Over 80,000 people have signed a petition calling on Simon Harris, the 26 County health minister, to prevent a religious order from being handed ownership of a new maternity hospital.
It emerged last month that the Sisters of Charity, a religious order that owes millions of euros in compensation for child abuse, will be given ownership of the National Maternity Hospital after it is built with more than 200 million euro of taxpayers’ money.
The new hospital was scheduled to begin construction this year on a site at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin. Doctors say the hospital’s current premises at Holles Street in Dublin city centre is no longer fit for purpose.
St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is run and owned by the Sisters of Charity
Opposition politicians have heavily criticised the deal reached with St Vincent’s last November. The Sisters of Charity has paid only 2 million euro of the 5 million euro it offered to contribute in reparations to abuse victims.
Fianna Fail health spokesperson Billy Kelleher called on Mr Harris to publish the deal. He called for safeguards to guarantee the clinical, medical and ethical independence of the National Maternity Hospital when it relocates to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus.
Well-known oncologist Prof John Crown said it was “simply extraordinary” that the Dublin government believed that the Sisters of Charity have no role in running St Vincent’s and would have no role in running the new maternity hospital.
He said the board of the hospital was appointed by the nuns and acted in the interest of the nuns. He also said it was “outrageous” that the State had decided to hand over the new hospital to a religious order who have not paid the State all the money it owes under the terms of the redress scheme.
There are also concerns over the religious ethos at the hospital. In 2012, there was worldwide controversy when a woman died in Galway after medical staff at the hospital there refused to carry out a termination which would have saved her life. Religious reasons were cited for the decision.
The controversy also comes in the wake of a series of scandals to affect religious orders in Ireland over institutional abuse, most recently the revelation that orphans at a church-run ‘mother and baby’ home in Tuam were neglected and secretly buried in an unmarked mass grave.
As hundreds of people protested outside his department’s Hawkins House offices, Harris issued a statement saying he would seek new safeguards before the project went ahead.
“Let me very clear: there will be no financial gain to any religious order from the development of this hospital. Legal arrangements will be put in place which will 100 per cent protect the State’s investment and interest in the new hospital.”
For survivors of child abuse in residential institutions it was another kick in the teeth. People Before Profit TD Brid Smith says her office has been “inundated” with calls and emails over the issue.
Sinn Fein Health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly TD has said the decision was deeply insulting and hurtful to the survivors.
The Dublin Fingal TD also questioned whether or not it is appropriate to put any organisation with a strict religious ethos in charge of our National Maternity Hospital given the current political climate and the potential for changes to our laws.
“Clearly the state has not learned the lessons of the past in outsourcing vital public services to religious orders,” she said.
“This move is an insult and deeply hurtful to survivors of institutional abuse and is yet another example of the government passing the buck in its responsibilities to healthcare.
“The fact that the sisters of charity will be gifted our national maternity hospital after their steadfast refusal to honour obligations to survivors and victims beggars belief.
“Did anybody stop and think of the hurt this will cause, or the impact this decision will have on victims of abuse of this very religious order?”
In response to the controversy, the board of St Vincent’s said it plans to review the status of the project and possibly pull out. The board says the decision is prompted by “controversy and misinformation that has arisen in recent times”.
* The petition can be signed at https://bit.ly/2oJ9LpN