News Roundup

Fianna Fail Ard Fheis votes by 5 to 1 margin to save the Eighth Amendment

In a major rebuke of party leadership, members of Fianna Fáil voted by an overwhelming majority to save the pro-life amendment to the Constitution. The Kildare North Cumann proposed, “That this Ard Fheis requests that Fianna Fáil opposes any attempt to diminish the constitutional rights of the unborn.” The motion was passed by a margin of 5 or 6 to 1. An opposing motion from the London Cumann in favour of a woman’s right to choose abortion was defeated by the same margin. It proposed, “That this Ard Fheis calls on the Party to support the positive campaign for a woman’s right to choose in the forthcoming referendum on repealing the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, trusting that women are respected with access to all possible routes to the best outcome for them without the need to travel out of the jurisdiction.” The Fianna Fail party will not be bound by the passing of the pro-life motion and parliamentary members will be allowed a “free vote” in the Oireachtas abortion committee and any vote on a potential referendum and legislation in the Dáil and Seanad.
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Pope defends reality of sexual difference, challenges Church to counter ‘intimidating’ critique of natural reproduction

Pope Francis has launched one of his sharpest defences to date of the the identity of persons as men and women rather than as many different ‘genders’. Speaking at a plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome, the pope described men and women as being created together in a “sacred difference”. That difference was being eroded though by the power of biotechnologies that, “enable the manipulation of life in ways hitherto unimaginable”. Such technology, he said, often comes with a “crass materialism” that “ends up treating life as a resource either to be used or discarded for reasons of power and profit”. The Pope’s strongest comment regarded attempts to overcome inequalities between the sexes by eliminating sexual difference altogether. He said that the subordination of women has to be abandoned once and for all, and that this had to be achieved “through a new culture of identity and difference”.
“The recent proposal to advance the dignity of a person by radically eliminating sexual difference and, as a result, our understanding of man and woman, is not right.  Instead of combating wrongful interpretations of sexual difference that would diminish the fundamental importance of that difference for human dignity, such a proposal would simply eliminate it by proposing procedures and practices that make it irrelevant for a person’s development and for human relationships”, he said.  The Pope called the goal of a “neutral” sex a utopia that “eliminates both human dignity in sexual distinctiveness and the personal nature of the generation of new life”. He added: “The biological and psychological manipulation of sexual difference, which biomedical technology can now make appear as a simple matter of personal choice – which it is not! – runs the risk of dismantling the energy source that feeds the covenant between man and woman, making it creative and fruitful.”
Turning to the consequences of this opposition to the cultural zeitgeist, he challenged Christians and Church leaders to “counter an atmosphere of intimidation that surrounds the generation of life, as if it were somehow demeaning to women or a menace to our collective well-being. The life-giving covenant between man and woman protects, not hinders, the dignity of our human family.  Our history will not continue to be renewed if we reject this truth.”
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Abortion committee bias becomes ‘farcical’, Pro-life members might resign

Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Senator Ronan Mullen are considering resigning from the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment as the biased nature of the proceedings turn to “farce”. In a joint statement, Mr McGrath and Mr Mullen said they have “serious concerns about the one-sided nature of the process”, which they described as “entirely skewed and unfair.” They said that “Over 20 groups and individuals pushing for abortion have been invited before the Committee while only a handful of pro-life people have been invited.” Worse still was the news that supposedly expert witnesses, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, were not only an abortion-campaigning group, but were also actively fundraising to change Ireland’s abortion laws. An exasperated Mr Mullen described the committee as a “farce” and told the Irish Independent that “it’s hard to argue with those who describe this entire process as a propaganda exercise in favour of abortion.” Furthermore, Mr McGrath spoke of the poisonous atmosphere in the committee room itself. “When we speak, we’re ridiculed, there are sneers and all kinds of undermining, and when we ask honest questions, in a very calm manner, questions that we’ve prepared for our witnesses…there’s all kinds of gasps and wahoos. I’ve been called a liar by a committee member, but I didn’t tell any lies whatsoever.”
In their joint statement to the press, they concluded: “Given the way things have developed, it is our honest view that the credibility of the Committee cannot be restored owing to how entirely slanted the process has become. We are now actively considering whether there’s any point in our remaining on as members. “

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Latest Census figures show vast majority still identify as religious

