I’m not talking about the kind of hatred that some of us have for bad puns, or the kind I have for olives and mushrooms. I’m not talking about hatred of Monday mornings or when someone takes your parking space. I’m not even talking about that hatred of when you realise only too late that they never gave you your bag of prawn crackers at the takeaway.

I’m talking about the kind of hatred that consumed Anakin Skywalker and made him become Darth Vader. That deep, all-consuming bitterness you see in some people. The cruel hate that they clearly take some sort of empty enjoyment out of, and you can only feel pity for those people.

That is the hatred Youth Defence thrive on, and the bitterness they try to instill in their followers.

Please note that some of the images and language in this post may be triggering.

A Peaceful Group?

A regular Joe Soap who hasn’t really thought about abortion, let alone formed an opinion on it, could be forgiven for being taken in by Youth Defence’s forced attempt to portray a sense of happiness and friendliness. It’s obvious that they’re trying to appeal to “unaligned” members of the public with their younger supporters, giant smiley faces, photos of babbling babies and toddlers.

:) :) :) :) :)

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

While I have no doubt that most of the supporters at Youth Defence rallies are very well-meaning, they probably are not aware of the organisation’s somewhat “colourful” history since it was founded in 1992.

The Dublin Abortion Rights group and blogger Bock the Robber have detailed articles about Youth Defence, but here are the main points:

  • In 1992 on Thomas Street and in 1994 at the Dáil, members of Youth Defence attacked and assaulted pro-choice campaigners, causing many injuries.
  • In 1998 an elderly member of staff of the Marie Stopes clinic on Blessington Street was physically attacked by Youth Defence protesters.
  • In 1999 members of staff of the Irish Family Planning Association were assaulted, the association’s clinic on Cathal Brugha Street was occupied by hundreds of Youth Defence supporters, and the IFPA’s director, Tony O’Brien, was continually harassed.

The 1994 incident was recalled by Richard Boyd-Barrett TD at a protest in pro-choice November 2012 near Buswells Hotel beside Leinster House. He talked about how he was at that demonstration when members of Youth Defence opened a van outside Buswells to reveal people inside passed around hurling sticks, and pro-choice activists were physically attacked.

Youth Defence’s hatred of people who have different opinions than them made the group try to silence the opposition. With violence.

How can a group be so eaten up by bitterness that they would go out of their way to physically attack – obviously with an intent to harm – and harass other people on a matter of straightforward human rights?

This mentality isn’t unique to Youth Defence, and some groups and activists have even taken things to further extremes: the so-called “pro-life” people have undertaken massive acts of violence against doctors and abortion providers all over the world, including arson, bombings, kidnappings, and even murder. Indeed, anti-choice violence has been classed as terrorism in the 1980s.


The happy, cheery facade isn’t always present during protests of course, and Youth Defence will often go out of their way to deliberately shame and guilt women who have had, or are going to have, an abortion. This is done by showing images of late-term abortions, which are not – for the main – the kind of abortion women in Ireland obtain. They attempt to equate early abortions (usually done medically and are like a heavier period) to late-term abortions that utilise dilation and evacuation methods.


Youth Defence will also exclaim that “abortion is murder”. By saying this, they are calling women who have had an abortion murderers. If you were a woman who desperately needed an abortion for whatever reason, how would you feel being called a murderer? It’s no wonder that more women don’t speak about their experiences with abortion when faced with horrible hatred and nastiness like this. So much for a group that claims to be “pro-woman”.

Niamh Ui Bhriain, founder of Youth Defence, out and about calling women murderers

Niamh Ui Bhriain, founder of Youth Defence, out and about calling women murderers

This June Youth Defence launched a new poster and billboard campaign, about a year after their previous campaign kicked off. Just like last time, the current campaign is triggering outrage (I’d argue that the 2012 campaign was a major factor in arriving at the legislation now being debated by the Dáil). Outrage not only caused by the blatant lies they are telling in order to shame women, but also by the methods of how this campaign is being undertaken.

Every day I pass a Youth Defence billboard in Santry, Dublin on my way to and from work. The message and image is the same as the one on the truck below, and it states:

Abortion won’t make women safer: It will just kill babies.

That’s right: according to Youth Defence, if you’re a woman who has had an abortion, you are a mere, selfish baby-killer. If you are considering obtaining an abortion for your own personal reasons, you want to kill a baby.

Of course, this is nonsense, and Youth Defence are using false, emotive language to shame women. It also shows just how repulsed they are by the fact that a woman might want to get the healthcare she needs. If you’re a woman affected by abortion or the prospect of one in any way, Youth Defence do not “Love Them Both” and are not “pro-woman” as their slogans go: quite simply, they hate you, and will do anything and everything they can to make sure you know they hate you.

Anything and Everything

On Thursday, the truck below was parked close to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, immediately invoking anger as the image spread across social networks like wildfire.


This sparked significant online media coverage, and a protest outside 60a Capel Street the following day.

The billboard company in question, AdMobile, cancelled the contract with Youth Defence following the incident, and put the parking of the truck near the Rape Crisis Centre down to an innocent mistake. Keep in mind, though, that a spokesperson for the company said that AdMobile follow a route as laid down by the client, and then park and take photos to prove that they followed the routh (which is what the driver was doing).

