Howlin says new site may be needed for maternity hospital

Proposed hospital has to be free of any specific religious ethos, says Micheál Martin

Brendan Howlin: “It is certainly not acceptable for any doubt to even exist for bishops now or into the future to say that they have any influence”

Brendan Howlin: “It is certainly not acceptable for any doubt to even exist for bishops now or into the future to say that they have any influence”

 

An alternative site for a national maternity hospital (NMH) must be found if a deal that would see the State have full control of the facility cannot be brokered with the Sisters of Charity, Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said.

Mr Howlin was speaking at the end of his party’s conference in Wexford on Sunday in response to assertions by the Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, who said the congregation which owns the site of the planned hospital in Dublin would have to apply Roman Catholic teaching in the new facility.

Bishop Doran told the Sunday Times: “A healthcare organisation bearing the name Catholic while offering care to all who need it has a special responsibility...to Catholic teachings about the value of human life and dignity, and the ultimate destiny of the human person.”

When asked in August 2013 by The Irish Times if St Vincent’s University Hospital would carry out abortions to save a woman’s life, a spokesman said the hospital would “as always be following the law of the land”.

That statement was made amid controversial comments by then Fr Kevin Doran, in which he said the Mater hospital would not be able to comply with the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. He was then a member of the Mater hospital’s board of governors.

He told The Irish Times at the time “the Mater can’t carry out abortions because it goes against its ethos”, and that he would be concerned the then minister for health, James Reilly, “sees fit to make it impossible for hospitals to have their own ethos”.

Board of governors

Ultimately Fr Doran resigned from the hospital’s board of governors after it decided the Mater would comply with the Act.

The Mater was one of two Catholic voluntary hospitals on the list of 25 approved institutions – the other being St Vincent’s University Hospital.

When asked if it would carry out abortions to save a woman’s life, a spokesman for St Vincent’s told The Irish Times “the hospital will as always be following the law of the land”.

Mr Howlin said it may be necessary to transfer ownership of the national maternity hospital to the State.

“That means the transfer of the site from the ownership of the Sisters of Charity to the State. I think that a deal could be brokered on that basis, with full ownership and democratic control vested in the State thereafter.

“ Or we have to look for another site. It is certainly not acceptable for any doubt to even exist for bishops now or into the future to say that they have any influence.”

Religious ethos

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the proposed hospital had to be free of any specific religious ethos.

Mr Martin called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to be “fully transparent’’ relating to the entire process. He said the Minister had clearly endorsed the agreement in November, but now appeared to have resiled from that.

He said the taxpayer should have the investment of huge sums of money reflected in the ownership of any facility being provided.

He viewed the whole matter with some degree of concern, and took on board the “passionate articulation’’ of master of the National Maternity Hospital Holles Street, Dr Rhona O’Mahony, that without question it was not fit for purpose.