Updated, April 25, 14:08
SENATOR RÓNÁN MULLEN has again denied that he was smirking while he addressed women who had undergone abortions during a meeting at Leinster House last week, describing the suggestions as “entirely untrue”.
Mullen this afternoon said he was “probably grimacing” during the meeting, which was being addressed by a group of women who undergone abortions because of serious foetal disabilities.
The group had visited Leinster House last Tuesday to address Oireachtas members in advance of the discussions on Clare Daly’s bill which would have legalised abortion in circumstances where the life of the mother is in danger.
Mullen’s statement came after the Irish Times this morning quoted the husband of one of the women who had addressed the meeting, who said Mullen had asked him: “You’ve got a bigger agenda here James, don’t you?”
In a statement provided to Newstalk’s Lunchtime show, which has shared it with TheJournal.ie, Mullen said he was “deeply conscious of the sensitivity of the situation and the respect due to all persons present” when he addressed the meeting himself.
“I sympathised with the families and offered my perspective on why I felt that abortion was not the best response in that situation”, Mullen said.
At one point, the same man accused me of smirking while I was speaking. I was taken aback by this. It was absolutely untrue. [...]
I did, however, feel uncomfortable at that point with the atmosphere that had been generated in the room and I replied that I was probably grimacing.
Having offered to speak with the women on a one-to-one basis, independently of the involvement of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Irish Family Planning Association who had jointly arranged the event, Mullen said he then wished to shake the man’s hand.
“He took my hand reluctantly but said he disliked me and my argumentative style. When I tried to explain that I wanted a sincere and respectful exchange of views, he bristled and motioned me away,” Mullen said.
“It was at that point that I asked whether there was a separate agenda here as this was not what normally happened when politicians came along to follow up with people who came in to lobby them.
“The question was not asked in either a rhetorical or leading manner. I only asked the question once because it was clear that the man did not wish to speak with me.”
Mullen said the Irish Times reporter had not questioned him on the remark attributed to him in the paper, “You’ve got a bigger agenda here James, don’t you?”, and that he would have explained his turn of events if he had been asked.
On April 25, reporter Aoife Carr responded to this assertion, saying she had twice asked Mullen “whether he had asked a member of the group what their real agenda was”.
“On both occasions he responded that all his comments were made in the ‘public forum’,” Carr said.
Mullen said he wished to record his sympathies with the women in this case “while remaining true to my own view that even severely disabled babies with a short life expectancy deserve to be allowed live their natural life”.
I do regret any attempt by various lobbying groups to use such sad cases to pursue a much wider abortion agenda. I also regret any attempt, whether by misrepresentation, scorn or invective, to marginalise the contribution of pro-life persons or to intimidate them from entering the debate. I am surprised that such a brief exchange, which was entirely courteous on my side, should cause such a furore on social media and provide the basis for an article in the Irish Times. I call on the media to treat everybody fairly and with respect, and to ensure a balanced treatment of these very sensitive issues at all times.
Mullen’s statement came after James Burke, whose wife was one of the women addressing the meeting, told the Lunchtime show that as he was leaving Mullen had stopped and said, ‘Well done for speaking’, followed by “something like ‘well played’.”
After Mullen had asked about his ‘agenda’, and then repeated his question, Burke had told him: ‘Look, I don’t want to talk about this. You know? This is not the time or place. Would you mind just leaving?’”
Mullen had told TheJournal.ie last Saturday he was “horrified” at suggestions he had been unpleasant to the group at last week’s meeting.