The National Maternity Hospital – a question of ownership

Sir, – The Religious Sisters of Charity are the latest of the Irish religious orders to depart direct involvement in healthcare, following the Sisters of Mercy in 2016, the Bon Secours Sisters in 2017, and the St John of God Brothers in 2019 ("Religious order exits healthcare as part of deal paving way for NMH to proceed", News, April 29th).

The establishment of Vatican-approved lay successor Catholic sponsorship arrangements is a global trend in consequence of the ageing and dwindling numbers of the Catholic religious themselves.

Following the canon law process for their ownership transfer to St Vincent’s Holdings, the RSC have appointed three people to own St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG). These are Prof Michael Keane, Dr David Brophy and Sharen McCabe, all former members of the SVHG board. Prof Keane and Dr Brophy are clinicians at St Vincent’s.

While the RSC are entitled to make whatever arrangements they wish for their own hospitals, I do not see what qualifies a respiratory physician, a radiologist and the managing director of a pharmacy chain to own the planned €1 billion publicly-funded new National Maternity Hospital in place of the 100 governors who currently own it in trust.


For reasons of transparency relating to concerns about Catholic ethos at a relocated NMH, Prof Keane, Dr Brophy and Ms McCabe must now publish the full correspondence between the Vatican and the RSC relating to the establishment of St Vincent’s Holdings and their appointment as its directors and owners.

It is a matter of record that as directors of St Vincent’s Holdings they are committed to upholding “the values and vision of Mother Mary Aikenhead”, the RSC founder. Prof Keane Dr Brophy and Ms McCabe must now state explicitly how they intend to put this commitment into action in their SVHG hospitals and in the future NMH, should the relocation go ahead.

They must further explain why the core values of the Religious Sisters of Charity have been included unchanged in the constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings despite a commitment by Sister Patricia Lenihan in May 2017 that these would be “amended and replaced.”

I note that the press release issued by the Sisters values SVHG at €204 million.

Yet in 2018 the group was valued at €661 million, begging the question as to what has happened to the €457 million difference.

There remain many outstanding concerns and issues to be resolved before there should be any further progress with the NMH relocation. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – The bottom line is that the Sisters of Charity will continue to own the site on which the hospital is to be built.This is an organisation that has presided over some of the most oppressive institutions in the history of the State. It has subsequently refused to pay its fair share under the joint government and religious orders redress scheme. In addition to which it reports to the Vatican, a vastly wealthy foreign power shrouded in secrecy.

The Vatican, while overseeing a protracted and convoluted process that will see the Catholic Church’s continued involvement in a major State-run hospital, has done nothing to ensure the Sisters of Charity honour its obligations under the redress scheme. This self-serving approach to how it handles its affairs should raise numerous red flags.

We have achieved much in shaking off the shackles of our repressed past and in becoming a liberated outward-looking country, so why is the Government still tolerating church interference in the affairs of State? Would it tolerate the same level of interference from any other multinational organisation? If this really is the best that can be achieved in this dire situation, it is a sad legacy for the victims of institutional abuse in this country and a dark day for democracy. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – You report that the transfer of their shares in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group by the Sisters of Charity to a successor private Catholic charity now clears the way for the new National Maternity Hospital to be built. It should do nothing of the sort.

Are we seriously expected to accept guarantees that a new Catholic charity approved by the Vatican will help promote the provision to women of legal healthcare services that contradict the charity’s “Catholic values”? Currently, their colleagues in St Vincent’s Hospital don’t appear to offer such legal services, so why should we expect that the new hospital would do so?

But for many of us who object to the current plans for the new National Maternity Hospital, our objection is even more fundamental. As we struggle to undo the historical legacy of Catholic control of health services, we should not be further embedding private charities, Catholic or otherwise, into our health system.

It’s really very simple. Our new State-funded National Maternity Hospital should be completely State-owned. No amount of questionable guarantees about what healthcare services may be provided will address that fundamental issue. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – Dr Peter Boylan in his letter (April 26th) states that the HSE board "has erred" by failing to secure an express commitment that the relocated National Maternity Hospital can, among other treatments, provide IVF.

IVF should undoubtedly be provided in any modern maternity hospital. The doctor’s concern is curious though, considering that the NMH in its current location does not offer IVF.

For that “high-tech” service, one is referred elsewhere, including to the private clinic right next door. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – If the Sisters want to continue their interest in the arena of our reproductive rights and maternity care, then it is entirely unacceptable that they are not engaging publicly on this matter. It is incumbent on them to stand up, hold themselves accountable, and participate in this conversation. These are issues that will affect Irish people. We cannot tolerate anything less than full transparency when it comes to our reproductive healthcare and the use of taxpayers’ money.

The Sisters need to make public any documents from the Archbishop of Dublin and the Vatican which state that they are permitting the site at Elm Park to be used to provide specific reproductive services such as abortion, IVF and elective sterilisation.

If these documents do not give specific permission, then the constitution of the National Maternity Hospital will be interpreted entirely differently, as its core values are those of Sister Mary Aikenhead.

Has Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly or any of our Government Ministers, or the HSE, seen or even requested these documents? The public needs direct answers on this.

This is where accountability begins. Who actually believes that the Vatican is about to permit abortion, IVF or sterilisation on their land, when they will not permit them anywhere else in Ireland, or the world? This will be internationally groundbreaking for the Catholic Church if they do. I look forward to the news headlines if they do. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.