Health Minister Stephen Donnelly put the National Women’s Council (NWCI) in charge of deciding which groups would be consulted for the three year review of the abortion legislation – meaning that only abortion-supporting organisations were included.
The revelation comes as controversy grows around the overtly partisan and unrepresentative direction the publicly-funded NWCI has taken, after it excluded women with alternative views from its events and rallies. The organisation wields considerable influence from its access to the corridors of power in Leinster House and is funded by the taxpayer to the tune of almost a million euro annually.
Donnelly told Carol Nolan, the Independent TD for Laois Offaly, that he had meetings with stakeholder groups to discuss the approach for the abortion review being developed by his Department.
“This included the Oireachtas All-Party Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and a group of Civil Society organisations brought together by the National Women’s Council of Ireland,” he said.
The NWCI campaigned for repeal of the 8th amendment in 2018, with senior staff leading the campaign, despite the organisation being a taxpayer-funded body. It continues to push for a further liberalisation of the abortion laws, and wants the three-day waiting period abandoned.
No pro-life group or any organisation seeking to assist women by offering alternatives to abortion were included in the group of civil society organisations the NWCI decided should meet the Minister.
Instead, Donnelly met with the Coalition to Repeal the Eight, Abortion Rights Campaign, Irish Family Planning Association, START Doctors, Disabled Women Ireland and a service user, as well as the NWCI, he told Deputy Nolan in a written answer to a question submitted by the Independent TD.
The NWCI has come under fire in the past week after it posted a list of speakers for an International Women’s Day rally which critics say only represented a narrow section of Irish society – and excluded female politicians from government parties. Headline speakers were mostly politicians from the left or leaders of abortion campaigns including the militant group ROSA.
However, the NWCI has been viewed for years as being hostile to women who have diverse views on many issues.
The organisation says its purpose is to ‘represent women’ and – and to ensure “no woman is left behind”, though it clarifies that its definition of a woman as “any person who identifies as a woman”.
Calls have been growing for more transparency in the golden circle that operates between the NWCI and its allies and the Minister for Health, and its exclusion of views and voices that are critical of the radical stance the establishment has taken on controversial issues from gender to abortion.
Senator Sharon Keogan wrote that the NWCI excluded Independent women politicians. “No Independent women either,” she tweeted. “Nor indeed women who hold an alternative view on many issues pushed by the women’s & people’s council. #defundNWCI.”
Commentator Glenna Lynch described the NWCI as “the most partisan NGO in the country” who were “not even even pretending to be representative any more”.
“The so-called Women’s council of Ireland not even pretending to be representative any more. No women from Gov parties. Women of the left only. The most partisan NGO in the country. Funded by you. Always with a finger in the wind,” she wrote.
Journalist Mary Kenny agreed, saying: “It’s such a disservice to the women of Ireland that the Women’s Council should be so narrowly partisan. True diversity should mean that there is a place at the table for all – because everyone brings something to the table.”