‘It’s shocking’ – Kilkenny TD hits out as Garda chief rules out ‘safe access zones’ outside abortion clinics
By SHANE DORAN
A KILKENNY TD has criticised Garda Commissioner Drew Harris after he ruled out providing safe access zones outside clinics providing abortion services.
Sinn Féin Deputy Kathleen Funchion spoke out after the country’s most senior policeman rejected widespread calls for legislation to protect staff and vulnerable patients attending health centres.
The Kilkenny TD also said the failure to provide safe access zones outside clinics that provide abortion services could backfire as gardai are called to police tense stand-offs outside clinics.
Deputy Funchion (pictured below) told KilkennyNow.ie: “I find it shocking to be to be honest. It’s only a year and a half since the [Repeal] referendum and this is a very sensitive and difficult issue.
“My fear is that it gives these groups a blank cheque to do what they want. The Minister for Health [Simon Harris] has already committed to looking at safe access zones.
“I support anyone’s right to protest, but it’s not right to be in the face of GPs or vulnerable patients, some of who could be undergoing cancer treatment, who are going into hospitals or clinics for treatment. It’s a disgusting thing to be doing to people.”
In a letter to the Minister for Health, Commissioner Harris said there is no evidence to suggest there is threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour directed towards people utilising abortion services.
Commissioner Harris confirmed his commitment to ensuring “safe access” for staff and patrons at services for terminations.
However, he said that, to date, no incident of criminality had been reported or observed as a result of a protest placed at or near the vicinity of a service centre.
Commissioner Harris said the introduction of any further legislation to ensure “safe access” to termination of pregnancy service, would be redundant at this time.
The letter from the commissioner was read to a number of Oireachtas members during a meeting with Minister Harris yesterday. The minister described the commissioner’s view on the matter as “very important”.
But he added: “It’s about getting the balance of rights correct. It’s absolutely legitimate for people to have the right to protest on any matter they want, we live in a democracy, but also we have to make sure that people can access their health services and are not impeded to do so.”
Earlier this year, Minister Harris pledged to bring forward legislation this month to provide for so-called exclusion zones around premises where women are receiving abortion care.
This followed a series of high profile anti-abortion protests outside several clinics across the country, including the Health Centre in Graiguenamanagh, where a small group of up to a dozen protesters (pictured above) held aloft signs with slogans such as ‘Say no to Abortion in Graiguenamanagh’, ‘Smile Your Mum Choose Life’ and ‘Doctors save lives not end them’.
The Health Centre is the only medical facility currently providing termination services in Kilkenny and Carlow.
The clinic, which has two GPs working there, received several nuisance calls last January, which caused upset to staff. An intimidating letter was also sent to the practice.