AS POLITICAL PARTIES began to step up the pressure on the government over the controversy surrounding the new National Maternity Hospital, a protest was held this afternoon outside the Department of Health.
Organised by the Workers’ Party, protesters called on the government to reverse the decision that would see religious order the Sisters of Charity owning the new National Maternity Hospital.
Today, Fianna Fáil, Labour and other parties demanded the government provide answers surrounding the ownership of the new hospital, which will cost the State €300 million but will be owned by the Sisters of Charity.
In a statement this evening, Health Minister Simon Harris has sought to clarify the government’s position, saying that there was no question of “religious interference” in the new National Maternity Hospital.
Protect our investment
Harris said that there are three key criteria that must be in place before the hospital progresses beyond the planning stage.
These include “clinical, operational and financial independence, with no question of religious interference”, and that no private entity or religious order can profit in any way.
He said that he had discussed this matter with the HSE Director General and was confident that these would be addressed.
He also addressed questions surrounding the financial benefits to the Sisters of Charity.
Harris said: “Questions have been raised about financial benefits to the Sisters of Charity due to the maternity hospital being developed on their campus. The opposite is the case.
“The St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is making available very valuable land at no cost to the State, to facilitate the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital. In doing so, they have foregone the opportunity to put this land to alternative use.
Let me be very clear: there will be no financial gain to any religious order from the development of this hospital.
I have heard people say that nuns will be running the hospital. Not true. I have heard that nuns will be gifted the hospital. Not true.
The Minister said that the urgent need for the new National Maternity Hospital was separate to that of the redress for abuse survivors, which he says is “long overdue”.
“I think it is wrong to conflate redress with the decision to build the desperately needed new maternity hospital,” he said.
The Workers’ Party claimed that 300 people attended the lunchtime demonstration outside the Department of Health. Councillor Éilis Ryan said that the turnout reflects the anger at the government’s decision.
She said: “The fact that 300 people took time out of their lunch to send Simon Harris a message speaks for itself.
The issue has crystallised what people have been feeling for a long time – for a supposedly secular republic, Ireland’s public services continue to be dominated by a private church.
Speaking at the event was activist Denise Kiernan, who set up a petition which has received 60,000 signatures to block the Sisters of Charity owning the hospital.
“People are confused”
Political parties have been ramping up the pressure today, with Fianna Fáil saying that the public deserves answers as to how the situation arose, and Labour saying that it is “unacceptable for that volume of public money to be allocated and owned by any private entity”.
In a statement, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said that detailed information must be provided on how the decision was reached.
He has requested that the master of the maternity hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, and Dr Kieran Mulvey, who facilitated the negotiations between the new maternity hospital and the Sisters of Charity, appear before an Oireachtas committee.
Kelleher said: “People are confused over the decision to allow the new €300 million publicly funded National Maternity Hospital to be handed over to the religious Sisters of Charity upon completion.
The public deserve answers as to how this situation arose. People also need reassurance that the best interests of the patient will at all times be the primary driver of decision-making at the hospital.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was “an anachronism” to allow a religious order to own a modern maternity hospital built using public money.
He said: “It is unacceptable for that volume of public money to be allocated and owned by any private entity. The St Vincent’s Group is a private entity.
It should be in public ownership, democratically controlled.
Also speaking 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”.