The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, has ‘seriously undermined’ an Garda Síochana in saying that he will ignore their advice in regard to a proposed ban on pro-life public prayer at abortion centres.
That’s according to Independent TD Carol Nolan who was reacting to the Minister’s statement in the Seanad yesterday where he said he would not accept the advice of An Garda Síochana who have said that there is no evidence that women attending abortion centres are being harassed or abused.
Commissioner Drew Harris previously confirmed in writing to the Minister for Health in 2019 that he was satisfied that existing laws were sufficient to deal with any incidents that might arise.
However, Donnelly told the Seanad that he “did not accept” the Gardai’s view – also held by legal opinion, he said – that “additional powers are not required” and that “the current powers are sufficient”.
Deputy Nolan said that “Minister Donnelly’s statement is extraordinary, and as far as I am aware, an unprecedented denigrating of the integrity of An Garda Siochana’s judgement regarding public order legislation.”
“Minister Donnelly has set the opinion of abortion campaigners above that of the Garda Commissioner. It is outrageous and he must clarify why he is acting in such a dismissive manner toward the weight of legal opinion that supports peaceful protest,” the Laois Offaly TD said.
Donnelly was speaking on a proposed bill from Sinn Féin which seeks to criminalise any pro-life vigils or protests at abortion centres, even peaceful or prayerful events, and threatens anyone offering women an alternative to abortion in that situation with jail time or a fine of €3,000.
The proposal, drafted by Limerick abortion campaigners in the Together for Safety group and proposed by Sinn Fein’s Paul Gavan, seeks to make it a criminal offence to even ‘repeatedly’ observe a premises where a woman was going for an abortion.
Limerick abortion supporters have been agitated for some time at the presence of some older women who gather in twos to walk around the perimeter of the hospital in what they say is quiet prayer for mothers and babies. Supporting the proposal, Senator Gavan said that the bill was needed to prevent intimidation and harassment and that women were being targeted in Limerick hospital when they went to seek abortions.
However, neither Gavan nor Together for Safety offered any evidence for the latter claim. Investigations from a local paper and Gript show that hospitals say Limerick Maternity Hospital – and all other maternity hospitals who replied to an investigation – said that they had never received a formal complaint from any member of their staff or from patients regarding the protests.
Donnelly’s decision to ignore Garda and legal advice on the issue of criminalising peaceful protest “seriously undermined” An Garda Síochana, Carol Nolan said.
This week, Together for Safety claimed that pro-life people were appearing at Limerick hospital to pray at the same time that abortion appointments were taking place. The pro-abortion group has not answered questions as to how they obtained information as to when abortions were taking place.