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The Sisters of Charity do the charitable thing

Inside Politics: Can anything stop Leo Varadkar becoming king of the jungle?

Sisters of Charity say they will have ‘no involvement in this new company’. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The rapid secularisation of Irish society made the decision arrived at by the Sisters of Charity yesterday inevitable.

The predominant mood of society towards the church now ranges from indifference to outright detestation (with some of the more extreme stuff on social media verging on the sectarian).

The recent shocking revelations about infant burials from the Tuam babies home brought another reminder of egregious practices in church-run institutions, and that was probably the tipping point for this change.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Minister for Health Simon Harris called it a "historic decision", and that it was.


It signalled the end of a process that has taken less than a generation.

Irish society is certainly more pluralist, diverse and generally more tolerant. But that is not to say intolerance will not rear its head in the future - it will come from different (and perhaps surprising) quarters.

Here is health correspondent Paul Cullen's report.

I think the Sisters of Charity will feel hard done by that they became the mark and repository for all the scandals.

As several Ministers, including Leo Varadkar and Harris, acknowledged yesterday this order has made a huge contribution to Irish healthcare over generations, the great bulk of which has been positive.

They provided services when the State was unwilling or unable to do so, and dedicated their lives to it with little personal reward.

I was in Africa a few years ago and met a remarkable nun from the Medical Missionaries who joined the convent after her Leaving Certificate.

She was instructed to study medicine and was then sent to a convent in Portugal to learn Portuguese. After her training, her first mission was in Angola.

She arrived at the height of the civil war and on her first day began operating on soldiers with the most horrific injuries that required amputations and major surgery. She is one of countless nuns who spent their lives in the health services with little personal reward.

Somewhere in the miasma of an emotional debate, such selfless contributions, which should be recognised and hailed, have been forgotten or ignored.

That said, religious orders running and owning health facilities in this day and age has become an anomaly.

In any instance, this generous decision by the Sisters of Charity has put a full stop to what had become a massive political controversy. With societal attitudes towards abortion changing there was a fault-line there that was already unignorable.

Can anything stop Leo becoming king of the jungle?

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

When things looked really bad for Simon Coveney the weekend before last, the most sensible course of action would have been to throw in the towel and prevent 10 days of an embarrassing procession for his rival Leo Varadkar.

But Coveney’s decision to stand his ground and make a fight of it has been vindicated.

He put in a tremendous ground war among the party’s membership. It certainly rattled the Varadkar camp a bit.

As you have probably read to death at this stage, it was always a long shot.

In any instance it came to an end on Sunday night, when Varadkar took on Coveney in toe-to-toe combat in front of a hostile crowd in Cork, and emerged with a points victory.

The gloves came off, to employ the cliche, and Varadkar delivered a few haymakers to Coveney, to employ another one, calling him dishonest and divisive.

The Minister for Social Protection reasserted his control of the contest, although the outcome has never really been in doubt.

And so voting started last evening in 26 centres around the country and will continue until Thursday evening.

Then on Friday, the votes will be taken to a central venue (probably Leinster House) for the count.

Though Varakdar told me yesterday in Mullingar he expected to be competitive with the membership vote, I think that college will tilt towards Coveney, with Varadkar taking the other two colleges.

I met a TD last weekend who said the whole process was a waste of time and money (it's estimated it will cost Fine Gael EUR250,000).

That TD might revise opinions this weekend after the hustings and all the other stuff that has happened. The party essentially pushed all other domestic politics off the pitch. As we report from Mullingar, turnout should be high.

The likelihood now is that the winner will soar in the polls, very much increasing the temptation to go for an early election.