By James Ward and Dominic McGrath, PA
A protest has been held outside Leinster House calling for an end to ongoing restrictions on partner visits in maternity wards.
More than 100 people including pregnant women, new mothers and families gathered outside the Dáil on Wednesday afternoon, calling for partner access in neo natal units to be restored to pre-pandemic levels.
Several TDs and Senators from all political parties attended the March for Maternity to offer their support, while those worst impacted by the regulations told their personal stories.
Linda Kelly from Better Maternity Care, who organised the campaign, told the crowd: “The lack of compliance from hospitals, who believe they can rip up national guidelines and do whatever the hell they want, is not maternity care.
“We stand here in the rain, demanding better maternity care today.”
Caroline Cumming, who gathered 62,000 signatures on a petition in September 2020 calling on Government to lift the restrictions, said it is hard to believe she is protesting for the same thing a year later.
“After all the lockdowns, the travel bans and all the other restrictions across society are more or less lifted and over.
“We didn’t want to have to ask all of you to come out and do this.
“To come out of the warmth and safety of your homes with your bumps, your babies, your toddlers, on this cold autumn day, to ask the Government to reinstate what should be a basic human right.
“The right to be there at the birth of your own child. And by that I mean from the very first twinge of a contraction to the end.
“We know the true impact these restrictions have had on people.
“We’ve been asking the Minister of Health and the HSE for over 12 months now to acknowledge the impact of this trauma that these restrictions have caused.
“And to come up with practical solutions to achieve the shared goal of keeping everybody safe without separating pregnant people and their partners.”
Actress Amy De Bhrun, who starred in BBC’s Line Of Duty, joined the protest just two weeks after giving birth.
She said: “No-one wants to be here today. I’d certainly like to be sitting in a warm, dry café, with my husband and my two-year-old daughter and my two-week-old son.
“But how can I, when I know that across Ireland so many other women’s needs for maternity care are not being met.
“This country has a long and chequered history with the mistreatment of women in our society.
“It can be exhausting, and unless this issue is staring you directly in the face, it’s so easy not to look at.
“The one thing that connects us all is that in order to get here, to be born, a woman gave birth to you.
“It is an important job, it is an essential job. Wouldn’t you like to give that woman the respect and support she deserves in one of the most important and essential jobs she will ever do?”
A 10ft scroll, bearing the stories of women who faced their pregnancies alone due to the restrictions, was presented to the members of the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus.
While Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has previously called for unfettered access where possible, the situation has varied between hospitals.
The protest will up the pressure on him to take decisive action and end the restrictions for good.
Several TDs in the Dáil on Wednesday attacked the Government over the issue of ongoing maternity restrictions.
Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly accused Mr Donnelly of paying “lip service” to the concerns of women and their families.
Labour leader Alan Kelly, speaking as women gathered in Dublin for the protest, said it was “desperate that they have to do this”.
He said current restrictions are “barbaric”, and added: “How can it be that these restrictions aren’t unilaterally lifted?”
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns asked: “How much of this you’re subjected to is a complete geographical lottery.
“From October 22nd you’ll be able to attend a nightclub, but partners will still be told to wait in the car park when they arrive at a maternity hospital for the birth of their own child.”
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, standing in for leaders’ questions, agreed with the concerns but stressed the Government has said “open access” should be available for partners.
He said it is not right that partners have been forced to wait outside maternity hospitals and he called on units with restrictions in place to “allow unfettered access”.
However, Mr O’Brien said some decisions are made at local hospital level.
“We’re still living with Covid in the communities now,” he told the Dáil.
“The Government has issued guidance on it. The HSE is committed to keeping any restrictions that are there under review.
“I believe that hospitals, where they can allow unfettered access, they should and the Minister for Health has been very clear on that.”