News Health

Monday 18 December 2017

National maternity hospital explainer: The nuns, the €300m in taxpayer's money, and the suddenly-quiet health minister

Simon Harris with a model of the new maternity hospital (left), and the Sisters of Charity
Simon Harris with a model of the new maternity hospital (left), and the Sisters of Charity
People gather to protest against plans to allow Sisters of Charity to own new National Maternity Hospital
People gather to protest against plans to allow Sisters of Charity to own new National Maternity Hospital
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

THE Government, and specifically health minister Simon Harris, has been heavily criticised since it emerged that ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital - which will be funded to the tune of €300m by the taxpayer - will be handed over to the Sisters of Charity.

A demonstration will take place outside the Department of Health in Dublin at 1pm today and over 50,000 people have signed a petition in a bid to prevent the religious order from becoming owners of the new hospital.

A photo of the new hospital released by the Department of Health
A photo of the new hospital released by the Department of Health

Here is what you need to know about the controversy:

Who are the Sisters of Charity?

The Sisters of Charity are a congregation of religious women founded in Dublin. They are involved in healthcare, education and also carry out work with asylum seekers and homeless people.

However, they were also one of the organisations included in the Ryan Report, which unveiled a vast amount of systematic institutional abuse going back decades.

They ran some of the notorious Magdalene Laundries workhouses and along with 17 other congregations, were ordered to pay the State €128m towards redress for abuse victims.

However, the Sisters of Charity have yet to fulfil its obligations in this regard.

The order still owes the State another €3m from a commitment it made almost a decade ago in 2009 to pay another €5m towards redress.

Why are they being given ownership of a hospital then?

Minister Simon Harris said the hospital will be independent Picture: Tom Burke
Minister Simon Harris said the hospital will be independent Picture: Tom Burke

The new hospital is set to be built on a site at Elm Park in south Dublin - which is owned by the Sisters of Charity.

It will be located on the St Vincent's University Hospital campus and will cater for up to 10,000 births per year.

The Sisters of Charity are the shareholders of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, which the Department of Health announced would be the "sole owner of the new hospital".

So, are they going to benefit financially from this, despite owing €3m to abuse victims?

People gather to protest against plans to allow Sisters of Mercy to own new National Maternity Hospital
People gather to protest against plans to allow Sisters of Mercy to own new National Maternity Hospital

According to Health Minister Simon Harris, they won't.

While he said it was "not acceptable" that some orders had yet to pay all they owed to the redress scheme, he said it was wrong to associate the redress issue with a "desperately" needed maternity hospital.

Will they be running the hospital? If so, will that affect certain treatments being carried out?

The nuns will have "no active role" in the running of the hospital, according to Kieran Mulvey, the former chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission, who acted as a mediator to end an impasse over the hospital's future between Holles Street and St Vincent's.

Meanwhile, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, said the hospital would be "independently" run.

There is a ‘triple lock’ in place which will guarantee the autonomy of the National Maternity Hospital, she told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

“Let me be very clear, the nuns will not be running this hospital, it will not be under Catholic ethos. It will be completely independent.

“The ethos will be excellence in clinical care, it will not be a Catholic ethos."

However, questions have been raised about what affect their ownership will have on certain treatments being carried out at the hospital.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, former master of the National Maternity Hospital Peter Boylan said it casts doubt about any future IVF, abortion and gender realignment operations due to it being contrary to the nuns' beliefs.

Earlier, Sister Agnes Reynolds, who sits on the board of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, told the Irish Times that the new hospital will "always respect the rights of the mother and the baby."

Did we only find out about this now?

Not really, as the feuding over funding and the agreement has been ongoing for a while now.

Independent.ie previously highlighted  the problematic links to the Sisters of Charity in April last year and the agreement between St Vincent's and the National Maternity Hospital was made last November.

It was first mooted in 1998.

How is Minister Harris responding to the backlash?

Not very well.

He has basically said that either this goes ahead, or the new hospital doesn't happen.

Most of his reaction has been given through Twitter. In one tweet, he wrote: "When it comes to our maternity services, I take the views of those responsible for the delivery of infants and the clinical care of women."

The normally talkative young politician has been conspicuous by his absence in the media in recent days.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Department of Health on Thursday, calling on the minister to prevent ownership going to nuns.

A nationwide protest is also due to take place outside a number of hospitals on Saturday, including St Vincent's Hospital where the new maternity hospital is due to be built.

Criticism

Many people have spoken out against the decision and criticised the health minister.

Labour Party spokesperson on health, Alan Kelly said: "The fact that the Sisters of Charity have been given sole-ownership of this land when they are party to the €128m redress scheme with the State is ludicrous."

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall described it as "highly inappropriate".

"Why is the State building a €300m hospital with taxpayers’ money and handing it over to a religious order? It is very hard to see how there could be any rationale for this transaction."

While survivors of the Magdalene Laundries are appalled by the decision.

Mary Murphy (78) spent four years in what she described as "hell on Earth" as a virtual slave in the Stanhope Street laundry run by the Sisters of Charity.

"Religion has no place in Irish hospitals. Just as it had no place in interfering in my life," she said.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News