The Moral Civil War
In April of 1967 Brian Lenihan, Minister for Justice, went to the Dail with a modest little Censorship of Publications Bill. Four months later the measure was passed. In itself the Act was a minor reform. In effect it was a major step away from what have become known as "traditional values". Five thousand books were immediately taken off the banned list.
That was the year that Donagh O'Malley, Minister for Education, introduced major educational reforms, free education, free school transport. Traditional values took a hammering that year.
Such developments were all the rage in the Sixties. In retrospect, it is easy to forget the breadth and depth of the traditional values which the changes of the Sixties were challenging. Prior to those changes the south of Ireland was an awesome country.
In 1921 W. T. Cosgrave was already suggesting that the Dail have a theological board which would decide whether legislation was in line with Catholic faith and morals.
In the Twenties books by Shaw and Maeterlinck were taken from public libraries and burned. In 1925 the Christian Brothers in Dublin organised the burning of Pear's Annual. In the Thirties a librarian in Mayo was driven from her job solely because she was a Protestant. The people of Mayo, said de Valera, "are justified in insisting on a Catholic librarian". When the Protestant resigned the Catholic Bulletin joyfully reported the event on its front page, with the headline, "Well Done, Mayo".
In the Forties, the official record of the Senate debates was censored, an incredible occurrance in a modern parliamentary democracy. A Senator had protested ag'ainst censorship by reading parts of The Tailor and Anstey to the Senate. The readings simply weren't taken down.
In the Fifties the Catholic bishops destroyed the Mother and Child Scheme. Alan Simpson was arrested for staging a Tennessee Williams play. The 1958 Dublin Theatre Festival was cancelled because Archbishop John Charles McQuaid was opposed to the production of a Sean O'Casey play and a dramatisation of Ulysses.
Such events are usually recounted as examples of nasty clerics oppressing a freedom-seeking people. They were not. Such was the mood of the times. For the most part, protest was confined to a small community of writers and artists. The clerics were representing and upholding values that were widely, deeply and genuinely held.
The renunciation of those values, when it happened, came swiftly. By the end of the Fifties economic nationalism was seen to be a failure, having driven scores of thousands out of the country on cattle boats. Keynesian orthodoxy was adopted and economic programmes drawn up to convert the Republic into a modern industrial society, with the help of international capital. Almost incidentally, without discussion, without a mandate, the values which supported and were a part of the old economic nationalism were peeled away.
The new values were not imported, they sprang from the changed economic and social structure. New forms of education were required, a new curriculum. Thinking was now a requirement where previously it had been discouraged. The censorship laws had not been simply concerned with pornography - they deliberately and comprehensivly suppressed writings which did not align with the traditional values. A sample list of writers who had books 'banned is enough to sh'ow the extent of the suppression: Graham Greene, Frank O'Connor, John Steinbeck, George Orwell, Austin Clarke, Margaret Mead, Brendan Behan, Robert Graves, Balzac, Beckett, Gide, Proust, Hemingway, Nabokov, Sean O Faolain, Norman Mailer, Aldous Huxley, Walter Macken, Arthur Koestler, Alberto Moravia, Liam O'Flaherty, Georges Simenon, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, Sinclair Lewis and Daniel Defoe.
A mind couldn't help but be narrow.
The easing of censorship and the consequent increase in the intercourse of ideas was paralleled by the introduction of television. If the politicians dodged discussion of social developments the broadcasters didn't and in the mid-Sixties the Late Late Show substituted for a national forum. The newspapers became more feisty and 7 Days made politicians sweat.
There were other changes. The GAA ban on members attending "foreign games" was dropped, a significant move away from parochialism. In 1970 Catholics were allowed to attend Trinity College. In 1956 the hierarchy had warned against "the danger of perversion" in attending TCD and in 1961 Archbishop McQuaid reiterated that TCD "has never been acceptable, and is not now acceptable, to Catholics". Catholics could not, under pain of mortal sin, "frequent non-Catholic schools or neutral schools or schools that are open also to non-Catholics".
