St Vincent’s Hospital should be renamed to show that Ireland is “no longer controlled by the Catholic Church”.
All religious images and artefacts have been removed from display at the South Dublin hospital after the ownership of the facility was transferred from the Religious Sisters of Charity to a charitable trust.
Reports this morning suggest some patients and staff were upset by the move; however, Atheist Ireland (AI) Chair Michael Nugent is welcoming the change.
“We are now in a more secular society,” he said.
“We are gradually removing the privilege that religion has had and one of the important places to remove that privilege is the symbolism in our healthcare system.
“We should remove all of the traditional privileges that religious bodies - particularly the Catholic Church – have in healthcare provision.
“It should be based on compassion, human rights and the medical needs of patients.”
He said everyone should have a right to bring their own religious or non-religious icons to hospital if it brings them comfort – but “what was happening until this is that Catholics had a privilege that people of other religions or no religion didn’t have”.
He agreed that the hospital should be renamed to reflect the reality of modern Ireland.
“We shouldn’t be calling it St Vincent’s,” he said.
“The same for all the State-funded primary schools in the country that have names of saints in front of them.
“It's a throwback to a time when we were controlled by the Catholic Church.
“We are no longer controlled by the Catholic Church; we are now a pluralist country with a lot of different religions and beliefs and we are gradually removing the privilege that the Catholic Church used to have at a time when it did control the people.”
Mr Nugent also rejected the findings of the latest census – which saw 69% of people identifying as Roman Catholic.
“The Census figures don’t reflect reality,” he said. “It uses a leading question which begins with, ‘what is your religion’?
He noted that the mass-going population in Ireland is closer to 30%, “and falling”.
“It is not a numbers game,” he said.
“It’s not a question of how many people are Catholic and how many are not Catholic.
“It is a question where the State is providing a hospital for everybody and the State should not be promoting either religion or atheism within the hospital.
“If people want to bring in symbols or if people want to pray or want to meditate or do whatever they want to do, they should be perfectly entitled to do that – but the State shouldn’t be promoting it."