Former Health Minister Simon Harris has said “the nuns are gone” as he sought to defend the new National Maternity Hospital from accusations that the Catholic Church would have influence over the services it will provide.
Controversy has been raging for years over the ownership of the new site - which is being leased to the state by a company with connections to the Religious Sisters of Charity.
On Saturday afternoon, hundreds gathered outside Leinster House calling for the state to purchase the land on which the hospital will be built on.
Great #MakeNMHOurs protest at the Dail. The message couldn't be clearer - we need a national maternity hospital on public land, free of any church influence and as part of a national health service. pic.twitter.com/xkcY7kbwsr
— Paul Murphy 🏳️⚧️ (@paulmurphy_TD) May 14, 2022
Many spoke of their fear that doctors will be stopped from carrying out certain medical procedures - such as abortion - but Mr Harris says that their concerns are “misguided”.
"I think to be quite frank even a question about the influence of the Catholic Church is so misguided,” he stated.
"It's factually incorrect... the nuns are gone."
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“And I'd also say to Bernie [Linnane, chair of Our Maternity Hospital campaign, one of the organisers of a Dáil protest today], and to anybody else who campaigned on Repeal, I campaigned with Doctor Rhona Mahony on repeal. I was in radio studios and television studios with Professor Mary Higgins, who campaigned for repeal.
“So I'd flip it. Why would Bernie think that myself or Dr Mahony or Professor Higgins or countless doctors or politicians who worked with civic society to bring about social change would in any way, shape or form want to do anything to undermine the social progress that we made?"
“In many ways, this new hospital is actually the secularisation of a national maternity hospital. You will have a hospital [where] the building will be owned by the state. The license will be owned by the HSE.
“The Minister for Health and his successors will have greater levels of legal protection than they currently have in relation to maternity services. Abortion services will be provided."
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has similarly said that he is “genuinely satisfied” with the safeguards put in place to protect women’s access to healthcare and said the state needed to get on with the project:
“I find it’s gone on too long,” he told Newstalk last week.
“I can’t comprehend the delays since 2013 - it’s now 2022.
“We now have to get into the design and building and we know how long that can take.
“I’m very concerned about what conditions will be like in two or three years' time - never mind today in terms of the conditions in Holles Street.”
Main image: Simon Harris and Sister Michael.