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Priest disputes UN call for referendum

03 July 2015


Anti-abortion campaigner: Bernadette Smyth leaves Belfast Magistrates' Court, in December, after she was fined and ordered to perform 100 hours' community service, after her conviction for harassing Dawn Purvis, the director of a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast City Centre. On Monday, a judge ruled that Mrs Smyth's appeal against the conviction had been successful 

Anti-abortion campaigner: Bernadette Smyth leaves Belfast Magistrates' Court, in December, after she was fined and ordered to perform 100 hour...

A CHURCH of Ireland rector has challenged the call from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for another referendum on abortion to ensure that Irish women and girls "can fully realise their economic, social, and cultural rights".

The Rector of Castlecomer, in the diocese of Ossory, the Revd Patrick Burke, in a letter to the Irish Times, said that the UN was powerless to order the Irish State in any of its internal governance.

"Their 'must' is contained in a list of recommendations in a report; and a recommendation is something that can just as easily be rejected as accepted," he wrote. "So, really, this is less a 'must' than a 'This is what we think you should do,' said in a hectoring tone accompanied by a frowning look and lot of finger-wagging.

"That makes a lot more sense. After all, the last time I looked, the UN didn't have the authority to dictate to member states how they manage their internal affairs; and certainly none of its multitude of committees doesn't have that power. Therefore, the only thing we 'must' do with this report and its recommendations is politely nod and smile, and then do as we ourselves see fit."

On Monday, the Irish Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, said that 26 terminations were carried out last year under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, 14 of them due to risk of life of the mother from physical illness; a further nine on the basis of what were termed "emergency situations"; and three because of the risk that the women would take their own lives.

Reacting, Amnesty International reiterated its call for a new referendum on the "right to life of the unborn" which is enshrined in the Constitution. The director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O'Gorman, said of the Minister's report: "Nothing in it suggests that the multiple processes a woman or girl may have to undergo to be deemed entitled to an abortion are respectful of their human rights, including their right to health."

On Monday, one of the best-known campaigners in Ireland against abortion, Bernadette Smyth, won an appeal at Belfast County Court against her conviction for harassment of a Marie Stopes director at the city centre clinic.

Mrs Smyth was convicted by magistrates in November of conducting a campaign against Dawn Purvis, who is also a former Progressive Unionist Party MLA.

Mrs Smyth was ordered to undertake 100 hours' community service, and to pay compensation of £2000 to Ms Purvis. The appeal judge, Gordon Kerr, said that the evidence did not meet the standards for a successful prosecution.

Judge Kerr confirmed on Monday that Mrs Smyth would not be subject to any further restraining order relating to the case.

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