The changes which were taking place must have made a lot of heads spin. Internationally the Catholic Church was, through the Second Vatican Council, accommodating to changes which had previously occurred at a gradual pace in most industrial societies. That accommodation, coming at a time of rapid change in Ireland, undermined any dogmatic defence of the old values. In 1972 the Church cooperated in removing its own "special position" from the Constitution.
In 1966 there were 1,409 vocations to the priesthood and religious orders. In 1974 the figure was 547. There was a parallel and perhaps consequent decline in religious involvement in teaching. The position of women in society was central to the developments and the inevitable discussions of sexuality must have been deeply disturbing and even offensive to the large section of the population reared according to the traditional values. Charlie Haughey brought in the Succession Act in 1964 and very slowly the reforms continued. The courts ruled that women could sit on juries; the EEC ruled that a start must be made on equal pay; legislation got rid of the marriage bar in' the civil service; the Supreme Court ruled on contraception.
There are still a handful of pubs in Dublin which will not serve women in the bar. Another handful still have snugs - quaint corners now, where once women huddled to be served a bottle of Guinness through a hatch. Now the brightly clad young women are gathered with their gins and slimlines in the lounge, discussing the contraceptive pill.
The reaction against the new values was always defensive, and always peddling backwards. In 1979 the Pope came, took the ball away from the secularists and passed it back to the traditionalists. They tried to run with it. For a year or two there were attempts in some parishes to get the faithful to hang out the bunting again on the anniversary of the Pope's visit. It didn't work.
During the 1977 general election a small group, the Christian 'Political Action Movement, canvassed against politicians such as Michael D. Higgins, Conor Cruise O'Brien and Barry Desmond. The previous year, the president of Muintir na Tire had called for the "silencing" of those who would discuss "the pill, abortion and divorce". He said that if there is "one human type more sad and disgusting than the corrupted, it is the corrupter", and that writers should stop focussing on "every unsavoury abnormality or sexual deviation".
The Council of Social Concern, later to be one of the prime movers in the Amendment campaign, told the Catholic Standard in 1978 that it was "deeply concerned about certain undesirable developments in ireland in recent years ... we particularly refer to unsubtle attacks on our religion, morality and culture by certain women's organisations and by the lobbies for contraception, divorce and secular schools".
There was a sustained campaign in late 1978 and in 1979 against the proposed legislation on contraception. TDs were bombarded with literature from the traditional forces. The League of Decency, later to be a constituent element of the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign, sent pictures of foetuses to TDs just before Christmas 1978. There were speeches from the pulpit. TDs got a letter from a Redemptorist priest, Fr John Francis Corbett, demanding a referendum which would bring about a "pre-McGee" situation (the McGee case being the Supreme Court ruling which allowed the importation of contraceptives).
This kind of rearguard action had been fought in vain over the years by the traditional forces. Now, however, the heavies were getting involved, the Knights of Columbanus and Opus Dei. The Knights are a secretive organisation of Catholic males who promote their own conspiratorial and authoritarian version of religion. They exclude women and are predominantly elderly - a few years back they attempted to arrange a group insurance scheme and failed as their average age was too high. Opus Dei (see detailed article in Magill, May 1983) is another secretive organisation, more exclusive than the Knights, which concentrates on recruiting or influencing successful businessmen and politicians. In 1972, disgusted with the changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council, its secret journal, Cronica, referred to an "authentic rottenness" within the Church and described the Church as "a corpse in decomposition which stinks".
The Knights printed a pamphlet called Gift of Life, three thousand of which they circulated to TDs, doctors and others. They followed that up with a lobby of TDs. Their contacts in the media, the civil service and other influential institutions ensured that maximum pressure was brought to bear on the politicians.
Opus Dei also bombarded the TDs with representations. The political and business contacts which the organisation encourages came in useful in ensuring their voice would be heard. One Kildare member of Opus delivered an unceasing barrage of representations to Charlie Haughey during this period. The organisation prints regular Position Papers which it circulates to about twelve or fifteen hundred carefully selected people. Position Paper 59, which was their anti-contraception propaganda, had a massively increased print run of eight thousand and was circulated to politicians, doctors, priests and teachers. It quoted Archbishop McQuaid's 1971 statement that "contraception is evil" which would prove "a curse upon our country".
