Violence Against Women and Girls

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 2 November 2021.

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Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 2:30, 2 November 2021

I thank the Member for her question. There are two distinct elements to it. There is the broader issue of street harassment, which is incredibly difficult to tackle through a criminal-justice lens, but is one on which I am working with others who are campaigning in this space to see whether more can be done to protect women from unwarranted abuse in the street. It is an incredibly frightening experience for young women to be approached by, often, quite bawdy individuals who shout abuse or make lewd comments as the women go about their daily lives. It is completely disrespectful. We need to target that.

I am also fully aware of the ongoing protests that are being held outside healthcare facilities across Northern Ireland, and the disruptive impact that they are causing, not only to vulnerable pregnant people who seek to access abortion services, but to those who seek general medical care and healthcare staff who are trying to carry out their duties. No one should have to face that kind of harassment. Everyone has a right to protest, but, equally, everyone should have the right to access healthcare free from harassment and intimidation. Healthcare workers should be able to go to their work free from that type of violence.

I am conscious that all trusts are reporting significant challenges in dealing with that issue, which appears to be growing. I am also concerned that some trusts are saying that they are having difficulty resolving the issue in the location where abortion services are delivered, and that that creates real disruption to their patients. I had hoped that we would be in a position to table an amendment to what was the justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill in order to provide for exclusion zones. Disappointingly, we could not get Executive agreement on its introduction. However, I support Clare Bailey's private Member's Bill on safe-access zones, and will continue to assist its progress in whatever way I can.