7.10.2022 – “Bigoted and discriminatory” proposal from Human Rights Commission to jail pro-lifers

The Pro Life Campaign has described as “bigoted and discriminatory” the call from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for peaceful protesters outside abortion facilities to be given prison sentences.

In its submission to the government on proposed “Exclusion Zone” legislation, the IHREC called for prison sentences of up to two years for any pro-life person holding a peaceful protest or offering support to anyone entering an abortion facility.

The IHREC cites research from Maynooth University to justify its call but omits to mention that some of the key people associated with the research are notorious pro-abortion campaigners. As a clear giveaway of the bias, the Maynooth survey on which the research is based refers to pro-life people as “anti-choice”.

The IHREC most definitely does not deserve the public’s trust as a human rights protector when it’s prepared to single out and jettison the human rights and freedoms of a particular category of citizens, namely pro-life people in this instance. For the IHREC to justify its call for prison sentences for pro-life people based on research influenced by well known pro-abortion campaigners strips this ‘human rights’ body of all its credibility.

Handing down prison sentences of up to two years for pro-life citizens exercising their fundamental freedoms of expression and association is a completely authoritarian proposal.

It has been established, including in advice presented to the Minister for Health by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, that legislation setting up exclusion zones around abortion facilities to combat ‘intimidation’ and ‘harassment’ is not required as these are already offences under public order laws. Nonetheless, the excessive measures which would have the impact of banning the optional provision of pro-life literature and even quiet and reflective prayer are being railroaded through the Oireachtas.

Deceptively, the need for introducing such a law has been framed around ‘protests’, despite the reality that the alleged existential problem of these protests is simply not happening. In the Seanad in February, Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee talked about the “terror of Limerick”, referring to alleged protests at Limerick city hospital. This was despite a forthright denial by the UL Hospitals Group that any such protests were taking place on its grounds. They also stated that no complaints had been received from women having abortions, their partners, or staff about negative experiences with ‘protestors’.

Regardless of the facts and evidence, the advocates of exclusion zones are now pushing the boundaries of constitutional rights and seeking to jail people simply for expressing their views in a respectful and dignified manner. The IHREC is actively contradicting and undermining its mission statement of defending and advancing the cause of human rights by its conduct in this matter.