- 26 Aug 20
The Sisters of Charity and companies in which they are involved are in the process of shutting down major care facilities on the south side of Dublin. Now, Hot Press has confirmed that houses that are being vacated were originally paid for by Dublin City Council.
Dublin City Council has confirmed to Hot Press that it funded the building of social housing units for disabled women on St Mary’s Campus in South Dublin, now facing imminent closure.
The houses and apartments, originally built for visually impaired women, are situated on the grounds of St Mary’s Nursing Home in Merrion Road, owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity.
The property is in the hands of the religious order today as a result of charitable donations by Dublin’s affluent landowners in the 1800s and beyond.
The premises used to be an all-girls boarding school for blind or visually impaired pupils and was run by the religious congregation. Several former students of the blind school now reside in the nursing home and in the public housing units on its campus.
In June 2020, William Corkery, general manager of St Mary’s Nursing Home, announced plans for the closure of both the social housing and care units on the Southside campus. The announcement of the planned closure said that the funding was not available to satisfy standards set by the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).
AWAITING A RESPONSE
Since the announcement was made, over 20 staff members have been laid-off without pay, according to union sources. Meanwhile, families of elderly and ill residents were told to find alternative accommodation for their loved ones.
Hot Press has now clarified the circumstances in which Dublin City Council paid for the building of the houses on the nuns’ property.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council told Hot Press that the local authority had offered a mortgage to the Sisters of Charity back in the 1990s to open a path to homeownership and independence for those who otherwise would be shut out.
“The length of the mortgage was 20 years,” the spokesperson said.
According to Dublin City Council, one of the ‘key conditions’ of the mortgage required the Sisters to use the homes “for Social Housing [for] older/disabled persons for the term of the mortgage.”
Another clause in the agreement stipulated “that 75 per cent of the Tenants would be nominated by Dublin City Council from its housing lists and the other 25 per cent would be decided upon by the Sisters of Charity but would also be in need of housing.”
The local authority has said that the Sisters of Charity have complied with the terms of this agreement. The mortgage term has recently ended, they said.
The spokesperson for the Council, however, said that the nuns had indicated to Dublin City Council that the Council-backed homes on their campus would continue to house vulnerable individuals, beyond the term set out in the agreement.
“As part of the legal work required in finalising the ending of the mortgage term the Sisters of Charity were asked last year  about their future plans for this Housing and they indicated that it would continue to be used for the same purpose,” the spokesperson said.
The local authority told Hot Press that in light of recent developments it has now made contact with the solicitors of the Sisters of Charity “to enquire if these plans changed in any way in the meantime.”
“We are awaiting a response,” Dublin City Council told Hot Press.
Speaking to Hot Press, People before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett has described the decision to vacate the social housing units for blind and vulnerable women as “utterly heartless.”
“These [houses] were financed with public money through DCC,” Richard Boyd-Barrett said, “and yet the Sisters of Charity are allowed to take the utterly heartless decision to effectively evict these vulnerable residents, who have lived in this housing for decades – and to date the State and government sit idly by and do nothing about it.
“It is utterly shocking.”
He continued that all healthcare facilities on lands owned by the religious congregation are primarily funded with “public money.” Therefore, “the Government must step in immediately” and stop the closure.
St Mary’s nursing home was largely funded by the HSE through grant subsidy and the Nursing Home Support Scheme.
PUNISHMENT FOR THE BLIND
According to staff at the facility, the Sisters of Charity have used at least one of the Council homes to house their own members.
Sister Angela, a Sister of Charity who also sat on the board of Caritas Convalescent home – another care facility on the Merrion Road Campus that was recently closed – lived in one of the ten apartments, but vacated it just before the announcement for the closure was made. Sister Angela is said by staff to have had a medical condition.
Another resident was also recently forced to leave. Hot Press understands the individual, under the pressure of imminent closure, went to live with her son.
At least 17 people still live in the Council homes; in parallel, it now seems that less than 15 women remain in the Nursing Home unit. In all, there are four houses and ten apartments involved.
A resident and a former student of the blind school who prefers to remain anonymous told Hot Press that she entered the school as a very young child and was often harshly punished by some of the nuns over real or perceived misdeeds.
“I had many punishments of having to do without food or standing in the corner,” she said.
The woman, who is blind, accuses one particular Sister of Charity and teacher at the blind school of physical mistreatment.
“Slapping me on bare skin when undressed. So, I think the least they owe us is to retain the houses and [the nursing home] especially for those of us who were their past pupils,” she said.
Former pupils wonder if the Sisters of Charity were required to put their social responsibilities for 'minding' the blind students in writing at any stage. They are still hoping that there are commitments made to the State, or some other authority, that might legally stop the closure of the home.
NO ABSOLUTE PROPERTY RIGHTS
The religious order has, in the past, been accused of evading what might be considered its social and moral obligations.
At the end of 1973, for example, the order of nuns reportedly netted £1.5 million from the sale of St Vincent Hospital on St Stephen’s Green. At the time, the sell-off was deemed to be “the biggest single property transaction ever to take place in the State.”
Journalist Brian Trench described it at the time as another “land disposal” by “church bodies” who have consistently shown “little regard for social responsibilities.”
