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Ex-hospital master to Simon Harris: 'Ask nuns about their plans for €300m hospital'

Dr. Peter Boylan says the minister must quiz the Sisters of Charity.

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD looking at a model of St Vincents University Hospital.
Minister for Health Simon Harris TD looking at a model of St Vincents University Hospital.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE FORMER MASTER of the National Maternity Hospital has said that it is “just not on” that the Sisters of Charity are to be the owners of the new facility.

The National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street in Dublin is moving to a new €300 million facility on the grounds of the current St Vincent’s Hospital.

The site is owned by religious order the Sisters of Charity and the proposed deal will see the order owning the facility as it provides the lands at no cost.

A petition opposing plan has now topped 50,000 signatures with many pointing out that the order owes money to a redress scheme set up for the survivors of religious abuse.

Speaking today on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, former Holles St. master Dr. Peter Boylan said his concerns were based on whether the religious beliefs of the Sisters of Charity would affect medical care at the hospital.

Boylan was responding to a comment from St. Vincent’s University board member Sister Agnes Reynolds to the Irish Times. Reynolds said she “can’t make a judgement” on the precise medical care to be provided at the hospital.

“When she’s asked about whether or not the congregation would influence medical care provided, she said that she can’t make a judgement on that,” Boylan said.

Now we’ve been down this road before with the religious on the issue of mental reservation. What she probably means is we can’t make a judgement on that now but we’ll wait until the hospital is built and we can make a judgement call.

The Department of Health has promised that the current ethos of the National Maternity Hospital will not be affected by the new deal and says that it will operate ‘without religious distinction’.

“The identity and ethos of the current NMH will be retained,” the department said in a statement.

The new company will have clinical and operational independence in the provision of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services, without religious, ethnic or other distinction, as well as financial and budgetary independence.

Boylan, however, said that this is not how religious hospitals operate elsewhere in Ireland or the rest of the world.

“That would make the new hospital unique in the world in that it would be the only hospital in the world owned by the Catholic Church and effectively run by a company that is owned by the Catholic Church to allow things like IVF, sterilisation, abortion, gender reassignment surgery etc, etc,” Boylan said.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said that the State is to hold a golden share in the ownership structure of the hospital, something he says ensures clinical decisions are free from a religious veto.

In addressing the minister, Boylan says Harris needs to ask the Sisters of Charity directly if they will stand in the way of certain medical procedures:

They need to be asked, explicitly by the minister, because it’s his responsibility, he’s the one who can sort this out. He needs to ask them: ‘Will you allow abortion, sterilisation, gender reassignment surgery, IVF practices to be done in a hospital that you own, run by a company you own?’

Boylan added that the current management of Holles Street were left with “little choice” but to go along with the proposal but that he feels it is wrong.

“I think that, unfortunately, Holles Street were left with little chance, they need a new hospital, the women of Ireland need a new hospital. It’s a wonderful design but the structure is completely wrong. It’s just unacceptable for this State, our money to be given to the Sisters of Charity to build a hospital, worth €300 million. It’s just not on,” he said.

Speaking later on Today with Sean O’Rourke, the current Master of National Maternity Hospital Dr Rhona Mahony said that there is a “triple lock” which guarantees the independence of the new hospital.

“There is a triple lock in place to guarantee absolute autonomy and independence of the clinical services we deliver,” she said.

If this does not go ahead, and if we’re going to mix this really important critical development for women with redress scheme, are we going to punish women further in this country by actually interfering and getting in the way of building a hospital that is so urgently needed for women.

She added that the location of the new maternity hospital right beside St. Vincent’s Hospital is safer for women and represented “the future of healthcare”.

“We have to come up with an agreement that protects the integrity of both hospitals,” Mahony said.

“On the one hand we need independence to give the care that we need to give and that includes contraception and termination of pregnancy and we have achieved that. We have absolute operational and clinical independence. We also have to integrate into a larger campus.  This will be of such enormous benefit to women and no one is looking at what women will achieve here.”

Read: ‘I really thought we were beyond this point’: Protest to be held tomorrow on new maternity hospital >

Read: Over 40,000 sign petition to prevent Sisters of Charity becoming owners of maternity hospital >

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