Harney wonders why Sisters of Charity wish to own hospital site

Harney contrasts situation with Sisters of Mercy offering land for children’s hospital

Former tánaiste and minister for health Mary Harney: “When the children’s hospital was to have been built at the Mater, the site was being given over completely by the Mercy Sisters who owned it”

Former tánaiste and minister for health Mary Harney: “When the children’s hospital was to have been built at the Mater, the site was being given over completely by the Mercy Sisters who owned it”

 

Former tánaiste and minister for health Mary Harney says she finds it “hard to understand” why the Sisters of Charity would wish to own the site of the new national maternity hospital.

In a rare public statement on a matter of political controversy since her retirement six years ago, she told The Irish Times there was a contrast between the congregation’s approach and that of the Sisters of Mercy when it offered land for the building of a new national children’s hospital at the Mater hospital in Dublin.

“When the children’s hospital was to have been built at the Mater, the site was being given over completely by the Mercy Sisters who owned it.

“There’s nothing the Government or Minister Harris can do because of the Constitution’s position on the ownership of property. But I do wonder why the Sisters of Charity want to continue with the ownership of the site for the national maternity hospital.”

Ms Harney was speaking in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, where she was addressing the fifth annual Women in Media conference.

Ms Harney said she was highly impressed with Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at Holles Street, and retired judge and de facto board chairman Nicholas Kearns. They were “astute and skilful”, Ms Harney said. She said she also understood the position of Minister for Health Simon Harris who has been at the centre of this week’s controversy over the Sister of Charity’s planned ownership of the new national maternity hospital.

Dr Mahony has said the agreement between the NMH and the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, which is owned by the religious order, provides for clinical and operational independence at the proposed new hospital. However, one of her predecessors, Dr Peter Boylan, has argued that it will be subject to Catholic influence.

This is not the first time disagreements have threatened the €300 million project. A previous spat between the two hospitals led to an 18-month hiatus during which the development of the project was stalled. The turf war persisted through two unsuccessful bouts of mediation, and it was not until Kieran Mulvey, a former chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission, was called in that an agreement was hammered out.

The hospital was originally scheduled to move to St Vincent’s in 2018, but is three years behind schedule even before this latest twist.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher called on Mr Harris to publish the deal reached between the NMH and St Vincent’s.

Mr Harris has indicated he will provide the document to the Oireachtas health committee, but Mr Kelleher said the details of all reports, reviews and deals should be published “so people can ascertain the facts”.

In Galway, the outgoing president of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr John Duddy, called on doctors to put aside their differences and united behind major infrastructural developments.

He told the IMO’s annual conference that “turf wars” over the NMH and the National Children’s Hospital do not help patients when women deserve modern 21st century healthcare facilities.