Existing laws adequate to deal with abortion protests, says Garda commissioner

Minister for Health to press ahead with plans for exclusion zones outside hospitals

Garda commissioner Drew Harris has said existing laws are adequate to deal with protests outside healthcare centres that provide abortion care.

In a letter to Minister for Health Simon Harris, the commissioner said it was his view that existing public order legislation is adequate to deal with the kind of protests witnessed at hospitals and clinics to date.

The minister shared details of the letter in a private meeting with party representatives in the Dáil on Thursday.

In the letter, seen by the Irish Times, the Garda commissioner says the introduction of such safe-access legislation would be “redundant” because of the existence of current laws and the fact that “no incidence of criminality has been reported or observed.”


He said there was “no evidence to suggest that there there is threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour directed towards persons utilising such services.”

Despite the commissioner’s letter, sources present at the meeting said Mr Harris indicated he would be continuing with plans to legislate for exclusion zones outside hospitals and other healthcare centres.

He is due to meet with groups such as the Irish Family Planning Association in a fortnight as part of this work.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said he has been examining measures undertaken in other countries, and clarified that there is no legal advice against legislating in this area.

Mr Harris said he would also be focusing on ensuring there is greater awareness of the existing powers available to the gardaí.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said that providing for exclusion zones is a “tragic necessity”.

“It’s is shameful that only a year after the historic vote to give women the right to choose, which over 67 per cent of the country supported, that small groups feel they can abuse and intimidate medical practitioners and women who are seeking medical care at a very vulnerable time in their lives. Ireland has changed and this campaign of harassment cannot be supported.”

Eilís Mulroy of the Pro Life Campaign said Mr Harris should halt his plans in light of the commissioner’s letter.

“Minister Harris should immediately scrap his wrong-headed and undemocratic plan to introduce exclusion zone legislation. This proposed law was never about ensuring the safety of women but is about trying to suppress freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

“It is time for Minister Harris to let go of his zealous quest to silence the voices of those he disagrees with. Instead of introducing legislation that would infringe on the human rights of pro-life citizens, the Minister for Health should acknowledge and protect basic civil liberties and the right of people in a democracy to peacefully assemble without running the risk of being arrested or possibly even receiving a custodial sentence for simply supporting women and their unborn babies.”

Previous anti-abortion protests saw a number of baby-sized coffins placed on the ground outside the National Maternity Hospital.

It comes as Mr Harris informed the Government at a Cabinet meeting that he is setting up a women's health taskforce in the Department of Health.

The taskforce will be established for an initial two-year period to implement a women’s health action plan.

The decision was made in response to a request in Dr Gabriel Scally’s inquiry into CervicalCheck.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times