Sunday 21 January 2018

Revealed: The deal to curb nuns’ role

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Frank McGrath

Maeve Sheehan and Philip Ryan

THE Sunday Independent today reveals full details of the confidential agreement that will see ownership of the National Maternity Hospital pass to a religious order if it relocates to the St Vincent’s Hospital site.

The 25-page document goes to the heart of the row over concerns of religious interference in the hospital by setting out the mechanisms that will be used to safeguard its independence.

Health Minister Simon Harris has refused to publish the agreement, saying he will make it available to the Oireachtas Health Committee this week.

However, the deal was at risk of collapse this weekend following a decision by the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to pull back from the project because of the controversy.

Today’s disclosures come as the man who brokered the deal between the National Maternity Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, Kieran Mulvey, criticised the “abuse” and “threats” directed at the St Vincent’s group and called for “cool heads”.

Last night Mr Harris told the Sunday Independent that failure to deliver the new maternity hospital would be a betrayal of women and children.

The agreement document reveals that St Vincent’s Healthcare Group’s ownership of the hospital is conditional on allowing the State a ‘golden share’ in the company to protect its independence, and a ‘lien’, so that it cannot be used as collateral against loans or sold.

The document sets out how a clause protecting the hospital’s clinical services from ‘religious, ethnic or other discrimination’ will be included in the company’s memorandum and articles, and will be further copper-fastened by ‘reserve powers’ vested in the board.

The agreement also requires the National Maternity Hospital to share information on private practices operated by consultants at Holles Street and St Vincent’s.

According to the agreement, the two hospitals will share information to ‘provide for transparency on the specific roles and purposes’ of private practices.

It reveals that National Maternity Hospital master Dr Rhona Mahony will also be clinical director of obstetrics and gynaecology across the St Vincent’s group and will report to the group’s medical board and clinical director.  The ‘agreed single system of clinical governance’ will operate for the primary benefit of patients on the campus, the document states.

However, the agreement was in jeopardy this weekend following St Vincent’s Healthcare Group’s decision to hold a hospital board meeting this week to “review” the project following “misinformation” and “views” expressed by Mr Harris.

The health minister yesterday defended his remarks, saying: “I think when the St Vincent’s board meets and considers my comments they will see that all I said was ‘please ensure that I am allowed to do my job on behalf of the citizens of this country’.”

Mr Harris said there was no “Plan B” if the agreement failed. He also told the Sunday Independent: “It would be betraying women and infants if we don’t give this issue the time and space this is required to get it absolutely legal and contractually correct.

There will be clinical independence, there will be no financial benefit for the order, religious or otherwise.

“This is a massive project and we cannot betray women and infants by failing to deliver it.”

Kieran Mulvey, a former head of the Workplace Relations Commission, wrapped up the agreement last November. However, the controversy over the deal erupted last week after reports that the Sisters of Charity, which owes €3m to the State’s redress scheme for abuse victims, was being “gifted” a €300m hospital.

Peter Boylan, a former master of the National Maternity Hospital, has argued that the hospital will be subject to Catholic influence if it is owned by a religious order, and has cautioned against handing it over to the nuns.

Dr Mahony responded that agreement between the two hospitals ensured clinical and operational independence and that “ownership” was “neither here nor there”.

The controversy continued yesterday, with calls by Labour TD Alan Kelly for the religious order’s land to be bought up by compulsory purchase order.

At a media conference in Kerry yesterday, former health minister Mary Harney questioned why the order wanted to own the hospital.

More than 85,000 people have signed an online petition aimed at stopping the Sisters of Charity from owning the hospital.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Mulvey warned that if the agreement to co-locate the hospital did not go ahead it could take years to find another suitable site and women and children would lose out.

He said the debate had been “all about what I believe are circumstances that may not arise. There are reserved powers that clearly protect the ethos of the National Maternity Hospital going into the St Vincent’s campus and that is going to be legally guaranteed”.

Mr Mulvey delivered a veiled dig at politicians, such as Mr Kelly, who have called on the State to use compulsory purchase powers to buy the land from the religious order.

“To be talking about compulsory purchase and to be calling for other issues is really losing the point here,” he said.

“I think there are constitutional issues that arise here that could get us into a court of law very quickly, and by the time we get out of the court of law, we will lose another two to three years and we will be looking at the children’s hospital saga all over again.”“I am not making any judgment call on what has been said. But I believe what has been lost in all of the argument, the rhetoric and the statements, is the actual improvement in women’s health which will derive from this development. What perturbs me is nobody is talking about that.”

According to informed sources, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group executives were annoyed at Mr Harris’s reference to asking the Health Service Executive to review the agreement that the two voluntary hospitals had already reached.

Mr Mulvey said: “I would say it is time for cool reasoning and cool heads and less of the megaphone politics going on at the moment.

“The core of this is the health of women and the care of women and their new born infants in proper medical facilities where they have access to the best medical facilities they can get.”

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

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

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News