HSE management has moved to calm the storm over its removal of religious artefacts, including a landmark 70-yearold Scared Heart statue, from the grounds of Killarney Community Hospital.
Stating that the statue is simply being repositioned to a safer place and that items inside the care facility have been temporarily removed during refurbishment, the statement comes on the back of a wave of negative publicity from concerned relatives and local clergy including the Bishop of Kerry.
HSE South Acting Local Health Manager Michael Fitzgerald on Tuesday evening said concerns had been illfounded and categorically denied that the actions had been an exercise in political correctness.
"These unfounded concerns are serving no purpose other than to unnecessarily upset patients, staff and people in the locality," he stated.
He said that the statue had been treated with "the utmost respect" and had been removed from over the hospital's front door for health and safety reasons following adverse weather conditions.
"The HSE is restoring the statue and it will be relocated, later this week or early next week, to the left of the main hospital entrance at ground level. This is a safer and more accessible location for patients, staff and visitors."
Asked about the removal of religious items from within the hospital, a HSE spokesperson said that the items had been taken down whilst the hospital had been repainted and would be returned.
"Whatever is taken down will be put back. What patients want to put up on their beds is up to them.
"That element of choice is very important as not all patients, for their own personal reasons, may want religious items on display around them."
The spokesperson also referred to plans for a new grotto in the hospital garden, the purchase of new stations and a new crib as further evidence that there is no anti-Catholic policy.
"There is no agenda, no conspiracy. Everyone is aware that Ireland is not the Catholic country it once was but we are acutely conscious that the majority of older patients at the facility are Catholic.
The Kerryman had received a number of complaints over HSE actions from concerned parties. Bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy also said he had been "saddened" to learn the the HSE decided to remove statues and other Catholic symbols from St. Columbanus's Home.
"The patients in both hospitals are elderly and such symbols of their faith were a source of comfort and consolation to them. I believe this was a very retrograde step and one that will not benefit patients or staff," he had stated.