This week, figures from the CSO confirmed what we all knew instinctively: crime, especially violent crime, has significantly increased, with homicide offences - which include murder and manslaughter - seeking a shocking jump of almost a third when compared to last year. Robbery, extortion and hijacking offences were also up up 21%.
Crime is now a significant concern for many people, to the point where the US Embassy in Dublin advised visitors to Ireland to avoid walking alone at night.
But instead of tackling rising rates of murder and rape and robbery, our government and their unprincipled allies in Opposition are lining up to criminalise peaceful people who pray at abortion centres, or near any centre where an abortion might take place.
Last night, 113 of the TDs in Dáil Éireann voted to support the so-called 'Safe Access Zones' bill, which would jail anyone who prays silently, or holds a sign saying 'Can I help', within 100 metres of centres where abortions might be carried out - which includes every GP clinic in the country, not just hospitals.
The bill, in my view, is motivated by simple malice and by a desire to punch down on pro-lifers. TDs will be praised by the media and by the usual taxpayer-funded NGOs for making it a crime to express a pro-life opinion or hold a cross.
As Senator Sharon Keogan previously said: it would be better if the Minister policed our streets instead of our thoughts.
Last year, Leo Varadkar said that the censorship zones bill was running into "real difficulties" around balancing constitutional rights. As Robert Burke pointed out last night, the right to assembly enshrined in the Constitution hasn't changed - so why did Leo, who voted for the bill to proceed to the next stage last night.
Flashback to Varadkar saying the Gov were “running into real difficulties around restricting peaceful protest and restricting free speech" while trying to ban free assembly outside GP clinics and hospitals, and were seeking advice from AG. What changed? Not the constitution https://t.co/7UKNzV6n7U
— Robert Burke (@robertburke84) September 27, 2023
You can imagine the nauseating virtue-signalling in the Dáil last night, as TDs puffed out their chests to vote for a draconian piece of legislation aimed at pro-lifers, mostly because they know they will get kudos for doing so from abortion extremists and their allies in the media.
TDs know the bill is unnecessary, just as they know that abortion rates have rocketed since the 8h was repealed, but they are voting for it anyway because they can and because they want to, and because motivation to bully those who hold an opposing opinion is sadly an increasingly prevalent trend in modern politics.
A large number of TDs may be unprincipled, but they aren’t stupid, and its unlikely they actually believe the untruths that have been told in order to support a bill that would lock up your granny for standing with her rosary beads offering help to women and babies.
These TDs know that the Garda Commissioner has said: there is ‘no evidence to suggest that there is threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour directed towards persons utilising such services’.
Commissioner Harris also added that existing public order laws were ‘sufficient to deal with any cases of harassment should they arise", That's been ignored by the same TDs who then fret about a lack of Garda resources to tackle actual crime.
It's a fact that younger activists are more interested in street canvassing and awareness campaigns, while older campaigners, bless their courage and faith, are drawn to pray or witness at centres where abortion is offered. As has been repeatedly shown, their presence is minimal, they usually pray silently, and, in the case of witnesses at maternity hospitals, they pray for both mother and baby.
Sometimes pro-lifers will stand in small groups across from abortion centres with signs informing women that help is available and that support for continuing with their pregnancy is at hand. Surely women have the right to this knowledge or is it the belief of the 110 TDs who voted for this bill that abortion is always to be the only option.
But, in truth, even if this wasn't the case, even if pro-lifers were holding signs in large numbers, it is still a egregious infringement on human rights to outlaw protests which are peaceful and lawful simply because they are in opposition to government policy on a controversial issue. Yet this trampling down of human rights is supported by the useful idiots in the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and others.
Since the referendum, a barrage of disproven claims have been repeatedly told - by abortion campaigners, by TDs and Senators and by the media - in order to justify something that is unjustifiable.
Those who claimed that pro-lifers were being informed as to when abortions were being carried out in Limerick hospital were not telling the truth. Those who repeated that claim in the Dáil and Seanad were not telling the truth. The media who have ignored the investigation by Gary Kavanagh of this platform, which showed that claim had no basis, are also not telling the truth.
