Former National Maternity Hospital chief resigns over nuns row

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

image source, RTÉ
image captionAn illustration of the proposed new National Maternity Hospital in Dublin

A former master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin has resigned from its board over plans for a controversial move to another hospital owned by an order of nuns.

Dr Peter Boylan's resignation takes immediate effect and follows a week of heated debate about the plans.

It has been proposed that the Sisters of Charity will be sole owners of the new facility at the St Vincent's site.

The order are major shareholders in the firm that owns the land.

It has been argued they will have no say in what medical procedures are provided.

The order has so far failed to pay its share of a compensation scheme for victims of institutional abuse.

Dr Boylan is one of a number of people in public life who have questioned the deal.

Speaking on the Newstalk radio station, he said: "I can't remain a member of a board which is so blind to the consequences of its decision to transfer sole ownership of the hospital to the religious Sisters of Charity and so deaf to the concerns of the public which it serves."

Nicholas Kearns, the deputy chairman of the National Maternity Hospital's executive board, had previously asked Dr Boylan to resign after he criticised the move from the current location on Holles Street.

Dr Boylan had said that the Catholic ethos of St Vincent's could in future interfere with the independent operation of a maternity hospital.

That claim is disputed by the current master of the hospital, by St Vincent's Hospital and by the Irish Health Minister Simon Harris.

image source, RTÉ
image captionSt Vincent's Hospital is the proposed site for the new National Maternity Hospital

Many people believe the deal raises fundamental issues about church-state relations in such areas as health and education, where religious organisations remain the largest service providers.

That arrangement dates from an era when church-state relations were much closer during the early period of Irish independence.

But, in the wake of a number of scandals involving the Catholic Church and religious-run institutions, there is now more public debate about its role in the state.

Compensation offer

The Sisters of Charity was one of 18 religious congregations investigated by the Ryan Commission over allegations that children were abused in residential institutions.

In 2002, the order was party to a 128m euros (£107m) indemnity agreement with the Irish state.

After the publication of the Ryan Report in 2009, the Sisters of Charity offered to contribute a further 5m euros (£4.2m) towards the 1.5bn euros (£1.2bn) redress costs incurred by the state.

The offer has been criticised by some as far too small.

The board of the National Maternity Hospital passed a motion of continued support for the move and the St Vincent's group is also expected to maintain its support for a deal that arose from third-party mediation.

The health minister, Mr Harris, has appealed for a period of calm reflection on the issue, which is expected to go before Irish cabinet again at the end of May.

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