Opposing sides clash during abortion rallies in Dublin

Pro-choice demonstrators criticise presence of young children in anti-abortion rally

An anti-abortion rally passed through a group of pro-choice campaigners in a tense stand-off. Over ten thousand turned out for the Rally for Life march in Dublin with people coming from all corners of Ireland to take part. Video: Enda O'Dowd


There were confrontational scenes in Dublin city centre on Saturday as opposing sides of the abortion debate held demonstrations in the capital.

Ahead of the annual All-Ireland Rally for Life organised by a coalition of anti-abortion groups, a counter-demonstration was held by pro-choice activists on O’Connell Street on Saturday afternoon at the interface between the two factions.

A large Garda presence lined the street beside the Spire in an attempt to keep the groups separated, as marchers representing Youth Defence, The Life Institute and Precious Life were greeted by chants of “Pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die” and “Anti-women, anti-gay, pro-life bigots go away”.

There were isolated physical altercations between gardaí and some members of the public, including one incident where a woman brandishing a pro-choice sign at the head of the anti-abortion march was escorted to the side of the road before being forcefully shoved onto the curb by a member of An Garda Síochána.

“They shoved me, I’m after skinning both my knees and my chest smacked off the kerb. This is a women’s rights demo and for a man to come over and fling a woman onto the ground… I’m actually quite emotional after it,” said Sharon Kelly, who said she will not be filing a formal complaint regarding her treatment.

Responding to the counter demonstration, Rally for Life spokeswoman Niamh Uí Bhriain criticised the behaviour of pro-choice campaigners.

“The rally is a celebration of life, I don’t know why these people feel they have to come and scream obscenities at… ordinary people who are marching for unborn children’s rights. Their behaviour doesn’t do them any favours,” she said.

From early afternoon, thousands of people supporting the Rally for Life converged on Parnell Square, where they witnessed speeches from politicians such as Tipperary Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fidelma Healy-Eames before departing for Government Buildings to hear addresses from other prominent anti-abortion campaigners.

There was a strong presence of religious iconography among the marchers, alongside an abundance of “Pro Life” signs and the occasional poster which showed graphic depictions of aborted babies.

Particularly conspicuous were messages criticising human rights advocacy group Amnesty International following a report released by the organisation last month which called for the legalisation of abortion procedures in Ireland.

“You have now outed yourself as not being concerned for human life at all, but as being a pro-abortion lobby group who is more concerned with the right to kill than you are with the right to life- shame on you Amnesty,” said Eoghan De Faoite, chairman of Youth Defence, a group representing young people opposed to abortion.

Website hacking

Earlier on Saturday, the organisation’s website was hacked and its usual homepage was replaced with a message reading #RepealThe8thAmendment, a reference to the passage in Bunreacht na hÉireann which enshrines the “right to life” of unborn children.

Having returned from her studies in Scotland in recent years, 24 year-old Mayo native Ornagh Cunniffe felt compelled to help organise an event for a cause she feels strongly about.

“I live in Scotland for two years where abortion is freely available, and I’ve just seen what women have gone through and the hurt of abortion. Abortion is never needed. Abortion isn’t healthcare, we’ve always had medical treatment which has saved the life of the mother,” she said.

There was a sizeable contingent of children and adolescents among the anti-abortion campaigners wearing Youth Defence apparel and t-shirts with smiley faces reading “I’m Pro Life”.

Some members of the pro-choice crowd deemed the presence of children in the march to be undesirable.

“Obviously children shouldn’t be brought here, they’re too young to be able to decide for themselves and it’s manipulative. They’re getting yelled at as well, they don’t understand what’s going on, they’re being upset,” said 21 year-old Cork woman Marie Cogan.

There were wildly varying estimates of the numbers in attendance at the anti-abortion rally, with senior gardaí saying a crowd of around 8,000 descended on Molesworth Street for the final meeting point whereas organisers indicated that the audience size was closer to 30,000.