Independent Media Centre Ireland

Debate on EU: left-wing, or clerical-conservative?

category national | eu | opinion/analysis author Friday September 08, 2006 04:45author by Brendan Young

The conference ‘Another Europe is Possible’ being organised by Sinn Féin/GUE-NGL on Saturday next, Sept 9 in Liberty Hall will provide a welcome forum for exchange of information and debate on current developments in the EU. But one of the MEPs participating in the ‘Another Europe is Possible’ debate – Kathy Sinnott – shares the clerical-conservative views of Youth Defence and SPUC. The left should be careful not to let itself to be confused with clerical-conservatives. Beware a repeat of the 'No to Nice' campaign.

Debate on ‘Another Europe’ must not allow the left to be confused with clerical-conservatives

The conference ‘Another Europe is Possible’ being organised by Sinn Féin/GUE-NGL will provide a welcome forum for exchange of information and debate on current developments in the EU. While any decision on the EU Constitution is some time away, it is important that people are made aware of what is going on behind the scenes at EU level. It is also important for left wing opponents of the EU Constitution, Services Directive, etc to set out what their alternative is, as against the proposals of the European Commission or the likes of Fianna Fáil. I may not be able to attend, so I would like to make some comments in writing.

The discussion on Saturday in relation to workers’ rights should prove interesting – especially the contribution by Brendan Hayes – in the context of the SIPTU leadership support for the recent social partnership deal. This deal further undermines worker and trade union rights to resist outsourcing, especially in the public sector. (see Eddie Conlon’s analysis at It thus facilitates a creeping privatisation and a race to the bottom: how many Irish Ferries workers are union members today? In my opinion it is necessary to defend worker and trade union rights at home and extend active solidarity internationally – which means challenging the social partnership model that is at the heart of social-democratic politics in Ireland and would be enshrined in the EU Constitution.

The afternoon debate should also be interesting both with regard to what will be discussed – and what may not be mentioned; and with regard to future campaigning for an alternative to what is on offer from the EU elite and to the EU Constitution.

I cannot prefigure what will be said in the ‘Another Europe is Possible’ debate. The platform however, will have two speakers who oppose the EU Constitution – Mary-Lou McDonald and Kathy Sinnott; and one supporter of the EU Constitution – Proinsias DeRossa. Barry Finnegan (chair) also opposes the Constitution. All grand on the face of it.

But amongst these opponents of the EU Constitution there are some profound differences (I hope and assume). And in my opinion it is important that these differences are made clear and public. Otherwise there is a risk of confusion; or of slipping into a re-run of the debacle (for the left) of the ‘No to Nice’ campaign, when Youth Defence and Justin Barrett were given an active role. The left had to continuously differentiate itself from the No to Nice campaign because of the involvement of Youth Defence (YD); and those who associated themselves with YD were discredited.

Why is this an issue now? Because Kathy Sinnott shares the politics of YD (possibly not the street-fighting tactics, but there are soft-cop – hard-cop roles in these campaigns). At present YD are running a high-profile campaign against embryo-stem-cell research (as part of their ‘no exceptions’ campaign). Posters are up around the country outside of Dublin. See Sinnott shares this opposition to embryo-stem-cell research, from the same militant anti-abortion perspective as YD. She joined the right-wing-populist Ind-Dem group in the European Parliament (see the IndDem site for info on membership of this group) rather than the left-social-democratic GUE/NGL because the latter do not oppose embryo-stem-cell research.

Sinnott is also leading an ‘Amnesty for Babies’ anti-abortion campaign with SPUC and the catholic hierarchy (the vatican, no less), to oppose any move in Amnesty International's position on abortion such that Amnesty would support access to abortion (as a legal right) in cases of rape / sexual violence, rape as an act of war, etc. Interestingly, she did not mention this campaign in her Indymedia piece of July 11.

Here’s how Youth Defence describe her campaign.

Amnesty for Babies before Birth Campaign Launched (from YD site til Aug 20 – BY)

An international campaign which included a petition to declare and uphold the right to life of the child before birth was launched in Geneva Switzerland on Wednesday June 28th 2006 by Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott on behalf of The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) and its allies in the UN pro-life, pro-family coalition. The special guest speaker at the launch was Papal Nuncio to the UN in Geneva H.E. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, other speakers at the launch included Dr. John Smeaton Executive Director of SPUC and Patrick Buckley of European Life Network. The campaign and petition were launched, during the inauguration session of the new Human Rights Council.

