College of surgeons Bahrain head quits over conference permit

Resignation highlights dilemma faced by RCSI in negotiating island kingdom’s fraught political situation

The Bahrain i government's official spokeswoman has accused Prof Tom Collins, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RSCI) Bahrain campus, of "utter lies" after Prof Collins said he was resigning because a conference he helped organise on medical ethics failed to get a permit.

Prof Collins informed staff and students at the weekend that he was stepping down in protest over the cancellation of the two-day event which was to examine “medical ethics and dilemmas in situations of political discord or violence” and was co-sponsored by medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

The theme of the conference was sensitive in Bahrain given the continuing fallout from the rounding up of scores of medics in early 2011 as Bahraini security forces tried to snuff out pro-democracy rallies. Three of those arrested had trained at the RCSI in Dublin.

The RCSI was criticised for its failure to take a public stand against the security crackdown which, as an international investigative commission later confirmed, involved serious human rights abuses by the Bahraini authorities.


In a statement issued in Dublin yesterday, the RCSI said the conference was to “bring together healthcare professionals from all political and religious backgrounds to start a dialogue on the role and the serious professional dilemmas faced by healthcare professionals in areas of conflict around the world”.

The RCSI said its Bahrain campus had hoped to facilitate the event. “For [the conference] to be a success, it needed to include a wide range of stakeholders, professional bodies, governmental and non-governmental organisations,” the statement said.

“The view locally was that the timing was not right for the planned conference and therefore it has been deferred.”

A report by the Bahrain News Agency yesterday cited minister for information and government spokeswoman Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab as saying no official notice had been submitted regarding the resignation.

“The government dismissed the veracity of the reasons cited for the resignation, affirming that an official notice had already been forwarded to the university since December 2012, approving the...conference to proceed as planned,” the report said.

“Therefore, the reasons cited by [Prof Collins] to justify his resignation . . . are utter lies,” Ms Ibrahim bin Rajab is quoted as saying.

In its statement, the RCSI said Prof Collins, who was appointed president of the Bahrain facility in 2011, had been “considering his position” in the tiny Gulf kingdom for some time. “With the delay in the advancement of the conference [he]has decided that now is the right time for him to step down.”

Prof Collins could not be reached for comment last night.

His resignation again highlights the dilemma faced by the RCSI in negotiating Bahrain’s fraught political situation since 2011. In 2003 the college agreed to establish a medical university in the Gulf monarchy. Today the facility has more than 1,000 students. In a presentation to the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee last year, RCSI chief executive ProfCathal Kelly said the official opening of the Bahrain campus in 2009 marked the “culmination” of the college’s €70 million investment in the country. He rejected accusations that the RCSI was allowing financial considerations trump human rights.