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Richmond’s misleading claim to the Dail on pro-life vigil

A Fine Gael TD who claimed that a pro-life protest outside a GP’s practice in Stepaside subjected patients to “an act of sheer obstruction and intimidation” appears to have failed to realise that the GP’s practice was closed on the day the protest occurred.

Fine Gael FG Deputy Neale Richmond, speaking in the Dail, said that “patients of the GP practice in my village of Stepaside became the latest to be subjected to an act of sheer obstruction and intimidation by so-called protesters, simply because that medical practice offers full maternal and reproductive care, as per the laws of this land.”

In his statements to the Dail, and again when he posted video of his Dail statements to Twitter, Richmond claimed that the protest had been held on Monday, the 30th of June. However, Gript have confirmed that the protest Richmond was referring to was actually held on Saturday, the 28th of May, outside Stepaside Medical. Stepaside Medical does not open on weekends and there were, therefore, no patients attending the practice during the protest.

It’s unclear why Richmond thought the protest was held on Monday, but a photo of the protest was uploaded to Twitter on Monday by former Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, alongside text saying the protest had occurred outside “my friend’s surgery in south Dublin;” Richmond may have simply assumed the photo was from earlier in the day. Regardless, it would have seemed prudent to confirm basic details about the protest before going into the Dail and calling upon a Minister to “condemn those who engage in these blatant acts of obstruction and intimidation,” as Richmond did during his speech.

Richmond did not respond to questions asking if he, having been informed by Gript of his error, still stood over his description of the protest, and, if so, who exactly he believes the protesters had obstructed or intimidated.

Both Richmond and Noone used the protest to argue for the quicker introduction of “safe access” laws. These laws would ban pro-life protests from taking place within a certain radius of facilities which provide abortions. Despite multiple promises to bring in such laws the Government has had difficulty crafting them as concerns have arisen around the potential constitutional issues with limiting the right to protest in such a fashion.

Due to the delays caused by those concerns Opposition TDs and Senators have supported a separate bill, written by the pro-choice advocacy group Together for Safety. That group has made multiple claims regarding pro-life protests and vigils which Gript has shown to be false.

The Together for Safety bill is much broader than anything considered by the Government, and would make it illegal for any person, other than those “providing or facilitating the provision of termination of pregnancy services or contraceptive services,” to “advise, persuade, or inform” a person about “issues related to termination of pregnancy services or contraceptive services” whilst within 100 metres of any designated building.

Given that the bill defines a designated premises as “any premises at which termination of pregnancy services or contraceptive services are provided [emphasis added],” there would be considerable portions of every town and city in this country in which a person would commit an offence, perhaps unknowingly, if they expressed support, or opposition, for a person’s decision to seek an abortion. The Bill allows for a fine of up to €5,000 and imprisonment of up to 5 years.

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