"THE MEMORY OF JESUS IS BOTH SACRED AND SUBVERSIVE"
Saturday, 29 April 2017
NUNS, MONEY AND POWER IN CATHOLIC IRELAND
Nuns hold all the aces as we fool ourselves into defining Ireland as progressive
RIDDLE me this: how can the National Maternity Hospital’s board lose a prominent member, identified in the public consciousness as someone of integrity who speaks truth to power, and avoid being weakened as a consequence of that departure?
The answer is it cannot fail to be diminished. Peter Boylan was an asset to the Holles Street board, and pressurising him to step down leaves the body looking authoritarian, mulish and dismissive of well-founded public concerns. Meanwhile, many people continue to share Dr Boylan’s scepticism about giving sole ownership and boardroom control of the new maternity hospital to nuns.
Simon Harris needs to take back control. Gifting sole ownership of a €300m publicly funded facility to the Sisters of Charity is not a good deal for the taxpayer. No organisation except the State should own a public facility.
As holder of the purse strings, the Health Minister can stop this flawed proposal proceeding. He should suspend the State’s investment until satisfied the public interest is 100pc safeguarded.
Without doubt, a new maternity hospital is needed, but not at any cost. The new hospital must have a different ownership and board structure. There is still space to change the agreement’s terms, and Mr Harris ought to work towards this before bringing his proposals to Government at the end of May.
Alternatives exist. His challenge is to persuade the nuns to gift, sell or lease the site to the Irish people – one way or another, the State must acquire the land before building there.
Overall, it has been a disappointing week on an issue that will impact on citizens’ health for generations. Dr Boylan’s resignation caused widespread dismay, although he was left in a difficult position when deputy chairman Nicholas Kearns asked him to leave.
The silence from many senior politicians is troubling. The hospital row, despite its religious overtones, has a political element at its core: whether the will exists in Leinster House to tackle unfinished business and divide Church from State.
TDs couldn’t wait to speak out about water charges, but on a matter directly affecting women’s health they are strangely mute. Their reluctance (with honourable exceptions) reveals how little regard they have for women’s health.
Make no mistake, separation between Church and State must happen, and the State will have to drive it – the Catholic hierarchy will not willingly cede power or assets. That’s hardly surprising. But what is not just surprising, but indefensible and illogical, is this simple fact: the National Maternity Hospital at Dublin’s Holles Street is not owned by representatives of the Catholic Church. But the proposed replacement will be. So much for aspirations towards pluralism. We fool ourselves when we define Ireland as a progressive nation.
The nuns hold the aces. They own the land. But it’s high time we had a public statement from the Sisters of Charity specifying why it is retaining the land, or what its intentions are.
The public has every right to be wary of the current deal, both on financial grounds – gifting a €300m public asset to a private group – and on health grounds, giving a potential veto over citizens’ healthcare to a religious group. The Holles Street board is behaving as if Church ownership of a State asset is normal. That is no longer the case. It happened in the past, but such arrangements are no longer acceptable.
As for the board’s peculiar insistence that Dr Boylan’s criticisms equate to disloyalty to the board – in fact, members owe their duty to the organisation and its key stakeholders, ie the hospital and Irish citizens.
It is understandable that Rhona Mahony desperately wants modern facilities for women under her care – it must be professionally and personally distressing to watch patients who should be on an operating table transferred to another hospital, as currently happens. But for Dr Mahony to describe valid reservations as “a storm in a teacup”, “a sideshow” and “a non-issue” is misguided.
The board needs the public to believe it is championing the best possible plan. But the public is unconvinced. Nor is Dr Boylan a lone voice – Professor Chris Fitzpatrick, former master of the Coombe Hospital, has resigned from the project board.
Incidentally, the circumstances surrounding the nuns’ acquisition of this prized land at Elm Park were debated in a Dáil exchange between Dr Noel Browne – a pioneer on the need for separation of Church and State – and then health minister Erskine H Childers on March 15, 1972.
The nuns owned a hospital in St Stephen’s Green, no longer fit for purpose, and were given a State grant to build a new hospital at Elm Park. The religious order agreed to repay the State with the proceeds from the sale of the St Stephen’s Green hospital, but wriggled out of this commitment and kept the money.
Dr Browne asked why it was allowed to deprive the State of sorely needed funds. “Surely this is an extraordinary principle to permit, that an organisation – I do not care who they are, whether they are religious orders or others, lay people do just as good work in hospital services – should be allowed
As holder of the purse strings, the Health Minister can stop the flawed proposal from proceeding, and he should suspend the State’s investment until satisfied the public interest is 100% safeguarded to sell off property, keep the money, and…be given a 100% grant to build a new hospital. Why was it adopted by the minister?”
Mr Childers said: “The Sisters control and operate 1,000 beds in this city in the interests of the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged, the children, the blind and the deaf, and I see no reason why they should not be given the responsibility for disposing of the funds arising from the sale of the St Stephen’s Green hospital in the interests of hospital development.”
Dr Browne said the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake was £8m (€9.5m) in debt and tax revenues would have to plug the gap. “In these circumstances, why should special conditions be made in respect of this hospital and not in respect of the many other hospitals that are in just as great need and, indeed, in much great greater need of money than this hospital, because this happens to be a very wealthy order? ”
Mr Childers expressed himself satisfied the Sisters would spend the money well, to which Dr Browne replied: “If they were not the Sisters of Charity, I wonder whether they would get so much charity from this government.”
Some 45 years have intervened since that exchange, along with the revelation of multiple Church scandals. Odd, they haven’t eroded the view in certain circles that Catholic organisations continue to deserve special treatment from the State.
The row over the SISTERS OF CHARITY owning and running the new National Maternity Hospital in Ireland continues.
This is not the first time that these nuns used the state - and were allowed to use it by devout Catholic politicians - and laugh all the way to the bank.
The questions remain:
WHY DO 200 76 YEAR OLD NUNS NEED A MATERNITY HOSPITAL?
IS IS ABOUT GREED?
IS IT ABOUT POWER?
IS IT ABOUT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH RUNNING THE IRISH STATE?