Ireland to vote on abortion, leadership Referendum gains as much interest as election

November 24, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

LONDON -- Ireland will vote tomorrow in a national election that nobody wanted -- and which is expected to provide only inconclusive results.

None of the Irish political parties is expected to garner a clear majority in the 166-seat Dail, or Parliament, so that a round of political horse-trading will be necessary for one of the two major parties to form a coalition government.

And the process has been complicated by the decision to hold a simultaneous national referendum on liberalizing Ireland's tough anti-abortion constitutional provisions -- an issue that seems to have stirred up at least as much interest as the election.

The political crisis began three weeks ago when Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, head of the largest party, Fianna Fail, indulged in a personal attack on the leader of his coalition partner, Desmond O'Malley, of the Progressive Democrats.

Mr. Reynolds charged that Mr. O'Malley had given "dishonest" testimony before an official inquiry investigating Ireland's beef-processing industry.

Not surprisingly, when he did not receive an appropriate apology, Mr. O'Malley's party pulled out of the governing coalition and Mr. Reynolds lost a vote of confidence in Parliament -- resulting in a snap election months before it would normally have been due.

By forcing the unwelcome election, Mr. Reynolds -- who had taken over the leadership last February after a bruising fight with political patriarch Charles Haughey -- has seen his personal popularity plummet to a favorable rating of only 24 percent, according to one leading opinion sampling.

In the last Parliament, Fianna Fail had 77 seats, lacking an absolute majority by six votes, and it is expected to lose additional seats in tomorrow's vote, which would mean a new coalition if it seeks to govern.

It is not clear how the national election will be be affected by the simultaneous voting on three abortion questions.

These call for slightly liberalizing Ireland's constitution to permit abortion when the mother's life is threatened, to allow abortion information to be disseminated and to legalize travel to another country for the purpose of getting an abortion.

The latter provision was added after a 14-year-old Irish schoolgirl, pregnant after being raped, was at first refused government permission to go to England for an abortion. After a national furor, the ruling was voided by the Supreme Court.

Opinion polls indicate that the Irish public is slightly in favor of liberalizing the no-abortion rule. At first, it seemed that the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy would not comment nationally on the abortion referendums -- and a recent meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference advised Catholics that they could vote "yes" or "no" in good conscience.

However, Archbishop Desmond Connel of Dublin, Bishop Dominic Conway of Elphin and Bishop Seamus Hegarty of Raphoe, in an apparent breach of the conference decisions, have recently advocated a "no" vote.

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