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excommunicationAs was expected, the Bill introducing a very restricted form of abortion into Ireland was passed through parliament last night by a large majority.

During the anti-abortion campaign in the lead up to this a Catholic Bishop suggested that it might be a matter for excommunication from the Church if a politician voted against his conscience: the coalition government had promised the electorate prior to election that they would not introduce abortion. He was laughed at with scorn for his medieval ideas.

Inspite of their large majority, the government imposed the whip and insisted that all elected members of the party must vote for the proposed new Bill. Some objected on grounds of conscience. They were immediately 'excommunicated' from the party and their careers are now in jeopardy.

I don't hear anything about medieval carry-on!


I disagree with party room votes, as well. Each candidate should only be responsible to their electorate, and represent the majority of their views.
I would go further and say that he is responsible not only to his electorate but also to his God.

Edited at 2013-07-12 12:36 (UTC)
from my point of view, I do not vote for my local Member of Parliament, unless I agree with most of their views, anyway. My views are generally very broad and inclusive of all, rather than expecting one group to impose on all others. You might have seen me mention on my lj that the coming election in Australia scares me. This is because the person I believe best fit to represent our area belongs to a party whose leaders are close-minded, bigoted, verging on fascist behaviour, and they do not allow conscience votes.
I can not speak to the Irish political situation.
Here elected representatives are expected to follow the political position of their party. Not all do, of course. I did not vote for my local representative because I felt he had not followed the party's position on an issue I agreed with. That is my right as a voter. He lost the election. That was his choice. He felt following the party would not be politically advantageous. In this case, it had nothing to do with personal conscience.
Voters can chose whether they want their representative to follow personal conscience or political positions, whether those of his party or the opposition. They vote accordingly.

As for excommunication from the church, especially for political reasons, in this country it is a joke. Excommunication is being cut off from the community. In the US you can find a catholic community that holds almost any position either theological or political. As a practical matter even a known face can present themselves for communion at a friendly church and not be refused. One or two bishops tried the excommunication ploy on a politician in a heated election. They were criticized in the press. There was even one incident of a politician being refused the sacrament at Mass. There was an outcry and very bad publicity for the church. Several bishops made statements decrying the action of a fellow bishop.

In the US the majority of people want the church to be out of politics and the conscience of our representative to remain personal. Politicians both catholic and protestant who flaunt their religious beliefs and church leaders both catholic and protestant who mix politics and religion make a lot of news but they do not represent our tradition of separation of church and state.
But how can a person say that there is no need to follow one's conscience in politics? Surely conscience is conscience whether in politics or in any other situation. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong whatever the context. Some involved in the above situation said it was against their conscience but then, when pressure was put on them, they decided to toe the line.
In the US, representatives are less likely to follow party dictates than in countries with a parliamentary system. Our historical background is that they are elected as individuals who later come together for form parties, whereas in a parliamentary system, they specifically run for office as members of a party. Our elector system has evolved to more involve political parties, but with primaries and open primaries, the party has less control then ever. It is very rare for a caucus to eject a member.

Regardless of whether the representative is elective as a 'party member,' or not, it is true that the voters elect him if they agree with his views (or at least more agree than with the other candidate). However, for most people, that is "agree on the average with the sum total of his views." There are, of course, single issue voters (far too many!) but for the most part, one can't say really say "I elected him on issue xxx and he's betrayed my trust if he doesn't vote that way."

Just to complicate this view even further, someone (Edmund Burke? John Adams?) said "a representative owes the people not just his loyalty but also his judgement." (Probably phrasing that wrong, but you get the idea.) In the end, the politicians are "hired" on an short term contract, that is up for review by their employers (the people) every few years. The people decide if they like his work enough to renew the contract (re-elect him) or go with someone else.

Parties have sway, lots of sway, but scarcely as much as in a parliamentary system. Even there, certain issues are considered issues of conscious, not party line.
Insisting on whipping does seem bizarre as the legislation was going to pass easily anyway. They seem to have wanted the icing on the cake. There was some pretty bad behaviour in parliament too, it seems- sexism, harrassment and the like.

Said bishop plainly still doesn't understand that it's very difficult to excommunicate someone who isn't a member of your particular sect. :o)

This is why we Brits are disliking our first coalition government since WW2 (and the only one in peacetime) as they feel able to break promises with impunity, although in this case your, government had no choice- the ECtHR found against them as they did against ours when they had to bring in the legislation which gave me full (or almost full- there are still issues) human rights for the first time in 2004/5.

I'm sure the bishop was trying to emphasize for his church-going people the seriousness of what was happening from a Catholic's point of view. A Catholic really excommunicates him/her self by his/her actions and by presenting him/her self in the community as if nothing has happened is not being honest. It would be the same as if a politician considered him/her self as still a member of the party.
the government isn't old enough to have medieval carry-on. their members are democratic representatives; if they ain't representing the party's supporters, they don't belong in the party.

there were threats of excommunication levied against us politicians too, over this and other issues. i don't know how many, if any, occurred.

if your in with the church is more important to you than the views of the people you represent, you probably should look for some other line of work than democratic government.
I'm not sure our US political parties HAVE any way to throw someone out of the party (ie 'excommunicate' him).

In practical terms they can 'primary' him, ie run some other Democrat against him in the Democratic primary. But this doesn't work very often, and when the Dem party in a district splits, the Republican is likely to win in November (ie in the General Election).
As I say above if one is honest one separates oneself from communion with the Church when one does not act in accordance with its teachings and beliefs.
One can lose a great deal by being ousted from the governing party. One of those 'excommunicated' in this instance was Ireland's Minister for European Affairs. She said: "I never wished or expected to be expelled from Fine Gael (her political party). This is the party I have worked for unstintingly since I was 18 years old." She now faces an uncertain future in the political wilderness.
Here a politician can find oneself isolated and unliked but no one can take your political designation from you. If you can find supporters and the money you can run for office under any label you like. I suspect it is because we do not have a parliamentary system.
You can have influence even without a party backing. Ralph Nader proved that.
those with power - church or political - want to exercise it and keep control.