The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) is calling for the urgent introduction of safety zone legislation ahead of a planned 40-day prayer vigil outside the National Maternity Hospital by campaigners opposed to abortion.
In an email to staff, the Master of Holles St, Professor Shane Higgins, said it was “not an appropriate place for political protest of this kind”.
He said the hospital had informed gardaí of the planned action, set to run from September 25 to November 3, and that Holles St would “do everything necessary to ensure that staff and patients can enter and leave the hospital unimpeded, and with dignity and privacy”.
The anti-abortion group, calling itself 40 Days For Life, plans to base itself across the road from Holles St from 7am-7pm for 40 days.
Prof Higgins said the group was suggesting it would not obstruct entrances to the hospital and the situation would be monitored “to ensure that this is the case”.
“We would ask staff not to respond to any provocation or inappropriate activity in the vicinity of the hospital,” he said.
Prof Higgins said more than 9,000 women use the National Maternity Hospital every year.
The NWCI Abortion Working Group said the failure to introduce safety zone legislation - which the government committed to - means the anti-abortion protest will proceed “without protections in place for women and staff”.
The Abortion Working Group, made up of 23 groups, met today in Dublin and made the call for the immediate introduction of the promised legislation.
Orla O’Connor, director of NWCI, said despite “multiple commitments” by the Government and Health Minister Simon Harris, “including the most recent commitment to present legislation before the summer recess, we are no closer to achieving safety zones”.
Dr Mary Favier, spokesperson for Doctors for Choice, said there had already been “deplorable and preventable protests outside healthcare facilities” eg in Galway and Co Louth “and we need action now”.
A spokesperson for Mr Harris said he is "committed to bringing forward proposals on Safe Access Zones".
"He is meeting with opposition spokespersons later this month to discuss this. The Minister also wishes to assure women and healthcare staff that there is existing legislation in place to protect them and to protect patients," the spokesperson said.
40 Days For Life, according to its website, is “an international, religious anti-abortion group that campaigns in over 20 nations”.
A “statement of peace” states that those who sign up will “only pursue peaceful, law-abiding solutions to the violence of abortion” and will “ show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all National Maternity hospital employees, volunteers, and customers”.