Medical college says it would be wrong to ‘cut and run’ from Bahrain despite abuses

Medical Council planning visit to Gulf state to inspect RCSI campus later this year

RCSI chief executive Prof Cathal Kelly: said he was “not an advocate or apologist for the government or the country” but Bahrain had made strides in economic developmentbut Bahrain had made strides in economic development.

RCSI chief executive Prof Cathal Kelly: said he was “not an advocate or apologist for the government or the country” but Bahrain had made strides in economic developmentbut Bahrain had made strides in economic development.

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 19:15

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has robustly defended its operations in Bahrain, saying it is acting as a “valuable bridge” between authorities and reformers in the Gulf state.

RCSI chief executive Prof Cathal Kelly admitted the medical profession in Bahrain was “polarised” between Sunni – the religion of the monarchy – and Shia. But he rejected suggestions that graduates of the college’s Bahraini campus were facing discrimination.

Since 2010 only one of its graduates had failed to secure an internship, and he drew a parallel with the medical profession in Ireland where “it was not that long ago . . . hospitals were characterised as Protestant or Catholic” and employment policy followed suit.

Addressing the Oireachtas committee on education yesterday, Prof Kelly said he was “not an advocate or apologist for the government or the country” but Bahrain had made strides in economic development; it had a better immunisation rate than Ireland and had free primary care and free education.

Caroline Spillane, chief executive of the Medical Council, told the committee it was planning a visit to Bahrain later this year following a request from the campus for accreditation. Assuring the independence of this process, she said the council would expect a high degree of participation from students and interviews would be done confidentiality.

Prof Jim Finucane for the RCSI said the absence of such accreditation was “penalising” graduates as without it they were unable to take up posts in some European countries. Such medical students should not be made “the whipping boys for the perceived problems of the regime”.

Questioned about the absence of public statements from the college on the need to guarantee human rights, Prof Kelly replied: “We are not an NGO . . . We are not human rights activists and we don’t set out to be human rights activists”. Citing journalist Thomas Friedman who argued in the wake of the Arab Spring that evolution was more effective than revolution, Prof Kelly said the college was contributing to that evolution by graduating medics.

“I think what we are doing is the very definition of soft power,” he said, adding the RCSI had shown “an Irish institution does not cut and run” nor abandon its students “and frankly I am proud of that”.

He was responding to questions from Senator Averil Power (FF) who said the college was purporting to be neutral but “that kind of silence is not apolitical”.