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Letter to Donnelly says safe access zones now a ‘matter of urgency’

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Pressure is mounting on the Minister for Health to legislate for safe access zones around clinics that provide abortion services with the Oireachtas Women’s caucus agreeing to write to him “as a matter of urgency.”

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On foot of a letter from Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan and Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly, seen by the Irish Examiner, the all-party group has agreed to make representations to Stephen Donnelly on the issue.

The Health Minister has insisted he is “fully committed” to legislating for safe access zones around clinics that provide abortion services.

Mr Donnelly was forced to restate his ‘commitment’ after it was revealed that the Department of Health stated current public order legislation was adequate to police anti-abortion protests outside hospitals and GP practices.

The letter, sent during the week to Chair of the Caucus, Fianna Fáil’s Fiona O’Loughlin, states that both representatives are “concerned by lack of progress on this commitment” which they note was agreed in the Programme for Government.

Care in confidence

“The right to protest is an incredibly important part of the democratic process. However, protesting at sites where people are accessing services often at a difficult time in their lives is undertaken to intimidate and coerce those who need our protection and care,” the letter states.

“The women’s caucus has a key role in defending the rights of women and people to access care in confidence and peace, and we ask that you would help to progress the issue with the Minister of Justice and Minister of Health.”

The group, which met during the week, discussed the issue and sources have confirmed that there was broad agreement by those present that safe access zones should be implemented as a matter of urgency.

One TD present said: “It was really positive, as not everyone would have the same view on abortion but all the women agreed that this is something that should be done.”

No timelines for the introduction of such safe access zones have been provided by the government.

Mr Donnelly has previously said that officials in his department “continue to work with me to ensure safe access around medical facilities.”

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