Sharon Keogan resigns from committee : ‘I no longer feel safe’

‘Mayhem’ at Oireachtas meeting as Senator seeks apology from members

A private meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on International Surrogacy descended into “mayhem” on Wednesday following a row last week when Independent Senator Sharon Keogan was accused of being “disrespectful” towards witnesses.

The committee was suspended twice last week after Ms Keogan was also accused of being “crude and cold” by Senator Lynn Ruane, while Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said Ms Keogan had been disrespectful to witnesses.

In a private meeting on Wednesday, Ms Keogan sought an apology from Ms Ruane and Ms Funchion, which they declined to give, sources say.

Shortly afterwards Ms Keogan wrote to the Oireachtas Committee on Children, chaired by Ms Funchion, saying she was resigning as she did not feel safe any longer. She is remaining on the surrogacy committee, however.

“I wish to inform you that I wish to resign my position as a member of the above Committee,” she wrote. “I will continue to sit on the Joint Committee on International Surrogacy.

“I no longer feel safe or protected as a member of the committee and have made this difficult decision as a result of that. I will offer my place to an Independent Senator from my grouping and will correspond directly with the Seanad office in order so that a Committee of Selection can be convened.

Wednesday’s private meeting of the surrogacy committee was “mayhem” and was heated and was protracted, a source said.

Sources said that Ms Keogan sought apologies but both Ms Funchion and Ms Ruane defended their actions. Another source said Ms Keogan said she felt belittled and humiliated.

Speaking on Wednesday evening, chair of the Committee on Children Ms Funchion said the matters raised by Ms Keogan in her letter of resignation were not previously brought to the attention of the committee.

“Regarding the resignation of Senator Sharon Keoghan from the childrens committee. I was surprised to hear this today. It is always disappointing when any member resigns from a committee and I thank her for her contribution to the committee. I wish her well going forward and would like to take the opportunity to clarify that any allegations or issues that were referenced in her letter were not brought to the attention of the childrens committee prior to receipt of her letter today.”

The meeting ran for double the length of time for which it was scheduled and despite efforts by the chair, Soc Dems TD Jennifer Whitmore, to move onto other topics Ms Keogan said she was unhappy and wanted to pursue the matter further. She asked what further course of action might be open to her to pursue the matter and she was told she will be furnished with her options on Thursday. The committee is due to hold another public meeting on Thursday morning.

Fine Gael’s Mary Seery-Kearney said she was unhappy that information from the committee’s previous private meetings had been made public, referring to comments made by Ms Keogan about which witnesses had and had not been invited in, and she said she wanted this looked at.

Last week Ms Keogan told witnesses, who were families giving their experience of surrogacy, that she “wholeheartedly objects to the commercialisation of the human child and the relegation of women to the status of simply incubator or wombs for hire irrespective of whether you are heterosexual, single, lesbian gay or trans”.

“Surrogacy I believe is harmful, it is exploitative and it is unethical. I don’t believe it is everyone’s right to have a child. It is a privilege to give birth and it can be dangerous even to those with the best medical attention.”

She said she did not want to see the birth mother “airbrushed” or “whitewashed” out of the process.

Elaine Cohalan, chairperson of the Assisted Human Reproduction Coalition, said committee members had a responsibility to lead the debate in a “dignified way”.

“Inflammatory language and using undefined terms don’t benefit the debate. Our members are ordinary people who have been in some cases through harrowing experiences. We are Irish citizens, your constituents, you are our representatives.”

She said, as a member of the LGBT community, “I can tell you, words matter”.

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion, who was chairing, said she would not stand over a meeting “where there is any sort of disrespect to witnesses in this room”.

Another witness, LGBT Ireland representative Claire O’Connell, said she took issue “with the suggestion that you don’t believe everyone has a right to parent a child. Obviously you have your role here but the Irish courts disagree with you, as does the European Court of Human Rights”.