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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 7 Apr 2022

Vol. 284 No. 6

Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages

Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of the amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each non-Government amendment must be seconded. Amendment No. 1 arises from Committee Stage proceedings.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

“(2) The indoor area of a building within the safe access zone, other than a building described in subsection (1)#(a) or (b), is not considered to be part of the safe access zone for the purposes of this Act.”.

I second the amendment.

This amendment seeks to avoid a scenario whereby discussing abortions in a coffee shop which happens to be in a safe access zone becomes a criminal act. As it stands, if two people were in a café within 100 m of a service provider and person A said to person B that he or she has been thinking about birth control bills and person B gives him or her any advice on such, either for or against, then person B has committed an offence under this Bill. One might respond that this is ridiculous. It is but that is what this Bill does. It gives legal effect to such a scenario and this amendment seeks to change that. This is not what this Bill sets out to do but this is exactly what it does, despite the dubious claims of the Bill's architects that it was drafted by legal, criminal and constitutional law experts. Any indoor area should not be considered a safe access zone. If the staff or owners of such a premises have an issue with campaigners, that can be dealt with under the current laws on trespassing. As this amendment would in no way impact the intended effect of the Bill, there is no reason for this amendment not to be accepted.

I want to start with an apology, which is due to all of those who campaigned to save the Seanad. When we had that campaign and when the Seanad was threatened, much was made of the fact that the Seanad was an important tool of our democracy and a necessary protection against the excessively hegemonic approach to power that a government might take through its majority in the Dáil. Much was made of the many times-----

I normally allow the Senator latitude but he knows he must speak on the amendment.

My point is that this Bill shows a terrible disrespect for the law and for procedure. Its provisions are so wide-ranging and radical that we have only begun to try to address them in amendments which seek to limit the harm they would cause to civil liberty and respect for differences of opinion in our society. My point is that proceeding with such a Bill in the way we have so far and the fact that it has even reached Report Stage shows a remarkable disrespect for the Seanad. It essentially says that what goes on here does not matter and that there will not be any serious attempts to deal with this until it gets to the Dáil.

This is not an open-ended debate on the principle of the Bill or the Bill itself. This is about the amendment.

Let us take Senator Keogan's amendment, which provides that:

The indoor area of a building within the safe access zone, other than a building described in subsection (1)#(a) or (b), is not considered to be part of the safe access zone for the purposes of this Act.

I want to make it clear that in seconding this amendment I am not in any way saying that were it to be accepted, everything would be alright. This point came up between Senator Pauline O'Reilly and I the last day. Sometimes amendments are proposed to try to make an egregious situation somewhat less harmful and toxic.

On the last day we debated this Bill, in February, I pointed out that this legislation was so restrictive of free speech that there could be a situation where people could be sitting down in a coffee shop in a hospital, the subject of abortion might come up and a person might mention that he or she was involved in providing terminations of pregnancy upstairs and a person might say he or she is upset about the fact that the change in our abortion law has led to a major increase in the incidence of abortion in Ireland, which it has. That would fall under the definition of what this Bill attempts to prohibit; an innocent conversation, even if it is overheard, where one person would express a sincere opinion. Even if one said innocently and respectfully that one wishes abortions were not being carried out in a hospital because innocent lives are being lost, and even if that was only overheard, that could be a criminal act as this Bill is worded. It is remarkable that since this was pointed out on Committee Stage, no attempt has been made to rectify such a draconian provision. In some kind of a limited way, this amendment seeks to at least provide that a conversation that might take place inside a building that might fall within the 100 m defined safe access zone would not be criminalised. One could just as easily argue that no conversation should be criminalised, even if it took place in the coffee shop of the hospital where the procedures were taking place. Our amendment does not address this. This is a limited amendment that intends and seeks to point out just how draconian, intolerant and radical the provisions of this Bill set out to be.

There is a massive disrespect for civil liberties, the right to free expression and the right to dissent at work in this Bill. I say this with a heavy heart because at an individual level I am delighted to call every Member my colleague and we all get on well. I do not stand in moral judgment of anybody; I have no right to judge anybody and none of us has a right to judge any other person. However, we have a right to try to assess and judge each other's actions and I have to say that this Bill flirts with fascism because it seeks to criminalise respectful free speech-----

-----in a way that no legislation that has ever come before these House has attempted to do to my knowledge. We are not talking about somebody who would shout: "Fire" in a theatre. There are situations where we have to curtail free speech where somebody is immediately put in danger but the idea that two people cannot have a conversation about abortion within 100 m of where an abortion is taking place lest they be under the definition of this Bill is wrong.

Let us be clear about this. I am not exaggerating the position; I wish I were. We are trying to amend the section that states that what is restricted is the expression or demonstration of "support for or opposition to a person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision" of abortion. If I express opposition to a person's decision to provide abortion, I might be criminalised for doing so. We have to go to section 3(2) to see what is meant by that. It includes "advising, persuading or informing... any person concerning issues related to termination of pregnancy services". The Minister of State is an intelligent person and she can read writing the same way I can. This is not about harassment or observing and besetting. There are other sections of the Bill that are perfectly reasonable in plenty of contexts.

It is worth noting the Garda Commissioner's remarks on this, as we did on Committee Stage.

The Garda Commissioner said there is no need for such legislation. The law is there to deal with any of the activity that we would all object to. Not only that, he pointed out that there were not reports of any objectionable activity that would require amending legislation. Therefore, this legislation proceeds from a desire to crush dissent; nothing else. It proceeds from a desire to erase any memory that a third of the people voted against the provision of abortion services, presumably because they regarded it as a violation of the right to life of vulnerable children. However, whatever their reason for opposing it, they did and still do. This legislation is not about addressing any cruel or reckless behaviour of the kind that we should all unite in opposing. It is about silencing dissent. That is why I say it flirts with fascism.

I will return to the provision in the Bill we are trying to amend, which relates to expressing opposition to the decision to provide abortion and doing so by informing any person about issues relating to the termination of pregnancy. If it comes up, however casually, in a conversation in a hospital that somebody is involved in providing abortions in whatever way upstairs, and I am there in good faith and say, “Well, I really wish this was not happening at all; did you know that our law does not provide for any precautionary pain relief where abortions take place late-term under our new law?", that could be seen as informing people on abortion services.

This goes much further than addressing the person who is contemplating abortion and trying to change their mind. The people who proposed this Bill want to go much further than that in the way they attempt the criminalise the free and respectful exchange of information. Can it really be the case, at a time when all of us know the threat to democracy that is going on in our world, and when we know the horrors associated with that, that responsible legislators want to criminalise free speech to the extent that this legislation does? Of course, the reality is we do not really know what they want because they have the luxury of proposing this legislation knowing that the Government does not want to be seen to be against anything that the abortion lobby wants. Therefore, this will go through with minimum opposition. The Government has the luxury of saying that it is only the Seanad; and there will be a more serious discussion in the Dáil when various voices are heard. That is no way, I submit, to go about legislating. It is no way to treat the national Parliament. It is no way to treat the electorate.

The Senator should speak on the amendment.

To be clear, if the amendment were to be accepted, it would just be the beginning of an attempt to address the radical intolerance that is at the heart of this Bill and which features in several places in the wording of it. This radical intolerance should shock any true democrat.

I hope the Chair will be as indulgent with me in terms of making a wider speech than simply speaking to the amendment, because I want to take issue with Senator Mullen's accusation-----

I do not want to be interrupting-----

-----of flirting-----

I ask the Chair, please-----

-----I do not want to be interrupting people all of the time.

Okay. Well, I-----

It is not like this legislation was not debated on Second Stage.

To be fair, much liberty was granted to Senator Mullen-----

I am trying-----

-----when he made accusations about some of us being "the abortion lobby" and that needs to be addressed.

I can let everyone do exactly what we did at Second Stage. Members are having the debate all over again. I want to follow the rules of the House. I am trying to steer. I do not want to interrupt Members by telling them to stick to the amendment, but if they want me to, I will.

The Chair just interrupted me.

I am trying to make sure that we stick to the amendment we are discussing. Members are, as the Senator saw, drifting off it. If Members want to do so, and a proposal comes that we suspend Standing Orders, then we will suspend Standing Orders. I am only trying to make sure that-----

The Chair just interrupted me in a way that-----

-----I do not keep interrupting people.

-----he did not interrupt Senator Mullen.

That is all I am trying to do. If people want to go off the amendment every now and again-----

Can I speak, please?

-----I will just keep telling them to speak to the amendment.

That is all I will be doing. I am just trying to be fair.

Senator Moynihan would be finished with what she had to say.

I thank the Senator.

Senator Moynihan, on amendment No. 1.

