Veteran Labor leader Dick Spring recalls ‘bitter’ referendums on abortion and divorce

Veteran Labor leader Dick Spring recalled the bitter abortion-divorce referenda and said it was particularly difficult for rural TDs.

r Spring, who led Labor and participated in government with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, said he did not vote in the 1983 referendum that banned abortion under all circumstances.

His party was already in a coalition with Fine Gael and anti-abortion campaigners had persuaded key politicians to accept what Mr Spring believed to be flawed and problematic wording.

“Abortion was a very difficult subject and you couldn’t even talk about it,” Mr Spring told a new RTÉ program that rates both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Mr Spring said Garret FitzGerald as Fine Gael Taoiseach and Charlie Haughey as Fianna Fáil’s opposition leader had accepted wording that many lawyers felt was flawed and likely to cause major problems in the future.

This happened less than a decade later with the infamous ‘X Case’ and the Labor leader’s medical and legal advice had predicted it.

“The wording was not a viable solution to the problems we faced, and it was accepted far too quickly by Charlie Haughey and Garret FitzGerald,” he told host Seán O’Rourke.

The abortion referendum was passed overwhelmingly in September 1983.

Another referendum to allow divorce was held in June 1986, but was heavily defeated.

Mr. Spring pointed to the strength of the Catholic Church at this stage and some of the tactics used by activists.

“Some would say, ‘Well, we know why he wants a divorce.’

“But you have to be true to your principles, and I’ve known a lot of people in different family situations where they would have been better off living apart,” former Kerry TD said.

The Labor leader recalls becoming Labor leader and Tánaiste in 1982 at the age of 32.

He says the early days in the coalition with Fine Gael’s Garret FitzGerald was a difficult time, with huge public debt and austerity measures.

Later in 1992 he led Labor into a coalition with Fianna Fáil under Albert Reynolds.

But he said this is also very difficult, largely because of Mr Reynolds’ dictatorial approach.

“Albert’s idea of ​​counseling was to tell you what he would do,” he recalled.

The interview also covers his most controversial decision, dropping Fianna Fáil in November 1994 to join a three-party rainbow coalition led by Fine Gael’s John Bruton.

He rejects the argument that this would ultimately keep Labor out of government for another 14 years.

On Labour’s current woes, he says leader Ivana Bacik needs to rebuild by targeting 10-15 Dáil seats.

When asked if he thought Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could merge, he was very negative.

Mr Spring said such a merger could work at a national level – but never at a local level. Veteran Labor leader Dick Spring recalls ‘bitter’ referendums on abortion and divorce

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