What kind of a ‘rights commission’ wants to jail peaceful protesters? 

“What a hippy diddly crazy world” the Frank and Walters sang in 1991. Over 30 years ago. We could say the same thing today when the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is calling on the government to jail potential peaceful assemblers.  

It is unusual to say the least, that a human rights body would join with government to demand that conscientious objectors, political objectors, peaceful assemblers, seeking to persuade fellow citizens of their point of view ought to be jailed.

It is even more unusual that the Human Rights body would not only endorse the government proposition, but raise it a level.

The government says it wants to jail even those who stand in silence with rosary beads or a placard saying ‘I can help’ for 12 months – if their peaceful, silent witness happens outside an abortion centre.

The IHREC sees that 12 months and raises it 12.

The Frank and Walters sang

Fashion crisis hits New York
I saw a blind man he was eating his fork
He said that’s what you had to do to be cool
You eat your cutlery instead of your food

No doubt this is what the IHREC is doing. It is eating its cutlery instead of its food. It is doing what it has to do to be cool. It sees where the wind is blowing. The popular position is that abortion objection is wrong. Such is the enthusiasm for abortion in the ‘establishment’ that it is not just the Government, advocacy groups and the media that want to silence any dissenting voices, it is the human rights and civil liberties’ bodies as well.

But, that is part of the problem. The human rights and civil liberties bodies are part of the establishment. They are fully bought in to the popular narrative that they cannot see the wood for the trees. Just like the blind man. The logic of rights has been so inverted that it no longer protects the people from the state but joins with the state in the monopoly of coercive power.

Well fashion it moves on and on
While the things we’ve bought
Have been hardly worn and
I still like my old three piece suite
But its in the shed and I’ve got no seat

It is often forgotten that human rights in their current guise are still relatively new to the world. The Universal Declartion on Human Rights (UDHR) was only agreed in 1948. It feels like the moralistic reference to rights in modern culture is ubiquitous. But rights as originally intended were put in place after World War 2 to protect individuals from their governments. They were to protect minorities and protesters. They were a very practical and pragmatic response to the horrors of Nazu Germany. But that interpretation of human rights has hardly been worn. The debates between the ‘western’ and the communist states meant that civil liberties were sacrificed fairly quickly to social rights. The fashion has moved on and on since then. And we are back near where we started.

Government is clamping down on free speech. Human rights bodies are supporting it. It is not just in relation to the General Scheme of the Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services (Safe Access Zones)) Bill 2022 but much more evident in the proposed hate speech legislation that is being brough in by government.

They say necklines to the waist
You change your body to keep up with the pace
The rich buy dearest ’cause they want to be sure
The poor can’t afford to be that insecure

It is the establishment – the political parties, the advocacy groups, and now the rights and liberties groups – that are changing their bodies to keep up with the pace. The average Irish person may have voted to introduce abortion in some form but they did not have any interest in jailing protesters, just as they do not have the time to be so insecure about opinions that may be different to their own. They have to get on with living while the cossetted in the ivory towers are so afraid that someone may hurt their sensibilities that they build the walls even higher.

A narrative has been created that there is a problem with abortion protesters to be dealt with. The IHREC is guilty in its submission and in its press releases on this of manipulating information to make it seem like there is a problem. Nearly half of abortion providers have had protests, they say, but they do not give any data on what these protests were like. Were they 1 person or 50? Were they quiet and prayerful? Or were they loud and intimidating? Were they once? Or were they non-stop for the last 3 years?

When asked if they have had any issues to be dealt with in relation to protesters, the Gardai have said no. Yet here we are with the Government and human rights groups seeking jail sentences for a problem that does not exist. They may claim that praying outside an abortion clinic is ‘chilling’ but not near as ‘chilling’ as a human rights group combining with the government to jail dissenting voices.

What a hippy diddly crazy world
What a hippy diddly crazy world



David Reynolds

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