Councillor Emma Coffey.
Councillor Emma Coffey has proposed an exclusion zone around the Lourdes hospital and other health facilities in the county that provide abortion services within which it would be illegal to protest against the provision of those services.
Cllr. Coffey’s motion to that effect was passed by a majority vote yesterday at a Louth County Council meeting in Dundalk.
“I am pleased to say my motion went down well with the main parties, I got cross party support from my own party Fianna Fáil, from Fine Gael, Labour and also Sinn Féin” she said.
(Mark Deerey was absent, Kevin Callan wasn’t in the chamber when the motion was being taken, Jim Tenanty wasn’t at the meeting, Maeve Yore was there but didn’t voice an opinion one way or the other and neither did Councillor Godfrey.)
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The only Councillor to voice opposition to the motion was Marrianne Butler of the Green Party who said she thought that there may be a constitutional issue with the motion.
“I am a solicitor and I wouldn’t have brought this motion forward unless I thought it was legally sound and I also sought advice from colleagues and they all agreed” Cllr. Coffey said.
Although the motion was passed by the members, the Council’s Chief Executive Joan Martin said she wants to take her own legal advice. Cllr. Coffey said however that she was confident that the Council’s legal advisers will agree that it is legally sound.
“I believe the government should have brought in this type of policy at the same time as the abortion legislation to protect medical professionals and tp prevent people availing of their services from being harassed or intimidated.
“I have no problem with people protesting but we need to ensure that any woman trying to access abortion services can do so unhindered.
“This is not an abortion issue per se, this is about people going about their business and having their right to access services legally.
She gave the example of Ealing County Council in the UK which last year introduced bye-laws for exclusion zones outside Marie Curie Centres which were appealed to the High Court by protestors under the EU Human Rights Convention for their right to protest and the right to freedom of speech. The Court upheld the Council’s decision because it was in the interest of the community.
“Yes people have their right of expression and their right of assembly but all I’m looking for is 500 metres. They can protest outside that zone legitimately and legally.
“Nor am I looking at his as a long term solution, I’m calling on the Minister for Health to bring in legislation as quickly as possible but I don’t see it being brought in this side of Christmas.”