Limerick campaign group welcomes advance in medical protection zones

Members of Together for Safety at a previous demonstration in Dublin.

TOGETHER for Safety, the Limerick-based group campaigning for Safe Access Zone legislation for patients attending for medical treatment since 2020, has welcomed the news that Ireland is one step closer to having Safe Access Zones.

In a recent Dáil vote, legislation to introduce the so-called Safe Access Zones outside facilities that provide abortions was approved in all stages.

The bill would introduce 100-metre “exclusion zones” within healthcare facilities including GP practices, maternity hospitals, and family planning clinics.

Now that the legislation has been approved in the Dáil, it will be considered by the Seanad.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the Bill ensures “safety, with dignity and privacy” for those who seek to get an abortion.

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“We are thrilled that we are another step closer to having Safe Access Zones in place. It has been a long time coming” said Yvie Murphy, co-chair of Together for Safety.

“Everyone, no matter who they are, should be able to go to a medical appointment or their place of work without feeling intimidated or distressed or having to run the gauntlet” she said.

“There are no abortion clinics in Ireland. All abortion services are in hospitals, GPs, and health centres so these protests impact everyone” added Karen Sugrue, co-chair of Together for Safety.

“We are at our most vulnerable when we go to a medical appointment and we have the right to go to our doctors in privacy and dignity without protesters watching and often recording us” she said.

“These Safe Zones will protect not only patients, but also nurses, doctors, and other medical staff going to work. Importantly, they will also protect GPs who practice from their houses because often the protesters are outside their family homes” added Ms Murphy.

Those opposed to the new legislation argue on the grounds that the legislation negates the democratic rights of people to peacefully protest any in cause and opens the floodgates for banning protests where they would be most effective.

Speaking on a Newstalk radio programme  ahead of the vote, pro-life spokesperson Eilís Mulroy called the legislation “draconian”.

“It would create a zone and basically sterilise land where you are not able to peacefully assemble according to their constitutional rights,” she said, adding that the move is “discriminatory against one opinion.”

Countering the point, Ms Sugrue said that the “legislation doesn’t stop people protesting about abortion, they just have to do it a little further down the road to give people some privacy”.

“We’ve had these zones in place around polling stations on polling days since the early 90s and they work very well.”