I will speak to amendment No. 1 and the speech that was made on it, and particularly the accusation that this Bill, overall, if we do not adopt amendment No. 1, will be akin to flirting with fascism. I want to be clear. These amendments are nothing to do with what Senator Mullen said about one third of people being ignored, about such people being unable to express their conscience and about these measures being an attack on freedom of speech. The intention behind the actions of people who stand outside maternity hospitals and clinics is to create a chill effect that ensures people are unable to access abortion services locally. That is why only 10% of GPs provide abortion services.

Senator Mullen spoke about "the abortion lobby". However, there is a worldwide pro-life, or anti-choice, grouping. We see the full might of them at the moment in Texas and Poland. Women have to drive for ten or 12 hours at a time to travel from Texas to neighbouring states. Now attempts are being made to bring in restrictive abortion laws in Oklahoma. This is not about freedom of expression. For 40 years, that lobby has chilled people into not providing healthcare for women. I want to be clear about that. It is healthcare in a healthcare setting.

As somebody who has had two pregnancies in six months, I got exactly the same treatment in both cases. It brought home to me, more than anything else, that this is healthcare. It is exactly the same provision one would get for a miscarriage or in other situations. It is not about ignoring one third of people. Nobody is forcing those people to do anything that is against their own body and against their own choice. They accuse us of flirting with fascism. They are being allowed to make that accusation in this House, exactly as they have done over the past 40 years in Ireland, from 1983 onwards. They are bedding in to create a chill effect with the aim of disallowing women from accessing basic healthcare in their local settings. Women are still travelling. They might be travelling intercounty, but they are still travelling in this country. How dare he accuse us of flirting with fascism?

I do not intend to allow filibustering to happen during the debate on this Bill, so I will keep it very brief. The idea that there would be a safe access zone outside of a building, but everybody inside would be allowed to engage in intimidation, is bizarre, quite frankly. If I were inside a place where I was receiving healthcare and an abortion, I would not want to go to have a cup of coffee only to have somebody try to intimidate me while having that coffee and waiting for a service I am legally entitled to. This amendment is absolutely nonsensical. Obviously, we will not be supporting it. It is also quite cynical. The Senator spoke about respect for differing opinions. People choose to go to these facilities. You are able to have free conversations in any other place, in any other coffee shop and in any other part of your county. If you say it is at that point that you decide you want to have a conversation about abortion, I do not buy it for one second.

With the Chair's indulgence, I want to welcome the people in the Chamber who have come from all across Ireland today in the hope and expectation that this Bill will complete its passage through the Seanad.

I will be very brief as well because, like Senator O’Reilly, I am concerned there will be a major attempt to filibuster today. I simply want to say that the amendment proposed by Senators Keogan and Mullen is arrant nonsense, exactly for the reasons pointed out by Senators Moynihan and O'Reilly. This Bill is absolutely needed. The idea that protesters can be allowed on the inside is absolute and utter nonsense.

This is a very prescriptive Bill. It is very clear in terms of the actions that it does not allow.

It is there to defend women so that they can access essential healthcare with dignity and in privacy.

I commend Senators from all parties for working collaboratively to support the together for change Bill. Let us continue to do that today in the best way we can to see this Bill through the Seanad.

I want to make a brief comment, which will be my only comment today because I am also concerned about the limited time we have.

The sentiments expressed by colleagues across the House are very right and fitting. It is worth noting that protests outside hospitals not only intimidate the women, their partners and other support, who are accessing termination services, they intimidate everybody going into that facility.

Pregnancy is a very complicated time in a woman's life. A lot of things can go right and a lot can go wrong. It creates different dynamics within the home, workplace and community. It is a trying, roller-coaster ride for people. Protests outside a health facility, by people who have no business being there, are very disempowering for the woman. It puts the woman in a very vulnerable position. I would not like to see anybody protesting outside any facility, particularly for the people who are accessing termination services. Everybody should be able to access their healthcare with dignity and privacy and to not have their business spread among their community. Everybody should be able to access services in their own community with a bit of privacy, with nobody reporting back as to who has been seen going in and out of a facility. That is the chill effect. It impacts everybody who is accessing health services.

I commend this Bill and the campaigners who have worked very hard on it. I commend everybody who is working positively towards ending discrimination against women and allowing people in this country to have autonomy and privacy across all aspects of their reproductive healthcare.

I commend the Bill. I welcome the people in the Visitors Gallery and I thank them for all the hard work they have done on this issue. This amendment is fanciful and deliberately tabled to allow access to people within a building and within the proximity of a clinic. It is laughable, if it was not so serious and the sinister reasoning behind it was not so serious.

Anyone with a basic rudimentary understanding of criminal law will know that there are two elements to the prosecution of an offence. For somebody to be found guilty of an offence, he or she has to have the mens rea and actus reus, a guilty mind and guilty act. Where two people are having a conversation in a coffee shop and it is overheard, who is going to report or prosecute that? Where within that would the two elements that are essential for the prosecution of a criminal office be found? They would not be found. It is akin to a mother or father saying to a child, "If you drop that, I'll kill you", being prosecuted for threats to kill and cause bodily harm. It is as fanciful and ridiculous as that. It is tabled to deliberately give a platform here to absurd, insulting and offensive notions, as stated by Senator Moynihan and my colleagues. It should be utterly rejected in its spirit, as well as its intent.

May I speak now?

No, the Senator will finish the debate on the amendment. I call Senator Clonan.

My daughter, Liadain, would have been 19 now. I thought of her last Thursday on count night. I remember feeling her kicks and movements before she was born and the final moments when she went still. She was stillborn as a result of a cord accident at birth, which is very unusual but it can happen.

Let me be clear about this, I took my precious little daughter and put her in a little box given to me by the midwives in the Coombe hospital. I laid her in the box and put a little towel over her and then I walked through the maternity ward to the reception desk where other midwives very kindly brought me to the morgue. They also gave me a little piece of curtain-type material. My daughter was so small. I was given a Polaroid camera so I could take photographs of our little baby girls. These are things one does not think of.

When women go to avail of obstetric and gynaecological services, very often it is an exquisitely painful moment in their lives. I absolutely and unequivocally support the right of all women to choose and to assert their bodily autonomy, but that is not the environment where someone should have to run the gauntlet of people holding posters. I do not care if they are across the street, they do not belong there. It is not an environment where one wants to hear a conversation about that particular moment that one is living in one's life. I do not believe that this suppresses freedom of speech. If people want to protest, they can do so outside the gates of Leinster House. There are particular environments, including outside GP surgeries and hospitals, where this should never ever take place.

I commend the Bill.

I am a little bit flabbergasted. I do not think anybody has read the amendment. It does prevent people protesting within the confines of the hospital or GP setting. This is about within 100 m of that zone. This is about the coffee shop that might be within that 100 m. It is about facilities outside of the hospital or GP setting. Under this Bill, anybody who brings up a conversation in regard to birth control or abortion outside the hospital setting but within that 100 m zone can be prosecuted. This is what it means.

Senators have misrepresented me. They have misrepresented what this amendment seeks to do. That is exactly what they have done. They are supporting the criminalisation of people outside the coffee shop that is 50 m down the road from the hospital or 50 m down the road from the GP setting. That is what this Bill will do. If this amendment is not accepted, we may as well kiss goodbye to free speech and free assembly in this country. I am very disappointed. Senators have been very disingenuous with regard to what is proposed in this amendment. They have totally misrepresented it.

I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, who regrettably cannot be here. I have been in the Seanad previously discussing certain elements of this Bill.

I will not hold up the proceedings. I am here on behalf of the Minister who is completely supportive of the legislation before us. I will not be accepting the amendment.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen I declare the amendment lost. In accordance with Standing Order 61 the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, line 19, to delete “, prayer or counselling”.

I second the amendment.

This amendment removes prayer and counselling from the list of prohibited actions the Bill prescribes as advising, persuading or informing behaviour. This is to enable the continuation of peaceful, non-confrontational prayer vigils in the vicinity of hospitals, which harm no one and are an important part of free expression for some people in this country. The Bill intends to prevent harassment, but it actually bans peaceful and respectful citizens from praying silently for pre-born children. The architects of the Bill know that and, I am sorry to say, seem to desire this to be the case given the explicit inclusion of "prayer" as a prohibited action. This is clearly an unconstitutional overreach of the Bill and should be rectified.

Does Senator Mullen want to speak? Has he indicated? No.

On Report Stage, if people indicate, they will be called.

