Limerick campaigners want Gardaí to record anti-abortion protests

Karen Sugrue of the Limerick-based Together for Safety group. Photo: IloveLimerick

LIMERICK campaigners have called for Gardaí to record incidents of anti-abortion protests amid fears that  protests might spread to include the homes of clinicians who facilitate abortions.

Concerns over the protests is a chilling factor in discouraging GPs and other medical professions to sign up for the task, a Limerick activist has said.

An Oireachtas Health Committee session last week heard that the timeline for legislation that would create exclusion zones for protesters is not yet clear.

There are informal reports to the HSE’s Clinical Advisory Forum of protests outside University Maternity Hospital Limerick (UMHL) and three other hospitals and outside nine GP clinics and primary care centres.

Karen Sugrue, co-convenor of the Limerick-based Together for Safety group is calling for Gardaí to start keeping a record of such events.

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Under the legislation, a 100m zone will operate around healthcare centres which could potentially offer abortions.

“With this piece of legislation going through the formal steps, it is very disappointing that neither the Gardaí nor the HSE is tracking this formally,” she said.

“I know they massively underestimate it because they don’t capture what is happening in the rest of the country at all.”

The committee heard only a minority of GPs have signed up to participate in giving abortion information or treatments and not all maternity hospitals.

Ms Sugrue said that safe access zones for people seeking abortions are necessary in light of protests which have been held outside UMHL and other hospitals.

Ms Sugrue, who attended the meeting, said there was a big concern in the committee about the safety of practitioners, providers, and staff in the hospitals, “concerns they might be followed or their homes might be picketed in the same way that is happening with politicians”.

This is understandable, she said, as even knowing that these protests are taking place has a chilling effect on providers.

Department of Health officials said some complex issues continue under advice. They now expect the Bill could be published in the weeks ahead but enactment will take longer, telling committee members it is a priority for Minister Stephen Donnelly.

In July 2022, the Minister said that there will be legislation in place to protect people from intimidation outside medical centres by the end of the year.

He was speaking as the Cabinet gave approval for a bill on safe access zones drawn up by Together For Safety, with the help of legal and medical experts as well as numerous other interests, including the Gardaí.