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Handover of National Maternity hospital to church

NAMA with rosary beads?

Leo Varadker said during the Popeís visit that there needed to be a new relationship between the state and the Catholic church, yet the attempts by Simon Harris to gift the new maternity hospital to the Sisters of Charity behind our backs looks very much like the old relation-ship between church and state. The very fact that he is talking to the nuns despite their record of abuse and contempt for survivors is compounding the churchesí crimes and is an arrogant dismissal of the overwhelming vote for womenís reproductive rights.

The Campaign against Church Ownership of womenís healthcare was established with a sense to urgency in order to stop the imminent handover of the new NMH. The Sisters of Charity, despite their claims that they have divested from the new hospital, are set to become the owners of the new NMH as it will be under the control of St Vin-centís, their private healthcare empire. Minister Simon Harris is expected in the coming weeks to sign the legal contract without recourse to the Dail.

The Background

Holles St, also known as the National Maternity Hospital urgently needed a new hospital and Minister Harris commissioned Kieran Mulvey, the former labour relations maestro, to draw up a report. In the 2016 Mul-vey Agreement report Holles Street agreed to a takeover bid by St Vincentís Healthcare Group, which is owned and controlled by the Irish Sisters of Charity.

The Mulvey report gave rise to widespread public outrage. In 2017 a My Uplift petition opposing the Sisters of Charity as sole owners was launched and got over 104,000 signatures. A significant demonstration to the Dail piled on the pressure with the demonstrators carrying a huge ream of paper petitions extending the length of the protest. This led in 29th May 2017 to the Sisters of Charity (SOC) announcing that they were ending their involvement with St Vincentís Healthcare Group (SVHG) and transferring ownership of SVHG to a new company with charitable status which would be called St Vincentís.

This move by the nuns / SOC was intended to allay fears of any possible religious influence on the ownership and governance structure of the new publicly-funded €350 million NMH, as ownership by them would be seen as incompatible with providing the full range of womenís reproductive healthcare. This is even more so the case as a result of the repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Despite their claim of divesting the ethos will remain Catholic as the new NMH be-coming part of St Vincent's means it will answer to St Vincent's with its catholic ethos and not to the state. The Mulvey report agreed that the Chair of the Board of the new NMH will report to the clinical director of St Vincent's. This in effect will mean more Catholic control not less - abortion, the morning after pill, sterilisation and vasectomy are all banned in Vincent's hospitals. An ethos that places womenís health and lives at risk has no place in a national maternity hospital.

The State and the church

Following the uproar and demonstrations, to defuse the situation Minister Harris agreed to negotiate a deal between the NMH, St Vincentís and the state. These talks are still ongoing. At the outset Harris said he would report in a month but it is now well over a year and he is still negotiating. He has said he will report out-side the Dail. This is the government that claims to be for transparency. The only people he needs to inform are the people and in particular the women of Ireland who voted for repeal. We demand Harris break off contact with organizations who have a disreputable history of abuse against women and an entrenched history of denying women access to essential medical reproductive procedures. The massive Yes vote for choice and a womanís right to choose must be respected now.

We demand an ending of the talks and demand that the hospital be in put in public ownership with a secular ethos. The new hospital must be owned by the people if abortion is to be guaranteed; Public funding of the new build must be made condi-tional on public ownership of the new hospital. It cannot be built on the grounds of St Vincentís. An alternative should be to expropriate the land from the nuns as part compensation for the crimes they have committed against so many vulnerable people and children, although nothing can compensate people for the horrors that were done to them and for those who died as a result of their cruelty.

We have the model of James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Blanchardstown which is a public hospital.

We have to be conscious of the nature of the Irish state. When it was founded after the civil war it had a very reactionary character (many would say a counter revolutionary character) the church was given a very central role, the social obligations of the state were handed to church control and we are now fully aware that in these areas abuse of highly criminal nature became routine. Slavery, the kidnapping and trafficking of babies and abuse of a sexual and violent nature are crimes which if committed by any organisation other than religious would lead to the closure of those enterprises and their assets seized not to mention hard jail time for the perpetrators. But the church because of its central role as an essential prop of state power has instead been gradually rehabilitated.

Immediately after the repeal vote Leo Varadker announced the need to rebuild a new relation-ship with the catholic church. Is this gifting of the NMH to the SoC to be the foundation of this new relationship?

The Campaign

The Campaign was set up in late June. Since then we have gained wide sponsorship, organized a successful Education Day on Oct 20th and press conference on Thursday 22nd and are seeing the mushrooming of sup-port groups across the country.

Nonetheless there remains a widespread lack of knowledge of what's happening. People are taken in by the liberal wing of the government around Simon Harris. They can't envisage that he would do a deal behind closed doors with the nuns and Church and subvert the vote of the people given his support for repeal. Unfortunately, that what is set to happen - 350 million of taxpayerís money is set to be handed over to a private religious healthcare consortium Ė SVHG own St Vincentís University hospital, St Vincentís private, St Michaelís and now the new NMH. This privatization of our health service and continuation of the neo liberal policy of a two tier health service will not be allowed to proceed by the women and people of this country.

Why would the SoC and St Vincent's sign up to a legal agreement that would damage their healthcare empire. Why would we believe this? The same SoC refused to pay the 3 million to the redress scheme. In 2002, the Sisters of Charity, who operated five residential schools, signed up to a shared €128m. indemnity bill agreed with the State. They have yet to contribute. Following publication of the Ryan report in 2009, the order offered a further €5m. but to date, it has paid just €2m. The Sisters of Charity also owned Magdalene laundries. Requests by UN committees, including the UN Committee against Torture, to contribute to the State redress scheme have been ignored. In 2013, the nuns announced that they would not be making any contribution to reparations for women incarcerated in their laundries.

Dr Peter Boylan said;
ďOver a year ago, I asked to be provided with a single example anywhere in the world of a hospital operating under Catholic ethos which provides the full range of womenís healthcare. I am still waitingĒ.

We have a fight on our hands. The separation of church and state will require a veritable revolution to achieve. But we have the momentum on our side. The youth and young women of this country voted in vast numbers for change they will not tolerate a shoddy deal which cheats them out of their victory and threatens continued abuse and denial of womenís rights.

The Minister of Health assures us that any medical procedures that are in accordance with the law of the land will be carried out and the states interests protected. What we can expect is continued distress and disaster for patients and court case after court case.

The majority of our so called public hospitals in Ireland operate under a religious ethos. If we lose the battle to make the NMH a public hospital with a secular charter it will be all the more difficult to remove the clerical ethos from the country's main hospitals. We are determined to stop the handover of the new NMH and then go on to remove the church from ownership and control of womenís healthcare

Make the demonstration in Dublin on Dec 8th a success.

Publicize the petition. Demand TDs respect the referendum vote and insist the new hospital be public and secular.

We will accept nothing less.


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