Another Note On Diarmuid O’Flynn’s MEP election campaign

I’m returning to this because I think it raises important political questions. Diarmuid O’Flynn has expressed an anti-abortion stance as part of his campaign. In my view this stance is incompatible with genuine democracy, freedom and equality.

There is nothing in the world that would make me change this view. Just as water is wet, a State that compels women to give birth and deems them incapable of making decisions about their own bodies is anti-democratic, despotic and anti-woman. Therefore I can find no reason for voting for any candidate in the European elections who espouses such a stance. This applies to Diarmuid O’Flynn and it also applies to every other candidate with a so-called ‘pro-life’ stance in these elections.

In the abstract, there may be certain circumstances, at particular times and places, where it may be necessary to vote for a candidate who espouses such a stance. This would be when you judge the outcome of not voting for that candidate to be appreciably worse.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case in the European elections. If Diarmuid O’Flynn had not expressed such a stance, there might have been useful propaganda value in O’Flynn reaching the European Parliament, given his campaign track record and his public profile. It might have sent out a valuable political signal regarding the Irish debt burden.

But given the public stance on abortion he has expressed, voting for him, and elevating him to MEP would send out an entirely different signal: that it is OK to ditch women’s rights in the pursuit of ‘national sovereignty’.

Though his views as expressed on his blog seem particularly harsh and ignorant with regard to women who are suicidal on account of a pregnancy, I think it bears stressing that O’Flynn’s views are not that different from the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, or from the vast majority of TDs in the Dáil, whose stance on allowing abortion in the event of a risk of suicide took no account of what any woman might think herself, as illustrated by the absurd expert apparatus proposed to oversee authorisation of an abortion in just such an event.

Whilst I oppose his stance on abortion, it doesn’t seem plausible to me that his views on abortion had a bearing on his decision to campaign in the way he has done over the last few years.

It seems a lot more plausible to me that his campaign -and I think it’s important not to confuse a part (Diarmuid O’Flynn) with the whole (all those who have participated in the Ballyhea campaign), as some people have done- is motivated, first and foremost, by a genuine concern about the effects of the illegitimate banking debt on Irish society.

I don’t, as it happens, think he is some sort of sleeper candidate for the Catholic Right who has been unwittingly rumbled. As one of his campaign team told me, they are not professional politicians. They are not surrounded by a team of experts that can weigh up the effect of every public utterance in advance and tailor remarks accordingly.

A person might display admirable qualities in certain actions and dreadful qualities in others, but the whole point of being a public representative is that you intend to represent a constituency. This constituency is then in turn represented by you: in the representative realm, this constituency has no voice of its own, merely the words you put in its mouth. A ‘pro-life’ candidate, then, has the effect of representing a ‘pro-life’ constituency, even when no such constituency really exists, and even when the candidate doesn’t actually make any declaration or vote on any legislation regarding this matter.

And so there is no way of separating the admirable qualities from the dreadful ones in the representative realm.

In other circumstances, people may be open to persuasion, they may reach points of common action on some things and irreconcilable divergence on other matters. In the representative realm, however, stupidity, cowardice, ignorance and bigotry become real and essential characteristics. A vote for a bigoted candidate is a vote for that candidate’s bigotry, with all the symbolic violence that comes with this.

In other contexts, these are only stances adopted by people, and people’s stances can be changed through dialogue and interaction and finding common cause. Taking this possibility seriously -and the possibility one might fail- is what politics is actually about. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts through the realm of representation for this. There are no blind eyes that can be turned. That is a useful lesson, I think, with regard to what is still an urgent matter of building the broadest and strongest possible coalition against illegitimate debt.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Another Note On Diarmuid O’Flynn’s MEP election campaign

  1. auldtapes

    Well now.. there’s a little problem here that you touch on, which is that being a “representative” in these times has nothing to do with representing the views or wishes of (the majority, if you must, of) a constituency.

    The position of MEP is a job, and comes with a job description. Which is to represent the people. But that is not what happens. Elected representatives represent their own views and decisions, (change as they might) which actually, they should be putting aside for the duration of the job, just as the rest of us are obliged to do, sometimes, or face dismissal.

    So it’s kinda all f**ked from the start.. This debate is barking up some tree or other that is totally irrelevant.

  2. Marian Quinn

    To imply that women who have an abortion are merely “making decisions about their own bodies” – as if there was no other body directly affected – is understating the reality.

    • Well, it depends how you define body, doesn’t it? People might have different views on what defines a body; but in so far as an embryo and then a foetus can be described as a body, it cannot exist as one in isolation from the body gestating it, and this body normally belongs to a conscious human being with the capacity to choose, whose day=to-day exertions sustain the gestation. The question is whether any State may exercise greater power of decision over the gestation than the person herself and compel her to continue with it, or may know better what is at stake, simply because it formally defines the embryo or the foetus as a person in law. And hence it becomes a matter of a State exercising jurisdiction over its bodies, whereas the democratic conception of a State would be as a set of institutions that serve its citizens, not to function as their proprietor. This, in the Irish case, is a function that operates with regard to women, but not, on the whole, with regard to men.

      • Marian Quinn

        Yes, it is a consequence of human physiology that a developing body cannot survive outside the body gestating it. If we had evolved as an egg-laying species the issues would be quite different. When medical technology has advanced to the stage where the placenta and foetus can be safely transplanted to a different host that can take over the role of providing shelter and nourishment, it will be possible to transfer the burden of responsibility from the original host if she so chooses. Until then, the burden unavoidably lies with the original host and she must be assisted and encouraged to continue providing her shelter and nourishment, unless there are grave and compelling reasons why she should not do so.

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