I wish to speak against amendments Nos. 2 and 3. On Committee Stage, we heard at length from Senator Mullen about how people wanted to pray outside hospitals and that we needed to respect their right to prayer. I pointed out to the Senator that the women were telling us they found those prayer vigils to be intimidating when they walked past them and that we needed to listen to the women and their experience of what they felt when they walked past those prayer vigils. I also said that we are always hearing how we have to understand and respect the people who voted "No" to repeal.

On the back of me saying that on Committee Stage, my contribution was clipped for social media. It was circulated that I was calling for the abolition of any prayer and that I was against any praying. That led to a complete pile-on. These so-called decent individuals who just want to pray, are law abiding and just want to exercise their freedom of expression and religion led to me getting a series of emails. I want to read into the record what some of those emails said because it is important from the point of view of the supporters of those so-called upstanding decent Christians who just want to pray outside medical facilities. The emails started with: Liberal retarded wanker. F--- multiculturalism, f--- diversity, f--- lgbtq you are ALL ANTI CHRISTIANS in a Christian land. Question - just how do you f----s think Christians will react when, as a fair few are, Awakening to the bullshit. Keep caring about you're money, none of you can take it with you when God through Jesus destroys you Anti Christian TURNCOATS.

There then followed, in another email from the same individual, "[do] you ever get the feeling people are watching [you] ... [you] Sick whore".

That is what I got because I said it may be that people want to pray, but they can pray 100 m down the road. Nobody is stopping them from doing that, but they are praying outside a healthcare facility, be it a GP's premises or a hospital, and whether women are going to access an abortion or whatever healthcare facilities, they do not need to run the gauntlet, as Senator Clonan said, of walking past individuals. It is just wrong. Even in my own family, I have had someone who has to carry a stillborn child out. She cannot walk past Holles Street hospital, let alone with protests, because of her experience, but you want them to walk past so-called decent, law-abiding citizens who send this type of muck to democratically elected individuals.

The reality is these services cannot just be accessed anywhere. People need to go to these particular places to access these services. People can pray literally anywhere. I go back to my point on amendment No. 1; it is pure cynicism. The idea that somebody thought he or she would stand outside a hospital and pray for no real reason is also ludicrous. There is a purpose behind it, for the most part, because if it were just prayer they were after, they would go to a church, sit in their living room or go anywhere else. There is a purpose behind the place they choose to go.

I rise to voice my opposition to both these amendments. The fact is no constitutional right is unlimited. They are all balanced against the rights of others. There is also a constitutional provision that we are allowed to regulate for the termination of pregnancy. That is also a constitutional right that we have been attempting to facilitate and it has been thwarted by people who feel it is all right to weaponise faith. That is what this is about. It is about weaponising one's faith by standing in a particular part and trying to undo what was democratically elected in this country.

I will be very brief. Abortion is healthcare and people are accessing healthcare facilities. People can pray wherever they want. This is not about prayer. This is simply about intimidation. It is about a chill effect. It is part of the tactics they always use. Do not buy into this thing that there is an overreach in terms people's right to pray. There is a very particular reason people are trying to pray outside healthcare clinics and it is that they are doing it to intimidate women who are accessing the healthcare that is available. Abortion is healthcare and is no different from other forms of reproductive healthcare women will access.

A brief reference was made to filibustering earlier. I want to make sure everybody knows that from my own point of view and, I suspect, from Senator Keogan's point of view, there is no desire or any point in trying to filibuster this Bill. This Bill will pass today because people do not really care about the content. They just want to make the point.

I am only interested in addressing anything I hear that is false or perverse in the arguments being made for the Bill and in explaining the reasons for the amendments Senator Keogan has proposed and I have supported. I wanted to make that point.

My second point is I have noticed that despite the fact the amendment proposes the deletion of the phrase "prayer or counselling" from the relevant section of the Bill, all the contributions I have heard so far have to do with prayer. It seems to me it is because there is an element of paranoia and neuralgia around religion in our society, in some quarters, and how it intersects with these difficult social issues. I say that as someone who has spent my Seanad career addressing some very controversial issues. I have always sought to make arguments that do not depend on any other person's faith, or indeed my own. I make arguments based on human rights and human dignity and ones intended to appeal to people of good faith or of all faiths or none. Despite this I always find, when I hear people discussing these debates, especially from the point of view that proposes and supports abortion rights, there is always an attempt to demonise religious people. That proceeds from a recognition some of the controversies touching on the church in Ireland have meant there is a lot of neuralgia around religion and there can be a weaponisation of hostility towards religion but it is the unborn who have been the victims of that in recent years.

Let us make arguments based on things we all agree on, or are supposed to agree on, that is, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, respect for free speech, respect for free expression and dissent and the minimum curtailment of free expression done only in order to safeguard essential rights and safety of people. That is what most democrats agree on. That is why I have today said this legislation flirts with fascism because it shows a complete disregard for the necessary public good of being able to express oneself in a free way. I do not mean in an abusive way, a harassing way a way that should attract censure and prosecution, but the necessary expression of dissent is vital in a democracy.

Let us therefore talk about counselling, which the other contributors have not mentioned so far but which is essential to the first of these amendments. I made the point even an innocent conversation in a coffee shop, if overheard, could be criminalised. Senator Seery Kearney sought to set that aside by asking who would ever report such a thing. My answer is exactly the kind of people who would propose such draconian legislation in the first place. They would be only too happy to make such a report and seek to get the Garda involved, as this legislation does, and seek to get one fined up to €3,000. The degree of intolerance is already on display in this legislation. Say one is a mother accompanying one's teenage daughter and one finds oneself sitting in a coffee shop. If the mother is upset at what her teenage daughter wants and were to seek to provide information or indeed counselling to her daughter who is considering having an abortion, that mother could unintentionally fall foul of this law and leave herself open to criminal penalty. That is a fact and nobody here has denied that today. They have simply tried to suggest nobody would attempt to report it or prosecute it but the idea such a thing-----

It would not have the two elements of a criminal offence.

The idea such a prohibition on free concerned exchange between good people shows, as I have said, the recklessness and intolerance underlying this legislation. I am not sure it was deliberately intended but there is such a broad sweep underlying this legislation that there is not any interest in considering whether there could be unforeseen or unintended consequences, such is the visceral nature of the proposal here. Let us be clear, counselling of a kind that is intended to assist a person and which is consensual between people should not directly, indirectly, or accidentally be criminalised in the way that applies in this legislation. It is simply irresponsible to contemplate letting this legislation pass without addressing at least that issue.

On the neuralgic issue of religion in our society, I speak as somebody who has never taken part in any prayerful or other kind of vigil protesting abortion services. It would actually be very hard to do it in the way people think it is being done and the way it is done in other countries where there are abortion clinics and it is known people going into a building are doing so for a very specific purpose. Then there are people who may demonstrate outside in different ways. Some of them might demonstrate in objectionable ways. It has been known to happen, sadly. There are very irresponsible people out there who, from time to time, communicate in a very irrational or unpleasant way. That has happened in other countries. What also happens is there are people who offer, in a respectful way, counselling or support to people who might be conflicted, might want to change their mind or who might be open to changing their mind. There are people who might want to bring information into the public domain and yes, there are people who, in their own personal way, feel prayer might influence the situation for the better.

Senator Boylan says the test is not whether those people intend kindness or not. She says it is how the person passing by feels that determines whether one should have a right to communicate, however respectfully. Let us think about how elastic that concept is. Is there any other situation where people might be availing of a legal service in a country, where if one were to in any way signal dissent or disagreement with it, no matter how carefully or respectfully, the fact somebody else might say: "I feel intimidated by you" can immediately put one at risk of either being moved on by gardaí or prosecuted if one does not. That is why I say this Bill is so antidemocratic and why it flirts with fascism. I am not making that phrase up for dramatic effect. This is a remarkable piece of legislation in how far it seeks to go to prevent other people from expressing respectful dissent. No responsible democrat should have anything to do with it.

I have not even talked yet about what Bunreacht na hÉireann says about the free expression and practice of religion. The Bill's proponents know this would be unconstitutional yet they persist in proposing this legislation as a form of virtue-signalling that is frankly not virtuous because there is respect in our Constitution and a presumption in favour of prayerfulness. Though I do not have any plans to ever take part in such vigils myself, I defend good people who do and who will. I made the point in this House on the last occasion that I am aware of at least one case where the uncle of one of our Government Ministers has taken part in these and I am sure that person is perfectly decent and not out to harass, intimidate or make anybody feel bad. The other side always fails to remember that for those of us opposed to abortion, it is not because we want to limit anybody else's life but because we want to enhance respect for life in the country because we regard abortion as the tragic loss of an innocent human life that is there from the first moment with the 46 chromosomes and all that stuff we learned in our biology classes at school. That concept of human dignity is what motivates those who oppose abortion. It is not hatred or dislike for anybody else. I sympathise with Senator Boylan when she talks about unpleasant stuff being put up online but she does not have a monopoly on victimhood in that regard.

