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'No religious influence': Harris defends new maternity hospital ownership in face of criticism

The Master of the new National Maternity Hospital said the facility will “revolutionise healthcare”.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has said that the new National Maternity Hospital will have “clinical and operational independence”, without “religious, ethnic or other influence”.

Severe criticism was levelled at the involvement of the Sisters of Charity in the new hospital, as the group has failed to deliver its full share to the redress for institutional abuse survivors.

The Department of Health confirmed that St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, of which the Sisters of Charity is a major shareholder, owned the land that the site of the hospital would occupy, but Simon Harris has sought to play down the religious group’s involvement.

In a statement, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, also sought to reassure of the independent nature of the new hospital facility.

“Golden share”

In a series of tweets, Harris affirmed that the “new maternity hospital will have full clinical, operational and budgetary independence, free of any religious or ethnic influence”.

He also said that the independence of the hospital is “copperfastened by reserved powers and golden share held by Minister for Health of day”. He added:

Just to be clear, under new structures for maternity hospital, the Minister/State has greater role through golden share and required consent.

Harris also echoed the statement from the Department which emphasised that the “identity and ethos” of the hospital would be retained under a new governance structure.

“Revolutionise healthcare”

Master of the hospital Dr Rhona Mahony issued a statement this evening addressing the controversy around the hospital.

The Master is a term from the 19th century when the Rotunda, the Coombe, and Holles Street hospitals were each given the power to appoint one head each to take control of all aspects of the hospital’s clinical and administrative areas.

Mahony said: “The new National Maternity Hospital to be built on the St Vincent’s Healthcare campus will be dedicated solely to providing maternity care for women and infants.

It will be operated by a new company with an independent board and will be clinically and operationally entirely independent in line with national maternity policy.

She added that the current maternity hospital at Holles Street was “not fit for purpose” and that the co-location of the new maternity hospital with an adult tertiary hospital “will revolutionise healthcare in Ireland for women and infants”.

Sisters of Charity

The Religious Sisters of Charity Ireland are one of the organisations included in the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (known as the Ryan Commission), which unveiled a vast amount of systematic institutional abuse going back decades.

The group was included in a 2002 Indemnity Agreement which offered €128 million towards addressing the historical abuse.

Following the publication of the Ryan Report in 2009, the religious congregation offered €5 million extra for the redress costs for survivors, which have been put at €1.52 billion.

According to a report last month by Comptroller & Auditor General, the group still owes €3 million of this.

The group also said in 2013 that they would not be contributing to a state redress scheme for survivors of Magdalene Laundries.

In a statement this evening from the group Magdalene Survivors Together, its members expressed “deep anger and absolute shock” with the Sisters of Charity owning the land of the maternity hospital.

Its chairperson Steven O’Riordan said: “It would seem bizarre after everything that has happened that this religious order would be given such a power. The state in my view simply wants to shift the responsibility of care to anyone but themselves.”

Read: Religious order that owes millions to abuse survivors given ownership of new maternity hospital

Read: Religious groups still owe €1.3 billion for institutional child abuse

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