The latest details from the April 2016 census show the vast majority of the population continue to identify as belonging to a religion even as the percentage of Catholics has again decreased while the number of people with no religion continues to increase. The figures published by the Central Statistics Office report that the number of Catholics fell to 3,729,100 from 3,861,300, and comprised 78.3% of the population in April 2016, compared to 84.2% in April 2011. The data represents the first fall in the absolute number of Catholics in Ireland in 45 years. Persons born outside of Ireland comprised 12.0 per cent, or almost one in eight of the State’s total Catholic population in 2016. Figures for the Church of Ireland also showed a decrease while those for orthodox Christians, as well as Jewish and Muslim adherents, showed a marked increase.
The number of people identifying themselves as having no religion increased from 269,800 to 468,400, an increase of 73.6%, and comprised 9.8% of the population.
Overall, Census 2016 results show that Ireland’s population stood at 4,761,865 in April 2016, an increase of 173,613 (3.8%) since April 2011.

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Abortion committee hears expert criticism of favoured FG option

The favoured option of FG TDs and Ministers for changing the 1983 pro-life amendment came under fire yesterday from an expert witness due to the degree of uncertainty it would introduce into the law. The Oireachtas committee on abortion considered six options for reform of the Constitution’s pro-life clause and heard the opinion of an expert witness, senior barrister, Nuala Butler SC, as to the legal prudence of each one. The three main choices discussed were to either repeal article 40.3.3 entirely, or amend it to specify grounds for abortion, or replace it with a provision that names the Oireachtas as having absolute authority to legislate for abortion immune from any judicial review or restraint by the Courts. The choice of repeal could itself follow any one of three options: simple repeal without any reference to future legislation; repeal and insert replacement legislation into the Constitution; or, repeal with published legislation waiting to be voted on by the Oireachtas. Of these options, Ms. Butler said the first would give certainty to the law. The second would be cumbersome and make it extremely difficult to make even the slightest change to the law. The third would simply be a political act, giving no assurance that a published bill would subsequently become law. The choice of amending the Constitution could itself be done in two ways. One would be to specify exactly a narrow set of grounds for abortion. The other would be to give more general criteria for abortion in a broad sweep of circumstances. The former is thought to be the favoured option of FG Ministers and TDs, but Ms Butler said this option would be “likely to prove very difficult”, as grounds such as rape or fatal foetal abnormality would present “practical problems arising as to how they should be established and to whose satisfaction”. The latter option, of offering general criteria, would itself carry its own set of difficulties and uncertainties, she said.

The final option, of placing constitutional authority for abortion law entirely in the hands of the Oireachtas and out of reach of the courts, would grant certainty and “give the greatest flexibility in terms of the future content of the law since it would be entirely a matter for the Oireachtas” to determine the legislation.

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Transgender charity in UK banned as boy forced to live as girl

A taxpayer-funded transgender charity has been banned by the High Court in the UK from any contact with a family after the mother, who was being advised by the group, forced her seven-year-old son to live as a girl.

In a court case, reported last year, Mr Justice Hayden removed the seven-year-old child, known as “J”, from his mother after finding she had caused him “significant emotional harm” and “pressed [him] into a gender identification that had far more to do with his mother’s needs and little, if anything, to do with his own”.

Social services had declined to act against the woman, saying she had “appropriately taken on board support from . . . Mermaids”, a UK transgender charity that receives funding from the Department for Education, the national lottery and the BBC’s Children in Need appeal. However, the Judge accused social workers of “summarily disregarding” many concerns expressed by police and healthcare professionals about the child because they “did not wish to appear to be challenging an emerging orthodoxy in such a high-profile issue”.

The Judge found that the child had been home-schooled and was dressed in girls’ clothes. After being removed from his mother, however, and sent to live with his father and go to school, he had “assert[ed] his own masculine gender” and lived life as a boy.

At the time, Mermaids attacked the “horrific decision”, insisted J wanted to be a girl and said there was “no evidence at all to support this judge’s views”.

Stephanie Davies-Arai, founder of Transgender Trend, a website for parents questioning the diagnosis and treatment of children as transgender, said: “I am concerned that Mermaids is indoctrinating children, scaring parents into thinking that [gender] transition is the only way and intimidating professionals.”

Separately, the Sunday Times also revealed that until last week the same charity, Mermaids UK, was advertising “same day” cross-sex hormone treatment for children, even though National Health guidelines do not allow the treatment, which causes irreversible bodily changes and can compromise fertility, for anyone under 16. When questioned about the advertisement by the Sunday Times, they removed the posting from their facebook page.

