Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Call from Europe for Taoiseach to respect conscientious objection of Fine Gael Party members

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael Party have been challenged by their European partners to respect freedom of conscience, according to a letter from The President of the European Peoples Party (EPP) in the Council of Europe Mr. Luca Volontè

See text of letter here:
                                                                                                Milano, 9 luglio 2013

Dear Taoiseach,
I am concerned that Fine Gael is not allowing a free vote on the above Bill. Though familiar with the arguments that the Bill will be restrictive, etc., my concern about the manner in which the conscience rights of Fine Gael parliamentarians have been infringed is valid regardless of the merits or otherwise of the legislation.

The values of the EPP are well known, and are based on fundamental, interdependent and universally applicable values, including freedom and responsibility. These values reflect our respect for fundamental human rights. Laws must evolve on the basis of universal respect for man's fundamental and undeniable rights, as defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union as confirmed in the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. Each of these human rights charters gives prominence to the right of freedom of conscience and thought.

Article 115 of the EPP Party Platform Document adopted by Fine Gael at the EPP Statutory Congress, Bucharest, Romania, 17-18 October 2012, under the heading Freedom and Responsibility, explicitly states: "We consider that it is necessary to respect the right of conscientious objection." The right of conscientious objection is particularly engaged in matters - such as abortion - concerning the fundamental value of all human life (see Article 228 of the EPP Party Platform Document).

Our values should guide the political order (Article 133) and political parties must function in conformity with the rules of internal democracy (Article 229). This surely includes respect for the conscientious integrity of party members.
Respect for freedom of conscience would be meaningless if it applied only to the consciences of those with whom we agree. It is truly tested and demonstrated when respect is shown to the consciences of those with whom we disagree. The judgment of a number of your Fine Gael colleagues that they cannot in good conscience vote in favour of the proposed legislation is one that ought to be respected.

You may not agree with their assessment of the Bill, and its likely consequences. You stated, however, in your speech in Dail Eireann on July l, that if you thought for one moment that this Bill would lead to the creation of a liberal abortion regime in Ireland you would not ask the House to endorse it. And yet Fine Gael parliamentarians are being forced, upon pain of expulsion from their party, to support the Bill despite their sincere belief that the Bill may well usher abortion into Ireland.

To impose such severe penalties on colleagues for voting in accordance with their consciences on such a fundamental matter is alien to the basic values of the EPP.
I hope and trust that you will reconsider, and that Fine Gael will live up to the values that we all profess to share.

Yours sincerely, Luca Volontè
Honorary President EPP Group at PACE Former Chair of EPP Group at PACE Council of Europe