It seems obvious to me that women should be able to choose to terminate their pregnancies before 12 weeks without having to acquire the consent of a medical expert; something similar to an extended morning after pill. Nonetheless I was surprised to see that a vote in favour of repealing the 8th amendment in Ireland would result in abortion on demand during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. One reason for including the 12-week element in the referendum was because it emerged from a recommendation from a consultative body known as the Citizens' Assembly.
The Citizens' Assembly was set up in 2016 to enable the government to secure the views of members of the public on issues of social concern such as abortion law reform, an ageing population and climate change. It has a membership of 100; the chair is a supreme court judge; the other 99 members were randomly selected by a reputable polling agency, making allowance for criteria of gender, age, location and social class. They received thousands of submissions on abortion and heard presentations from relevant organisations. But when politicians read the first reports of their recommendations the consensus was that the assembly had been too liberal in their interpretation of the public's views. Despite this, the government went ahead along the lines proposed by the assembly, and the referendum showed that the public was just as liberal about abortion as the assembly had suggested.
The result does raise all kinds of questions about how the democratically-elected representatives had become so tone deaf to public opinion on this controversial issue. Some have already commented on the fact that this referendum, marriage equality, the Magdalene laundries, and the aftermath of the clerical child abuse scandal, all seem to mark the end of the unquestioned moral hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.
There are also issues rather nearer home which are worthy of consideration. The most obvious one is the question of abortion in Northern Ireland, which according to the UK government cannot be reformed until the Northern Ireland Assembly is up and running. One obvious way to circumvent this fake obstacle would be to set up a Citizens' Assembly in Northern Ireland selected on a similar basis to the one in the Republic. I have seen several DUP MPs declaring that there is no wish in Northern Ireland to liberalise the abortion system there, but they never present any evidence to justify their opinion. Their intransigence on this question is such that the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, thinks they are a Catholic organisation.
The other wider issue relates to questions of democratic accountability. One might ask why the government of the Irish Republic felt it necessary to outsource debate on undoubtedly complex issues such as abortion to an academically-designed consultative mechanism. But what mechanisms do the governments of Scotland and the UK use to consult the population in depth?
There does seem to be a lack of trust about how to debate complex issues and how to reach solutions for them. What impact might a Citizens' Assembly have on the ongoing saga of Brexit? The House of Lords is there to scrutinise debates from the House of Commons and send back recommendations, but there is no such separate scrutinising body in Scotland. The Citizens' Assembly structure is clearly much cheaper, much more easily replaceable, and much closer to the grass roots than our noble friends in the House of Lords.
Market rumour emanating from the Treasury, which is the less-than-subtle advertising strategy from civil servants, suggests that the government is currently minded to sell off part of the UK tax-payers' holding in the Royal Bank of Scotland. Like the equally less-than-subtle Blair strategy of releasing bad news on a day of even worse news, people should be aware of the inherent risks involved.
In order to guarantee a free and fair pricing structure, the government will have to state unequivocally and emphatically that RBS has now recovered fully from its self-inflicted demise in 2008. It will be interesting to see which financial advisers they select for the task in that most British accountants are compromised in one way or another by having signed off the last RBS rights issue to fund the ill-fated acquisition of ABN-AMRO, as well as having to try and solve the PPI scandal, post crisis. Litigation continues.
The Treasury will have to assure investors that all actions by US regulators against RBS have now been concluded. The bill for compensation for PPI malpractice must be given an accurate and precise ceiling and, finally, crucially, the government must state categorically that there are absolutely no grounds for any third party to sue the bank for corporate manslaughter on the back of the now infamous RBS regeneration group. It is hard to imagine that the vicious and malicious operations of the banking thugs in the regeneration group did not cause severe stress, cardiac challenges and, possibly, even suicide to the minimum of 5,900 small to medium enterprises allegedly victimised by the bank as part of a deliberate and nasty approach to purported supportive corporate banking.
Clearly, the government, the CPS and the Financial Conduct Authority all agree that there are no cases to answer. Further, they must all believe that there are no further scandals simmering under the radar waiting for another day of worse news. No market prospectus can be complete without exact and specific assurances as well as detailed indemnity clauses to compensate the investor if government assurances prove invalid, perish the thought. The government will be keen to offload a toxic shareholding as soon as possible but it cannot afford to mislead the public and create another toxic iceberg on the financial horizon.
In much earlier times, the Romans left us many reminders of their occupation of Britannica, not least the many contributions to our language. Two ancient words stand out with stunning clarity today, Caveat Emptor
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