Repeal campaigner accuses anti-abortion campaigner of ‘sustained attack’

Janet O’Sullivan issues statement to the media in relation to Save the 8th spokesman

A prominent campaigner for the repeal side in the upcoming abortion referendum has accused the spokesman of the Save the 8th campaign of mounting a “sustained attack” on her through social media.

In a statement on Friday, Janet O’Sullivan, who also goes by Janet Ní Shúilleabháin, said the dispute centred on remarks she made on Twitter following the death of former Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews.

Mr Mathews died aged 65 in February 2017 after being ill with cancer for some time. He lost the Fine Gael whip in 2013 when he opposed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, citing his opposition to abortion.

Reacting to news of his death, Ms O’Sullivan had tweeted: “I hear that former FG TD Peter ‘we are all gonna die’ Matthews [sic] has, well, died.” In another tweet, she said: “Frankly I am glad he is dead, same as I was glad he wasn’t re-elected.”


She had been referring to an appearance by Mr Mathews on the Tonight With Vincent Browne show in May 2013, during which he was asked if serious and potentially fatal health risks were an "acceptable risk" in pregnancy, or whether they are grounds for abortion in some cases. He responded: "But sure we're all going to end up dead anyway."

He subsequently apologised for “my very clumsy sentence” and said he believed mothers’ lives must be protected as a priority at all times.

In her statement, Ms O’Sullivan, a former spokeswoman for the Abortion Rights Campaign, said John McGuirk of the Save the 8th campaign had used media appearances to “harass” her following her remarks about Mr Mathews.

"Peter Matthews [sic] used his elected position to perpetuate abortion stigma, which studies have shown has a negative effect on mental health of those who have had an abortion," she said.

“I am one of the over 170,000 women who have had to make that journey, and who are directly affected by abortion stigma.

“I am always glad when one less person, especially one who had been elected to represent some of those 170,000 women, is no longer in a position to perpetuate that stigma. However, as I tweeted at the time, I am sure his family misses him.

“I never celebrated or rejoiced in Peter Matthews’ [sic] death, it is an appalling thing to suggest I did. I hope that John McGuirk’s insistence on dragging this up at every available opportunity, when given a platform, has not prolonged their grieving.

“For the last eight months I have been under sustained attack from Mr McGuirk on social media, I have had to block his twitter account, he has also used his appearances on national television to harass me and now via press releases.

"I find this to be most distressing especially as his most recent attempts have included Minister Josepha Madigan and the Together For Yes Campaign."

In response to Ms O’Sullivan’s statement, Mr McGuirk said it was inappropriate for Ms Madigan, who is the head of Fine Gael’s campaign for repeal of the amendment, to share a platform with Ms O’Sullivan, which he said was due to happen at an event next week.

“Once again, Ms Ní Shúilleabháin has declined to apologise for, or withdraw, her appalling comment about the late Deputy Mathews,” he said. “Her response to his death – ‘frankly I am glad he is dead’ - should disgust most right-thinking people.

“That even today she refuses to withdraw it is shocking. This is somebody who a member of the Cabinet, Minister Madigan, is due to share a platform with next week.

“We believe that in light of Ms Ní Shúilleabháin’s continued refusal to withdraw such sickening comments about her former colleague, it is inappropriate for Minister Madigan to share a platform with her.”

Ms O’Sullivan added that she would not be “silenced” in the run up to the referendum on May 25th. “I refuse to let those who oppose compassionate health care which is much needed in Ireland try and dictate how I campaign over the coming weeks,” she said.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter