You don’t hear the word “honour” used much in Irish politics. This is probably to do with the reality that it’s a rare occasion when it is needed. Trevor Sargent, who turned down a cabinet position in 2007 on principle, deserved to be called honourable, as indeed did Roisin Shortall and the late Frank Cluskey. In Fianna Fail’s case, you would have to go all the way back to Kevin Boland, who resigned in sympathy with Charlie Haughey, an act I suspect Haughey would not have reciprocated. It should also be noted that the electorate are rarely grateful: both Boland and Sargent went on to lose their seats.
In short, it is rare to see an Irish politician reject ministerial office not because rejection is forced upon them, but because they put a political ideal or policy, and fidelity to it, ahead of remaining in office for the sake of it.
I do not agree with Lucinda Creighton on abortion. I agree with her on other things, especially Europe, but I disagree on this. Yet if she chooses to resign her ministerial office over this, I can’t help but admire her greatly for it. There’s a ugliness abroad in Irish politics where we cannot separate the person from the policy, and struggle to recognise that one’s political opponents are not morally inferior for not sharing one’s position. It results in TDs being sent threatening letters and posters being torched, and that’s no way for a rational, democratic society to deal with issues.
The alternative is politicians like Lucinda Creighton and others, on both sides of this issue, who stood on a platform, and now stick to it, putting the elected platform ahead of the baubles of political office.
By the way, this whole affair demonstrates the shocking lack of imagination at the heart of Irish politics: why can’t we have, on both this issue and the Seanad, a preferendum, where the people can choose from a number of options? It’s not like it would be unconstitutional, and would avoid this whole ding-dong in the first place.
If Lucinda Creighton resigns over this issue, both pro-lifers and pro-choicers should applaud her. Because, as Des O’Malley said in his noted speech on the Fitzgerald coalition’s proposals on contraception reform (what is our obsession with reproductive issues?):
“The politics of this would be very easy. The politics would be, to be one of the lads, the safest way in Ireland. But I do not believe that the interests of this state, of our constitution and of this republic, would be served by putting politics before conscience in regard to this.”
By standing by her own socially conservative values, values that I personally disagree with, Lucinda Creighton has chosen to not be one of the lads, and instead is standing by the values of our republic, and should be applauded for that.