I did not say I did.

We have all received it. We have all been at the receiving end of the nastiness and Sinn Féin especially has lessons to learn about how social media should be used in ways that are respectful of others. I say that on the floor of the House and put it on record without fear of contradiction by the majority in this House. It is easy to take the worst-----

It is Senator Mullen's supporters. He did not come in and defend us. He did not come in and contradict them.

He facilitated it.

-----to take the worst elements of our society-----

So our views are not important?

It is easy to take the behaviour------

It is easy to take the behaviour of the worst elements of our society and to try to bolt them onto the cause one most dislikes and use that to attract odium towards that cause.

It does not need to be said by any of us here that we do and should deplore any ad hominem argument. Before I Informed colleagues today that I thought this legislation flirts with fascism and the action it supports flirts with fascism, I was very careful to say that there was nothing ad hominem in what I am saying. I attack and I attempt to judge no person. I have a duty as a Member of this Oireachtas to tell the truth as I see it on the basis of the facts as I apprehend them, and to make a judgment on legislation that I believe to be deeply harmful. It is harmful to our democracy, disrespectful to people and utterly disrespectful of the unborn who die as a result of abortion. It is also disrespectful of women because it disrespects those who experience a complexity about the decision to have an abortion and are open to respectful exchanges with their loved ones and people they do not know but who might have a concern and respect for them and simply want them to make a different choice for their sake and for the sake of the child involved.

It is not a lot to ask that a person who wants to communicate in this way, silently by their presence in the vicinity of a facility where abortions are taking place, verbally where there is a consensual approach to the exchange of ideas, or informally in the coffee shop within or without a facility where abortions are taking place, should be able to communicate ideas respectfully without fear of somebody overhearing, reporting them and trying to get gardaí involved in their life in a way that would not last a second before our courts but which the legislators here today have no problem advancing because it satisfies a political goal of signalling enthusiastic support for our abortion laws, to the point where we will crush all dissent in a way that is not befitting a mature and healthy democracy.

I will make one last point. In Ireland we do not have abortion clinics. We have GP facilities and worryingly we now have abortions taking place through telemedicine, with no concern being expressed by supporters of abortion for the risk this entails around coercive abortions taking place or abortions taking place that would facilitate, mask and prevent the discovery of abuse of women above and under the age of consent. There is no concern about that at all because nothing that ever challenges abortion can ever be discussed. That is the impetus at the heart of all of this.

We do not have abortion clinics in Ireland. We have facilities that people may approach for thousands of reasons. There is no visibility of the person who approaches another person for abortion-related services. It follows from that that even if people of ill-intent wanted to harass or intimidate, which is something we would all oppose, they simply would not be able to do it because of the structure of the situation in Ireland. This is perhaps why it was clear to the Garda Commissioner, if not to the Minister for Health, that we actually do not need this legislation at all. Those are the issues.

These amendments simply seek to allow people to communicate respectfully in a way that a democracy should always allow. They recognise that if people want to pray, which may not be my style in that context, respect for other people's rights never ends with just the things you agree with yourself. The test is whether you are willing to put up with the things that do not suit you and you do not normally roll with. There is no sign of that inclusiveness here today.

I will go black with black with Senator Seery Kearney on any pot or kettle. The Senator will find that I am always open to hearing the other point of view. I hope the same privilege will be extended to me.

I welcome Alison Johnstone, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, to the Seanad today. Ms Johnstone is very welcome, as are the other guests who have already been welcomed.

I said I would not make any further contributions but I feel compelled to comment further. I am happy to virtue signal my enthusiastic support for safe access zones. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with showing strong support for something.

With regard to the issue of religion being demonised, that is not the case at all. I am a religious person, as I have always said, but I do not believe there is any conflict between my religious position and trying to support women accessing healthcare. There never has been a conflict. I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of a woman's right to choose. I have certainly never displayed any intolerance towards religious people.

There has been a lot of talk around human rights aspect of freedom of expression of religious positions. There is a human rights aspect to accessing healthcare, and that trumps. To access healthcare is one of the most basic rights that anybody has and access to abortion care is healthcare. It is on the same spectrum as any other form of healthcare. I strongly believe that. Religious expression, as set out in the Constitution - there is plenty of case law on this - relates to wearing a cross around one's neck, or the wearing of the hijab or the Jewish kippah. This is the expression of religion. Ireland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country but I have rarely seen people praying randomly praying on street corners. It does not happen. Religious expression through prayer happens in a church generally. The only people I have seen praying on the streets are those who are outside health facilities. It is not an integral part of religious expression; it is done with the intent to intimidate.

On the idea of counselling women who may be undecided or conflicted in their decision, if they are going into a health facility, they have already made a decision. If they are going to get any counselling, it will not be on the street from some random with no qualification. There are many excellent counsellors who provide an excellent service. As to the idea that someone might be swayed outside at the point of going in the door, that just does not happen.

Senator Mullen also raised the point that Ireland does not have abortion clinics, so praying outside is not to intimidate any one person going in. This speaks to the point I made earlier, whereby anybody going in to access any sort of service could potentially be intimidated. One does not know what a person is going in to face. Senator Clonan's contribution was very powerful. Many people are going in for happy moments but they may be going in for very traumatic moments in their lives. Over the course of a nine-month pregnancy, there may be many happy moments or many tragic moments. It is a constant roller-coaster, and I have been on it a few times. It is a very difficult position to be in and to think that anybody would be intimidated going in to access healthcare is mind-boggling.

Senator Mullen spoke about telemedicine. This has actually been a very welcome and progressive step and anybody who thinks there is anything negative about telemedicine would really want to talk to the providers. The providers I have spoken to have been very happy with it. It deals with the complexities of women's lives. Women have a lot of other responsibilities and may be facing childcare constraints. It is because we do not have wide access to abortion care in Ireland that many women cannot travel long distances with patchy public transport. Telemedicine has been a very welcome measure.

I will leave my comments at that. I hope I will not be compelled to correct the record any further.

Senator Boylan spoke on the correspondence she received. It is not even that statements were randomly put out online. This was direct correspondence directed at the Senator. That is much more intimidating than some randomly post. I thank the Senator for sharing that. Unfortunately, we have all received correspondence like that but it is important sometimes to put on the record of the House that we are still receiving it.

I offer my solidarity to Senator Boylan. Those comments are awful and as Senator Clifford-Lee said, many of us have experienced something similar.

The vitriol in those emails was horrific, and I am very sorry the Senator received them. It is not acceptable.

I want to quickly address three points. There has been a lot of talk about decent, free speech and this, that, and the other. One would swear we were putting a safe access zone around the entire island. We are not putting a safe access zone around the entire country. The zones will be 100 m outside the place where a person can get an abortion. That leaves a whopping amount of landmass within which people can do these activities according to their own free will, and no one will stop them from doing so. People can do anything they want in those other areas. A zone will be 100 m in diameter around one of these facilities.

In the context of democracy, we understand the basic concept of not being able to do certain things within a certain distance of a polling booth. We recognise it is important for democracy and for all sorts of reasons. We are not saying that such a provision is anti-free speech or is stopping people from doing what they want. We just recognise that it is a basic common sense thing to do within the vicinity of a polling booth.

I am astonished by the way in which this is being portrayed. There is literally an entire country within which people can do those things. We are asking for a 100 m zone through which women and pregnant people can pass with dignity and without fear of individuals coming up to them, after they have made up their minds, made this decision, gone to the registered counsellors, engaged with their GPs, discussed it with their families, or indeed none of the above. We voted to allow them to do that, and that is their business. It has been said that it is doing no harm and that it is just quiet things. I have spoken to and heard from women for whom that was one of the most traumatic and difficult experiences. I just think that is very upsetting.

It is wild that we are even having a conversation about this sort of stuff and flirting with fascism. Under fascism, it would be within a god's whistle and a prayer that a woman would be able to get access to an abortion or birth control pills. It is not exactly a common state of affairs under fascism. I refer to the Rocco Code under Mussolini. That is certainly a twisting and topsy-turvying of the situation. I hate to think what this country would look like under fascism. It would be appalling.

There is absolutely and utterly no country or jurisdiction of which I am aware that has introduced safe access zones legislation in any guise. Ealing Council said that it believes the zones were a proportionate response in order to balance the human dignity of those seeking abortion. Nowhere in this world - I stand open to correction on this - has anyone been prosecuted for having a chat and a coffee. That has never happened. We are talking about a red herring. We are talking about something that has never occurred. It has never happened under safe access zones legislation. Safe access zones legislation works perfectly fine anywhere it has been introduced. The zones provide for the human dignity of those who are going in and out of those service providers, hospitals, GP clinics or wherever.

