I’ve always thought Youth Defence were a bit of an odd lot (the name itself is oxymornic. Where were they when all that abuse of youths was taking place under the remit of the Roman Catholic Church?). But then I’m not a Catholic so maybe I’m the wrong person to comment. I understand their position, opposition to abortion, and appreciate that they express the view of many people in Ireland, religious and non-religious alike, but some of their tactics (and sermonising) has been more than a little bit off-putting. Ok, they are “pro-life” (though, who isn’t? Necrophiles?), yet all that Roman Catholic mystique they wrap themselves up in is hardly designed to win friends and influence people, let alone gain a fair hearing. I’d rather an argument based on medical facts than religious dogma. But then I suppose they are speaking to the converted and are not out to seek support from beyond that limited pool of like-minded folk.
Here is an article from Jack Leahy the University Times on Youth Defence in 2012 (which is apparently just as, um, well-funded as its always been):
“Youth Defence is a self-described pro-life organisation that was established in 1992 in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling on the X case. It was founded by seven campaigners, though the identity of most is still subject to education guesswork.
It is widely accepted that Niamh and Úna Bean Mhic Mathúna were the driving force behind the group’s initial organisation. These are the daughters of Úna Bean Mhic Mathúna, whose track record of high-profile campaigning for traditional Catholic values stretches back decades, including opposition to contraception and state support for single mothers.
It has been deduced that the seeds were sewn for her daughters’ future in campaigning when Joe Scheidler, an aggressive American antiabortionist, was invited to the Mhic Mathúna home during the 1983 campaign to add a ‘right to life’ clause to the Irish constitution. Niamh, then 14, has since dated her commitment to activism to the experience of exposure to graphic antiabortion images.
The leadership of the Mhic Mathúna sisters was followed by that of Justin Barrett, who became involved as Youth Defence press officer having failed to gain election to the presidency of the Union of Students in Ireland.
The group’s first violent activity took place in 1993 in Dublin, the police report to which indicates that Youth Defence hired security from or with links to Republican Sinn Féin, a breakaway group of the political party with even more substantial links to the [ASF: Continuity!] Irish Republican Army.
[ASF: Which is news to me. Yes, some members of Sinn Fein Poblachtach have had contact with YD but one can say that of other political parties in Ireland, including Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, etc. There’s nothing to be read into that. As for the CIRA implications – the usual Special Branch technique of policing by paranoia]
Later that year, the group was involved in a picket protest outside of the house of Health minister Brendan Howlin’s elderly mother. Several members were fined or jailed for harassment as a result.
In 1996, the group offered €51,000 to the parents of a high-profile pregnant 13-year old girl to reverse their decision to travel abroad with her for an abortion. Just yesterday, the Youth Defence Facebook page made reference to the case and accused ‘pro-aborts’ of forcing her parents to force an abortion upon her.
In 1999, the group was allowed to travel the country to make presentations in primary schools on abortion. The presentations were based largely on Barrett’s teachings and writings. The presentations took place shortly after members were arrested for an invasion of an Irish Family Planning Association Centre. The group were issued with a restraining order that was broken in 2005 by an attempt to disrupt a IFPA press conference.
It has already been mentioned that the propaganda of an aggressive American antiabortionist was a formative experience of a founding member of Youth Defence. Though the group have never deviated from their insistence that their funding is domestically-sourced, evidence uncovered in recent years of a substantial link to heavily-funded US groups. In turn, this furthers suggestions that the group models itself on the American far-right ultra-conservative groups.
For one thing, Youth Defence’s confrontational tactics are distinctly American in style. Direct attacks on abortion clinics (read family planning centres for Ireland) and invasive protests targeting the homes of individuals are borrowed from American antiabortionists.
Second, a prominent figure in the campaign against Youth Defence’s posters noted that the group use the term ‘pro-aborts’ when referring to their opponents. If that terms sounds unfamiliar, it’s because it is an Americanism prevalent in the abortion discourse in the United States. Last, that the donation page on the Youth Defence website refers to amounts in dollars is seen as further evidence of pandering to American donors.
It is evident that a number of blogs on its site are nuanced towards American donors, the most telling of which offers an introductory explanation of the Irish population. This has fuelled arguments that the group cannot claim to represent a reckonable number of Irish people.
Since its inception in 1992, Youth Defence has been registered with the Companies Registration Office—not as a ‘company’ but as a ‘business name,’ a designation that requires a considerably lower standard of document provision and general transparency and is not a charitable designation. Youth Defence, in fact, appears not to reveal any financial information willingly.
Furthermore, a link to right-wing activist group Cóir has been unveiled over the last number of years by virtue of mutual high-ranking personnel including Youth Defence chair Eamon de Faoite and the elder Úna Bean Mhic Mathúna.
Many have question how Youth Defence, an organisation that purports to be funded by Irish supporters, can afford to fund large-scale publicity campaigns. Hosting a longer-term campaign with JC Decaux can cost up to €7,000 for Luas advertisements alone, and based on current rates it is likely that the entire campaign cost upwards of €12,000. When questioned last week on their Facebook page, Youth Defence insisted that funds are sourced exclusively from Irish donors.
If you are shocked by the expense of this campaign, it should be noted that it is considerably smaller in expense than previous campaigns. The American Life League donated €45,000 for a campaign in 1996, while €44,000 was spent on 2001′s unsuccessful campaign for a referendum on abortion.”
Just for the record, my own position on abortion is pro-choice (which is not the same as “pro-abortion”, as some critics would have it), albeit with suitable safeguards and restrictions (and above all integrated post-abortion services, medical and counselling, which is the greatest failing of services in other jurisdictions).