Position Paper 59 was edited by Fr Charles Connolly and Michael Adams. Last month Michael Adams appeared on the Today Tonight debate, defending the Amendment. He was described as "a publisher" and his opening words were: "Well, obviously I'm not a member of PLAC, or any organisation which has supported the Amendment". Michael Adams is a member of Opus Dei.
Charlie Haughey is as attuned to popular feeling as any politician can be. His "Irish solution to an Irish problem" of contraception in 1979 was not simply the hypocrisy of a politician wary of the bishops. It was a genuine attempt to accommodate to the old values and the new, an impossible task, breeding a piece of legislation ignored in practice and condemned on all sides.
It was only a matter of time before the upholders of traditional values went on the offensive. The key word, raised by the president of Muintir na Tire in 1976 was "silencing". The best known Knight of Columbanus, Sir Oliver J. Flanagan, told his brothers last month that the passing of the Amendment would mean that the "liberal intellectuals will be silenced forever". By the end of the Seventies the upholders of traditional values, who had taken so much for so long, an unceasing babble about things better left unspoken, were ready to go on the offensive.
Early evening, Friday February 8 1980, about two dozen people, mostly women, were picketing the British embassy. Several carried candles that flickered in the darkness. There's not much pedestrian traffic on Merrion Road at that time of day and the picketers didn't attract much attention. That day the Corrie Bill was up for voting in the British parliament. The Bill, proposed by John Corrie, aimed at restricting the 196 7 Act which had introduced legalised abortion in Britain. There was a mass lobby of the House of Commons that evening and a handful of Irish feminists had mounted a picket on the embassy in sympathy with their British sisters. (The Corrie Bill, incidentally, was defeated.)
This was the first public pro-abortion rights initiative in the current controversy. The issue had been discussed before, usually on an academic level in feminist and left wing groups. In the Socialist Labour Party in 1978, for instance, there were three camps: those who supported the right to abortion, those who opposed it - and those who thought it political suicide to even mention the word.
The "women's movement", once imagined to be a monolithic bloc, had become a diverse, informal network, its activists involved in dozens of campaigns, issues and projects. The most consistent coalition of interests was on the contraception issue, but that was flagging, bogged down in Haughey's Irish solution.
Inevitably, some of the women involved in the contraception campaign discussed initiatives on the abortion issue. Not because there is any predetermined contraception-abortion-euthanasia chain effect, but because we are a different society than existed twenty years ago. There is more sex around, more unwanted pregnancies; economic and social choices are not as narrow; abortion Irish style exists if you have the price of a boat ticket, which it did not before; above all, the women who discussed the issue had spent several years in the feminist movement, discussing problems, rights, theories and tactics. The fact that one half of the race bears the children is no small matter and no aspect of it would be left undiscussed. In the interminable but necessary discussions which the feminist movement had gone through it was not unnoticed that many of the problems and inequalities stemmed from that fact - including wages, working conditions, the right to work, financial dependence, health facilities and a host of others.
Fr Simon O'Byrne could tell /n Dublin in July 1982 that Catholics should "simply accept what the Holy Father says and what the bishop of the diocese teaches and do not allow yourselves to be confused by the opinions of others". But that kind of thing didn't wash with people who knew you could lose a job or a flat if you became pregnant. Just as for those who adhere to the traditional values abortion is unthinkable, so for people who have escaped those values is it unthinkable that the authoritarianism of Fr O'Byrne's statement should prevail.
The discussion on how those who must bear the children can best control that biological fact and prevent it causing gross inequality inevitably involved discussion of abortion. Within the diverse feminist movement some agreed, some disagreed, some thought it pointless raising the issue.
In February 1980 a handful of women, including some of those who had been on the British Embassy picket, came together to form the Women's Right To Choose Group.
