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28th Apr 2017

10 days that shook the nation: how the Holles Street mess unfolded

Alison Bough

Today sees the tenth day of extraordinary chaos, political fallout, and public outcry surrounding the ownership and governance of the new €300 million National Maternity Hospital building.

Following the latest resignation of Professor Chris Fitzpatrick, in support of Dr Peter Boylan, we look back at how the crisis has unfolded…

Tuesday, April 18th: News breaks that the Sisters of Charity, a religious order who have (to date) failed to provide its share of funds to a redress scheme for institutional abuse victims, are to be given sole ownership of the planned €300 million State-funded National Maternity Hospital to be built on a site at Elm Park in south county Dublin.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health tells media outlets that the

“autonomy of the National Maternity Hospital board will be underpinned by reserved powers to ensure clinical and operational independence, and the Minister for Health will hold the power to protect those reserved powers.”

Throughout the day, opposition parties condemn the decision to grant sole ownership of the new hospital to the religious congregation. The Workers’ Party states that the situation presents a ‘nightmare scenario’ for women.

Health Minister, Simon Harris, states that the hospital will have full clinical, operational, financial and budgetary independence.

Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, asks Minister Harris to clarify the issue of ownership of the new hospital.

Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, releases a statement on the matter:

“The new National Maternity Hospital to be built on the St Vincent’s Healthcare campus will be dedicated solely to providing maternity care for women and infants. It will be operated by a new company with an independent board and will be clinically and operationally entirely independent in line with national maternity policy.

Over 9,000 infants are born at NMH every year. The current facility is not fit for purpose. The co-location of this hospital with an adult tertiary hospital will revolutionise healthcare in Ireland for women and infants and we continue to work with SVHG to make a dedicated state of the art maternity hospital a reality as urgently as possible.”

A petition, calling for the Sisters of Charity to be prevented from becoming owners of the hospital, is launched by Uplift and rapidly goes viral.

Wednesday, April 19th: The former chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, tells RTÉ radio that representatives of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, and not the Sisters of Charity, will sit on the board of the new hospital.

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher expresses concern that the Sisters of Charity had not complied with the indemnity agreement reached in 2002, but states that the hospital project should not be delayed any further.

The Uplift petition has already been signed by almost 50,000 people, quickly exceeding its original target of 30,000 signatures.

Thursday, April 20th: Dr Peter Boylan, the former master of the National Maternity Hospital, tells RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland show that if IVF, sterilisation, abortion, and gender reassignment were to be carried out at the new National Maternity Hospital, it would be the only hospital in the world owned and run by a Catholic order to allow such procedures.

Sunday, April 23rd: As the row continues to dominate the Sunday papers and morning radio shows, ex-master Peter Boylan texts the current master of Holles Street (who is also his sister-in-law) Dr Rhona Mahony, and Nicholas Kearns (the deputy chairman of the hospital) writing:

“I’m sorry it’s come to this but I did try to warn you. The way out for both of you is to make it clear that you were misled by SVHG, you accepted their bona fides and assurances. Both of you and the minister are inextricably linked in this and you will either sink or swim together.”

“The way to get the hospital is to insist on CPO of Elm Park golf club land on periphery and establish links to SVH via tunnels/corridors. Minimal design alterations needed, Peter.”

As a result of the text messages, Mahony and Kearns calls on Boylan to resign his position from the board of governors with immediate effect.  Nicholas Kearns replies to Boylan:

“Both the master and I have received and read your text sent to us at 13.47 today. We are now asking for your immediate resignation from the board of Holles Street -both because of your public intervention to criticise and oppose the overwhelming majority decision of the board taken in November last to approve the agreement reached with SVUH for the transfer of Holles Street to Elm Park – a vote on which you abstained – and in addition because of the content of your text sent today.

Its intimidatory tone is most regrettable. The board will clearly require to be briefed on Wednesday as to the contents of your text communication if your resignation as sought is not forthcoming.”

Tuesday, April 25th: Dr Boylan tells members of the media that he will not resign from his position on the board and will attend a board meeting the following night.

Wednesday, April 26th: Following a four-hour meeting, plans to build the new hospital on the Elm Park site are re-endorsed by the majority of the board of Holles Street, despite strong public opposition and heated debate.

Dr Boylan is one of three board members, alongside Dublin’s Lord Mayor Brendan Carr and Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Mac Donncha, to vote against re-endorsement.

No motion is put forward calling for Dr Boylan’s resignation.

Thursday, April 27th: Peter Boylan resigns with immediate effect from the executive board of the National Maternity Hospital, stating the board are “blind to the consequences” of transferring ownership of the hospital to the religous-order-owned St Vincent’s Healthcare Group. Announcing his decision on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show, Dr Boylan says the board is “deaf to the concerns of the public it serves.”

Deputy chairman Nicholas Kearns responds to Dr Boylan’s resignation:

“Dear Peter,

Thank you for your letter received this morning by email.

Without accepting or engaging in any way with the contentions contained in your letter, I wish to express on behalf of the hospital its thanks to you for the many years of excellent professional care and service you have provided.

I am also saddened that your association with the hospital has ended and wish you every success in the future.”

Friday, April 28th: The former Master of the Coombe, Professor Chris Fitzpatrick resigns from the project board of the National Maternity Hospital, in support of Dr Boylan.

In his resignation letter, Professor Fitzpatrick states that he shares Peter Boylan’s concerns that the Sisters of Charity will own the new €300m taxpayer-funded hospital.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, the CEO of children’s charity Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, comments on the row:

“I didn’t think we would ever have a row again about the state consciously, deliberately deciding to build a maternity hospital, and giving it to the Catholic Church.

I just cannot understand the basis behind the decision, the logic behind the decision. You wouldn’t build a university and hand it over to the Catholic Church. It’s inexplicable.”

Former master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter Smith, says that the new hospital can be autonomous if current standards are followed:

“It must be very clear who’s in charge, who’s making the decisions and how those decisions are made, and who those decisions are reported to. There can’t be any interference from any outside body with any other interest.

That’s what we have in the maternity hospitals at the moment. We have a mastership system. We’ve got a system that works.”

Krysia Lynch, chairperson of the Association for the Improvement of Maternity Services (AIMS) says it needs clarity on whether abortions, IVF and sterilisations will be permitted by the religious order:

“The women of Ireland, the childbearing women of Ireland, they absolutely do not want to find that their bodies are being controlled by religious ethos – or by anybody.

They want autonomy over their own bodies and at the moment that is 100 percent not guaranteed.”

A national march against the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital is set to take place on Sunday, 7 May. Parents for Choice will march through Dublin opposing the decision to grant ownership of the new hospital to the Sisters of Charity. The march, themed “We Own Our Hospitals”, will gather at 2pm outside the Garden of Remembrance and finish outside Leinster House.

Let us know YOUR thoughts and feelings on the issue in the Facebook comments. You can also join the conversation on Twitter @HerFamilydotie