Hundreds attend protest against religious ownership of new Maternity Hospital

More than 60,000 people have signed a petition calling for ownership to be blocked

Hundreds attend protest against religious ownership of new Maternity Hospital

Protesters outside Department of Health. Image: Paraic Gallagher

Organisers of a protest against ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital say 300 people attended the demonstration outside the Department of Health.

The demonstration, which was called by the Workers' Party, was organised to protest against a plan for the Sisters of Charity to be the sole owners of the hospital.

Councillor Éilis Ryan said the turnout reflects the anger at the Government's decision: "The fact that 300 people took time out of their lunch break to send Simon Harris a message speaks for itself.

"The issue has crystallised what people have been feeling for a long time - for a supposedly secular republic, Ireland's public services continues to be dominated by a private church. "

The demonstration was addressed by Parents for Choice and the Abortion Rights Campaign, as well as activist Denise Kirwan who set up a petition which now has over 60,000 signatures.

The €300m hospital will be located on the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus in Dublin, and will cater for up to 10,000 births per year.

The Sisters of Charity are the major shareholder in the St Vincent's Healthcare Group. The Department of Health confirmed earlier this week that that group will be the sole owner of the new hospital.

Campaigners argue that the religious organisation's failure to compensate abuse victims should prevent their involvement.

A report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) last year showed that the Sisters of Charity offered €5m towards the €128m abuse redress scheme, but have only paid €2m to date.

Dozens of campaigners demonstrated earlier.

These people were among those who turned out to protest.

'Clinical and operational independence' 

Health Minister Simon Harris has promised the facility will not be influenced by Catholic values.

Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, has insisted that the hospital will be operated "by a new company with an independent board and will be clinically and operationally entirely independent".

The decision, however, has been criticised by some opposition TDs.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith says her office has been 'inundated' with calls and emails over the issue.

She said: "People are rightly outraged at the prospect of a religious order having influence on the types of operations and services offered in a state funded and built maternity hospital.

"Every day the same kind of influence goes on in other hospitals and schools - this has to end and this decision has to be reversed," she added.

Paul Cullen, Irish Times health correspondent, earlier explained the current situation.

"A company is being formed to run the new National Maternity Hospital," he told Pat Kenny. "It's quite clear that the ownership of that company is a subsidiary of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, which in turn is completely owned by the Sisters of Charity.

"Whatever you think about existing and historical religious role in healthcare, the notion that this would be added to has really stuck in the craw for many people."

Another protest over the decision is due to take place outside Holles Street Hospital in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.