I read with attention the letter signed by 42 of the current consultant staff at the National Maternity Hospital. One sentence that jumped out was that “all care within Irish law is currently being provided at Holles Street and will be provided at the new hospital”.
No one doubts the first part of the sentence, but it is the uncertainty about the second part which is a key factor in the current controversy.
My colleagues’ fears about misinformation are well-founded.
We are being asked to believe that the Religious Sisters of Charity’s successor company, St Vincent’s Holdings, is secular, while the Letter of Grant from the Vatican directed the Sisters explicitly to observe specified canon laws in setting up the company, and the constitution of that company retains the core values of the order. The directors are “obliged to hold the values and vision” of the order’s founder including that “the sanctity of life belongs to all persons from conception to their natural end”.
The extraordinary claims last week that abortions under the terms of the 2018 Act are performed at St Vincent’s Hospital must be verified. Under the terms of the Act, all abortions must be notified to the Minister for Health within 28 days, with information that includes the grounds for each abortion.
The national report for 2020 is due to be published by June 30th. The Minister must now confirm exactly how many abortions took place at St Vincent’s between January 1st, 2019 and May 31st, 2021 and under which grounds.
I do not believe that Archbishops Eamon Martin and Dermot Farrell can continue to remain silent about such serious claims, given the strict prohibition on abortion in every Catholic hospital around the world, except apparently St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4.
The NMH must shoulder a large part of the responsibility for the delays to the project.
First, the decision by the board to cede ownership of the hospital to the Sisters of Charity in 2016 caused public and political furore when it emerged in 2017, and led to the Sisters announcing their intention to transfer their shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.
Second, after repeated denials by the NMH that Vatican permission was required, it took until March 2020 before permission was in fact conditionally granted.
Third is the failure by the board of the NMH to submit an acceptable business case to Government. The first iteration appears to have been rejected by the Department of Public Reform and Expenditure in December 2020. My understanding is that a revised business case has yet to be submitted.
Following last week’s Social Democrats’ motion on the new hospital, which the Government parties did not oppose, there is now all-party political consensus that the new hospital will be fully State owned and built on State land.
A rally outside Leinster House last Saturday saw a broad range of civil society organisations oppose the current plan and call for full State ownership, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland.
The issue will at some point come before Cabinet, though much work remains to be done, not least the “double-checking” of the legal advice the Government has received to date, and the resubmission of Holles Street’s business case.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that ownership of the land is a red line for the Government and that there is “a risk” the project will not go ahead at Elm Park if the State does not own the land. In a series of thoughtful interventions Taoiseach Micheál Martin has noted that “he still has concerns about governance arrangements and that there could be no semblance or even perception of religious influence”.
Beyond the row about one hospital, the Taoiseach noted in the Dáil last week that “when the State is investing, the State should own”. Finally, I am at a loss to understand why my colleagues are resistant to State ownership. Surely that would give them the hospital they need and cast iron guarantees of medical and operational independence.
Dr Peter Boylan,