Those who claimed that a pair of ladies with rosary beads walking quietly around the perimeter of Limerick hospital were intimidating and harassing women were not telling the truth. Yet that untruth was also repeated again and again in the Dáíl, the Seanad and the media.
When Gary Kavanagh asked, not just Limerick hospital, but every maternity hospital in the country if they had recorded complaints from patients or staff regarding pro-life protests, not one hospital said they had.
Gript contacted every hospital that provides maternity services in the country, asking if a) any staff or patients had ever made a formal complaint to the hospital about pro-life protesters, and b) if there had ever been an incident at the hospital in which “pro-life protesters have impeded the ability of patients to access the hospital, or attempted to intimidate or harass patients?”
We received responses from 16 of the 19 relevant hospitals – none had ever received a formal complaint from any member of their staff or from patients regarding the protests, and none detailed any incident in which protesters had attempted to intimidate or harass patients.
One woman told Gript that she felt the claims made about pro-life witnesses were “malicious lies” because they were “so far from the truth and the reality of the situation – which is that we gather to peacefully and mostly silently pray for both mother and baby.”
To label us as being ‘intimidating’ or ‘threatening’ is just untrue, and it’s hard to believe that anyone who has observed our witness would say such a thing,” the prayer activist said. “I walk around the hospital saying the rosary for women and their unborn babies, just as I’d say a prayer or light a candle for a neighbour in crisis or for a grandchild doing an exam. What is intimidating about that?”
Michael McNamara TD told the Dáil recently that a source in Limerick Hospital said that those praying were: "certainly not intimidatory… there might have been one or two women outside the hospital saying prayers with rosary beads occasionally, but they would only be there for a few minutes and then leave, they were certainly not intimidating anyone”.
So why are TDs doing this? Why are they ignoring the evidence and bringing in redundant legislation as if they had nothing better to be doing?
Is it because, as Dr Ronan Cleary of Doctors for Life wrote in The Irish Medical Times, the proposals are a "vindictive attempt to silence dissent” - and an effort "to criminalise prayer infringe free speech, free assembly and religious liberty".
Pro-life TDs, who are in a disproportional minority in the Dáil as the 33% who voted No in 2018 are hugely under-represented, have warned that the bill tramples on civil liberties and that those holding witness are not harassing anyone.
Seán Canney TD pointed out that there is "no serious evidence basis” for the legislation, while Peadar Tóibín previously blasted the Bill as “another example of that tendency towards authoritarianism in this Government.”
Carol Nolan has said that the Bill “criminalises help”, and stated that those campaigning for the Bill “know that no harassment is taking place” outside GP surgeries or hospitals.
“They know that if any harassment were to happen, gardaí already have sufficient powers to deal with such a situation. There is a skyrocketing abortion rate in Ireland and that is a fact. Yet the Government spends its time caving in to the demands of the most extreme elements of the abortion-supporting lobby,” the Laois Offaly Independent said.
Yet 113 TDs felt comfortable voting for a measure last night for which there is no evidence basis, which strikes at the heart of the right to protest, and which would deny women the right to know that another option exists for both mother and child.
That number, of course, includes all Sinn Féin TDs present - the party which used to be synonymous with loudly and vociferously protesting anything, anytime, anywhere - and the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs too spineless or unprincipled to take a stand for offering women better choices.
So while our streets become increasingly unsafe, TDs are congratulating themselves on voting to lock up peaceful, prayerful activists mostly because they don't like their opinions.
The may feel comfortable at this point punching down on pro-lifers, and on unborn children too tiny, vulnerable and voiceless to defend themselves, but as the arc of history bends towards justice, and as those who support abortion continue to abort their own future, time will show them to be absolutely on the wrong side of history.
The bill will now proceed to Committee stage.
This article was first published on Gript and is printed here with permission
Link to vote on Oireachtas Site