‘No religious interference’ in national maternity hospital

The State’s investment in the proposed €300m national maternity hospital will be protected and it will be free of religious interference, according to Health Minister Simon Harris.

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH), Rhona O’Mahony, said the hospital will “be clinically and operationally entirely independent in line with national maternity policy”.

Mr Harris and Dr O’Mahony’s comments follow reports that the Sisters of Charity will be sole owners of the hospital when it transfers from its current site at Holles St to St Vincent’s University Hospital campus at Elm Park.

The notion of the Sisters of Charity having sole ownership of a State-funded hospital sparked outrage among those angered that the order has not fulfilled commitments to survivors of institutional abuse.

The order had pledged an additional €5m after the 2009 publication of the Ryan Report which inquired into child abuse in religious-run institutions — but €3m remains outstanding.

However, the State has not “gifted” sole ownership to the nuns; the land on which the new hospital will be built is owned by St Vincent’s Healthcare Group of which the Sisters of Charity are a major shareholder. This does not mean the nuns could dispose of the hospital on a whim because the minister, who holds a “golden share” in the company set up to run it, can withhold his approval.

And while the State will provide some of the funds for the build, it will have a lien on the property which essentially means that its investment is protected. Funds from the sale of Holles St will also go towards the build.

However, Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly said all buildings funded by the State should be owned by the State.

“Given the events of recent weeks, not to mention the failure of religious congregations to meet their share of redress, it seems extraordinary to see the State continuing to fund an increase in the asset values of those same congregations,” Mr Kelly said.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said providing ownership of the new hospital to the Sisters of Charity was “deeply insulting and hurtful to survivors of institutional abuse”.

“The State has not learned the lessons of the past,” she said.

Mr Harris said the company set up to run the hospital will have “clinical and operational independence in the provision of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services, without religious, ethnic, or other distinction, as well as financial and budgetary independence”.

The Sisters of Charity were unavailable for comment.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said the Sisters of Charity were “in serious breach of redress commitments and should not be rewarded”.

Editorial: 10

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