- 01 Oct 20
The long-running controversy over the decision taken by the company owned by The Sisters of Charity to seek the liquidation of the care homes at its land-pile in the wealthy Dublin suburb of Donnybrook and the Merrion Road moved a step closer to completion earlier this week, when the request from the staff and residents for the appointment of an Examiner was refused in the High Court. An appeal is the last ditch hope for staff and residents...
A judgment in the High Court this week has paved the way for the liquidation of the company that runs St Mary’s Centre (Telford). The company is owned by the Sisters of Charity.
However, the law firm representing former employees and residents of St Mary’s disability centre – located on Merrion Road, South Dublin – has said that they are hoping to appeal the judgment.
Gary Daly, the principal solicitor of the firm Gary Daly and Co which represents workers and visually impaired residents of the centre, told Hot Press that they would be back before the court on Thursday morning "to confirm whether an appeal to the decision on liquidation will be lodged.”
On Monday afternoon, Mr Justice Michael Quinn green-lighted the liquidation of St Mary’s Centre (Telford), refusing Daly Solicitors' application for an examinership to assess the viability of the company.
In his judgement, Mr Justice Quinn said that the appointment of an independent examiner was not ‘appropriate’ in this case.
On Monday afternoon, Rossa Fanning, the insolvency barrister representing St Mary's Centre (Telford), told the court that expecting an appeal was an unrealistic hope which was leaving the company 'in limbo'.
In response, John Kennedy, the barrister representing the residents and staff said that he was entitled to take instructions regarding an appeal.
“I’m entitled to a period to consider the judgment,” Kennedy said.
Fanning acknowledged Kennedy’s right to consider if an appeal would be merited.
Two members of the Sisters of Charity are the sole shareholders of the company. the liquidation of which might possibly be finalised this week.
One of the extraordinary aspects of the case is that the religious Order owns the land on wich the Merrion Road residential care facility stands, thanks to charitable donations in the 1800s and beyond. The Order stands to gain enormously from any future sale of the land.
The question as to how and when the Order separated their ownership of the land from the running of the care home is one of the more intriguing elements in what is a strange saga – which highlights the increasing extent to which the activities of Orders attached to the Catholic Church are in fact businesses, and apparently have little or nothing to do with ‘charity’.
With the liquidation in the sights of the nuns, in a process which moved far more speedily than residents and their families had anticipated, 35 residents of the Merrion Road Campus’s nursing home have already been relocated to other facilities. Hot Press has extensively covered the issue and its adverse impact on both older women and their families. Eighteen women still reside in homes and apartments on the land, the construction of which was paid for by Dublin City Council.
Back in June, the company's directors had blamed lack of funding to meet criteria set by the HSE and HIQA as underlying reasons for the liquidation of the centre.
TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE
Meanwhile, two days after the court hearing, Claire Heffernan, a blind resident living in one of those homes, describes the court’s decision as “a travesty of justice.”
“It’s devastating, and it’s distressing me,” she said, her voice shaking.
In a last-minute pitch to the judge last week, Baker Tilly, the company’s appointed Provisional Liquidator at hte request of St. Mary's (Telford), said that the Sisters of Charity might rent the premises to the HSE, for two years. In a letter to solicitor Gary Daly, which was seen by Hot Press, they promised to negotiate, in good faith, an extension of such a lease in the event that a similar, appropriate facility cannot be found for the residents.
John Kennedy had described the missive as “the hope letter”, last week.
Claire Heffernan says that she has requested to receive counselling from the HSE and St Mary's officials since July. She says her request still hasn't been acted on. The liquidation announcement, she says, has caused her much grief and she’s in immediate need of professional therapy.
“I can’t cope with it,” she says.
Heffernan believes that the HSE should meet the residents following the hearing to address their worries.
A former employee of St Mary’s centre, who wished to be anonymous, said that the last-minute promise from the nuns may have made the legalities in certain respects more palatable.
“But all it has given [the residents] is another two years of uncertainty,” she added.
Either way, the offer to potentially lease the disability centre to the HSE does not address the issue of redundancy payments to former employees of St Mary’s nursing home.
Speaking to Hot Press, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett said that he was incredibly disappointed with the judge’s decision.
“Hiding behind a rigged company law doesn’t make it any less heartless,” he said of the behaviour of the Sisters of Charity.
He observed that company law in Ireland benefits owners instead of protecting employees. He said that the State must quickly change that.
Boyd-Barrett directly criticised the Sisters of Charity, saying he was shocked to see a religious congregation being involved in what may be deemed the violation of human rights.
In the Dáil, Boyd-Barrett had accused the Sisters of Charity of ‘manufacturing’ the insolvency to sell the land.
Rossa Fanning had said in the court last week that the assertion was a 'conspiracy theory.'
Boyd-Barrett scoffed, in response.
“This is utter nonsense from a ruthless and heartless institution which the Sisters of Charity has become,” he says. “They sacrificed the residents for their corporate agenda.”
The Order of Roman Catholic nuns also ran the Magdalene Laundries, where women and young girls who had become pregnant outside marriage or as a result of rape, sexual abuse or incest, were forced to labour in a form of captivity.
The nuns refused to contribute to compensation funds for former residents and workers at their laundries. According to reports, the Order still owes €3 million to the Government's redress scheme.
Responding to the new suggestion of leasing the social housing units to the HSE for two years, Boyd-Barrett said that it translates into two years of uncertainty for vulnerable residents.
“Ultimately, it doesn’t change the situation. And all the staff have lost their jobs. If they managed to convince the judge, legally, that doesn’t make it less awful,” he said.
80 employees have lost their jobs and been thrown into dependence on the State as a result of the liquidation, in a time of widespread national hardship.
Meanwhile, Claire Heffernan apologises for feeling upset, saying the residents felt voiceless and insignificant.
"I'm sorry, I sound very emotional. I just think it's unfair. I think our voices were suppressed until it was too late,” she says.
“All we want is our homes, you know.”