Two members of a British organisation, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), arrived in Dublin in July 1980 for discussions with likeminded people. Two months later an Irish SPUC was putting posters in shopping centres advertising meetings on "The Case Against Abortion". SPUC was facilitated by local Catholic priests, providing halls, announcing meetings, organising collections and in at least one case - Wexford - allowing SPBC members speak from the pulpit. As yet, the Catholic bishops were not involved. SPUC's initial steps were taken on the periphery of media consciousness, but in the heartland of Catholicism - the parish halls, presbyteries and pulpits. It was a genuine grassroots movement. The section of the population which had held fast to the traditional values naturally contained a large number of priests, the footsoldiers of the old authoritarianism. The bishops, dealing with strategic and political matters, had to be more careful. Some might even have been compromised, recognising worthiness in some of the new values.
SPUC was distributing garish literature and within a few months had shown its equally garish film and slide show in about 250 schools. By then it had about 4,000 supporters having quickly released the passions of the traditional forces long held in check.
Its problem was that it was all dressed up, in its Sunday best, with nowhere to go. Abortion was already illegal.
One of the major strands in the development of the women's movement was its concern with health. Central to that were the particular problems deriving from pregnancy. Anne Connolly, who ran the Well Woman Centre in Dublin, became a key hate figure for the traditional forces. If a woman wanted an abortion the centre, having discussed it with her and counselled her, would provide a referral to a British clinic. By January 1981 SPUC's campaign had permeated the grassroots political culture to such an extent that a routine Fianna Fail meeting in Longford, where Albert Reynolds was stroking the troops, could include in its calls for agricultural benefits, calls for the jailing of drug pushers, and for the removal of Kenny Everett from RTE, a demand that the abortion clinics in Dublin be shut down.
The law could do nothing. Abortion referral is not a crime. No government was prepared to contemplate the draconian laws necessary to close off the route that several thousand Irish women each year take to Britain. Early in
1981 there was a political force gathering without the traction to move in any particular direction. The traditional forces were fighting back, but they had no practical demands. When the Right To Choose Group had been formed in February 1980 there were expectations of an amplified version of the hysterical denunciation which had met the campaign on contraception. However, there was little reaction. For the most part the media simply reported on developments, without carrying smears or admonishments. This was to continue for over a year. It was accepted that abortion could be argued as an issue like any other. The RTC people knew that SPUC was organising down among the grassroots but didn't respond. They didn't want that kind of confrontation and in any case were not equipped for that kind of campaign.
The RTC was always a group, never a campaign. It followed the traditional feminist road of internal discussion a necessary process, but one often undertaken at the cost of a lack of public activity. They held meetings, but you had to have an eye and an ear tuned to the women's movement to know about them. One of the most successful meetings was held in the Junior Common Room of TCD on Friday, August 8 1980. Apart from the RTC speakers there was a speaker, Patricia McMahon, from the American group Catholics For a Free Choice and Jan Parker from the National Abortion Campaign in Britain. About a hundred people attended.
The following month, on Tuesday September 9, the RTC Group held a press conference at 3 Belvedere Place, the old HQ of the Contraception Action Programme, and announced the setting up of the Irish Pregnancy Counselling Centre. This would provide counselling for women with unwanted pregnancies. The counselling would be non-directional, giving all the options including abortion, and helping the woman to follow whatever option she chose. If the
woman wanted an abortion the IPCC referred her to a clinic in Britain and provided counselling after the abortion if she wanted it.
In strict political terms it could be argued that the Group's main achievement, the setting up of the IPCC, was a diversion, accommodating to the unwritten position of the state - which was to avoid controversy on abortion by exporting the problem to Britain. In practical terms there was little else they could do other than set up a service to support the decisions many women were already taking. They were a tiny group without resources or the political direction to launch a campaign. By the end of 1980 they had established their presence, found a niche within the feminist movement, and little more.