So here’s the problem: did Youth Defence actually think it was acceptable to drive (let alone park) their billboard outside the Rape Crisis Centre?

Somehow, I think the answer is “yes, we think it was fine”. They have often stated that even rape victims should not get an abortion, and it follows that they feel that victims are legitimate targets in their hate-filled campaigns. Another reason why I believe Youth Defence thought it was perfectly okay to take that route is because of their response to the incident. One would expect any semi-reasonable group following such an incident to say something like:

We got this one wrong. We are against abortion, but driving the billboard near the Rape Crisis Centre was a mistake, and the route should have been thought out better. We wholeheartedly apologise for any distress and offence caused, and we are immediately re-evaluating the locations where our campaign is taking place.

But no. An ounce of compassion is clearly too much for Youth Defence, and instead of even remotely releasing a statement like this, they immediately started playing the victim.

[tweet_embed id=350314182337511425]

[tweet_embed id=350318779433099264]

[tweet_embed id=350613658876911619]

Note how the last tweet blatantly lies about the location of the truck, when there is photographic evidence that suggests otherwise.

Tweets and retweets regarding the protest that took place the following day were also full of snide nastiness:

[tweet_embed id=350675826985021441]

[tweet_embed id=350677428810694656]

Indeed, Youth Defence went to great lengths on Twitter to try to make people think they weren’t even in the building and were in a pub somewhere. This is false, as Youth Defence members (one being none other than Scott Schittl, American founder of the Life House) came out of the building to remove posters being put up by the protesters. But hey, they can’t let something like the truth get in their way, right?

As you can see, Youth Defence display contempt for rape victims, and then proceed to lie to cover their asses.

Youth Defence’s hatred doesn’t end there.

Youth Defence and the Far Right

The group’s links with far right fascist groups have been documented over the last number of years, particularly in relation to Michael Quinn and Justin Barrett.

Quinn is a member of the ultra-nationalist group Democratic Right Movement (DRM), and he took part in an anti-choice march organised by Youth Defence in Dublin in 2011, and another in Belfast in July 2012. When he was pointed out, stewards moved to surround Quinn to protect him and to allow him to continue marching.

The problem is that Youth Defence tried to cover this up when it was pointed out on their Facebook page. Posts were promptly deleted, and people were banned from the page for asking about Quinn.

Again, a statement like “We didn’t realise he was there, sorry” may have sufficed. Instead, Youth Defence tried to cover things up and ended up making themselves look worse.

Michael Quinn, Dublin 2011

For a little context, here is Quinn at a meeting in 2012, where fascist logos and the number 88 (which means HH or ‘Heil Hitler’) are on proud display.

Michael Quinn (second from right) and fellow fascists

Justin Barrett is a known far right activist who in 1992 became the spokesperson for Youth Defence. Through Barrett, a number of extremist groups and high-up people in those groups have been linked with Youth Defence. Magill published an excellent piece covering this in 2002 which I recommend you read, but here I will outline some of the main points.

The International Third Position was formed from a split with the British National Party, and was the brainchild of Roberto Fiore, who was a member of the political wing of the terrorist group that bombed the Bologna railway station in 1980, killing 85 people. The ITP voiced support for Youth Defence in its online publication Final Conflict.

Fiore formed a new far right group called Forza Nuova in Italy in 1997, and this is where the Barrett comes in more directly. Forza Nuova confirmed on their website that Barrett had attended and spoken at a number of fascist and nationalist conferences over the years.

Another group, the Nationalist Democratic Party in Germany (NPD), have also been linked with Youth Defence. Holger Apfel, deputy leader of NPD, told the Irish Times that, “We have been in contact with his [Barrett’s] group since 1996. We are friendly with his Youth Defence organisation.”

Indeed, representatives from all three groups – Youth Defence, ITP, and NPD – attended a fascist conference in 2000.

I guess an alternative way to look at these links with the far right is not that Youth Defence are attempting to publicly support the fascist and ultra-nationalist groups, but that they’re instead publicly refusing to deny or denounce any such links.

AFA Ireland have an album of interesting photos on Facebook where Youth Defence are shown to have some questionable links (I linked to a couple of the photos above), and it’s worth looking through to get a feel for the group’s tactics throughout the years.

I think I’ll leave this post there for now, as I reckon I’ve shown just how two-faced, nasty, and hateful Youth Defence can be. Even if you’re a pro-life supporter, I’d strongly suggest being wary of Youth Defence and would encourage you to avoid them as far as possible.

Keep an eye out in the media for them over the coming weeks as the X Case finally becomes law, as I have no doubt that they will continue to show up their darker side.

Update 6/7/13: Fintan O’Toolbox has written an excellent investigative piece about Michael Quinn and his links to Youth Defence that expands further on the points I made above. His work featured as a guest post on the wonderful blog Geoff’s Shorts (run by @geoffshorts). I thoroughly recommend reading the post by Fintan, as well as Geoff’s fantastic array of articles on various topic, and be sure to follow them both on Twitter.

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