There is near hysteria and moral panic over something that has simply never happened anywhere else. It just seems crazy. I hope we can get through this. We have 40 minutes left and we would certainly like to see this legislation passed for all the people who have travelled here today. This is moral panic over something that I have not seen happen anywhere in the world.

I will make two brief points. The first relates to counselling. The key point about counselling is that professional and therapeutic counselling is entered into by the distressed person. That person makes a choice. One cannot have counsellors walking the street looking for sad people and saying "Hey, do you want some help with that?" That is not how counselling works. I am conscious of the fact that an anti-choice Deputy has suggested that what has been going on has been counselling, which is nonsense of course. It is nothing of the kind. I wanted to address the issue of counselling because I know Senator Mullen was keen that we would do so.

We have heard the phrase "flirting with fascism". Let me describe the reality of flirting with fascism in Limerick right now. There are activists in this Chamber who have been called at work by anti-choice activists to ask them why they are supporting this Bill. There are activists in this Chamber who have had their pictures taken down from social media and Photoshopped to look like witches. Leaflets have been printed and shoved through the letter boxes of their neighbours and friends in their communities. We talk about flirting with fascism; we know exactly which side is flirting with fascism.

I take this, again, on behalf of the Minister. The Government will not be accepting any of the amendments.

I want to come back in on amendments Nos. 2 and 3. The right to prayer is in Bunreacht na hÉireann. The people of Ireland are being told that they do not have the right to pray outside designated premises of a service provider or healthcare professional who is involved or believed to be involved in the provision of termination of pregnancy services or contraceptive services, or a building in which they reside. The other day, there was a peaceful prayer gathering on Grafton Street. I believe it was outside a pharmacy. I am sure there are contraceptive services available there. It was for the Ukrainian war. That would not be allowed in the future under this Bill. That is how serious the position is with regard to the wording in the Bill. I will be pressing the amendment.

Amendment put.

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the amendment lost. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

"(8) Nothing in this section, section 4, nor section 5 shall apply to an individual taking part in an organised march or rally which is ambulatory in nature and passes through a safe access zone as a matter of coincidence.".

I second the amendment.

According to the legislation, a demonstration relating to abortion or contraception cannot take place within a safe access zone, which is within 100 m of the entrance to or exit from a premises that offers abortion services or contraceptive services. In any urban area, planning a route for any such demonstration would virtually be impossible under this legislation. General practitioner clinics, pharmacies and even bars with vending machines selling condoms could have a 100 m zone surrounding their premises in which a march would be prohibited. After all, "designated premises" means any premises at which contraceptive services are provided. Perhaps the idea of the annual March for Life becoming unsustainable brings great glee to the pro-abortion activists, who desire nothing more than to shut down opposing voices and enforce their ideological orthodoxy. Perhaps, however, they would benefit from thinking about the shoe being on the other foot. The Bill does not draw a distinction between speaking in favour of abortion and speaking against it. Therefore, all pro-choice rallies would similarly be constrained. Neither should be constrained, of course, and the freedoms of assembly and speech should be protected rather than outlawed, as they are under this Bill.

This amendment brings out an issue that highlights yet again the at-best sloppy and at-worst malicious nature of the sheer scope, width, breadth and reach of the draconian measures set out in this Bill. With regard to the right to assemble — it is a constitutional right — and then to go in company with others of like mind to make a political point or several and seek to influence those who govern us and legislate for us, most people instinctively know that the curtailment of any such right should take place only in circumstances of extreme necessity.

We had debates about this recently in this country in the context of Covid and the restrictions on people gathering. We saw how many people chafed under those restrictions, rightly or wrongly, and did not feel it was the business of the Government to tell them when and where they could assemble and how far from their homes they could do so. Of course, the Government had a very statable argument: it was about public health, public safety and saving lives. Most of us sympathised with that and understood it. Even though there was a conflict of loyalty and many of us intensely disliked the restrictions on our freedom, we knew at the same time that somebody had to legislate for the common good and take decisions, including unpopular ones, to protect us all.

To use a phrase I used before, it is part of the democratic contract that we accept the limitations that policies, laws and other measures impose on us, but we do so on the understanding that they are the minimum necessary and do not seek to go further than they need to go. We do so on the understanding that restrictions are imposed in a transparent way and that, where the approach is concerned, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We do so in the knowledge that if my rights are being restricted in the circumstances, so too are the other person's rights. It is important not to have laws that casually, or otherwise, restrict some people's freedoms more than others. All these considerations are important in a democracy. They promote maximum public buy-in to the democracy and maximum public support for the institutions of the State and laws that bind us.

I have often said, occasionally when giving talks to schools, that one of the reasons we have two Houses of the Oireachtas is that legislation is a serious business. It limits our lives, be it criminal justice, environmental protections or the legislation we enact to put the budgetary measures through. The point is that law governs our life and limits our choices. We have a Dáil and Seanad to ensure laws are thoroughly considered and that we do not have unforeseen consequences and excessive interference with people's rights and freedoms. In fact, the balance that law seeks to strike involves being the minimum necessary to promote the good and protect the vulnerable while never going so far as to interfere unnecessarily with people's freedom. Laws restricting freedom should always be considered with great care, and measures to enact such laws should always be introduced only with great consideration and respect for the public they seek to serve. The Cathaoirleach Gníomhach will not be surprised to hear me say this legislation disrespects all those finer points, delicate balances and important considerations.

I do not tend to march myself. I have the privilege of being an elected representative. I have often thought that one of the things I am really grateful for is the chance I get to say things in the Oireachtas and speak not only about my own deepest concerns but also on behalf of the many who often thank me for representing their point of view. That is a great privilege. It is probably the case that those of us who have this privilege, unless we are seeking to curry electoral favour, do not necessarily have the same urge to get out onto the streets. This is because we have a chance to speak when the laws come to be made.

Many people do not have that chance and they feel disempowered by that sometimes. They especially feel disempowered if they feel that they matter less in the democracy than other people.

I first started thinking about marching in earlier decades when terrible things were taking place in the North. I think back to the events at the Garvaghy Road and we all remember the competing arguments in that context, with people declaring their right to use the public highway. Of course, we also knew those marches could be extremely intimidating for and disrespectful of people in their home areas. Those marches were sometimes taking place in areas where most people were opposed to them. Add in to that experience as well the banging drums, the sectarian slogans and the disrespect for people that some of that marching entailed. We knew, though, that there was a balance to be struck and that the freedom to use the public highway was not an absolute right. Even if it was a legal right, then there had to be some kind of negotiated solution to ensure more aspects were considered than just people's legal rights. I refer to the need to do the work of reconciliation, of encouraging people to accept and understand one another's differing perspectives and preferences and to find some way to adjudicate between those aspirations. That is why we had the Parades Commission in the North.

There is no parades commission here. What we have here is a law that would single out, exclusively, concern about abortion, that concern which many hundreds of thousands of people in our society continue to have. This proposal says that people could be on the wrong side of the law and caught by the provisions of this legislation if their demonstration, if we want to call it that, march, walk or ambulatory public witness, because people are walking, passes in the vicinity of any kind of facility providing any of these services. As I asked already, is this sloppy or is it malicious? Whatever it is, it is fundamentally disrespectful of people's freedom. Nobody should come in here with proposed legislation that could even accidentally be as draconian as this. Nobody should do that who cares about democracy, the importance of our hard-won freedoms and people's right to go out and express ideas with which other people disagree. Those are the only ideas which need to be defended, because there is never a problem with those we all agree on. Therefore, nobody should come in here with legislation like this and as badly drafted as it is, for whatever reason. I do not know whether it is deliberate or accidental.

What I do know is that it will pass, because the powers that be in this country are here to make a point today. This is yet another example of the draconian sweep of this ill-composed, unfair, mean-minded and disrespectful legislation. Our amendment attempts to address one aspect of it which concerns people going on a walk. As I said, even if the amendment were to be successful, there is still much that is harmful and disrespectful of democracy and of people in this legislation.

I thank the Senators for the contributions. We will not be accepting the amendment.

Amendment put.

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Rónán Mullen and Sharon Keogan rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen I declare the amendment defeated. In accordance with Standing Order 61 the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 5, to delete lines 27 to 37, and in page 6, to delete lines 1 and 2.

I second the amendment.

