Daniel McConnell: We shouldn’t let our history imprison women’s health

'Calls for the lands to be compulsorily purchased may sound snappy and good, but so slow is our planning system that such a move is not guaranteed of success and would further delay this project substantially. And for what?'
Daniel McConnell: We shouldn’t let our history imprison women’s health

Protesters outside Leinster House in Dublin against the ownership and governance structure of a new National Maternity Hospital.

The debate which has raged for the past two and a half weeks on the future of the National Maternity Hospital has (NMH), at times, been frustrating but has more often been simply perverse.

The Government’s decision to pause the approval of the move from Holles Street to St Vincent’s Hospital was done to allow documents related to the deal be published and for all the concerns held by people be fleshed out, amid some lingering concern among ministers.

Having watched every step of the debate, having read all that could be read on the matter, I am left baffled as to why and how the Government lost two TDs given the robustness of the guarantees of the deal.

As Kieran Mulvey the man who brokered the 2017 deal between the NMH and St Vincent’s made clear, all legal procedures will be performed in the new hospital.

As he said this week, the very clear statement made in the mediation agreement was that the laws of the state would apply in the new maternity hospital, and that all existing practices currently carried out in the NMH would be available in the new NMH.

“They were clear they were unequivocal in fact, there was little or no argument about that from either side once that paragraph was agreed,” he said.

Reaction of female politicians

After nine years of a delay to this hospital project getting going, we were left in the curious position of some of the country’s leading female politicians claiming the process was being rushed and seeking to have it delayed even further.

It was bonkers.

It was if they have dug themselves into an ideological hole that they were unable to get out of.

Perhaps scarred by the legacy of the truly appalling treatment of women in our society over the last century, the levels of trust in the system are low

But the true scandal is not what is going to happen in the new NMH but what is actually happening in the existing maternity hospitals.

I speak from relatively recent experience of seeing my three kids born in the crumbling Rotunda Hospital where conditions can only be described as inhumane despite the best efforts of staff.

And we were lucky as all of ours were hail and hearty.

Many others are not so lucky and have had to face inordinate struggles to get the supports they need.

But to the hospital itself, even those who have proposed this deal will say it is complex and messier than they would have liked it to be.

Starting from scratch, as Taoiseach Micheál Martin said, you would not do it this way. You would ensure it was a publicly owned building on fully publicly owned land.

Both time and money wasted

But, the decision was made to co-locate to St Vincent’s Hospital and those behind St Vincent’s simply did not want to sell or gift the land to the State.

It was utterly frustrating to see so much time and energy wasted on this argument of why a 300-year lease at €10 a year was not sufficient.

Calls for the lands to be compulsorily purchased may sound snappy and good, but so slow is our planning system that such a move is not guaranteed of success and would further delay this project substantially.

And for what?

Even though there is a lease of 300 years, belt and braced alongside a constitution which makes it clear the church will have no influence, it is still not enough for some.

I am no fan of the Catholic Church. Like many of my generation, I have utterly renounced its teaching, dogma and despise the poisonous impact it has had on public policy in Irish life in the past century.

Also, as the Attorney General Paul Gallagher advised the Cabinet, the State’s interest is well protected here and there are layers of protection to ensure no religious ethos will be at play in the running of this hospital.

The constitution says so, not just once, but several times. As Dr Rhona Mahony explains, the greatest indication that all legally permissible services will be available in the new hospital is that they are already taking place in Holles Street, even with the Archbishop of Dublin as the chairman of the board.

The truth of the matter is; rather than continuing the direct influence of the church, again from reading the documents, it is clear such influence is ended. It will be a secular organisation and institution

The six-month expulsion of two Government TDs for voting against the Government on a meaningless motion on the NMH in a way sums the utter lunacy of the past two and a half weeks.

 The Green Party parliamentary party has voted to suspend TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello, who voted against the Government on a Sinn Fein motion concerning the new National Maternity Hospital 
 The Green Party parliamentary party has voted to suspend TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello, who voted against the Government on a Sinn Fein motion concerning the new National Maternity Hospital 

TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello, no doubt convinced their stance is justified, felt compelled to go overboard because of the failure of the State to ensure the new hospital would be built on public land.

Expelled by their party automatically on Wednesday having voted for the Sinn Féin motion, Hourigan and Costello were always likely to fall foul of the rigid whip system as they have struggled to reconcile their ideology with the realities of compromise and coalition government.

Having voted against the Greens entering Government in 2020, it has always been a matter of “when” and not “if” they would break ranks once again.

But beyond their removal from the Government ranks technically (as they are likely to continue to support Government votes), it is fair to say many in the opposition who have been among the loudest voices of concern over the NMH have not covered themselves in glory.

Never-ending debate

The most alarming aspect of this whole saga has been that as soon as the Government and the backers of this deal satisfied the demand of a particular group or representatives on one issue, it moved on to another, becoming a never-ending cycle.

Like we had this rather incongruous situation that arts minister Catherine Martin was not OK with the deal until she got letters of comfort from the HSE, St Vincent’s and the NMH to state that certain procedures including abortions will take place in the new hospital.

Last week, for three hours at the Oireachtas committee we had a debate going on between freehold and leasehold and which is better or worse.

Quite frankly, that’s not what the NMH is about.

It is and should be about the care of women who are giving birth so that they can be safe.

And if a difficulty occurs, they have available to them the specialisations the discipline and the care they need quickly.

A large crowd of protesters carrying placards saying separate Church and State at a National Maternity Hospital protest rally outside the Dail (Leinster House). 
A large crowd of protesters carrying placards saying separate Church and State at a National Maternity Hospital protest rally outside the Dail (Leinster House). 

From a relatively recent user of the system, I can tell you we were not interested in that kind of debate.

My only concern was that my wife and new babies would be safe and not at risk.

The Vatican has no more role in this now than any other foreign entity.

Albeit far too late, the Cabinet has now decided and approved the deal.

As opposed to selling out the women of Ireland, it was a good day for those who want to see the maternity services in this country advance beyond the cruel and intolerable state it is in

While of course we are shaped by our history, we should never allow ourselves to be imprisoned by our history and this saga has seen anger at what has gone before conflated into something else which in turn became a barrier to progress.

As cold as this may sound, this is not about what has gone before, but about ensuring better healthcare for the mums and babies of the future.

Let’s get on with it.

 

 

 

 

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