Senator accused of ‘insulting’ language by same sex parents and mothers of children born through surrogacy

Ellen Coyne

A senator has been accused of using “inflammatory” and “insulting” language by same sex parents and mothers of children born through surrogacy.

Sharon Keogan, an independent senator, was asked to leave an Oireachtas committee on international surrogacy on Thursday morning following a heated row between politicians. Ms Keogan has written to the chair of the committee to complain after she was described as a bigot and told to check her “Christian values.”

Ms Keogan told witnesses at the committee that she did not believe that it was “everyone’s right to have a child.” Ms Keogan was speaking as the committee, which is considering how to regulate international surrogacy, heard from the Assisted Human Reproduction Coalition. The coalition includes representatives of LGBT+ families, families with disabilities and those who have experienced infertility.

“Now I am probably one of the descenders [sic] and I wholeheartedly object to the commercialisation of the human child, and the regulation of women to the status of simply incubators or wombs for hire. Irrespective of whether you’re heterosexual, single, lesbian, gay or trans,” Ms Keogan said.

“Surrogacy I believe is harmful, it’s exploitative and it’s 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.”

In response Elaine Cohalan, a member of the coalition and chairwoman of Equality for Children, told Ms Keogan that she was using “inflammatory language” against same sex parents.

“I think it's really important that you as committee members think about your responsibility to lead the debate in a respectful, dignified way around surrogacy. Inflammatory language and using undefined terms don’t benefit the debate,”

“Our members are ordinary people who, in some cases, have been through harrowing experiences. We're doing our best to be good parents to our much loved children. We are Irish citizens, your constituents, and you are our representatives.”

Ms Cohalan said that as a member of the LGBTQ+ community who lived through the marriage equality referendum, she had witnessed inflammatory language “on whether people like me were worthy, whether we mattered, whether we could be trusted.”

“Inflammatory language just stokes fear and mistrust,” she said.

Claire Merrigan, of Irish Families Through Surrogacy, told Senator Keogan that she had been “insulting.”

“I speak to my children every day about their surrogate mother. They know who she is … hopefully, they will meet soon,” Ms Merrigan said.

The meeting was suspended shortly afterwards after a row broke out between Lynn Ruane, the independent senator, and Ms Keogan. Ms Ruane said that Ms Keogan had a “personal bigotry” against surrogacy which Ms Keogan rejected.

“I think you’ll find that you are, and you should I think maybe you should also check your Christian values,” Ms Ruane said. “You’re crude, and you’re cold.”

Ms Keogan the accused the committee of being an “echo chamber.” The meeting was suspended after she told Gearoid Kenny Moore, a representative for Irish Gay Dads, that he was “lucky” to be at the committee, referencing a conversation that had taken place in private session.

After the meeting resumed, Ms Keogan was asked to apologise to Mr Kenny Moore. When she again tried to discuss a conversation that had taken place in private session, she was asked to leave the committee under a standing order by Kathleen Funchion, the Sinn Féin TD who was acting chair of the meeting.

Ms Keogan has since taken issue with the comments made against her. In a letter to Jennifer Whitmore, chair of the committee, Ms Keogan said she “strongly” disagreed with claims that she had used inflammatory language.

“A member of the Committee then referred to me as a “bigot”, “crude” “cold”, and that I should “check my Christian values” when I walk in the door,” Ms Keogan wrote.

“I wish to object to this deeply personal attack on me during a public meeting and contend that the language used by the member was inflammatory, discriminatory and sought to characterise me and my contribution unfairly.”

The independent senator said she didn’t believe it was appropriate for the term bigot to be used in a parliamentary setting, and she also objected to references to her religion.