Monday 11 December 2017

Paul Williams podcast: 'Now it's time to end religious teaching in our schools' - Dr Boylan

FAMILY RIFT: Dr Peter Boylan’s relationship with his sister-in-law Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital Holles Street, is said to have become seriously strained after they disagreed strongly over the nuns’ involvement in the new maternity hospital. Picture: Tony Gavin
FAMILY RIFT: Dr Peter Boylan’s relationship with his sister-in-law Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital Holles Street, is said to have become seriously strained after they disagreed strongly over the nuns’ involvement in the new maternity hospital. Picture: Tony Gavin
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Dr Peter Boylan insists he was determined his public spat with sister-in-law Dr Rhona Mahony over the new national maternity hospital would not turn "personal" - but admits losing friends as a result of the furore.

The Paul Williams podcast lifts a lid on the stories and lives of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and of famous Irish people behind closed doors.

To hear the full interview, subscribe to the Paul Williams podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud

And in a controversial move, he has now called for an end to the teaching of religion in schools.

Well known for his outspoken campaigning in defence of women's rights, he was one of the most vocal opponents of the Sisters of Charity owning the new €300m national maternity hospital. The row erupted over the plan to move the hospital from Holles Street to the St Vincent's campus, which is owned by the religious order.

This week, the order confirmed it "will not be involved in the ownership or management of the new National Maternity Hospital".

But the controversy had already taken its toll on the much-respected medic - and caused his relationship with his sister-in-law, Dr Rhona Mahony, to become seriously strained. At the heart of Dr Boylan's argument were concerns the nuns or the Catholic Church hierarchy could dictate what medical treatments or procedures could be carried out in the new hospital.

The former Holles Street Master was worried they could influence whether women could have terminations should their life be at risk, or seek IVF treatment, sterilisation or contraceptive care. However, his sister-in-law, Holles Street Master Dr Mahony, defended the ownership structure, insisting it had adequate powers to guarantee its independence. Dr Boylan is married to Trinity historian Jane Boylan, elder sister of Ms Mahony.

As the controversy escalated, he ended up resigning from the Holles Street board in protest. In a wide-ranging interview for The Paul Williams Podcast, he said he was anxious the debate should not damage relations within the family.

"I didn't make it personal. This controversy is not of my making. This controversy is a consequence of the deal that was agreed between the board of the national maternity hospital and the St Vincent's Hospital shareholders. That is the source of the controversy.

Dr Rhona Mahony Picture: David Conachy
Dr Rhona Mahony Picture: David Conachy

"This is not personal. I have compared it to playing a rugby match. You tear strips off each other on the pitch. When the whistle goes you shake hands and go off and socialise together. I've always had that attitude in arguments. It's fine to have an argument about a principle - but don't let it get personal. It shouldn't get personal, and I certainly don't make it personal."

He said the level of influence the Catholic Church has on Irish society is "complicated", dating back to the foundation of the State.

However, he believes the time has come for religious teaching to end within the Irish education system. "It's a very complicated history going right back to the foundation of the State, and before, with the role of religious in education and health," he said.

"The State just didn't provide education and health and handed it over to the Church. There was that toxic relationship between de Valera and the Catholic hierarchy, which I think is responsible for a lot of our problems over the years."

He added: "I think the control element of the Catholic Church in Irish society was damaging over the years. People's faith and their ability to practise their faith needs to be respected, but I think there should be separation of State and Church. For example, I don't think religious education should be in a school. I think it should be in the church. If parents want their children to be educated in whatever faith they chose, then they should go to the church for that. That's the way it happens on the continent, and in various other societies. If you want to have a faith-based hospital or school that's fine, but you'll have to pay for it yourself."

In the wake of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway in 2012, Dr Boylan gave expert witness at her inquest, saying she would still be alive if an abortion had been performed - but that the legal situation had not allowed it.

"If you look at the facts, and work off the evidence, then it was absolutely crystal clear there were serious errors made in her management. But if she had had a termination in time, then those errors would not have occurred because she'd be delivered and in the clear, and she wouldn't have died. I'm not a pro-abortionist, but I am pro-choice."

He said he is "absolutely" in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. "I think the hypocrisy surrounding the whole Eighth Amendment is just staggering when you look at it from the outside."

On the ongoing crises in the Irish health service, he said: "No health service in the world is sorted out to the satisfaction of all. Ireland is not going to be unique to that. There's no panacea.

"Healthcare is something that can be managed, but it can't be solved. You can put in place systems which allow access to all, regardless of income, and that's the aim.

"The Scandinavian countries are probably the best model in that respect. But they have problems as well with waiting lists and problems with interactions between medical staff and patients. You've got to take into account human failure and the ability of humans to mess things up."

The Paul Williams podcast lifts a lid on the stories and lives of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and of famous Irish people behind closed doors.

To hear the full interview, subscribe to the Paul Williams podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud

 

Sunday Independent

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