Iris does it again

Metropolitan liberals have the most entertaining habit of going completely haywire when confronted with people, or entire nations, which radically differ from them in their mores. Especially if it’s something the liberals aren’t prepared for. Back in about 1987, there were lots of Australians and New Zealanders who got very het up about apartheid, but hadn’t the first idea how to approach the ugly racial politics on their own doorstep in Fiji. Not that you could blame them for being confused – the more you know about Fiji, you quickly realise that neither the Melanesians nor the Indians are a very endearing lot. But there was a particularly hilarious TVNZ interview with Fijian coup leader Steve Rabuka. I can’t quote it verbatim after all this time, but I remember it going a bit like this:

Interviewer: Brig Rabuka, why have you overthrown the government?

Steve: God told me to overthrow the government.

Interviewer: Um, right. Some people say this is a racist coup…

Steve: Well, it’s a coup for the benefit of one race. What’s your point?

Talk about the clash of cultures.

Which brings me to Iris Robinson, Westminster MP, Stormont MLA, chair of the Assembly health committee and wife of the First Minister. You’ll recall that Iris ruffled some feathers a while back by remarking, apropos of a homophobic assault, that homosexuality was an abomination, albeit one that could be cured with the help of some Christian-oriented psychiatry. A lot of people in Britain found this shocking, which sort of prompts the question of what exactly they thought the DUP stood for. You might have thought, after that furore, that Iris would be keeping a low profile on moral issues. But not our Iris.

So, yesterday on the Nolan show Iris was holding forth on abortion. Usually, DUP reps prefer to use the democratic argument on this one – legalisation doesn’t command a majority of public opinion, and is overwhelmingly opposed by the North’s elected representatives. (This is true. In fact, with the sole exception of the PUP’s Dawn Purvis, I’m not aware of a single Stormont MLA taking an openly pro-choice position.) Iris, however, couldn’t let it go at that. She argued that it was the job of politicians to uphold God’s law.

You know, when I heard this, I couldn’t help thinking of Maria Duce, the eccentric Catholic movement of the 1950s who made waves by campaigning to have Jesus Christ proclaimed King of Ireland. Iris’ position seems to be the Prod analogue of that. I don’t really like this – although I’m not one of those hardline secularists who wants religion banned from public life, nor do I want a religious government.

A bit later on, there was more discussion on the wireless around this issue, between Bernie Smyth of anti-abortion group Precious Life on the one hand, and popular media personality Eamonn McCann on the other. The debate was predictable, but there were a couple of interesting points.

One was that the whole argument was couched in terms of liberal rights theory. Eamonn said the rights of the mother should trump those of the foetus. Bernie disagreed. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

And yet, if you go back to old-school Catholic polemics from the fifties, the rights of the unborn are not alluded to. That’s a modern innovation. From a theological standpoint, the soul of the child, being innocent, would go to heaven if it was blessed or limbo if it wasn’t. (This situation is now simplified a little by Benedict having abolished limbo.) No, the traditional reason for keeping abortion illegal was to protect the soul of the mother, by preventing her from committing a mortal sin. The fact that this argument isn’t made any more is probably the tax religion pays to secular liberalism.

The other point is that, although I don’t agree with Bernie, I do sort of admire her. Starting with nothing, she’s built up quite a formidable operation with her bare hands, and been so successful that SPUC, the former brand leaders, are almost moribund in the North. Actually, she’s been more successful at building a movement than Eamonn, who’s been at it much longer.

And here’s something worth considering. The fact that public opinion in the North is against legal abortion shouldn’t be an insuperable obstacle for the pro-choice milieu. It’s just a challenge to be faced in building a pro-choice movement. Yet a lot of pro-choice people seem to have given that up for a bad job in the hope that the Brits might impose the 1967 act over the objections of Stormont. Yeah, that’ll happen.


  1. ejh said,

    July 18, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    SPUC, the former brand leaders, are almost moribund in the North

    This is all a bit like-Thomas Franks-says-about-Kansas, isn’t it? The thing about SPUC was, they were (and are) aristocratic Catholics. Scarisbrick probably had ancestors who hid Jesuit priests behind the panelling. It’s hard to imagine people like him would ever have much clout in Ireland.

    (This is not relevant, by the way, but I think I got invited to drinks round Scarisbrick’s house when an undergraduate in Oxford. Nothing to do with abortion or Catholicism, just that history undergraduates did get invited. I didn’t go.)

  2. WorldbyStorm said,

    July 18, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I think I’d have gone. You never know, you might have been invited to – ahem – ‘join’ the SIS… 🙂

    splintered, you make a fascinating point about how the terms of the debate both pro and anti have shifted since the 50s (and indeed before that). Can’t disagree with you either re the essential defeatism of pro-choice in that context.

  3. Liam said,

    July 18, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Iris should move to Italy while Berlusconi’s still in charge. It’s full of Papists but the hardcore ones agree with her on most things and she’d be in with a good chance of getting a cabinet post in a 3rd division imperialist government with opportunities for corruption, repression and bigotry beyond her wildest dreams.

  4. Garibaldy said,

    July 19, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I don’t think SPUC in Ireland could be described as aristocratic Catholics. Quite the opposite.

  5. Dunne and Crescendo said,

    July 19, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I thought that SPUC were the Catholics and LIFE the Protestants in the anti-abortion movement. I seem to have been wrong. Perhaps Splintered remembers the Brooke centre campaign of 1991? An unholy alliance against I recall.

  6. harpymarx said,

    July 19, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    “Yet a lot of pro-choice people seem to have given that up for a bad job in the hope that the Brits might impose the 1967 act over the objections of Stormont. Yeah, that’ll happen”.

    The anti-abortionists are scarily well organised and always have (yeah, with Gawd on their side) and look at the States. And regards to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill…well that looks like it has been kicked into the long grass as that won’t be debated until Oct again. And anyway, didn’t old Gordon Brown make a deal with the DUP over extending the ’67 Act…?

  7. Ciarán said,

    July 20, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    Yeah, it was mentioned that dropping the Abortion Act was part of the DUP’s deal with Brown in exchange for their support on 42-day detention.

  8. Garibaldy said,

    July 21, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Sorry D&C. I meant they were not aristocratic, as opposed to not Catholic. Class not creed and all that I suppose.

  9. Doug said,

    July 21, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Scarisbrick used to lecture History at Warwick University in the 70s. The highlight was his defence of the Jesuits re the Spanish Inquisition. If I remember rightly, the gist was that the nastiness was exaggerated, it wasn’t all their fault and they did some good stuff as well. Prat.

  10. ejh said,

    July 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    To be honest, most English historiography is like that. It gets away with it because:

    (bad reason) that’s what a lot of people want to hear

    (good reason) it is incredibly well-informed.

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