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Sisters of Charity

Bishop says new maternity hospital should obey rules of Catholic Church

Health Minister Simon Harris has insisted the hospital will be independently run.

hospital Simon Harris looking at a model of St Vincent's University Hospital and how the new building will fit into the existing complex Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

THE BISHOP OF Elphin has said the Sisters of Charity will have to obey the rules of the Catholic Church if they become the owners of the new national maternity hospital.

There has been growing controversy about the issue in recent days, with many people expressing concern about what impact the religious order owning the hospital could have on how it is run.

In a statement to the Sunday Times, Bishop Kevin Doran said: “Any healthcare organisation bearing the name Catholic, while offering care to all who need it, has a special responsibility … to Catholic teachings about the value of human life and the dignity and the ultimate destiny of the human person.”

Health Minister Simon Harris has insisted the hospital will be independently run despite being under the ownership of the order, which owns the land at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4 where the new hospital is set to be built.

On foot of the scrutiny, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, of whom the Sisters of Charity are a major shareholder, said on Friday it would review the status of the current plans.

colm Colm Brophy The Week in Politics / Twitter The Week in Politics / Twitter / Twitter

Speaking about Doran’s comments, Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics: “The comment of somebody asked to clarify what a position is or whatever does not in my opinion override the very clear legal agreement, including the establishment of that memorandum of understanding to run the hospital which has been put in place which gives the safeguards which we wanted and need to have for a modern, 21st century hospital.”

Details of the agreement were published in the Sunday Independent today. The report notes that a clause in the deal protects the hospital’s clinical services from “religions, ethnic or other discrimination”.

During the week, the former master of Holles Street national maternity hospital Dr Peter Boylan questioned if the Sisters of Charity would allow certain procedures to be performed at the new hospital, such as abortion, sterilisation, gender reassignment surgery and IVF.

In response to this, the current Holles Street master Dr Rhona Mahony told RTÉ: “There is a triple lock in place to guarantee absolute autonomy and independence of the clinical services we deliver.”

Newspaper leak 

Also on The Week in Politics, Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin accused Harris of leaking the agreement to the Sunday Independent.

You have a minister that makes a deal in secret, doesn’t bring it to Cabinet and then, rather than coming on a show like this, on which you’d expect to have some comment from a senior government minister, leaks it to a Sunday newspaper … How else would a Sunday newspaper get the deal?

“The deal should be in front of Cabinet, they say they haven’t see it. The independent ministers say they haven’t seen it. It should be in front of the Oireachtas, it should be in front of the health committee.”

Brophy accused Ó Ríordáin of playing party politics and said he didn’t think it was worth replying to his claim Harris had leaked the information.

‘Lost in the Ring of Kerry’ 

On the same programme, Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless said the whole situation “reminds me of the tourist that gets lost in the Ring Of Kerry and asks a local for directions and the answer is ‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here’.”

Lawless said people are “really irked” by the deal, noting that a complex property structure “between public and private ownership, between the State and Church” goes back decades if not centuries.

How did we get into this mess? How did the Minister for Health, how did the Taoiseach on behalf of government sign off on this six months ago? Did they not anticipate these kind of problems?

Speaking at the Irish Medical Organisation AGM in Galway yesterday, Harris called for “cool heads” in the debate, stating that a new national maternity hospital is something “women and infants in this country desperately need”.

“I am very committed to this project and I will work with all stakeholders to ensure that we do build this hospital. Yes, it’s complicated, and we must work together to address concerns that some people have expressed,” Harris said.

Over 80,000 people have signed a petition to date calling for the Sisters of Charity to not get ownership of the hospital.

Read: Accused of being ‘hapless, helpless and hopeless’, Harris wants ‘cool heads’ on maternity hospital

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

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