'No evidence' women who use abortion services are being abused
Health Minister has pledged to bring forward exclusion zones
The Garda Commissioner has told Health Minister Simon Harris that there is no evidence that women accessing termination services are being threatened or abused by protesters.
Drew Harris told the minister that he is satisfied that existing public order legislation can adequately deal with any incidents that may arise at centres that provide abortion services.
Mr Harris has long pledged to bring forward new laws to provide for so-called exclusion zones around premises where women are accessing abortion services. But the Garda Commissioner said a new law would be "redundant" at this time.
"I confirm my satisfaction with existing public order legislation to adequately deal with any reasonable public order incident that may arise at such centres," the Garda Commissioner's letter to Mr Harris states.
"I re-confirm my views expressed at our recent meeting that protests to date at such centres have not contravened the law and are peaceful.
"To date no incident of criminality has been reported or observed as a result of a protest placed at or near the vicinity of a service centre."
The letter adds: "There is no evidence to suggest that there is threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour directed towards persons utilising such services.
"Consequently, the introduction of any further legislation to ensure 'safe access' to termination pregnancy services, would be redundant at this time."
The Commissioner told Mr Harris that gardaí would continue to monitor anti-abortion protests and that any criminal activity would be dealt with in accordance with the law.
The letter was discussed at a meeting on exclusion zones between Mr Harris and a number of TDs and senators.
"The minister provided a copy of correspondence he had received from the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris following their recent meeting in the Department of Health.
"The letter outlined the Garda Commissioner's view that existing public order legislation is adequate to deal with protests seen to date at health service centres," a spokeswoman for the minister said afterwards.
"The minister outlined the work this department is doing in this area, including examining measures undertaken in other countries, and clarified that there is no legal advice against legislating in this area."
The spokeswoman said that Mr Harris plans to increase awareness among healthcare providers of existing powers that gardaí have, while the Garda Commissioner will issue a notice to all chief superintendents and superintendents.
Mr Harris plans to meet with the group of TDs and senators in the next fortnight "to advance proposals in this regard", the spokeswoman said.