Section 5 of the Bill empowers the Garda Síochána to direct individuals so as to prevent an offence under this Bill occurring and grants significant latitude in that regard. If the Bill is passed in its current form, gardaí will have full discretion to break up and end any assembly near a safe access zone, as they need only suspect that a person intends to stray into such a zone to clamp down. It will then be an offence for any person to fail to comply with a direction to leave a vicinity without reasonable cause. I would be grateful for the words "reasonable cause" if this were a practical guideline that one could follow, but it is not. How are ordinary persons supposed to know where they stand if gardaí attempt to break up their demonstration? If a protester in this scenario were to disobey gardaí on foot of what he or she views as a reasonable cause or a reasonable excuse, the protester might potentially have to go through a costly and mentally taxing criminal trial before he or she could be acquitted of wrongdoing.

Under this Bill, law-abiding demonstrators can be compelled, under duress, to forgo their right to protest. It is not just those who are opposed to abortion who are threatened by this legislation. Section 3 of the Bill prohibits both demonstrators who support and demonstrators who oppose a person's decision to access abortion services. If this Bill passes, demonstrators campaigning against church ownership of the national maternity hospital could all be arrested and prosecuted if they disobeyed a Garda order to move outside a 100 m safe access zone. The campaigners for this cause recently picketed outside Dáil Éireann. They had previously demonstrated outside the National Maternity Hospital and St. Vincent's University Hospital. It is ironic that a Bill designed to criminalise those seeking to protect the right to life could end up being used against those who campaign against abortion restrictions. It is a naive voice, indeed, that trumpets in support of censorship while it is in power, not seeing that it is undermining its own freedoms as it does so.

If a member of An Garda Síochána sees a crime committed under this Bill, he or she can arrest the person. The garda does not need any additional powers to direct people as it is already an offence not to follow the order of a member of An Garda Síochána. This section follows the style of the rest of the Bill. It is over-reaching, unnecessary and not thought through. It should be removed.

Having said that this legislation in many ways flirts with fascism I found myself thinking, as I listened to Senator Keogan, that there is something of the radical Marxist revolutionary about it as well, to the extent that such is the zeal of the radical proponents of this Bill to place people under fear of prosecution they have no problem burning some of their own as well in an effort to root out all opposition. They are quite happy that the legislation would potentially subject those who would wish to express support for abortion to being caught, if only so they can be seen as being even-handed as they seek to terrorise those who would dare to express opposition to abortion, even in a peaceful way. It is also worth saying that the legislation already provides, in section 3(3), for offences in respect of the provisions of section 3 and any breaches under subsections (1) and (2) that there would be an offence and that a person would be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment for up to a year, and on indictment to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to five years.

However, the Jacobins behind this legislation were not happy with that. There must be more offences in the Bill and we find them in section 5, whereby gardaí have power to give a direction. They can give those directions where they suspect with reasonable cause that a person intends to breach any of the provisions of sections 3 or 4.

It needs to be said that in respect of section 4 of this Bill, there is very little with which one could disagree. The only point I will make is that if this Bill was confined to section 4, the Garda Commissioner has said it is not necessary and that the legislation already exists. Senator Keogan has pointed to that. It is the radical intolerance of much of the content of section 3 that has taken up most of our time this afternoon. Of course, what is in section 3 is also dealt with in the section 5 power the legislation proposes to give to members of An Garda Síochána, because it is where the person intends to breach, is about to breach or is attempting to breach any of the provisions of sections 3 or 4.

We are back again to the three people having a conversation in the coffee shop, perhaps with somebody who is involved in the provision of abortion services, across the road, but within 100 m or indeed upstairs in the building, which would certainly be within 100 m. A person may disagree. There may be a lively discussion about abortion and a person may, in good faith, bring in information about the impact of the abortion law in this country since it was passed.

This impact includes the lack of precautionary pain relief; the increase in abortion statistics; the failure of the legislation to provide for significant notifications in terms of gathering information about what abortions are taking place or why; the one-sided nature of counselling on abortion brought out by a recent survey of students, which showed the Positive Options people are pretty much shuttling people in the direction of abortion, without giving any serious airtime to positive alternatives to abortion; the absence of any desire at the heart of public policy to reduce the numbers of abortions and the implications that has had for abortion, as it is now taking place in Ireland.

All these issues were to some degree, albeit in a limited way, ventilated. There was very little chance to ventilate them during the abortion referendum campaign and little enough opportunity to get any consideration of them during the subsequent legislation in 2018. Any discussion of these overheard by a Jacobin supporter of abortion rights could lead to a report to An Garda Síochána and a person being directed to leave immediately that place, get out of the coffee shop and being told one is not allowed discuss abortion or give information about abortion there.

As little as informing a person concerning issues related to termination of pregnancy services could lead to that. It is a very low threshold or rather, is it a high or low threshold of intolerance? What I am trying to say is that one would not need to say very much in order to put oneself the wrong side of the law.

I refer to the idea that we would give the Garda the power to direct people to leave the premises for having a respectful and reasonable conversation where they bring information into the conversation that is adverse to the provision of abortion services. Already this morning, I spoke up clearly for the rights of the Garda Síochána to do its job, when I deplored the recent European Court of Justice decision about the retention of phone records and the implications that might have for patriotic, painstaking and persistent investigation of crime. I stand with the right of members of the Garda to do whatever they have to do to keep the peace and to investigate wrongdoing. However, they have a hard enough job without putting them in the position of having to get involved with something such as this, where no person is being harmed and people are simply exercising their right to free speech. It is shameful to try to implicate the Garda Síochána into such activity. It is yet another disrespect in this legislation. In this case, it is disrespect for the good work that the Garda Síochána has to do and does in this country. Trying to set the Garda Síochána up in opposition, through this legislation and this section, to good people who are not harassing people under section 4 but simply are sharing information out of concern for human life and dignity and are doing so in a way that means ill or harm to no one and putting the Garda Síochána into a position where it would have to hustle or harass good people in that situation is nothing short of a disgrace.

I do not know whether this legislation will pass the Dáil or get the casual support that it had from most sides of this House. I hope that it will not be so easy when it goes to the Dáil because it will bring the whole Oireachtas into disrepute, not just the Seanad, which is being brought into disrepute today. However, if the legislation is passed by the Dáil, with or without serious discussion, this is yet another reason it will not last jig time before the Supreme Court. Were it to do so, should President Higgins refer legislation to the Supreme Court for a ruling on its constitutionality, which surely he would almost certainly have to do under Article 26, it would be a sad day for this country if something as intolerant, disrespectful of diversity and as fascistic as this were to be considered in keeping with the provisions of our Constitution.

I will not be accepting the amendment.

Amendment put.

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the amendment lost. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, to delete lines 3 to 6.

I second the amendment.

I am also opposing section 6, which would allow for civil proceedings to be taken against anyone who conducts any of the activities listed in sections 3 and 4. Most of the same points regarding the threat of legal action and law abiding demonstrators being compelled to give up their rights to protest under duress also apply to section 6. The same level of caution the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, exercises before bringing cases to trial does not apply in civil cases. The fact that activities in relation to our right to protest would not be subject to the standard of guilty until proven innocent, but instead a preponderance of evidence, risks eroding our rights. It is also worth noting that the risk of financial ruin is greater as a result of section 6 because the right to legal counsel does not exist in civil cases.

There is a scene in the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” when, and I forget the name of the characters involved, the maid in the house is so exasperated that she says to the lead character, played by Katharine Hepburn, that she knows nothing no more, to which, Katharine Hepburn, says that nobody knows nothing no more. That is how I feel when I contemplate the many appalling casual and damaging provisions of this legislation. I do not know what I should think about the provision of the Bill that states that somebody who is "the victim of the course of conduct in question" may bring a civil claim for any breach under sections 3 or 4 of the Bill.

First, we are given no guidance. We are being told, basically, that an area of statutory liability is being established here, a statutory wrong, a tort. We are not being given any guidance as to what amount of damages might be payable in the event of a breach of this provision, how the damages might be calculated or what evidentiary tests might be necessary in order to establish, presumably on the balance of probabilities, that the tort had been committed. To realise just how ludicrous, to the point of being very offensive indeed this latest provision is, we only have to consider yet again what an actual or apprehended breach under sections 3 or 4 might be. The casual conversation whereby a person might offer advice or seek to inform any person concerning any issues related in whatever way to the termination of pregnancy services is a tort. Of course, our courts are not very busy. They do not have anything to be doing. We might as well create another statutory wrong on which the courts can be invited by a claimant to adjudicate. It is a tort if that mother sitting with her teenager or that pensioner having her cup of coffee, on learning that abortions are taking place upstairs, expresses her sadness at the defeat for humanity that abortion is, and hopes for a better way of dealing with the challenges of a crisis pregnancy, a way that is generous to mothers and their unborn babies, who brings information to people's attention, advising about how wherever abortion has been legalised it has led to a diminished respect for human life and an increase in abortion rates, and increasing demands as well for further ease of access to the procedure and a disregard for questions about the possible cruelties involved in certain abortion procedures. None of that could ever be discussed, not the mildest, most meek or diffident expression of dissent or any information touching on that dissent could be expressed. I might attribute it to Senator Seery Kearney because she was the one who expressed doubt that anybody would ever report such a person, but not only can the officious bystander, if we can call them that, to use another legal term, who overhears that report it and ask for the Garda to move the person on but presumably the abortion provider upstairs, when they hear that such a conversation was taking place in breach of this Sinn Féin and Labour Party-led legislation, could in theory bring an action, hold themselves out as a service provider, as being the victim of this illegal course of conduct. All that is possible.

