State healthcare and religion


Sir, – The Irish Times tells us that Minister for Health Simon Harris is seeking a forum to discuss the issue of ownership in the health service (“Harris seeks forum on ownership in health”, April 27th). Is the country now being run on forums and assemblies? Does actual decision-making come as a requirement for the job for any Minister? – Yours, etc,


Dunboyne, Co Meath.

Sir, – A suggestion about using a compulsory purchase order to buy the land beside St Vincent’s Hospital for our new National Maternity Hospital has been put forward. But how about turning this around? If the Sisters of Charity are so keen to own this hospital, they could do so with an investment of €300 million of their own. – Yours, etc,



Co Tipperary.

Sir, – Dr Rhona Mahony may well be right in thinking that she and her colleagues will have medical independence in the new National Maternity Hospital. However, it remains totally unacceptable that a hospital funded by the taxpayers should be owned by a religious order. By all means let the hospital be located at Elm Park, but some mechanism needs to be found to ensure state ownership.

Perhaps, as a goodwill gesture, the nuns might relinquish ownership to the people? – Yours, etc,


Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – The proposal to build the new maternity hospital on the RTÉ campus has a lot of merit, and would achieve a lot of savings through on-site synergies. For example, Dermot Bannon could redesign the hospital, incorporating a central open courtyard that nobody appears to want. Donal Skehan could do the catering, and Joe Duffy could provide any counselling services required. Prof Bela Doyle would make a suitable new master. – Yours, etc,


Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – The St Vincent’s group may be able in effect to select up to five out the nine members of the National Maternity Hospital board but the provisions on clinical practice may be a more problematic part of the agreement between St Vincent’s and the National Maternity Hospital.

Patients may, depending on their needs, be treated either in St Vincent’s or in the NMH. In such cases, section 6.4 of the agreement states that the “provision of care will be separate from the physical location of the patient, and will be decided by the consultant in charge based on the needs of the patient”.

This means that a patient in St Vincent’s but under the care of consultant from the NMH may undergo in St Vincent’s procedures approved in the NMH but not normally approved in St Vincent’s. In such cases support staff in St Vincent’s may sometimes be required to participate in procedures that are contrary to their own ethical beliefs, which I assume is itself unethical.

Conversely, patients in the NMH but under the care of a consultant from St Vincent’s would be treated according to the clinical rules of St Vincent’s and not of the NMH. Here, too, support staff in the NMH may be required to assist in procedures contrary to their ethical beliefs – again unethically.

The wording of section 6.4 is clear. This is a recipe for ethical confusion and dispute at a time when a patient’s life may be in imminent danger. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Like many medical practitioners, I have grown used to a certain level of irrationality when it comes to analysis of our health service. However, I believe recent events represent a new low. A small elderly group of nuns has been demonised, while one of Ireland’s most outstanding hospitals has been outrageously portrayed as a hotbed of religious fundamentalism.

In response to this liberal frenzy, some have openly called for the seizure of private property held by the Sisters of Charity, a grossly illegal act that would not be out of place in a communist dictatorship.

The reality is that medical practitioners working in the new maternity hospital will enjoy full clinical independence without religious interference.

This project is also vital in order to maintain Ireland’s outstanding safety record in obstetrics, a record that some people choose to ignore because it does not suit their pro-abortion agenda.

Furthermore, while it may be unfashionable for any doctor to acknowledge this, the religious orders of Ireland provided an invaluable medical service for many of the poorest in society over much of the past century. Unlike the HSE, which presides over hundreds of trolley-based deaths annually without any visible public protests, the clergy was also historically capable of administering hospitals in a competent fashion.

Of course, it is far easier for Irish left-wing commentators to put the boot into retired elderly nuns rather than explain why bungling HSE bureaucrats should enjoy a “job for life”.

It appears some protesters will not be content until this project is abandoned and moved to a new site free from any association whatsoever with Catholicism.

An attempted relocation would ensure a lengthy and enormously costly delay in the delivery of a much-needed facility for the women and babies of Ireland.

I believe the Minister should apologise to the St Vincent’s Hospital Group for the disgraceful manner in which it has been portrayed in the past week. He should then tell the online mob that this project will go ahead no matter how much twitter-based outrage ensues.

Finally, those clinicians who have genuine concerns should again be provided with all necessary reassurance that their professional autonomy will be fully respected. The women and children of Ireland have waited long enough. This project must proceed as a matter of urgency. – Yours, etc,


Navan, Co Meath.