Less than three weeks after the setting up of the IPCC two meetings were held in Dublin which would prove important in guiding the traditional forces. About 200 doctors from various countries staged a congress of the World
Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life. Dr David Nowlan of the Irish Times, who attended the conference, described it as "arrogant, ,paranoid and sex-obsessed", with the issues of contraception and abortion being introduced to almost all sessions, including those dealing with subjects such as the care of the dying and doctors' responsibilities to prisoners. It was organised by Professor John Bonnar, a promoter of natural contraception and a leading light of the Amendment campaign.
Professor Bonnar has links with both the Knights of Columbanus and Opus Dei. In 1978 he lectured the Knights at their headquarters in Ely Place. "Ireland stands alone", he said', "in her fight to defend the JudeoChristian moral code of sexual behaviour and the sanctity of life". His lecture was reproduced by Opus Dei in 1979 as part of their covert campaign against contraception legislation.
Some of the doctors from that conference organised a second meeting at Carysfort College. This linked up the doctors with the pressure groups which were preparing the grassroots campaign. Representatives from the British SPUC were there (the Irish SPUC was just being formed) and members of The Responsible Society. This group was set up in 1980 from a meeting on "The Permissive Society" organised by the Knights of Columbanus. This was the meeting at which Professor John Bonnar made his "Ireland stands alone" speech. Fr Paul Marx, the energetic anti-abortion campaigner, famous for careering around the world with foetuses in bottles, was also a participant at the Carysfort meeting. Marx was a founder of the Doctors Who Respect Human Life organisation.
Shortly after these two meetings the strands of the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC) began to consolidate. The idea for putting an Amendment in the Constitution had come from the Catholic Doctors Guild a month or two earlier.
This Guild, which also has links with the Knights of Columbanus, was formed about ten years earlier as a reaction to "the decline in ethical values".
The structural link between the doctors and the pressure groups was provided by the Council of Social Concern, an umbrella organisation for a number of groups (such as the League of Decency and the Family League) which had sprung up in the Sixties and Seventies to express the disagreement of the traditional forces with the changes that were taking place. The Christian Political Action Movement, which had canvassed against a number of politicians in 1977 was part of COSC.
In short, the organiser of the TCD conference which was the spark that began PLAC, Professor John Bonllar, had links with the Knights and Opus Dei. Dr Richard Wade, a key figure in the Catholic Doctors Guild, which first suggested a referendum, is a Knight. The Responsible Society was set up from a meeting organised by the Knights at their headquarters. The Council of Social Concern, which linked the doctors with the pressure groups, then operated from the headquarters of the Knights, 8 Ely Place.
Professor Bonnar wasn't too happy about having the organisation fronted entirely by men, "especially senior academic gynaecologists, who looked like a stuffy old bunch", he told Magill in June 1982. Dr Julia Vaughan became chairperson of the group.
From the beginning of 1981 PLAC, which was as yet just a small grouping of individuals with no public presence, began to seek the support of other traditional forces, such as the Catholic Nurses Guild and Muintir na Tire. In April they pulled in the biggest and most effective force, SPUC. Previously, there had been some wariness about SPUC. Its supporters tend to shout abuse and make controversial statements about contraception and the like - not at all the image of responsible concern which PLAC was promoting. But if PLAC had its generals among the doctors, its colonels and captains among the pressure groups, it still needed its troops.
The original idea was to organise a national petition for a Constitutional referendum, but there was a possible short-cut through the nervous politicians. On March 30 1981 a vicepresident of Fine Gael, Maria Stack, said that there were medical circumstances in which abortion might be permissible, in her opinion. Garret FitzGerald and Paddy Harte responded quickly and brutally and Stack was silenced.
There was an election coming up, the politicians were vulnerable. On April 27 1981 PLAC held a press conference and announced its existence. Just three days later Garret FitzGerald and Charlie Haughey met its representatives.
Charlie Haughey immediately agreed in principle to a referendum and reported back three weeks later with agreement in detail. Frank Cluskey said Labour would consider it, and put it on the long finger.