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Christian student club banned from student fair in Oxford college

An Oxford College banned a Christian student club from participating in its freshers’ fair last week on the grounds that it would be “alienating” for students of other religions, and constitute a “micro-aggression”. The organiser of Balliol’s fair argued Christianity’s historic use as “an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism” meant that students might feel “unwelcome” in their new college if the Christian Union, a long established student body, had a stall.
Initially the student committee organising the fair wanted it to be a “secular space” on that grounds that, as they couldn’t guarantee all faiths would be present, it would be better to have none. Later they relented and allowed a “multi-faith” stall at the fair, with information about various university religious societies, but barred student representatives of the CU from attending in person and distributing leaflets.
Criticism of the decision rained down on the organisers. Dr Joanna Williams, a university lecturer and author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, said the decision to ban the Christian Union was “completely bizarre”. “It is intolerance being exercised in the name of inclusion,” she said. “I would argue that a university would be an ideal place for students to explore their religious beliefs. The idea that some religions are not allowed to be represented really prevents students being able to do that. It seems completely bizarre, I am lost for words.”In response to the backlash, the student committee in charge partially reversed itself and decided that the Christian club will be allowed participate at future fairs.

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Minister ‘inspired’ by visit of ‘gender non-binary’ teens

Government Minister, Regina Doherty, said she felt “inspired” after visiting the offices of BeLonGTo which deals with LGBT young people aged between 14 and 23. It is lobbying to make it easier for minors to be legally recognised as their preferred sex, including the category ‘gender, non-binary’ which means the person identifies as neither male nor female.

Of her visit, the Minister said: “I learned from the experts. I heard first-hand of the experiences of being a trans or non-binary young person in Ireland. And I heard from a fantastic mother who explained the trans issue from her perspective.” Doherty added: “I felt so inspired listening to these young people. They were so articulate, so self-aware, so insightful and so brave. And even though they have been hurt by their experiences, they were optimistic, and witty, and even compassionate for those in our society who don’t yet appreciate what it means to be trans or non-binary”.

After the meeting, Doherty, who is the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, said that she would examine the position of non-binary and young trans people in a review of the 2016 Gender Recognition Act. Under the terms of that Act, an applicant who is 18 years or over is entitled to legally change their sex on all official documents upon request. It also provides for those aged 16 and 17 to apply to a court for an exemption from the minimum age of 18, which the court may grant without the consent of parents.

The proposed new law would allow small children to ‘transition’ from one sex to another if they have the permission of their parents and the approval of doctors.

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Unified voice of the Churches needed on ethical issues, says Archbishop Eamon Martin

The witness of Christian hope means that people need to hear a unified voice of all the Churches speaking together on the important moral issues of our time, said the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin. He was speaking on Sunday at the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh where he had been invited to speak on “reconciling the Reformation” by Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Richard Clarke.
Commenting on the history of division in the Churches and the more recent trend of secularisation and decline in religious practice, he said the various Christian Churches need to work together for the sake of providing an eloquent witness of Christian hope. “We therefore present to public discourse our consistent Christian conviction about the sacredness of all human life and the dignity of the person, about the centrality of the family, about solidarity and the need for a fair distribution of goods in the world, about a society that is marked by peace, justice and care for all, especially the most vulnerable.”
It also meant finding “new ways of presenting our sincerely held perspectives alongside those of other faiths and none in conversations about significant issues and values”. Such engagement was “made all the stronger if we do it together and, where possible, when we have a unified voice on the key ethical issues of our time”.
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Recording people’s sex may no be longer required on UK census

In a radical embrace of gender theory at the expense of vital statistics, the UK may no longer require Census respondents to state whether they are male or female on the census form due to protests that it discriminates against transgender and other non-binary people.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the existing census question was “considered to be irrelevant, unacceptable and intrusive, particularly to trans participants, due to asking about sex rather than gender”. An alternative proposal — to add a third choice of “other” — was rejected as “irrelevant and intrusive”, with the “other” category “thought to homogenise trans people and differentiate them from the rest of society”. The final option, a two-step design with separate sex and gender identity questions, was also rejected.
The report instead recommended that the existing census question should no longer be mandatory. In the last census, only one single question was not mandatory and that concerned a person’s religion. Accuracy in the census is considered a vital matter such that it is a criminal offence not to complete the census, or to give false information, with more than 100 people convicted in the UK of that offence in 2011 alone. The story was broken by the Sunday Times. Leading feminist, Germaine Greer, said biological women were “losing out everywhere”. She added: “I’m sick and tired of this. We keep arguing that women have won everything they need to win. They haven’t even won the right to exist.” Stephanie Davies-Arai, a feminist activist, said: “Women’s biological sex is being erased and that terrifies me. Once you stop gathering information, that skews everything for women.”
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