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Nuns 'will not be involved' in new maternity hospital, Sisters of Charity confirm



St Vincent’s Hospital grounds. Photo: PA

St Vincent’s Hospital grounds. Photo: PA

St Vincent’s Hospital grounds. Photo: PA

THE Religious Sisters of Charity has said they will end their involvement in the St Vincent's Healthcare Group and won't be involved in the ownership of the planned new National Maternity Hospital.

It comes after a row erupted over the plan to move the maternity hospital from Holles Street to the St Vincent's campus, which is owned by the religious order.

Now they have confirmed that they "will not be involved in the ownership or management of the new National Maternity Hospital".

There was concern that procedures to be carried out at the planned hospital, including fertility treatments like IVF, are against Catholic teachings and would not be allowed at the new site.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he wanted until the end of May to address the issue of ownership of the hospital.

The Religious Sisters of Charity released a statement on the matter this morning.


They are planning to transfer their ownership to a new charity, to be called "St Vincent's" and said they will have no involvement in this company.

Meanwhile, a separate statement from St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) said that the ownership of a specific piece of land at the Elm Park campus, the site of the former St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, will be sold to SVHG "at commercial terms to be agreed".

The piece of land is currently subject to a rental agreement which is to cease.

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Minister Simon Harris welcomed the decision today describing it as a "very significant development" for the healthcare sector.

“The timing of this historic decision is very welcome.  It directly addresses concerns regarding the question of religious influence in the new National Maternity Hospital and further illustrates the constructive role of the Sisters to facilitate this landmark project," he said.


The potential involvement of nuns in the running and governance of a maternity hospital had caused deep unease in some medical circles and among the public.

The controversy arose after details of a confidential deal emerged between the Sisters of Charity, the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, medics and management at the National Maternity Hospital and the Department of Health to build the new maternity hospital at St Vincent's.

It would have seen the nuns give land at Elm Park for the new hospital but retain ultimate ownership under a complex corporate structure.

It prompted leading obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan, a former Master of Holles Street, to resign from the board of the current National Maternity Hospital.

At the heart of the controversy over the Sisters of Charity involvement in maternity services were concerns that nuns or the Catholic Church hierarchy could dictate what medical treatments or procedures were carried out.

Dr Boylan questioned whether they could influence whether women could have terminations if their life is at risk, seek IVF treatment, sterilisation or contraceptive care.

Ambiguity deepened when Bishop Kevin Doran said the Sisters would have to obey church law as owners of the hospital, regardless of how the facility is funded, and that governance rests with the pope.

The hospital was first founded by one of its nuns, Sr Mary Aikenhead, in 1834.

In a statement this morning Sr Mary Christian, the Congregational Leader of the Religious Sisters of Charity, said:

“The Religious Sisters of Charity will end our involvement in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) and will not be involved in the ownership or management of the new National Maternity Hospital.

“For the last two years we have been actively working to find the best way to relinquish our shareholding of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG). It includes three hospitals; St. Vincent’s University Hospital, St. Vincent’s Private Hospital and St. Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire.

“Although the Sisters of Charity no longer have any direct involvement in the provision of healthcare services we remain dedicated to preserving the legacy of Mary Aikenhead, whose mission in life was to heal and care for the sick and poor.

"We believe that the future continued success of SVHG can best be ensured by our transferring ownership of the group to a newly formed company with charitable status to be called “St. Vincent’s”.

"The Religious Sisters of Charity will have no involvement in this new company.

“Upon completion of this proposed transaction, the requirement set out in the SVHG Constitution, to conduct and maintain the SVHG facilities in accordance with The Religious Sisters of Charity Health Service

Philosophy and Ethical Code, will be amended and replaced to reflect compliance with national and international best practice guidelines on medical ethics and the laws of the Republic of Ireland.

“The SVHG Board, management and staff will continue to provide acute healthcare services that foster Mary Aikenhead’s core values of dignity, compassion, justice, quality and advocacy.

"They will ensure that the three hospitals in SVHG can continue to meet the needs of their patients and families, so that every individual can always access the care and treatment they need to achieve health and well-being.

The plan to transfer ownership includes:

• The transfer from the nuns to the new "St Vicnent's" entity for a "nominal" or “peppercorn” consideration in return.

• The Sisters of Charity will no longer appoint directors to the SVHG board, and the two nuns in place at the moment will resign with immediate effect.

• St Vincent's "will not be subject to undue influence by individuals or from any source"

• “St. Vincent’s” will not seek to generate any profit or surplus, or to remunerate Directors for their work.

• The new charity's directors will have required skillsets in law, finance, healthcare and social care.

• The directors are to stay "true to the values of our Foundress, recognising the right of everyone to access the care and treatment they need to achieve the best possible health care outcomes, regardless of race, ethnicity,  religion, gender or personal means."

• In the event of the liquidation or wind-up of St. Vincent’s at any time in the future, any surplus assets arising therefrom will be vested with the Charitable Regulator and utilised for healthcare purposes  and facilities with similar values

Sr Mary Christian said: "Just as our Founder Mary Aikenhead saw the need in 1834 to establish a hospital to meet the needs of the sick and poor, we believe that it is in the best interests of the patients and children born in the National Maternity Hospital today that they be provided with modern maternity and neonatal services that are women and infant centred and integrated within the Elm Park campus.

“It is now time for us to relinquish completely our involvement in SVHG. We are confident that the Board, management and staff of SVHG will continue to maintain a steadfast dedication to providing the best possible acute healthcare to patients and their families in line with the values espoused by Mary Aikenhead”.

 "This proposal has the full support of the Board of SVHG. It is subject to implementation of all necessary legal, financial and regulatory matters," the statement added.

SVHG chairman James Menton welcomed today's developments.

He said they "reflect the wonderful legacy to Irish healthcare of the Sisters of Charity.

"The Sisters have always held the highest ambitions for the provision of world class healthcare services in Ireland and have successfully achieved and sustained this.

"They also see the need for the proposed development of the new National Maternity Hospital integrated within the Elm Park campus and want to do everything possible to ensure this vital facility for mothers and babies is developed as quickly as possible.

“The Board, management and 4,000 staff of SVHG are also absolutely committed to upholding the vision and values of Mary Aikenhead – namely dignity, compassion, justice, quality and advocacy –which result in the best possible outcomes for our patients and their families”, he added.

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