Garret FitzGerald was in a tighter corner. If PLAC was to point the abortion finger during the forthcoming general election Fine Gael would be particularly vulnerable because of the Stack incident. Also, there was a feeling amongst some of his advisers that Garret's perceived image with sections of the electorate was somewhat remote, insufficiently in tune with the traditional values of Catholicism. It was felt that some of the electorate didn't even know he was a Catholic. The PLAC demand was an opportunity to get into line.
FitzGerald met the PLAC delegation at his house on April 30, along with Gemma Hussey. The PLAC delegation comprised a doctor from the TCD conference, Julia Vaughan, Professor Eamonn de Valera, Loretto Browne of SPUC, Frank' Ryan (a lawyer) and Denis Barror of The Responsible Society. FitzGerald immediately agreed to their demand.
The wording which PLAC was pushing at the time was: "The State recognises the absolute right to life of every unborn child from conception and accordingly guarantees to respect and protect such right by law." There was no mention of the mother and the commitment to an "absolute right" placed the rights of the foetus above those of the mother. Such details didn't worry anyone in those days.
Last April a founder of PLAC told the Sunday Tribune, "I'm sick to death of the whole Amendment business." At least one other founder doubted the wisdom of continuing with the campaign.
It wasn't supposed to work out like this. The thing should have been slipped through as easily as a Finance Bill in the Dail. Ireland, in the words of Julia Vaughan, would have "once again become a beacon" which would "tum the tide in the Western world". In choosing such an emotive issue on which to fight, the traditional forces should have had a runaway victory by last March. People would be asked if they wanted to kill babies - answer, no, ergo triumph.
Instead, a moral civil war developed.
There were initial victories. Gay Byrne, who more than any other individual symbolised the openness of the new values and the willingness to discuss all issues and points of view, was
successfully shouldered onto the sideline. A member of the Irish National Teachers Organisation running for the Senate this year was asked one question by his executive: not on education but on where he stood on the Amendment. When he said he opposed it he was refused his union's backing and withdrew from the election. On several RTE programmes, notably an interview with June Levine, there was censorship which precluded discussion of abortion. One producer was reprimanded and effectively barred from working on certain programmes after arranging an interview with Anne Connolly of the Well Woman Centre.
Such foretastes of the resurgence of traditional values culminated in the purging of the anti-Amendment elements from the IFA. What wasn't expected was the size and strength of the opposition. The Right To Choose Group was supposed to be the devil at which the fingers would be pointed and all others would join in the fingerpointing or be revealed as "anti-life". Instead, the opposition emerged on a wide scale based on carefully thought-out grounds of respect for the mother's life and a general distaste at the moral superiority and authoritarianism which the traditional forces represent. The Amendment had at first been compared to the Mother and Child scheme, but as time went by it became apparent that the comparison was inaccurate. The Mother and Child debacle was a flexing of well used muscles by the traditional forces, and opposition collapsed immediately. This time there was at least a fight.
At the time of Garret FitzGerald's assumption of the Fine Gael leadership, party activists believed that at least a quarter, perhaps more, of the National Executive of the party were Knights of Columbanus. Such a force, acting in concert while others acted individually, had a large influence. The demonstration of greater efficiency and the process of attrition through which FitzGerald's whizz kids assumed dominance in the party saw the quiet eviction of the Knights.
So nervous was FitzGerald of this power group that when he was forming his present Cabinet he extracted a declaration from each male Minister that he wasn't a Knight and a promise that if he should join that organisation he would leave the Cabinet. Even so, the traditional forces were gathering within the party. In January 1982 the Irish Catholic was able to report that a group of "strenuously Catholic" TDs and Senators was organising within the party. Significantly, this group was aimed not alone at the Amendment but at "the promoters of marriage wrecking" - i.e. those who believed that the divorce laws should reflect the reality of marital breakdown.
FitzGerald, belatedly convinced of the dangers of the Amendment, tried to straddle two camps, the traditional and modern, and hold the party together. Surprisingly, Paddy Cooney was on his side and argued strongly within the Cabinet that the wording was crazy. (Cooney, however, like John Kelly, is unlikely to break with the traditional forces with which he normally sides.)
