AN MSP who is looking to pass legislation to introduce safe access zones around abortion clinics is making a trip to Ireland for talks on how the government there has put them in place.

Gillian Mackay will meet with representatives from across the Dail Eireann over the next four days including Minister of State Ossian Smyth, as well as campaign groups.

Ireland is looking to pass buffer zone legislation like Scotland after the Supreme Court ruled neighbours Northern Ireland could implement them before Christmas.

The country has been suffering from similar issues with anti-abortion protesters harassing women trying to get a termination.

Ireland’s most senior Catholic archbishop backed protesters in December saying it is “perfectly reasonable” to want to try and reach women who may be about to end a pregnancy. 

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Safe access or buffer zones create a protected area around a clinic where anti-abortion protesters are not allowed to stand to ensure women can access services free of intimidation.

Mackay carried out a consultation on her private member’s bill last year which attracted more than 12,000 responses. The bill has already received the support of cross-party MSPs and Mackay hopes to lay it in Parliament before the summer.

Speaking ahead of her visit, the Green MSP said: “The images we have seen, and the stories I have been told by people who have been intimidated, obstructed and abused outside medical facilities, are shocking. 

The National: Gillian Mackay will meet with Minister of State Ossian Smyth Gillian Mackay will meet with Minister of State Ossian Smyth (Image: PA)

“I am proud to be introducing a bill to stop the protests, and want to ensure it is the best and most robust legislation it can be. 

“That is why I am speaking to representatives from the Irish government as well as campaign groups who have been on the frontline of tackling the same problem. I want to learn from their experiences and share some of mine.

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“Abortion rights are human rights. In years to come, people will look back at these appalling protests and wonder why they were allowed to go on for so long. 

“By working together and learning from one another, whether in Scotland or Ireland, we can end the harassment for good.”

Mackay’s former Green colleague Clare Bailey was the MLA who introduced buffer zone legislation in Northern Ireland which passed in Stormont almost a year ago.

But it was delayed from becoming law after the NI attorney general Brenda King intervened to ask Supreme Court judges whether part of it disproportionately interfered with protesters’ rights and whether it was within the legislative competence of the assembly.

After the hearing in July – which came shortly after Bailey lost her seat in the 2022 election – a nerve-wracking few months followed until the court delivered a unanimous judgement in December to say the bill did not impact on the right to freedom of expression and the assembly had the power to implement it.

The victory has given Mackay reassurance the bill can survive legal challenge – which she fully expects will happen - and sets a precedent for Scotland to follow.

A third abortion care summit was held by the First Minister last week where it emerged buffer zones in Scotland are likely to be enforced by police.

Mackay explained at the event concerns had been raised by stakeholders about some protest groups being paid to breach the protected zones by the likes of American organisations such as 40 Days for Life.

She said: “I think there are issues around information sharing if it was local authorities that were taking that evidence.

“Police Scotland has a much more natural ability to share information of where laws are broken, and I think that certainly for me, that is my preference just for ease and ease of tracking where this behaviour is happening, who's moving around to different sites and where this is persistent.”