There is possibly some kind of an unintended compliment to the legislators of Texas, and perhaps Idaho, in recent times who have managed to vindicate the life of the unborn by establishing that it can be a civil wrong to provide abortions but that any person might bring such an action. We all know that it has succeeded at least for the moment, where others have failed, in enacting protections for unborn babies. There is perhaps some kind of unintended compliment to that approach to law by establishing certain civil wrongs associated with the conduct that the Bill seeks to prohibit. Perhaps there is an unintentional compliment to all of that in the addition of an extra section here on damages, as broad in its sweep as it is. Let us be clear: this is not the person who is being harassed under section 4, with whom we would all sympathise; this is anybody who is a service provider or who holds themselves out as a victim, even of casual or intended, respected, accurate speech.

This is what our democrats here today want to enact in the law of Ireland. It is probably not as bad as the criminal provisions set out here, because criminal offences are damaging to people's reputations and, where successfully prosecuted, lead to the restriction of their freedom. We could say when it comes to bringing an action for damages that it is only money, but Senator Keogan has pointed out that it could be the livelihood of a very vulnerable person. It could be a very impecunious person who could be targeted by this provision. It is yet another casual cruelty of this legislation that it sets out in its sweep and its scope to oppress anybody who dissents in any way with abortion and who would dare to do so within the prescribed proximity to the facilities, as this legislation sets out.

I did not make a point during this debate at all today. I have listened to Senator Mullen speak again about how it is a crime for women in our country to seek safe access to having an abortion. I come from a very religious family and I am very religious myself, but the women of Ireland and Ireland as a whole spoke in 2018. We voted to repeal the eighth amendment. In this country, and as a legislator myself, in terms of what we are doing here, we should not be made to feel crap because we want to support women to have safe access to a termination. We should not have to be made to feel bad about that as women in these Chambers. I remind Senator Mullen that the people of Ireland voted to repeal the eighth amendment and also that it is not a crime for a woman in this country to seek abortion if she needs or wants to do so.

I do not mean to be smart or disrespectful by saying this, but if the granny does not need an abortion and it is nothing to do with her, she should move along and mind her own business. I do not say that in a bad way or anything, but that is just the truth of it. I do not mean to undermine Senator Mullen, but if a woman does not want an abortion, she should not have to get one. If she does not want it, she should not get it but in 2022, we should not look on it as being a crime.

Could the Senator speak to the amendment?

Senator Keogan should excuse me, it is my turn to speak not hers. That is my point. It is important that I have the time to speak as well.

I must point out to Senator Keogan that a lot of leeway has been given to her and Senator Mullen. I am not trying to interrupt her, but a lot of leeway was given at the start of this debate, and it has continued in that way. Senator Flynn has not had an opportunity to speak previously.

It is not a crime.

I have just been advised that we cannot have interruptions from the Gallery, as much as I might agree with them. As Acting Chair, I will stay out of that.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. We will not be accepting the amendment.

I am disappointed to hear the Minister of State will not accept the amendment.

Not only do some want to see protestors thrown into jail, they also seem to want to get money out of them as well. It is an absolute disgrace this amendment will not be accepted. None of the amendments have been accepted today.

I thank my staff, my colleagues for supporting me in tabling these amendments, and the people who worked hard behind the scenes to have these amendments tabled. I appreciate the work the do for me behind the scenes.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question put: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

Is that agreed?

Question put: "That Fifth Stage be taken now."

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."

Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Sharon Keogan and Rónán Mullen rose.

As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, for her courtesy and her flexibility today in order to facilitate the passing of this Bill. I pay tribute to our activists in the Together for Safety campaign right across the State who have campaigned tirelessly and brilliantly to get us this far. Of course, we are only halfway through the journey but it is a tremendously good day for the Seanad where people of all parties have come together behind this excellent Bill from Together for Safety, because women and pregnant people should not have to wait one further day to get safe access zones so they can access the services that they have a right to since the referendum to repeal in 2018.

I salute everybody here today for co-operating so well. This is a good day for democracy and it is a good day for the Seanad. Let us wish a very swift passage of the Bill through the Dáil.

I welcome that we have passed this Bill. I want to address the comment made earlier that we are looking at a hegemony here: we are not. People do have different views regarding a large number of issues. I also draw Members' attention to the fact that Deputy Neasa Hourigan and I wrote to the women's caucus back in September looking for progress on the Government's safe access zones Bill, because that is a core part of our programme for Government. It is a key commitment for us in the Green Party but I am aware it is a key commitment across Government. When we brought this letter forward to the women's caucus, while there were women with a variety of views on abortion it was interesting that everyone agreed on safe access zones. We do not want our hospitals to be battlegrounds. That is fundamentally what this is about.

In all of the contributions where dangerous language is being used around fascism and all of those things it shows that this is exactly what can happen when one does not have safe access zones. We have seen it in the US. We need to stop and ensure that our society does not turn into that. People have had their say, we had a referendum in 2018, and regardless of what one's views are on that, I believe that we are united, certainly across Government, when it comes to safe access zones, and across the majority of the Opposition.

This is something we have all worked on together. I commend Senators Gavan and Moynihan for their work, and also to the activists who are here today. I feel very passionately that we need an update on where the Government is on this. I have asked the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, for this previously and now I also ask, respectfully, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, for an update.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit for her presence here. I remember feeling real sorrow when the eighth amendment was repealed and deleted from our Constitution. I thought that something really good, which recognised the dignity of everybody in our society, had been lost. I felt sorrow when the quite wide-ranging legislation for abortion passed subsequently. At the time I said, and I will say again today, that there is a generation of people of all ages coming forward who see clearly that the dignity of the human person is a fundamental value for a civilised society, and that once we start excluding categories of people from the protection of society and the protection of the law, that we have gone down a bad road. Those people are to be commended for the work they continue to do. It is not primarily outside facilities where abortions are taking place that one sees their good work. We see their good work in the many exchanges with friends, colleagues and family members in colleges and so on, where they seek to advance a vision of authentic human rights that leaves nobody behind. That, essentially, is what the pro-life position is about. It is caring for mothers and caring for babies.

What we see here today is the negative outworking of the repeal, or some aspect of the negative outworking of the repeal of the eighth amendment, and the subsequent abortion legislation. At the time I wondered, and I continue to wonder and many of us continue to wonder, how far are those who want to secure abortion rights willing to go? The demand is for ever more restrictions on dissent. That is a very sad thing for our democracy. I do not believe that we are going to become a dictatorship overnight, but I use the words "flirting with fascism", which I used very carefully, because there are overtones of fascism around any attempt to curtail the respectful free expression of ideas. It does not happen in any other area. There is a particular worrying intolerance in those quarters that had the majority on their sides and which got the legislation that they wanted, but we have politicians here today pandering to what is actually now a very intolerant element in our society.

The people whose freedom to express a different idea, which is an authentic vision of human rights that includes everybody, does include some of the grannies of Ireland and the mothers. I was very sorry to hear them spoken of so disrespectfully today. It was from my mother, not from any bishop or religious leader, that I gained the pro-life sensibility that I believe is essential for a civilised society. She is a nurse. Another relative of mine was a nurse in Scotland and she told me of her experience of seeing abortions happening over there. I will never forget the moment when she described it as the tick, tick, tick of the little unborn child, in a late term pregnancy situation, expiring after an abortion. These things happen in our world and nobody wants to talk about them.

We have this lopsided debate where people rightly concern themselves with the vulnerability of those in crisis pregnancy, and we should all concern ourselves to address and assist in that area. I have spent a lot of my political career stressing that point. However, there is a complete absence and invisibility and the refusal to consider the humanity of the unborn, which sticks out remarkably and is a real indictment of our society. Nobody ever talks about the unborn child, who he or she is, what potential he or she has to make a fantastic contribution to the world, and what is lost when an abortion takes place. It is not to judge any other person to talk about the tragedy of that. It is to seek to find better ways for the future.

