Only A Game? - Abortion, politics and Mickey Harte

Press Eye - Belfast - 6th January 2013'McKenna Cup SF Round 1 : Tyrone vs Derry at Healy Park, Omagh'Tyrones Manager Mickey Harte at Sundays Game.'�Russell Pritchard / Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - 6th January 2013'McKenna Cup SF Round 1 : Tyrone vs Derry at Healy Park, Omagh'Tyrones Manager Mickey Harte at Sundays Game.'�Russell Pritchard / Presseye

In the handful of times I’ve interviewed Tyrone manager, Mickey Harte, I’ve only ever found him insightful, intelligent and void of the hubris and effrontery that plights so many in his position . I don’t know Mickey Harte but he seems a nice man. But...

Mickey Harte, Tyrone manger, Mickey Harte, three time All-Ireland winning supremo, opted to use his position as a successful GAA manager to try and influence political policy in the North of Ireland of this week.

Harte, a devout Catholic, decided to enter the highly emotive discussion about abortion.

Abortion is currently illegal in the North unless the women’s life is at risk but medical abortions under nine weeks have been available at the private Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast since it opened in October last year.

A motion put forward by the SDLP’s Alban Maginness and the DUP’s Paul Givan would outlaw clinics such as Marie Stopes and the original law would stand. Therefore, a women living in the North of Ireland wanting to terminate her pregnancy would have to travel to England, often alone, in order to have an abortion.

Sinn Fein and Alliance MLA Anna Lo have said they are against the motion.

The topic of abortion is contentious to say the least and it’s important that everyone’s opinion is listened to and taken on board, but Mickey Harte’s public participation in the discussion doesn’t sit right with me at all.

Harte has appealed to all elected members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to lend their support to the motion. It’s clear from this Harte regards himself as pro-life.

Earlier this week he called on all MLAs to put political differences aside and back the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill.

“Human life is the most precious gift you can receive and the most basic fundamental human right is the right to life.

“Society is defined by how it treats the most vulnerable in our community and we must do all in our power to provide the best care possible in the most difficult of circumstances.

“I would urge every Assembly member to put aside normal party political differences and join as one on this issue that unites all of our people,” said the GAA manager.

“Every abortion that takes place is tragic for both mother and child which requires the highest level of care from our medical profession.

“This care is best found in the NHS that can be trusted, with no financial gain, to act in the best interests of both mother and child within the law that gives protection to the unborn child.”

First and foremost, Marie Stopes International is a not for profit making organisation and as result it receives tax exemptions from the government so Mickey Harte’s suggestion that there are groups ready to make vast amounts of money from abortion is simply not accurate.

You can probably tell that when it comes to the issue of abortion I would see myself as residing in the pro-choice camp but that doesn’t mean that I think women who decide to continue with an unwanted pregnancy are wrong. I, like millions of others worldwide, believe that when it comes to our own bodies, we should have the choice to do what we want so why should it be any different for pregnant women?

Another reason I was so annoyed with Harte’s statement was because it angers me when people start using religion to etch out a set of laws for everyone to live by, that’s when I think things can get messy.

Like it or not, the North of Ireland is becoming a much more secular society and the role of religion in everyday life is not as important.

I am an atheist so why should I have to live according to a set of laws drawn up because of Christian beliefs? It’s simply unfair and the sooner our politicians come to realise this the better.

I disagree with Mickey Harte but I would ruthlessly defend his right to have his opinion and I honestly believe that using his position as a successful GAA manager to be unwise and terribly misguided.

Harte is entitled to his opinion and although I disagree with him, I think he’s entitled to voice it in a fair and equal manner but there’s nothing fair and equal about using your fame and notoriety to try and influence a very important decision.

Sport and politics should never mix but inevitably they always do. That shouldn’t mean that it is not challenged every time it happens.

Mickey Harte, like I said, has been nothing but decent, mannerly and accommodating every time I have interviewed him and I wouldn’t for one minute use his decision to try and influence the amendment as a sign that he is a bad person. If others are to be believed, then Mickey Harte is one of the most fair and honest men you could meet, but in this instance I think he’s made a mistake and when it comes to politics he should simply leave it to the politicians and chose to voice his opinion in much more subtle way.