One bishop made it known to FitzGerald that there were reservations within the hierarchy about the Amendment but it was up to the Government to stop it; the bishops were unable to stop it. Some were totally committed to it - all recognised that the traditional forces within the laity and the priests were making the running.
Fianna Fail atrophied and then became so unstable because of personality battles that it dare not discuss a live political issue. The hatches were battened down.
Outside, the wolves were in the streets.
Last May a group of people held a meeting in Wexford to discuss setting up a family planning centre. About twenty members of SPUC descended on the meeting, in White's Hotel, with such slogans as "Instead of women controlling their fertility men should control their virility". A Fr Fortune, curate at Poulfur, criticised the two Fine Gael deputies, Avril Doyle and Ivan Yates, who were present in support of the meeting. He said that he now knew that the two TDs
were not pro-life.
Fr Jack McCabe, Parish Administrator, subsequently apologised to the TDs for the curate's remarks. There was no apology for Fr McCabe's other remarks that he hoped that Catholic hospitals would not be employing people who subscribed to these views. He also made warning remarks about teachers. There were teachers on the platform. There was some laughter amid the protests at the priest's remarks.
Such remarks are not funny, neither are they idle threats. People keep files on people.
On May 12 1980 the Irish Times printed a letter signed by Sally Keogh in her capacity as Information Officer of the National Social Service Council (NSSC). This was noted by the Council of Social Concern, a constituent part of PLAC and an organisation linked to the Knights. On June 6 John O'Reilly of COSC wrote a confidential letter to the Director of NSSC pointing out that a Sally Keogh had been secretary of the Irish Family Planning Association in 1978 and another Sally Keogh had been involved in the Contraception Action Programme.
"These latter two Sally Keoghs have their ideological colours nailed firmly to the mast", wrote 0 'Reilly. They and the NSSC Sally Keogh might be one and the same person. "This is disturbing and I would be very grateful if you would confirm if it is true or assure us that it is false." O'Reilly added: "One could not help but worry that the post of Information Officer in your organisation afforded some good opportunity for the promotion of what we may call the ideology of the contraceptive clinics."
O'Reilly is a former Knight, is vice-chairman of case and secretary of The Responsible Society - all organisations involved in the setting up of PLAC. Getting no response from the NSSC he wrote to the director again on July 27 and warned, "In the event of receiving no reply at all, reluctantly, I shall be compelled to circularise the members of the Council". When this threat had no effect there were further measures to hound Sally Keogh.
On June 12 Nial Darragh, a Knight of Columbanus, member of COSC, veteran campaigner against contraception and for the Amendment, wrote a personal letter to Tomas Rosingrave, a member of the NSSC, enclosing a copy of O'Reilly's letter to the director. Darragh said, "Need I say that there is absolutely no wish on my part to jeopardise the employment or career of the lady in question." (Then why write?) "However, as you know I am very concerned about the evil effects of contraception and the 'contraception mentality' on our Christian Irish youth and teenagers."
Darragh said that the letter previously sent to the director was to be sent to all members of the NSSC but instead he wished to "seek less formal comment in confidence from a friend." He closed with an ambiguous and confused remark: "If what appears to be the situation is in fact so, there would appear to be a basis for reconsideration of the wisdom of appropriate action."
Rosingrave appears to have been embarrassed by the approach and nothing transpired. A subsequent letter to Michael Woods, Minister for Health, brought the reply that if there was any specific allegations to be made against Sally Keogh they should be made to the director of the NSSC.
Sally Keogh kept her job. That time.
And the other trappings of Irish traditional values - the rabid accusations, the political speeches from the pulpit, the poison pen letters, the threatening phone calls, the attacks on the media, the bomb threats to RTE have made their appearance. SPUC have announced that, whatever the vote, they are here to stay. Part of their plans is to monitor government activity and the law. The Knights and Opus Dei are more active than at any time in the past twenty years.
On the other hand, the resurgence of traditional forces has forced a cohesion of progressive forces which had not existed before. Whatever the vote, the moral civil war has just begun.