Senator, it is brief comments at this stage.

I thank the Acting Chairperson, but we are talking about a life-and-death issue and this is why it is important. As I said earlier on today, I am not here to repeat myself about anything but this is a life or death issue and it has to be spoken about. This Bill will offend many people's sense of propriety, their sense of justice and their sense of a democracy.

It is not a good achievement but it reflects the move that is on in our society. When Bill and Hillary Clinton were promoting abortion rights in the United States-----

I have been advised that this is just for brief comments at the end.

He disrespected the staff and everybody else and he goes on and on. We have listened to the Senator for the last number of hours. Please now.

That is just intolerance. I am sorry.

It is not intolerance.

It is closing the debate down on a Thursday afternoon.

We do not have to sit and listen to this.

I do not intend to go on much longer but it is 4.20 p.m. on a working day, not 7.20 p.m. Let us please all allow each other to do our jobs. This issue may not matter to other Members as it does to me.


It matters to me and to Senator Keogan because we are trying to hold up-----

The Bill has passed. I am entitled to call another speaker, so I am respectfully asking the Senator to wind up. Otherwise I will call another speaker.

I will conclude shortly but I was interrupted in an unfair way. Let us be honest; there are other Members of this House who have the same concerns that Senator Keogan and I have. We should all ask ourselves what it says about our democracy that only two Members would stand for any of these votes. Many of the Government politicians will canvass people and express private sympathy with their concerns about this. They will stand outside churches and canvass since Members are talking about religious people. Let us accept that it is more than two out of 60 as a percentage of our society who have a concern with this draconian legislation.

I was going to make the point that there was a time when people like the Clintons talked about abortion being safe, legal and rare. It is worth noting that such language is not allowed now. In the established view one is not allowed to suggest that abortions should be rare because that is somehow to admit that abortions are regrettable. That is how things have disimproved in our society as a measure of the extent to which the claims of the unborn for our care and attention should be allowed to be ventilated. I will conclude with that but I make no apologies for expressing my concern in detail about a Bill which reflects a fundamental denial of respect for human dignity. It is a shame on us all, I hope it does not pass the Dáil and I will be fairly confident that the Supreme Court will have no truck with it.

I thank Senators Gavan and Moynihan and all the activists who have campaigned so long to have this Bill before the House today. It is gut-wrenching to hear Senator Mullen talk about fascism. To describe this Bill as fascist is completely disingenuous and he should retract those comments. We know the people have campaigned and the people decided on the repeal of the eighth amendment during a long national discourse. This legislation is warranted and necessary because it is never appropriate in any shape or form to harass pregnant women or persons trying to access medical treatment. I want to again thank the Senators who brought this legislation before the House and the activists.

I did not speak earlier because I did not want to impede the passage of this legislation within the specific time. However, because of filibustering in the Chamber, we had to go over time. This debate and the result of it are important but I also want to acknowledge that the Minister of State had an important meeting at 3.30 p.m., which she postponed to be able to stay with us. I want to acknowledge the Minister of State's time and commitment to dealing with this right through to the final outcome, which means the Bill has passed.

I want to thank those who led on this, particularly Senator Gavan. I was pleased to join with Together for Safety for the photocall outside of Leinster House to show the cross-party support for this, which was important. No one should be harassed, insulted or intimidated in any way when accessing healthcare services in our country. A right of access applies to women who need to access termination or abortion services. The will of the people was made clear in the referendum and I know Senator Mullen was trying to rerun the referendum several times today. We have a duty to act on the will of the people and ensure that everyone who needs to access vital and legal healthcare has the opportunity to do so. To use talk about dictatorship, flirting with fascism, Ministers pandering and negative outworking from repeal is repulsive.

We have all heard stories and read newspapers and we have listened to stories today of how people have been intimidated. There is clear evidence that anti-choice protests and activities are adversely affecting women's ability to access healthcare, including abortion care, freely and without interference. There is also evidence that demonstrates that healthcare providers are being adversely affected. The point has been made that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of any democracy, including ours, and I fully support individuals' right to associate and speak their minds. However, no one has the right to block another person's access to vital healthcare. Every person in this State has a right to attend a medical appointment, whatever it is, free from fear, intimidation and harassment. We must provide compassionate and dignified termination of pregnancy services and the most important aspect of that is that women accessing the service can do so with certainty about the quality and safety of the care they receive. We owe that to the women of Ireland because we have not always treated them with the respect and dignity they deserve. As a society we have not always valued women in a meaningful way and that it is as true of healthcare as it is of any other sector of Irish society.

I was not going to come back in but I want to take issue with something Senator Mullen said; that other Members do not care about this issue as much he and Senator Keogan do. We are not going away when it comes to this. We will continue to fight for free, legal, safe and local abortion. The Senator might think he can run down the clock and put a chilling effect on Members in this Chamber, activists outside or healthcare providers but he cannot do so. We are passionate about allowing women access to basic healthcare because abortion is healthcare. The Senator will not intimidate us out of doing that.

I want to thank every person in the House. I am a proud Member of the Seanad today and it is one of my proudest days in the last two years. I can now be a proud woman and gender equality activist in saying that women in our country will feel a little bit safer in having access to healthcare services without feeling intimidated. I want to make a note to Senator Mullen. I respect what he says in that we cannot judge all people. We cannot judge women or pregnant people who need to seek abortion.

I want to commend Senators Moynihan and Gavan and the activists on bringing this Bill forward and for the fact that we are at a place where we are able to have this debate. People have different opinions on abortion and no one denies that. It is reasonable that people take their own personal views on it and there is no objection to that. However, feeling entitled because of one's personal views to stand, even silently, outside of a clinic, a general practice or a hospital in a manner intended to inhibit a woman or pregnant person's right to choose to go in there to terminate a pregnancy for one's personal choice and reasons is a sinister act. There is no question of that. We have heard characterisations today that are beneath this House and its honour.

We have heard terms such as "fascism". When we look at the news we see what happens when organisations and countries such as Russia think they can influence other democracies. In June last year the European parliamentary forum for sexual and reproductive rights, of which some Members of the House are members, published the Tip of the Iceberg report. It spoke about funding coming from Russian oligarchs to organisations throughout Europe, including organisations in this country that have taken anti-gay rights stances and pro-life stances. People should look up the Tip of the Iceberg report. It is fascinating to see the organisations that are funded. When we stand up here and speak about fascism we need to be very careful that our associates are not equally involved and that those whom people think are on the pro-life end of things are not involved and being funded.

That is a very serious allegation.

There was no allegation.

It is a European Union report.

To suggest that anybody in the Chamber is associated-----

There was no allegation.

That is not what she suggested.

There were no allegations. There was nothing against a certain individual.

It is just a bit of smoke screening and I can live with that. It hides a weak argument.

I ask everybody to conduct themselves appropriately.

I thank the Acting Chairperson and the Minister of State for being patient with my amendments. I thank my colleagues. It takes work as an Independent to table amendments. All of the arguments I have made today in favour of the amendments are valid. They certainly were not made to run down the clock. I take my work very seriously. My only issue is to protect the right to assembly, the right to protest and our right to prayer in public places. As long as there is breath in me I will defend these rights.

I thank everybody who has contributed to this debate. I thank Senators Gavan and Moynihan for tabling the Bill and working so tirelessly to get it to where we are today. I acknowledge that amendments have been tabled and debate was allowed on them. This is democracy at its best and it was all facilitated.

I am taking this Bill on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. He apologises for not being here as I explained earlier. The Acting Chairperson asked a question when she was contributing from the floor. From speaking to the Minister and his officials I know that in the past two weeks, and the Senator is aware of it, they have met the health committee and there is progress on crafting the legislation. A powerful debate has taken place here in pulling it all together. I hear the respect of all parties and other Members in support of safe access to health care with nobody being intimidated so people are able to access healthcare facilities. I am delighted to be here to facilitate debate. I was supposed to meet Brain Injury Ireland and it is important to acknowledge that meeting was dropped and Brain Injury Ireland facilitated me being present for this debate. If the Minister were here he would have wanted to ensure the Bill completed its passage through the House and I thank the Seanad for allowing it. I also acknowledge the work of the people in the Gallery. They have been here for the past number of hours and have seen democracy at its best. As Senator O'Loughlin said, they have engaged over a long period of time on this issue and I acknowledge their presence.

When is it proposed to sit again?

On Tuesday, 26 April 2022.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 4.35 p.m. go dtí 2.30 p.m., Dé Máirt, an 26 Aibreán 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 4.35 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 April 2022.