Hospitals are no place for protest, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said, following comments by Archbishop Eamon Martin supporting protests outside maternity hospitals by anti-abortion activists.
Mr Martin was commenting after People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy highlighted Archbishop Martin’s comments that it was “perfectly reasonable” to intercept women who may want to end a pregnancy.
The Taoiseach told the Dublin South-West TD that he “didn’t realise he made those comments. In my view hospitals are no place for protests, just no place.”
Mr Murphy noted Archbishop Martin’s comments that “safe zones would be tantamount to enforcing a ban on pro-life activity including prayer and respectful witness”.
The Dublin South-West TD said “of course it would do no such thing. Those who oppose abortion are still free to campaign against it, people are obviously still free to engage in prayer.”
He asked if the Taoiseach discussed in talks with Church leaders “the need to stop these intimidatory misogynistic protests”.
He asked “will you be expediting the long awaited legislation on safe access zones in the new year”.
Mr Martin said that no matter what the issue is “I think there should be safe spaces. People generally visit hospitals under stress and strain.”
“The last thing they need to see is someone protesting or any agitation or anything to do with that,” Mr Martin said.
The Taoiseach added that “to me that just runs counter to what hospitals should be all about”.
Archbishop Martin, who is Primate of all Ireland, made his comments last week following a decision by the UK Supreme court that will allow Northern Ireland ban anti-abortion protests outside clinics and hospitals.
The Archbishop of Armagh said a ban on such vigils and protests in both Northern Ireland and Ireland would silence the “voice of the innocent unborn”. He also said harassment laws were already in place to prevent intimidation.
“The Supreme Court judgement will increase fears that freedom of religion, belief, expression and association are being undermined and open to attack. The punitive sanctions being introduced will undermine the Common Good as they disproportionately shut down the rights of those who wish to peacefully and prayerfully offer support and alternative options and to save the lives of innocent unborn children,” he said.
The Government is preparing legislation to create safe access zones which was intended to be published by Christmas. The Bill is now at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage and the Oireachtas Health Committee has been given more time to ensure it can withstand any constitutional challenge.