Maternity hospital row: ‘I did try to warn you’ - Texts row spills over

Last Sunday, shortly after lunchtime, Peter Boylan, the eminent ex-master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles St, picked up his phone to send a text.

Maternity hospital row: ‘I did try to warn you’ - Texts row spills over

The raging row over the proposed handing over of the new €300m hospital to the Catholic order of the Sisters of Charity had dominated the Sunday papers and morning radio shows.

Having flagged his concerns publicly about the proposed move to St Vincent’s Hospital, Boylan texted his sister-in-law Rhona Mahony, the current master of Holles St, and Nicholas Kearns, the deputy chairman of the hospital.

He blasted the two of them out of it.

He texted: “I’m sorry it’s come to this but I did try to warn you. The way out for both of you is to make it clear that you were misled by SVHG, you accepted their bona fides and assurances... Both of you and the minister are inextricably linked in this and you will either sink or swim together.

"The way to get the hospital is to insist on CPO of Elm Park golf club land on periphery and establish links to SVH via tunnels/corridors. Minimal design alterations needed, Peter.”

Notwithstanding the family connection, Mahony agreed with Kearns that Boylan had gone too far.

She and Kearns called on the former master to resign his position from the board of governors immediately. Kearns replied to Boylan: “Both the master and I have received and read your text sent to us at 13.47 today.

"We are now asking for your immediate resignation from the board of Holles St — both because of your public intervention to criticise and oppose the overwhelming majority decision of the board taken in November last to approve the agreement reached with SVUH for the transfer of Holles St to Elm Park — a vote on which you abstained — and in addition because of the content of your text sent today.

“It’s [sic] intimidatory tone is most regrettable. The board will clearly require to be briefed on Wednesday as to the contents of your text communication if your resignation as sought is not forthcoming.”

Yesterday, the most extraordinary row over the future of the maternity hospital escalated significantly.

With the text exchange in the public domain, Boylan took to the airwaves to defend his position.

While accepting his language in the text was somewhat intemperate, Boylan stood over the substantive point he was making.

Explaining his reason for sending the text, Boylan said he was becoming increasingly concerned at the “furore” that exploded following the initial story which revealed the plan to hand ownership to the Church.

Hinting he had not been listened to at board level, he said he had “become tired” of raising matter hisconcerns with his fellow governors.

He said assurances given by Mahony and others had been “blown out of the water” by utterances made by leading Church figures over the weekend.

He said his concerns were heightened by the intervention of Sr Agnes of the Sisters of Charity, who made it clear there was some doubt as to whether the Catholic teaching would hold sway at the new maternity hospital.

“That was confirmed by Bishop Doran at the weekend and by a letter of Ireland East Group Tom Lynch to the secretary general in the Department of Health, Jim Breslin, some time ago, warning that there would be ethical issues if the hospital was built on these lands,” Boylan said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

While strictly there was no letter from Lynch to Breslin but a meeting between them was held there was a meeting last year between the two of them and the matter was raised during the course of their conversation.

Also, the Ireland East Hospital Group put forward a document offering a possible framework for the potential resolution of the difficulties that had at that stage arisen with the project.

But it has been confirmed that Health Minister Simon Harris was not informed of this and the minister will speak to him about the matter shortly.

Asked if he would resign as requested, a defiant Boylan insisted he is going nowhere: “No, I don’t feel I should resign. There have been questions about loyalty to the board. I feel a loyalty to the women of Ireland.”

But then it emerged Boylan had not voted against the proposed deal when he had the chance. Why not?

“No, I abstained — a sense of loyalty to the master. Maybe I should have. But it was going to pass anyway. There was overwhelming support for it. There were only four people, not three who opposed it.

“But importantly the three previous masters had reservations and did not support it with a vote. Yes, there were two votes against it. No, I abstained and one of the other masters abstained. I was waiting for the meeting of the governors,” he said.

Whatever about the merits of his position in opposing the deal, his failure to oppose it does weaken Boylan’s stance somewhat. He had a chance to record his formal objection to the project but instead chose to abstain.

For Mahony, she and Kearns have repeatedly insisted that the independence of Holles St will continue in the new hospital. There will be no interference, they say.

This was repeated in a statement from St Vincent’s Hospital Group yesterday, heavily criticising what it called Boylan’s “continued misinformation and untruthful allegations”.

“The clinical independence of the hospital will be enshrined in the Memorandum and Articles of the new hospital, as agreed by both SVHG and NMH in the agreement mediated by Kieran Mulvey,” it stated.

Continuing to suggest that procedures currently undertaken at the National Maternity Hospital will not be available in the new maternity hospital is entirely false and without foundation, said St Vincent’s.

“In line with current policy and procedures at SVHG, any medical procedure which is in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Ireland will be carried out at the new hospital,” it stated.

But it then emerged that the request for Boylan to resign was not one demanded by all governors.

A member of the National Maternity Hospital board said the board was not consulted before Boylan was asked to resign. Mícheál Mac Donncha, a Sinn Féin councillor in Dublin, said this was wrong and Boylan should not be asked to resign for expressing an opinion. Mac Donncha described the decision as “regrettable”.

All eyes now turn to tonight’s board meeting and whether Boylan is able to withstand the pressure to vacate his position, and if Boylan’s concerns remain in the wake of the meeting.

“What will happen is the hospital will be built and then when it comes in five or ten years’ time to admitting women in patients and performing and doing abortions or doing whatever, suddenly they’ll find that actually no, you can’t do that.

"Four members of a nine-member board — it only takes one person to wobble — and then you say ‘No, actually you can’t do that, they’ll ’ and that woman will have to go to the Rotunda or the Coombe’. My concern is for the women of Ireland,” he said.

This most extraordinary row appears a long way from being over.

More in this section

Budget 2022 Logo

What impact will this  year's budget have on you and your business.

IE logo


The Business Hub

News and analysis on business, money and jobs from Munster and beyond by our expert team of business writers.

Sign up
Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Some of the best bits from direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up