Mayo Fine Gael TD and solicitor Michelle Mulherin, whose puzzling contribution during a Dáil debate on the X case yesterday, in which she declared that “fornication . . . is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country” has sparked a furore that continues to run and run this weekend.
During the debate, the UCD Law Graduate and former Mayor of Ballina issued a rambling, statement as follows: “I am against abortion in any form myself. The grace of God is so liberating and provides so many options to get the best out of life despite our fall in nature, and we all have that. Having said that it is an ideal to aim for. In an ideal world there would be no unwanted pregnancies and no unwanted babies. But we are far from living in an ideal world. An honest and a scriptural view is that things are getting harder for people, so what then for the weak in our society?
“Abortion as murder, therefore sin, which is the religious argument, is no more sinful, from a scriptural point of view, than all other sins we don’t legislate against, like greed, hate and fornication. The latter, being fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”
The remarks went viral on national, international, and social media within moments with commentators to websites primarily questioning the use of the old-fashioned term ‘fornication’ (and its various dictionary and biblical definitions in regard to (unlawful ) sexual intercourse between parties not married to each other ) in this day and age by a modern TD such as Ms Mulherin.
A sample of comments reacting to her Dáil contribution on the politics.ie website included:
“There was no fornication in Ireland before TV.”
“I'm none the wiser as to whether she is speaking in favour of or against abortion legislation. Is she saying abortion is no worse than other sins we don't proscribe or is she saying that there should be no legislation in this case?”
“You have to credit her for having the brains of the century – last year she managed to fornicate €1,000 in allowances every week from the Irish taxpayer.”
Other comments included, from disillusioned: “I swear yer TDness I caught it off a toilet seat/jacuzzi/bicycle seat.”
“Fornication FFS? What century is she living in?”
“But I thought it was the bird and the bees. Somebody has been telling me lies”
“The spirit of Alice Glenn is alive and well in Fine Gael.”
“Clearly the Fine Gael party is in safe hands for the future.”
There were also some favourable comments such as: “She was pointing out that the religious arguments for legislating against abortion don't stack up because the sin of fornication is just as grave according to the church but there is no one trying to legislate for that.”
Elected as one of four Fine Gael TDs for Mayo in 2011, Michelle Mulherin was the first female councillor for Fine Gael elected to Ballina Town Council in 1999 and was also elected to Mayo County Council as Fine Gael’s first female county councillor.
The private members bill on the X Case which was raised in the Dáil yesterday (Thursday ) by socialist TD Clare Daly proposing to make abortion legal for pregnant women whose lives may be at risk, was eventually defeated 109 votes to 20, with Fianna Fáil voting against and Sinn Féin in favour. Following the debate, Ms Daly attacked Deputy Mulherin for her “primitive views”, saying: “It was a very astute observation on her part generally speaking that pregnancy does arise from sex. I thought at first it was a moment of merriment but the woman said it with a straight face.”
Ms Mulherin’s Fine Gael TD colleagues in Mayo were uncontactable yesterday and a spokesperson confirmed that the party was ‘making no comment’ on the story.
Speaking on Matt Cooper’s The Last Word programme on Today FM following the furore yesterday, Deputy Mulherin, asked to explain her ‘fornication’ remarks, said she had spoken “open and honestly” on the issue before stumbling into further ramblings after being asked for her definition of fornication, to which she replied: “Fornication is not a word I invented, it refers to consensual sex between adults outside of marriage; we have moved towards more responsibility on the individual; in the 70s a married couple could not have legal sex without the say of their doctors on contraception; homosexuality was also illegal, all on religious grounds.
“The first thing is we need to have debates to move things along and arrive where we can be comfortable in a society legislating on things that have a moral element to them. We look to the issue of abortion, there are approximately 4,500 women who feel for various reasons they need to go to the UK for an abortion, in a lot of cases and anecdotally in a lot of cases, we know people are having a lot of casual sex and pregnancies are happening that are not wanted.
“We need a discussion around who is having unprotected sex; around issues such as AIDS as well as pregnancy that can happen; there is an elephant in the room, let’s take responsibility for women, it’s about a bigger debate of how we get there.”
She was stopped in her monologue by presenter Matt Cooper, who called on Socialist TD Clare Daly, who had raised the X case issue in the Dáil to respond. Dep Daly said: “We thought fornication meant sex for pleasure – such an outdated term that a deputy would even use – what is Deputy Mulherin saying? In 2012, that people who are not married, that this is the cause of unwanted pregnancy? That is simply not true. To link somebody’s family status as being the source of an unwanted pregnancy is disgusting in the modern age. There are people the length and breadth of this country thinking this is a Monty Python sketch - that someone in this day and age can even come out with such a statement – but it is clearly a minority view that was met with gasps when stated in the Dáil.”
Deputy Mulherin’s ramblings continued to descend into farce as she continued, as below, before eventually being cut off mid flow by presenter, Matt Cooper, reminding her she was a Government TD, .
“She can turn it into a joke. Take religion out of it. Where people are perhaps engaging, I’m surmising here, in casual encounters, where people are obviously not using protection, people are thinking this is the end of my life, I need to have an abortion; what I feel has nearly happened in this country is for years we have had morality shoved down our throat and I don’t agree but now we have the flip side and people are saying, let’s face it, to get an abortion, but let’s talk about the consequences, the flip of religiosity isn’t promiscuity; but if people are being driven in a certain way towards sexual intercourse for pleasure is there something darker here, why can’t we talk about that?”