Crowds protest religious ownership of new maternity hospital

More than 1,500 attend demonstration while petition receives 100,000 signatures

More than 1,500 people marched under glorious Dublin sunshine on Sunday calling on the Government to ensure the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) is not controlled by a religious order.

Construction of the new NMH, which is to be located on the campus of St Vincent's Hospital, will be paid for by the State, but – according to terms of the current agreement – will be gifted to the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, owned by the Sisters of Charity because it owns the land.

A petition on the site, calling for this not to happen, has had more than 100,000 signatures.

Sunday's march was organised by in conjunction with the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), Parents for Choice, Terminations for Medical Reasons and the Justice for Magdalenes group.


Among the slogans on numerous placards were, “No nunsense in our hospitals”, “Not just a storm in a tea-cup, storm over a septic tank”, “Time to kick bad habits” and “Savita”.

Chants included; “No way, we won’t pray”, “Get your church out of our womb, we don’t want another Tuam” and “Enda, Enda. We want a referenda”.

Eamonn Reid (74) from Howth said he was marching because he remembered the 1951 Mother and Child scheme crisis, when a plan to introduce free healthcare for families was defeated by the Catholic Church. The church saw it as interference in family morals. "Now 66 years later we are still handing control of women's health to the church. It has to stop."

Denise Kiernan, who started the petition, said she was "angry" with Rhona Mahony, Master of the NMH, whom she said had "brushed aside" people's fears about the new hospital being owned by a religious order. She said the concerns were not a "sideshow", but showed a real commitment by people to prevent the nuns "taking our hospital".

Orla O’Connor, director of the NWCI, said the controversy over the hospital’s ownership marked a “really important moment” in the fight for the “separation of Church and State”.

“We absolutely have to win this. We cannot have our hospital in the ownership of the Church and we cannot have Church control of the governance. That is an absolute.”

TDs on the march included Richard Boyd Barrett and Bríd Smith of People Before Profit, and Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times