Ex-High Court president Nicholas Kearns to step down from NMH board

Sources say resignation not linked to recent clash with Dr Peter Boylan at hospital agm

A spokesman for the National Maternity Hospital said that Mr Justice Kearns was stepping down after six years in the role, having informed the board of his intention to step down in May 2021. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

A spokesman for the National Maternity Hospital said that Mr Justice Kearns was stepping down after six years in the role, having informed the board of his intention to step down in May 2021. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

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Former president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns is to step down from a senior role on the board of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH).

Mr Justice Kearns, who was the deputy chair of the NMH board, said he made the decision to stand down late last year, while a spokesman said he informed the board in May.

He confirmed the move to step down this month just three weeks after a fractious meeting in which he clashed with Dr Peter Boylan in exchanges which have caused controversy amongst governors of the hospital, it has emerged.

Dr Boylan said that in the past there had not been full consultation about the terms of the deal to move the hospital from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s campus.

Mr Justice Kearns said this was “a complete untruth”, sources said, adding that all terms were brought back repeatedly to the board.

Following the exchange, a governor of the hospital wrote to Mr Justice Kearns and said she was “shocked” at his language and asked him to reflect on the handling of the meeting.

Not linked

The letter was written by Dr Frances Meagher and was circulated to all governors of the hospital last week. Sources have said that Mr Justice Kearns’s decision to step down was not linked to the letter or the annual general meeting.

Dr Meagher said “it was clear that neither question nor comment was welcome” during the agm of the hospital in which questions were raised about the planned relocation from Holles Street to Elm Park.

“This is not the way to generate an inclusive debate/discussion. You did not appear at all interested in what those present were thinking,” wrote Dr Meagher, who was formerly married to Dr Boylan and is a daughter of former NMH master Declan Meagher.

She added: “Our Lord Mayor, Alison Gilliland, put forward five important questions and indicated that there were other points on which she would also like clarification during the meeting, but you did not invite her, subsequently, to raise any of these. In fact, the meeting ended quite precipitously. No indication was given at the start of the meeting regarding the duration, which would be normal practice.”

It is understood that Ms Gilliland asked specifically about the planned relocation of the hospital and asked why the hospital will not be fully publicly owned.

A spokesman for the NMH said that Mr Justice Kearns was stepping down after six years in the role, having informed the board of his intention to step down in May 2021.

‘Unstinting support’

In a statement, Mr Justice Kearns said: “I wish to thank the board and staff of the National Maternity Hospital for their unstinting support during my period as deputy chairman. It has been my privilege to work with wonderful colleagues at all levels of the hospital. I commend them for their commitment and hard work, and in particular for their Herculean efforts throughout Covid-19 in delivering exceptional care within the constraints of the current Holles Street location.

“I decided late last year it was an opportune time to hand over the reins, and I am confident that the succession plans put in place will ensure the role is in excellent hands. I wish the board every success in the important journey that lies ahead.”

Dr Boylan said he welcomed the resignation, “which I called for last year”. Of the future of the NMH, he said: “It is now up to the Government to find a solution acceptable to the women of Ireland. That will require State ownership of the land on which the new hospital is to be built.”