Update: Shortly after the publication of this piece the Irish Independent “amended the wording of certain comments attributed to Ms Fitzgibbon.” You can read more on that HERE.
A woman quoted in the Irish Independent by journalist Ellen Coyne claims that Coyne “twisted and manipulated” her words, Gript can reveal. A recording of the woman’s call with Coyne appears to call into question the Independent’s reporting, which appeared in an article published in the Irish Independent on Friday.
The recorded conversation showed material differences between the written quotes and what was actually said to Coyne. One quote used by Coyne did not appear in the recording at all whilst other quotes had been edited to remove statements denying the woman had known when the hospital carried out abortions.
The article, headlined Anti-abortion protesters say ‘divine providence’ led them to gather to pray at hospital on day of terminations, dealt with recent claims, made initially by the Together for Safety lobby group, that pro-life protesters in Limerick had been leaked the details of patients undergoing abortions at the University Maternity Hospital, and that subsequently protests had been held outside the hospital specifically on dates and times when abortions would be taking place.
No evidence has so far been presented to back up the claim, although that didn’t stop several Senators, as well as Ivana Bacik, TD, from bringing it up in the Oireachtas this week. Gript has written to Together for Safety requesting any evidence they may possess but has so far received no reply.
Together for Safety has previously claimed that pregnant women and medical staff faced “frequent intimidation from protesters” outside of Irish maternity hospitals. That claim, repeated across much of the Irish media and repeatedly referenced in the Dail and Seanad, largely without challenge, recently lost some of its shine after a Gript investigation. Shortly after the publication of that investigation Together for Safety sent out a press release, although it appears to have only been sent to selected journalists and politicians, promoting this new claim.
Coyne shortly thereafter began reaching out to pro-life groups in Limerick in an attempt to verify the claim but appears to have struggled to do so. She sent a potential source a text which said, “as I said at the moment I’m not really in a position to write about it as we haven’t been able to stand up the claims.”
Coyne was, however, eventually able to source the contact details of Antoinette Fitzgibbon, a member of a pro-life prayer group in Limerick. The conversation between them would go on to serve as the foundation of the article published in the Independent.
In her article Coyne attributed the following quote to Fitzgibbons, “If Wednesday happens to be the day that they do the abortions, then it’s divine providence that that’s the day that we happen to be there. And I should say, it’s a good kind of divine providence,” Ms Fitzgibbon said. “And I have a feeling Wednesday will continue to be the day that we are there.”
The second quote, coming after ‘Ms Fitzgibbon said,’ has no origin in the conversation Fitzgibbons and Coyne had. Gript can reveal that Ms. Fitzgibbon simply said no such thing.
The closest thing to the quoted text which Fitzgibbon said was, “Really the date or the time was unrelated and now [after talking to Coyne] I think I have the feeling that Wednesday must be the day when they carry out abortions, but I was unaware of it.”
When contacted by Gript Coyne said that she had no comment to make other than to say that the quotes she used were accurate. She then hung up. This was unfortunate as it meant we didn’t have, at that junction, enough time to inform her that a recording of her conversation with the woman she had quoted in her piece had already been provided to Gript.
The recording heard by Gript shows the actual quote given was “If Wednesday happens to be the day when abortions are carried out, I’m afraid you’ll have to call it divine providence because I can put my hand on my heart and say that I knew nothing about it anyway if that is the given day when abortions are carried out. And if it is the case, I’m sorry to say I would consider it a good divine providence that we’re there in solidarity with those who are being thrown away.” The recording shows that Fitzgibbon consistently told Coyne she had no internal information on the workings of the hospital, with one of the first things she said to Coyne being “I have absolutely no contacts in the hospital.”
Coyne’s version of what Fitzgibbon said to her entirely excises Fitzgibbon’s statement that she was unaware of the date on which abortions were carried out in the hospital, and one of the two remarks Fitzgibbons made which indicated that she was unsure if Wednesday is the day on which the hospital carries out abortions
Further, both the headline and the first line of the article explicitly quote Fitzgibbon as having stated that divine providence led them to hold prayer meetings on days when abortions were carried out, but this does not seem to reflect Fitzgibbon’s comments with total accuracy.
Neither comment from Fitzgibbon, in their original forms, explicitly state that the group were led by divine providence to protest outside the hospital on the day when abortions were being carried out.
Fitzgibbon told Gript that she had been clearly joking when she referenced “good divine providence” whilst talking to Coyne and that the tone of the quote presented in the article was “completely incorrect.” On the recording Fitzgibbon can be heard laughing as she makes the comment.
It should also be noted that, despite the position of the quote in the article likely leading people to assume the statement was made directly after the statement on divine providence, the line the quote appears to be based on actually comes from 4 minutes later in their conversation – a considerable distance given that the conversation lasted less than 9 minutes in its entirety.
Fitzgibbon told Gript that the quotes presented in the story were a “manipulation” of what she told Coyne. Fitzgibbon said that she had engaged with Coyne in “good faith,” and that she believed Coyne when Coyne told her that “the only reason” Coyne had wanted to talk to her was because Coyne “didn’t think it was fair if this story was being covered and we weren’t hearing from the people who this allegation is being made against,” but that Coyne had “used the truth, but twisted and manipulated it, to make it appear to be something else.”
Fitzgibbon added that she had been “clear” with Coyne that “it was completely haphazard” that the group had picked Wednesday to conduct their prayer vigil. In the recording Fitzgibbon can be clearly heard telling Coyne that the prayer group meets on Wednesdays because she attends an early mass on that day and holding it afterwards lets her avoid traffic.
Fitzgibbon also told Gript that the prayer vigils have been taking place on Wednesdays since last September and that those who participate in the vigils are neither “militant” nor “very political” but are simply people praying for all of those sick, ill, and forgotten in the hospital. Fitzgibbon said that whilst that includes those accessing abortion services, and their unborn children, it is not any kind of protest specifically targeted at abortion.
After our initial call with Coyne we sent her a follow on message saying that we had acquired a recording of the conversation. We asked Coyne if she had any explanation of how the recording of the conversation and her reporting of the conversation had come to differ so substantially. We had received no response by time of publication.