholic church leaders.

Ireland divided by bitter debate on abortion law

A government committee will begin hearing testimony May 17 on proposed abortion legislation. The Irish Times reports on who will and who will not testify.

Debate over abortion began raging in the republic after the October death of a 31-year-old Indian woman refused the procedure during a miscarriage.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other proponents of the law say it will maintain Ireland’s prohibition on abortion but clarify exceptions as to when the procedure can take place to protect the life of the pregnant woman, including if she has thoughts of suicide.

The Catholic Church and other opponents see the law as a slippery slope toward ending the nation’s prohibition against abortion. More than 5,000 people attended an anti-abortion rally at the Marian shrine in Knock, County Mayo, at the beginning of the month, but the church’s opposition seems to have only emboldened its critics, including Kenny.

The controversy has crossed the Atlantic to Boston College, where Kenny is invited to address graduates May 20, prompting Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s refusal to attend the event.

The Irish government has until the end of July to pass the law before its scheduled summer recess.