Push for maternity hospital to be free of religious influence

Board of new hospital ‘could potentially seat four members of the religious order’

The Government must show clearly how the new National Maternity Hospital at St Vincent's in Dublin will not in any way be under the control of its owners the Sisters of Charity or subject to their ethos, Amnesty International Ireland has said.

The organisation’s executive director, Colm O’Gorman, said the State has a clear obligation under international law to ensure it provides access to healthcare “in a manner which fully protects, respects and fulfils the human rights of people living within the State”.

It must ensure that “access to a full range of health services is not denied to people on the basis of the ideological or religious ethos of any healthcare provider that it chooses to partner with”.

It was not enough “to assure the public that this is the case. Instead it must transparently and fully provide evidence that it is, by disclosing the full detail of the agreement it has entered into with the Sisters of Charity and subjecting it to full and open scrutiny,” he said.


Outraged by decision

The Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services Ireland has also called for transparency “and if necessary relocation of the National Maternity Hospital”.

The association, which was set up in 2007 by women with experience of the Irish maternity system, said in a statement that “maternity service users in Ireland are outraged by the decision to grant ‘ownership’ of the new National Maternity Hospital to a religious order.”

It had received "an unprecedented number of communications regarding the issue since it came into the public realm earlier this week" and called on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, "to ensure the interests of women and babies are protected or rethink the entire move".

The proposed nine-person board structure at the new maternity hospital “is not 100 per cent independent as it could potentially seat four members of the religious order”, it said.

This week’s controversy also meant “maternity service users have been given a strong message by the State . . . that the abuse they and their loved ones have suffered by religious orders do not matter”, it said.

The Magdalene Survivors Together group has repeated its call on the Government and Mr Harris "to completely remove the Sisters of Charity from the development of the new maternity hospital".

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said another maternity hospital could be advanced if the planned move to St Vincent’s were delayed. “The bottom line is we can’t have a situation where the public doesn’t own a hospital that it paid for,” he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times