In 1999, The Irish Times reported on an appeal that was made to religious interests and orders for land to alleviate a dearth of housing in Dublin. Brendan Kenny, a senior housing official at Dublin City Council at the time, and now the city's Deputy Chief Executive, said that he had written to religious institutions – including the Sisters of Charity – asking if they had any land they might donate or sell to help cope with the city's housing crisis.
There is no report of a positive outcome.
Two decades later, the city and its residents continue to grapple with an array of housing difficulties, including illegal evictions and homelessness. Nevertheless, a religious order like the Sisters of Charity, which is represented on the board of St Mary’s Centre (Telford), is asking vulnerable residents to move out, during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
In 2012, the religious order challenged Dublin City Council at the Commercial Court in opposition to the local authority’s imposition of restrictive conditions on development on their lands in its Dublin City Development Plan.
The so-called Z-15 designation would have treated privately-owned land as resource land, suitable to use for the benefit of the community.
The nuns accused the Council of deliberately ‘targeting’ their lands by planning the designation in a manner that it would cover areas "almost exclusively owned by the religious institution."
They also made allegations of ‘discrimination’, “interference with their property” and other human rights violations by the Council, under both the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
A judge had said at the time that the nuns, like all landowners, had “no absolute property rights.”
In recent weeks, a solicitor on behalf of the staff, residents and their families managed to postpone the liquidation of St Mary’s Centre (Telford), which had been planned for August 17.
The deadline had prompted much distress and anxiety among residents and staff alike, as reported by Hot Press earlier this month.
Agreeing to adjourn the insolvency, a High Court judge decided to hear the liquidation application made by business firm Baker Tilly at a later date of September 7.
The staff and residents have told us that they will continue to fight the centre’s attempt to claim insolvency.
As yet, the Sisters of Charity have not indicated any plans for paying redundancy compensation to their staff. This is despite the fact that they are closing two nursing homes – St Mary's and St Monica's – and have already shuttered Caritas convalescent Centre, which is also situated on the St Mary's complex.
St Mary’s Centre (Telford) has said that they are 'disappointed' to find out that they could not pay a redundancy package to 64 former staff members at Caritas convalescent centre. The Caritas centre closed its doors in March after 23 of its 64 staff members contracted Covid-19. It never reopened.
The Labour Court has ruled, concerning Caritas, that the Sisters of Charity must provide a "fair and responsible pay-off" to their former staff.
DEMANDING PUBLIC TAKEOVER
In response to the apparent abandonment of any duty of care by the Sisters of Charity, staff members and residents’ families are calling on the HSE to reclaim the donated properties from the Sisters and to stop the closure of healthcare facilities on those lands.
St Mary’s nursing home used to employ about 80 people.
The HSE had previously told Hot Press that it had not received any ‘formal’ request for additional funding from the management at St Mary’s Centre.
"Albeit a proposed capital investment pan of circa €1.3 million was received as an estimate to upgrade one element of the service on the site," they said.
Total assets of the St Mary’s centre company were estimated at €1,133,807 million for the year, 2018.
The HSE primarily funded the residential care home through grant funding and the Nursing Home Support Scheme.
Trade unions, SIPTU, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), and Fórsa, are calling for the public takeover of St Mary’s home.
Noting that union members had provided excellent care to patients at St Mary’s, Brian Condra, an organiser with SIPTU, said that they had been maltreated.
“The same members who now, after decades of service, and working throughout the Covid-19 crisis, have been told that a fair and reasonable redundancy package is too much for them. It is not acceptable,” Condra said.
“The State has a responsibility to all residents in Section 39 facilities and must take that responsibility seriously.”
The HSE had previously told Hot Press that a public takeover of residential care homes under the aegis of the congregation was unlikely because the Sisters of Charity own those facilities.
FREEING UP LANDS FOR SALE
In a letter to The Irish Times, Dr Peter Boylan celebrated obstetrician the former master of National Maternity Hospital (NMH), had also urged the State to reclaim the healthcare sector from the Sisters of Charity, arguing that the Sisters had access to ample funding to keep St Mary’s nursing home today.
“The Sisters of Charity received €2.4 million in rent from St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) in which they are the 100 per cent shareholders, €300,000 from St Vincent’s Private Hospital and €1.5 million from SVHG in relation to the purchase of a leasehold. That is €4.2 million in total,” Dr Boylan wrote.
“In addition, the Sisters of Charity own the land occupied by Elm Park Golf Club. In the same two years, the club paid around €300,000 in rent and rates.”
Dr Boylan had previously told Hot Press that he believes the Sisters of Charity planned to free up their lands on Merrion Road for sale. The land is adjacent to St. Vincent's Hospital, which is effectively run by the Sisters of Charity. There has been considerable controversy over the terms on which the new National Maternity Hospital is planned for the same site, with many feeling that there is a considerable danger that the 'ethos' of the Sisters of Charity might lead to difficulties in providing abortion services at the hospital.
Meanwhile, a protest is happening today outside the gates of St Mary's Nursing Home by members of the Save St Mary's Campaign, comprised of staff, residents' families and union organisers.
“The protest is to highlight the continued demand made by staff, residents and families of residents to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to step in and prevent the closure of the nursing home and the disability service,” a statement released by the campaign read.
“The campaign is calling on the Minister to take St Mary’s into public ownership so that the services it provides for the elderly and women with visual impairments, blindness and other cognitive and mobility disabilities are not lost, and that the specialist jobs in this area of care are protected.”