Dr Peter Boylan address today's protest
Maternity Hospital

Hundreds protest over NMH as Harris says it's wrong to suggest Catholic influence at hospital

The former Health Minister said “abortion services will be provided” at the new facility.

MINISTER FOR FURTHER and Higher Education Simon Harris has said that “it is factually incorrect” to suggest that the Catholic Church will have any influence over the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH), which is planned to relocate to the St. Vincent’s Hospital campus.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Leinster House today to call on the Government to ensure the site of the new NMH is fully publicly owned.

Speaking to Newstalk’s Anton Savage earlier, Harris said: “In many ways, this new hospital is actually the secularisation of a national maternity hospital. You will have a hospital [where] the building will be owned by the state. The license will be owned by the HSE.”

He added: “The Minister for Health and his successors will have greater levels of legal protection than they currently have in relation to maternity services. Abortion services will be provided.”

The former Health Minister said that one of the reasons the hospital, currently at Holles St, needs to be moved to the new site is because “when things go wrong with pregnancy and with women’s health, it is so vital that it’s co-located with an adult teaching hospital”.

Harris said that “even a question about the influence of the Catholic Church is so misguided. It’s factually incorrect… the nuns are gone”.

The new NMH is to be co-located alongside St Vincent’s Hospital but the previous ownership of the site by the Religious Sisters of Charity has led to concerns about the influence of Catholic ethos.

One of the main areas of concern has been the use of the term “clinically appropriate” in the constitution of the new hospital, regarding the services that will be available to patients.

Speaking to media today, Harris said:

“That phrase was always meant to show that the NMH would be just that, a maternity hospital, but any additional clarifications or assurances that the Government can provide when it makes a decision on Tuesday would be welcomed by many. The Government is listening and will reflect,” he said. 

Earlier this month, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) completed the legal transfer of the Sisters of Charity’s shareholding in the group to the new charitable company, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.

screenshot.1652545428.50114 The crowd at today's protest PA Images PA Images

The past few weeks have been marked with controversy surrounding the relocation of the NMH and the terms of the leasehold agreement, which means that the State will be leasing the site from the owners rather than buying it outright. 

According to Harris, the site wasn’t bought because it wasn’t for sale, and that the options were “looked at in great detail “.

Public response

On Thursday, former Master of the NHM, Dr Peter Boylan, told TDs and Senators that the term “clinically appropriate” as part of the framework for the new NMH “is a major red flag”. 

Boylan has been a long-standing opponent of the proposed ownership and Governance structure for the hospital’s move from Holles Street to the Elm Park location in Dublin.

In a statement today, Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), said that “the majority of the public is not happy with the current proposals around the National Maternity Hospital.”

She added: “Women must be able to trust in the independence of their maternity hospital, and know that all of the legally available reproductive services are available to them.”

O’Connor called on the Government to pause the current plan to relocate the NMH to the St. Vincent’s campus and “work towards a solution that ensures a fully publicly owned and secular National Maternity Hospital”.

Alana Ryan, Women’s Health Coordinator at the NWC said in the statement that the history of women’s healthcare in Ireland shows good reason for scepticism and concern around the co-location.

“Despite the successful repeal referendum, recent legal developments in relation to Roe vs Wade in the US are a stark reminder that women can never take their reproductive rights for granted,” she said. 

With reporting from PA

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