Maternity hospital controversy: NMH call for resignation is sinister

It’s just over three years since Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan resigned. It’s not quite three years since Justice Minister Alan Shatter quit cabinet.

Maternity hospital controversy: NMH call for resignation is sinister

The former secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, left that position in July 2014. They left because of a perception, later refuted, that they had mishandled the whistleblowers’ controversy or presided over, as a Government review found, a “closed, secretive, silo-driven culture”. That episode influenced the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, a mechanism to protect those who feel morally obliged to challenge the consensus of institutional behaviour or policy.

Against that background, it is at least perplexing if not sinister, that former master of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) and whistleblower Dr Peter Boylan has been asked to resign from the NMH board because he expressed strong reservations about the deal reached last November over ownership of the proposed €300m , publicly funded NMH. The hospital will be, it is proposed, owned by the Sisters of Charity. He was asked to stand down by the hospital’s deputy chairman, former High Court president Nicholas Kearns.

Earlier assurances, no doubt sincere, that the Sisters of Charity ownership would not limit hospital services, given by the Minister for Health Simon Harris and Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the NMH, were brought into question by the bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran. Vindicating Dr Boylan and justifying his concerns around medical independence, the bishop declared that the Sisters of Charity will indeed be bound by the rules of the Catholic church if they own the NMH. “A healthcare organisation bearing the name Catholic... has a special responsibility to Catholic teachings... ,” he said. A clarification he offered yesterday did not change that assertion.

Yesterday afternoon’s statement from the board of St Vincent’s pledging that the NMH would carry out any legal medical procedure cannot be made fit with the bishop’s assertion of Catholic primacy. It is very unfortunate that we have reached this point but experience shows that assumption and wishful thinking are delusional in these circumstances. Something far more robust than the board’s intentions are required — as Dr Boylan has advocated.

In a country where a national children’s hospital was proposed 24 years ago but has yet to treat even one patient, it may be reckless to say that a project must be delayed until there is absolute, cast-iron certainty that the new NMH’s code of practice will not be defined by the Catholic church but, tragically, that is where we are.

There is an easy solution. The Sisters of Charity could gift the land to the State. This would end debate about who will set NMH policy. That that idea is not even being discussed says a lot — even if it is as naive as suggestions that the Sisters of Charity or their proxies would not interfere in the running of a maternity hospital given to them by the State.

This saga, sadly, is another example of how our indifference to accountability, or maybe moral reservation, in public affairs is so destructive but so helpful to those with anti-democratic agendas. Will we ever learn?

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