The Religious Orders in Ireland are currently in a sense of heightened vigilance to criticism. They are under fire for not contributing sufficiently to the Government-led victim redress scheme, which compensated the victims of abuse in the religious-run but State-funded institutions (schools, hospitals, orphanages, etc.) of the twentieth century.
The Sisters of Mercy Religious Order ran several of the notorious Magdalene Laundry Workhouses and, together with 17 other congregations are liable to pay the State 128 million Euro towards the compensation fund for victims. By signing up to this agreement the Religious Orders effectively gained legal immunity from prosecution and from being sued by individual victims.
The Religious Orders were thus given the sweetheart deal to end all sweetheart deals by the Fianna Fail Government in 2002 but have failed to even meet their vastly reduced obligations under that arrangement.
Quite a deal.
Despite this the Sisters of Mercy Religious Order still owes the state 3 Million of the 5 Million it agreed to pay in 2009, despite having assets that run in to the hundreds of millions.
This is the same Religious Order that now owns the site on which the new NMH is to be built and who will have a controlling majority on the Hospital Board. The Former Master of the National Maternity Hospital Peter Boylan who resigned from the Hospital board is among the most vocal critics stating that the current setup casts doubt over medical procedures that are at odd with Catholic doctrine. These may include IVF, abortion and gender realignment operations at the hospital as these procedures are anathema to the Nuns beliefs.
In what can only be seen as a warning shot one of the Nuns involved, Sister Agnes Reynolds, who is on the Hospital board remarked that the hospital will ‘always respect the rights of the mother and the baby.’
It can be taken from statements such as this that the Sisters of Mercy Religious Order that owns the site at St. Vincents in South Dublin seem determined that their religious ethos wash over the NMH. They are insistent that the board of directors include their representatives and as they own the actual site will effectively own the actual hospital once built.
Gifted to them by the same Government that is currently owed millions by the Order.
Unsurprisingly Doctor Boylan is very skeptical of the assurances offered that there will be no religious interference in the running of the hospital. He is concerned about why the Nuns would want to own a hospital which performs procedures that are not compatible with their religion and has since resigned in protest.
Other critics of this appalling proposed deal have cited the fact that the Catholic ethos and attitudes to abortion and childcare are not compatible with the needs of a modern twenty-first century maternity hospital.
The former Master of the Coombe Hospital has called on the Sisters of Mercy Religious Order to gift the site to the state (or offer it as part of the overall compensation package owed by Religious Orders to the redress scheme).
A Fine Gael T.D. (member of the Irish Parliament) has called on the Irish Government to actually buy the site (estimated at 300 Million Euro), while some others have called for a Compulsory Purchase Order .
A public demonstration against the Nuns being allowed to own the hospital and a 50,000+ petition represent just the tip of the iceberg of the bitter resentment that this controversy is causing in Ireland.