Legislation for exclusion zones around abortion facilities not ready for months
Much-anticipated legislation creating exclusion zones to prevent intimidation and protests around healthcare facilities providing abortion is not expected to be ready until March.
The legislation is the second prong of new laws pledged after Ireland's historic repeal of the Eighth Amendment allowing for the legalisation of abortion for the first time here.
Activists and campaigners have called for the law to be passed as soon as possible to protect women and doctors. However, the bill has not made it onto the Government's priority list of legislation which has been whittled down in order to ensure time for the so-called Brexit mega-bill providing for emergency laws needed in the event the UK crashes out in March.
There are plans to combine 17 pieces of legislation into one bill that will be published at the end of February, which will then need to be rushed through the Houses of the Oireachtas in order to prepare for a no-deal scenario on March 29.
Health Minister Simon Harris had pledged to bring legislation to Cabinet within weeks but the bill is still in the pre-publication stage. Only bills that were almost ready to go before Christmas are expected to make it to publication in the coming weeks. Bills relating to the timing of planned referendums this year are among those on the priority list.
Work has been ongoing on the proposals since before the abortion law was passed and is continuing with the latest meeting between the Attorney General's office and the Department of Health scheduled to take place this week.
The planned zones would provide "safe" areas at and around premises where the health services are provided. It is intended to prevent protests and intimidation of healthcare workers and people attending the facilities for an abortion or any other service.
The legislation will ban oral, written and visual displays in relation to abortions and forbid people interfering or communicating with a person in a safe access zone in a way to "cause distress".
It is also expected to outlaw the capturing of a "disturbing image" of someone in the zone.
The prospect of protests as seen in other countries where abortion is available prompted the decision to legislate for the so-called safe access zones.
Anti-abortion activists gathered outside a Galway GP clinic within days of abortion services becoming legal in Ireland.
Signs such as 'real doctors don't terminate their patients' and 'say no to abortion' were being held outside Galvia West Medical Centre.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hit out at the protest at the time, saying "there are other ways to protest". He said the proposed laws must strike a balance between "protecting women and patients from being impeded from entering a hospital or GP clinic and also not doing anything that unduly restricts free speech".