- Lifestyle & Sports
- 04 May 22
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he is “genuinely” satisfied with the safeguards put in place for the new National Maternity Hospital amid concerns about the influence of the Catholic Church over the project.
Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, has insisted that the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) will provide all services, including terminations and gender reaffirming surgery, following public backlash to the announcement that he planned to proceed with the plan to co-locate the new National Maternity Hospital on the campus of St. Vincent's Hospital, on the south side of Dublin. However, there is still a huge level of public disquiet about the plan, which will see the planned maternity hospital being integrated into the wider St. Vincent's Hospital campus. St. Vincent's Hospital is currently run with a Catholic religious ethos.
Following yesterday's cabinet meeting, it was announced that the Government has temporarily stalled the plans to move the National Maternity Hospital to the St Vincent's Hospital campus, following protests and queries in the Dáil from Social Democrat TDs Gary Gannon and Róisín Shortall, leader of the Labour Party, Ivana Bacik, Minister Catherine Martin, and Sinn Féin's spokesperson on health, David Cullinane, amongst numerous others.
The decision to defer the final approval of plans for the new NMH was taken in an apparent bid to be 'transparent' after what the Minister described as "genuine concerns" were raised by members of Cabinet. Whether the process undertaken yesterday can answer those concerns is another matter entirely. Critics of the extraordinary deal – which will vest a hugely greater capacity to generate income for St. Vincent's Private Hospital – have asked for full access to all of the documentation that has passed between any of the following – the Religious Sisters of Charity, the St. Vincent's Hospital Group, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, and the Vatican – in order to see what behind the scenes strategies have been put into action by the Catholic Church, whether in Ireland or internationally.
The Catholic Church is opposed to any form of abortion, with operations that are specifically required to "save the life of the mother" being the only context in which any risk of termination can be permitted.
Under plans being put to the Cabinet for approval, the lease for the new €800 million-plus National Maternity Hospital at St Vincent’s will now be 299 years in duration, not 149 as had previously been agreed. The memorandum to be tabled by Minister Donnelly will also see increased State representation on the hospital's board.
The latest proposal was brought to Cabinet by Stephen Donnelly but some Fine Gael ministers, as well as Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Media and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin, reportedly asked for more time to consider it.
The issue will be revisited by Cabinet in two weeks, after documents in relation to the deal are discussed with the Oireachtas health committee. The legal framework documents were published on the HSE website last night. However, the documents which have passed between the Vatican, the Religious Sisters of Charity and other entities associated with the project remain shrouded in secrecy.
Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Donnelly said it was understandable for his ministerial colleagues to express concern, given the uneasy history of women's reproductive health and the Catholic Church. He also warned that "we can't lose sight of how important this is."
The new hospital will allegedly be fully operationally independent, clinically independent and would provide all services "legally permitted in the country" – including termination, tubal ligation, gender reassignment and reproductive assistance. However, the bona fides of reassurances of this kind are not accepted by critics of the scheme, who point to the asppalling record the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has had of putting the interests of the institution of the Church – and its dogmas – above the law of the land.
Due to concerns about transparency, the Cabinet felt that the way to proceed would be to note the agreement and then release the documentation to the public.
Minister Donnelly stated that there would be no representative of the religious order – a reference to the Religious Sisters of Charity – on the board of the new hospital, and that services at the new hospital are guaranteed by the operating licence. However, that will not satisfy critics, who see the St. Vincent's Hospital Group as a proxy for the Sisters of Charity and for the Vatican.
The public and activists from Our Maternity Hospital have decried the confusion around the new St Vincent's Holdings group, potentially still linked to the Religious Sisters of Charity.
The transfer of the land from the order to the State had been completed last week, according to the Health Minister, adding that the "Vatican had nothing to do with the transfer.”
Under the so called 'Mulvey Agreement' of 2016, there was a legal structure involving two voluntary hospitals and the State to create a 'world class' health campus.
Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Shane Higgins, said there is a "clinical imperative" to proceed with the move as proposed. The current hospital is "a constant building site", he noted.
The new agreement has 'multiple layers of protections' for services, Donnelly claims, assuring the public that the health minister in the future will have a 'golden share' in the hospital which allows them to intervene. Which again begs the question: if there is a need for a 'golden share', then surely it is safer to take full ownership and control of the hospital into State hands – and to define its secular ethos accordingly.
The board will now include three independent 'public interest' directors – selected and appointed by the health minister of the day – alongside three nominated by St Vincent’s University Hospital and three nominated by the NMH, with the role of chair to rotate between the three groups of nominees. Looking at that structure, what is clear is that the 'public interest' directors will be completely outnumbered.
"The framework will protect the State’s significant investment in the new NMH and copper-fasten the principle that any medical procedure which is in accordance with the laws of the land will be provided there," the Minister for Health claimed. "The clinical and operational independence of the new NMH will be underpinned by a combination of safeguards”.
Stephen Donnelly also told Cabinet that the Religious Sisters of Charity transferred its shares in SVHG to St Vincent’s Holdings CLG, as of April 28. They “no longer have any involvement in SVHG", he added.
Dr Peter Boylan wrote to Taoiseach Micheál Martin following the announcement by the Religious Sisters of Charity that they have transferred their shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to St Vincent’s Holdings.
In the letter, copied to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Dr Boylan states: "I see absolutely no justification for the new publicly funded National Maternity Hospital to be owned by St Vincent’s Holdings."
In response, Donnelly said there is “no question of religious involvement” at the site that the holding company “absolutely cannot” sell parts of itself. However, many Irish citizens simply do not believer that.
It's hardly surprising that members of the public are worried over reproductive healthcare, having fought hard during the Repeal referendum to gain these rights. The rollback of Roe v Wade in the US highlights the treacherous terrain of reproductive healthcare, IVF, contraception, gender reaffirming surgeries and more. For many, it feels as though those rights can be snatched away at any moment.
Dr Chris Fitzpatrick, former master of the Coombe, wrote a letter to the Irish Times on the issue. "We were told that the powers that be that the National Children's Hospital would be built on the Mater hospital site. Next we were then told that it would be built on the St James' site. Since then we have been told many different stories about when it will be opened and how much it will cost. The truth is: no one knows.
"Now the powers that be are telling us that the new National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent's site will be free of all religious interference. Is it any wonder this is very hard to believe?" the letter concludes.
Now the powers that be are telling us that the National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent’s site will be free of all religious interference. Is it any wonder this is very hard to believe?
Dr Chris Fitzpatrick, former Master of The Coombe, in today's Irish Times.#MakeNMHOurs pic.twitter.com/nDZceMFKdG
— OurMaternityHospital #MakeNMHOurs #CACOWH (@OurMatHosp) May 4, 2022
The 'Our Maternity Hospital' campaign is holding a protest at the Dáil on Saturday, May 14th at 2pm following the news, insisting that the new NMH must be on publicly-owned land and run on secular lines.
Our new National Maternity Hospital must be public and secular. Join us at the Dáil on Saturday, 14th May, at 2 o'clock to let our government know we will settle for nothing less.#MakeNMHOurs pic.twitter.com/s7co6GCwSJ
— OurMaternityHospital #MakeNMHOurs #CACOWH (@OurMatHosp) May 3, 2022
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