Here’s how SPUC put it: (23 August 2006)

Stop Amnesty International promoting abortion

Amnesty International (AI) is currently carrying out a consultation among its members about proposals to change its policy on abortion. All of AI's national groups are being consulted in preparation for AI's International Committee Meeting in 2007 when AI's policy will be decided.

Quote ends.
See Amnesty International Canada and SPUC websites for more details, Sinnott’s speech, etc.

In an Irish Times article by Deaglán DeBreadún (July 14 2006), Colm O’Cuanachain of Amnesty International Ireland makes an analogy with the X Case (in which a 14 year old rape victim threatened to kill herself if forced to go full term with the pregnancy resulting from the rape; the Supreme Court judgement was that abortion should be legally allowed here in such cases - ie, where the woman's life was at risk thro suicide). Youth Defence, SPUC and the 'pro-life' movement oppose the X case judgement.

The following is an extract from Irish Times, July 14.

Secretary-General of the Irish Section of Amnesty, Colm Ó Cuanacháin, is keen to emphasise the narrow focus of the Amnesty debate. "There is no discussion going on about the absolute right to abortion," he says. Amnesty has no position on that issue, nor is it likely to have in the near future: "There isn't a discussion, as I said, about Amnesty playing a role in relation to the absolute right to abortion."

But Amnesty and others have to cope with the human rights implications of the massive civil strife and conflict that erupted after the end of the Cold War. "I am talking about the Rwandas, the Congos and the Darfurs, the Srebrenicas, where, in the past 20 years we have seen how sexual violence against women is being used as a weapon of war," he says. "As I said, Amnesty doesn't have a position on the right to abortion, but we are discussing sexual and reproductive rights in a context where things like access to information, access to healthcare, access to protection, access to justice for women who are experiencing sexual violence becomes part of the international human rights machinery."

Drawing a parallel with the controversy in Ireland which arose out of the "X" case, he says: "It's the same issues, it's about the issues of health, the health of the mother, it's about the issues of access to information, right to healthcare and support of a woman who has experienced sexual violence."

Quote ends.

For those on the left who champion the idea of ‘Another Europe’, the question posed by the Amnesty debate is this: should women who become pregnant because of rape by men from armies of occupation be legally denied abortion?

I say no, and I hope the left would also say no. Sinnott et al say yes.

Kathy Sinnott shares the politics of, and is involved with, the militant clerical-conservative forces in Irish society. It is a politics based upon a fundamentalist ideology and is deeply intolerant. Their vision of the future of Ireland and of Europe is different to the vision of the left and the progressive layers in Irish society. The women’s movement and the left have fought against clerical influence in Irish society for over 30 years, and this fight has been a touchstone of progressive politics in this country. We should not give cover to those who wish to re-assert clerical-conservative politics because of a coincidence of views in relation to the EU.

I am not arguing that the left who oppose the neoliberal direction of the EU, which would be enshrined in the EU Constitution, should take a position for or against legalisation of abortion in Ireland (which I personally support). Rather I am arguing that we who argue for a progressive alternative to the EU elite should not let ourselves be associated or confused with the militant clerical-conservatives: the Youth Defence and SPUC supporters who oppose abortion under ALL circumstances, such as the X Case. Beware a repeat of ‘No to Nice’.

The critique of the EU and of the EU Constitution that has been advanced over the past 2 years by the left is credible and consistent: we argue against EU policies, the Constitution, EU militarism, and against the erosions of democracy and accountability – on grounds of support for social progress, equality, and the extension of democratic rights. We have challenged Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and in particular the Labour Party and the supporters of the EU Constitution in the trade unions on a consistent socialist basis. We should not undermine our credibility or confuse our message through association with clerical-conservatives.

Kathy Sinnott is opposed to the EU Constitution and other aspects of EU policy. That’s fine. She can mobilise the conservative opposition along with Youth Defence – as Youth Defence did in the past and probably will do again if the occasion arises.

But the left has a different social agenda for ‘Another Europe’, and we should say so. If we allow confusion, we undermine our own arguments and our own potential support.

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