The Shame of Ireland
“A healthcare organisation bearing the name Catholic, while offering care to all who need it, has a special responsibility . . . to Catholic teachings about the value of human life and the dignity and the ultimate destiny of the human person,” said Doran, who chairs the hierarchy’s committee on bio-ethics.
“Public funding, while it brings with it other legal and moral obligations, does not change that responsibility.”
His statement to The Sunday Times appears to confirm warnings by Peter Boylan, the chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, that the €300m maternity hospital may not provide services such as sterilisation, infertility treatment, gender reassignment surgery and abortion.
Doran’s statement also echoes a warning by Tom Lynch, chairman of the Ireland East Hospital Group, which includes St Vincent’s, that locating the maternity hospital on its campus would raise issues of medical ethics. Lynch told Jim Breslin, secretary-general of the Department of Health, that canon law obliged a hospital on Catholic land to operate by Catholic rules.
Doran referred to three tenets of canon law which decree that land held by religious institutions is “ecclesiastical property” over which the Pope has “primacy of governance”. He said he was speaking “in general terms” as the NMH is not in his diocese and he was unfamiliar with the legal relationship between the Sisters of Charity and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG).
The nuns are the sole owners of the company. Its website says the board of directors “develops the hospital and its services in accordance with [their] principles and ethics”.
The board of SVHG said on Friday it was reviewing the “status of the project” after Simon Harris, the health minister, said he had asked Tony O’Brien, the HSE’s director-general, to ensure “key criteria must be in place” before a contract was signed.
About 77,000 people signed an online petition last week calling on the government to stop the nuns taking ownership of the hospital by way of a subsidiary company wholly owned by SVHG.
Kate O’Connell, a Fine Gael TD for Dublin Bay South, where St Vincent’s is located, said “this should be the start of a process in which the state divorces itself from the church”.
The National Women’s Council said: “Women must be able to trust their maternity hospital that they will be treated in a compassionate and nonjudgmental way.”
An agreement was announced between the NMH and SVHG in November after a stand-off over the hospital’s governance. Last week, Rhona Mahony, the NMH’s master, told a colleague she feared “the feminists are going to unravel this fantastic hospital for women”.
Much of the anger about the hospital ownership is because the congregation still has not paid €3m it owes to a residential institutions redress scheme, which cost a total of €1.5bn. The Sisters of Charity was also one of four congregations that refused to contribute to compensation for former residents of Magdalene laundries.
The net book value of SCHG’s lands in December 2015 was €92.68m. Pianora Ltd, a subsidiary which runs the multi-storey car park on the campus, is valued at €20m. Its accounts record a government grant of €5m. The Sisters also own 58% of neighbouring Elm Park golf club’s 115 acres.
SVHG has a service level agreement with the HSE. The company’s earnings in 2015 came to €13.2m. St Vincent’s Private Hospital, which is on the same campus, pays the nuns €1.2m in annual rent.
Speaking to the Irish Medical Organisation, Harris said the new hospital was desperately needed: “It is not good enough for women to have to put up with delivering their babies in Holles Street, which the master very clearly says is not fit for purpose.”