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Dublin: 4°C Friday 27 November 2020

'How dare you': Minister slams protesters who demonstrated outside the National Maternity Hospital

Simon Harris said the protests held outside Holles Street yesterday were ‘sickening’.

Health Simon Harris says women who had miscarried were confronted by protesters yesterday.
Health Simon Harris says women who had miscarried were confronted by protesters yesterday.
Image: Sam Boal

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has hit out strongly against protesters who demonstrated outside the National Maternity Hospital yesterday. 

A video shared on social media from inside the building showed a large crowd outside the hospital believed to be demonstrating against abortion services.

Speaking to reporters today, Harris said he is committed to implementing exclusion zones around hospitals carrying out termination procedures. 

Exclusion zones are intended to prevent protesters demonstrating within a certain distance of facilities providing abortion care. 

While he said it is fine for people to have different views on social issues, it is not acceptable to harass women.

“What is not right and not proper is to gather outside a National Maternity Hospital and attempt to intimidate and harass women, their partners, and indeed healthcare staff turning up to work.

“It struck me that the Dáil is about 300 metres away from the National Maternity Hospital, the Department of An Taoiseach is about 300 metres, my department is about 800 or 900 hundred metres away. Why weren’t they there?

“If you want to protest against government policy, off you go, turn up at the Dáil, turn up at the department. How dare you, how dare you turn up at the National Maternity Hospital and try and intimidate women,” he said. 

He added:

“We have heard from women who miscarried, who were asked on the street ‘are you going to murder your child’.

“So this was anti-democratic, it was sickening and it was wrong and it did a huge disservice to the many, many people who voted no, who have a completely different view to me, as they’re entitled to do.”

During the summer, when similar protests were staged outside the hospital, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik accused the minister of allowing the issue to “fall off the agenda”.

She said women accessing healthcare have now been left to deal with the fallout.

Today, the minister said he will press ahead with legislation for exclusion zones, stating that he wants to finish the job he started. 

While he said he wants to legislate for such zones, “it is not that straight forward, I have to be honest”. 

Harris said he has met with the Attorney General, the Garda Commissioner, opposition parties, as well as conducted a survey of healthcare workers on the issue.

One option open to the minister is giving local authorities powers in relation to exclusion zones. This was done in the UK, however, Harris said it was subject to a legal challenge. 

Criminal justice legislation on intimidation and harassment is something Harris said he will discuss with the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, he added. 

Harris said he plans to meet with the opposition once the Dáil returns to finalise the approach the government will take. 

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