FORMER attorney general John Murray advised Charles Haughey’s government in 1982 that he was uncomfortable making “the right to life of the unborn subject to” the right to life of the mother, declassified state papers have revealed.
The Limerick lawyer, who went on to serve as chief justice, was one of three attorneys general to have advised government on the wording of the abortion referendum that year, which saw two general elections.
And their advice shows how little the way in which Ireland’s abortion debate is framed has changed in the intervening three decades.
Mr Murray was appointed attorney general by the Haughey government in August 1982 following the resignation of his predecessor Patrick Connolly in the wake of the Malcolm McArthur/GUBU scandal. His brief first term as attorney general would only last until December of that year when Fine Gael returned to power under Garrett FitzGerald.
State papers show that Connolly had doubts about the “worrying ambiguities” in the amendment as then proposed by the pro-life campaign and had proposed to the Haughey government that the right to life of the unborn should be “subject to the right to life of other persons”, including that of the mother.
On reading this advice, Murray prepared a memo for government in which he wrote “I’m not happy with making the right to life of the unborn subject to another right to life, namely that of the mother”, going on to say “if the broader interpretation were given it would bring us onto the slippery slope down which many countries have already gone”.
He had also proposed writing a “political brief” for Haughey to take issue with what Mr Murray regarded as Labour’s “grossly misleading” position in opposing the pro-life amendment.
The papers suggest that Limerick’s Gerry Collins, who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs in Haughey’s cabinet, was anxious over the effect inserting the pro-life amendment in the constitution might have on Ireland’s international reputation, particularly with our nearest neighbour.
A memo from his department said that Mr Collins was concerned “that the intended measure will have damaging effects on the image of the State in Northern Ireland and in Britain”.
The state papers were released last week under the 30-year rule.
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