Monday 21 October 2019

Safe zones needed to stop pro life protests

Council urged to adopt bye-laws to set up safe zones to stop protests at health facilities

Margaret Roddy

An impassioned plea for Louth County Council to introduce bye-laws to establish safe zones outside health facilities providing abortions was made by Fianna Fail councillor Emma Coffey.

Cllr Coffey said she had sought legal advice in regard to the motion which would exclude 'any form of prohibited behaviour within a 50 meter area from the outer edge of the the healthcare facility.'

The comprehensive bye-laws which she proposed are aimed at preventing anti-abortion groups from targeting people working in health care facilities where abortion services are provided and from threatening, harassing, intimating and hindering women entering such centres.

They would also prohibit protesting, handing out literature , or putting up posters or pictures at healthcare facilities,

It would be illegal to stalk health care workers or people accessing a healthcare facility and to record or publish information about people accessing such centres.

Cllr Coffey said that they had seen weeks and weeks of protests outside healthcare facilities including Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

While not wanting to obstruct anyone's right to protest, she felt they needed to endure that any woman trying to access abortion services legally can do so unhindered.

Appealing to councillors to support her motion, she said that they often talked about the erosion of local powers but this was one area where they had power to enable bye-laws which she believed would be in the common good of the local community.

She noted that people had voted to legalise abortion and it was only a minority who believed that it should not take place.

'I don't want a situation where they are protesting outside health facilities whose services which are being provided legally and with the will of the people.'

'We all go to GPs and hospitals,' she continued, and as a mother she didn't want to have to take her daughter past such protests.

Cllr Mairanne Butler said she didn't support the motion citing fears that the council could be leaving itself open to a legal challenge if it adopted such bye-laws. She felt the matter should be dealt with by the Oireachtas on the advice of the Attorney General.

Cllr Conor Keelan supported the motion saying people had a right to access health care facilities without being shown offensive images.

Fine Gael Cllr John McGahon wholeheartedly supported Cllr Coffeey, commending her stance during the abortion referendum. He said that while Health Minister Simon Harris had confirmed that legislation for safe zones will go through the Oireachtas this could take time, and the motion gave Louth County Council the chance to send out a symbolic gesture.

'It would be a fantastic message to send from Louth County Council telling the people of Ireland what we want and that it's not in our name to see people outside the Lourdes Hospital and targeting GPs in Dundalk.'

Chief Executive Joan Martin said she would want to be fully satisfied on the legal basis of the motion. 'I don't want to have useless bye-laws that we can't enforce.'

It was agreed that the council would get legal opinion on the proposed bye-laws before bringing them to the Joint Policing Committee and Strategic Policy Committee.

Cllr Anne Campbell urged this be done as quickly as possible.

The Argus