State, church and healthcare


Sir, – I was chairman of the ethics committee of Temple Street Hospital for a time. The only preoccupation of the Sisters of Charity that I noticed was with the care of sick children of all classes and creeds. Male priests and bishops exercised power over them and their place was to obey. They had little power. They had a weak voice. But they had to have regard to ridiculous instructions – like those contained in Humanae Vitae – a document into which, I am sure, they had little input.

These women are Irish women too – and they are being scorned and ridiculed just as in years gone by when they were dominated and manipulated.

They don’t deserve this disrespect. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – Sisters, stand your ground. The Sisters of Charity, who own the St Vincent’s Healthcare Trust, must not compromise on their Catholic ethos in the proposed new building for the National Maternity hospital on their land. Some journalists and medics have suggested that the Sisters sell, or lease out the land or worse still that a compulsory possession order be made to solve the dilemma. Now if the Sisters sell or lease the land, they would be compromising on their Catholic ethos, ie knowing that some medical procedures which are contrary to their ethos would be taking place on their former land.

Some years ago, I left midwifery in the UK as procedures were taking place on the maternity unit I was working on that were contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Despite the past failings of some Sisters, they are still the best custodians of their land for the common good, even when taxpayer funding is needed.

Those who are now bashing the Sisters might not be in powerful positions today only for the education and healthcare provided by the Sisters in the past.

Well done to Bishop Kevin Doran for defending the Catholic ethos. We need to hear from his brother bishops and priests. – Yours, etc,


Scotstown, Co Monaghan.

Sir, – Regarding the National Maternity Hospital controversy, I well remember being one of the Arts students at UCD who endured the trauma of moving from Earlsfort Terrace to Belfield in the autumn of 1969. We didn’t want to go, not least because the new campus was still largely a building site. But the die was cast, and there was no way of avoiding this forced evacuation.

After all, UCD had bought the Belfield House estate as far back as 1934, ostensibly to provide new sports grounds for the college and later supplemented this strategic purchase with further acquisitions of landed properties in the area. Also in 1934, coincidentally, the Sisters of Charity bought Elm Park, with the intention of relocating St Vincent’s Hospital from St Stephen’s Green to the new site.

As I noted in my first book, The Destruction of Dublin (Gill and Macmillan, 1985), the objective of these chessboard-like moves – enthusiastically supported by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid – was to create “a great Catholic axis in the suburbs, counterbalancing the pernicious orbit of Trinity [College] and the Protestant teaching hospitals in the city centre”.

It was no surprise to me, on the first occasion I visited the new St Vincent’s Hospital – a State-funded institution – to find that there was a portrait of the stern archbishop in its entrance hall. Neither was it surprising that McQuaid had managed to engineer the early provision of an octagonal Catholic chapel in Belfield, which he himself had consecrated even before we moved out there.

I was both mystified and outraged by the fact that this could happen in a constituent college (along with UCC and UCG) of the National University of Ireland, which had been established as an explicitly non-denominational academic institution under the 1908 Irish Universities Act, passed by the British parliament.

It transpired that the site on which the new Catholic chapel was built had been given by UCD to the Archdiocese of Dublin “in perpetuity”. As a result, while it was physically part of the Belfield campus, it was not legally part of it. A similarly clever solution could now be adopted at Elm Park if the Sisters of Charity were to hand over the site of the National Maternity Hospital to the State.

To advance this cause, I will be taking part in the protest march organised by Parents for Choice in Dublin city centre next Sunday. – Yours, etc,


Temple Bar, Dublin 2.