The Minister for Health Simon Harris has condemned comments made by a Muslim cleric in relation to female genital mutilation (FGM) as being "offensive and worrying".
The remarks made on RTÉ's Prime Time on Thursday by Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (Clonskeagh Mosque) have been widely condemned both by medical professionals and Muslim organisations.
Dr Selim said he advocated female circumcision and that if a doctor advised it was needed then it had to be done.
He told the programme: “I’m not an advocate of female genital mutilation but I am an advocate of female circumcision. We see female circumcision in the same way we see male circumcision. It might be needed for one person and not another, and it has to be done by a doctor and practised in a safe environment.”
In response, Mr Harris tweeted on Sunday that FGM “ is never ever justifiable, has no place in healthcare, is illegal, dangerous, can have a devastating impact & is in violation of human rights.
“I welcome resolute comments of our medical community. I join them in condemnation of offensive & worrying remarks.”
In a letter to The Irish Times, the former master of the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital, Prof Chris Fitzpatrick, and a number of activists opposing FGM, said they objected strongly to Dr Selim's comments.
“Female circumcision is no longer a phrase acceptable to any medical or other authority,” they write.
They said there are "no health benefits to FGM" and noted the campaign to end the practice is supported by the United Nations, UN Women, Unicef, the World Health Organisation, the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics as well as many other women's health and human rights' organisations.
The group, which also includes Mary McGuckian of the Ifrah Foundation, a charity that supports women subjected to and at risk of FGM, called on the leaders of all religions and denominations "to support unequivocally the ending of FGM".
The letter notes that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) supports the ending of the practice and that it rejects any religious justification for it.
“The serious long-term gynaecological, urological, pain-related and psycho-sexual consequences of FGM are well recognised – as well as the risk of dying from haemorrhage and infection at the time of mutilation.
“FGM also causes deaths in women and babies as a consequence of complications of childbirth in countries where it is practised,” the letter to The Irish Times states.
The Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, which is led by Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, the iman of the the Al-Mustafa Mosque in Blanchardstown, said the issue of FGM is one for the "welfare and safety of young women here at home and abroad".
The council called on Dr Selim to resign from his "privileged position" in the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland and from his role as a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin where he teachers Arabic.
The council said: “Those who hold such damaging and harmful views that affect the lives of millions in very tangible ways should not be normalised or offered shelter by their presence in our public institutions and bodies.”
TCD Students’ Union condemned his remarks stating they “run contrary to all accepted medical knowledge and best practice. To falsely distinguish between FGM and female circumcision is both wrong and dangerous, and the SU rejects it entirely.”