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Anger over nuns' role in National Maternity Hospital

An illustration of the proposed new National Maternity Hospital in Dublin Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption An illustration of the proposed new National Maternity Hospital in Dublin

A deal to build a new Irish maternity hospital on land controlled by an order of nuns has been described as "an outrage and an insult to all women".

The Irish Labour Party reacted angrily to reports that the nuns' firm will have "sole ownership" of the new state-funded National Maternity Hospital.

The Sisters of Charity are major share-holders in the firm that owns the land.

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

'Disgrace'

The Irish government, which is investing 300m euros (£250m) of public funds in the new maternity hospital, has defended the deal.

It said the new facility will be independent and will operate without religious "distinction".

The Sisters of Charity were not immediately available for comment.

The existing National Maternity Hospital, in Dublin's Holles Street, is being relocated to the St Vincent's Hospital campus in the south of the city.

The new site is owned by the St Vincent's Healthcare Group - a not-for-profit healthcare company which lists the Sisters of Charity as its shareholders.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Last month, Fianna Fáil said facilities like Dublin's St Vincent's Hospital should be handed over to the state

But the Irish Labour Party said the religious order currently "owes the State a substantial sum of money" as part of a redress scheme set up to compensate victims abused in Catholic-run institutions.

"Time and time again we have heard how the Church, including the Sisters of Charity, has failed women and children," said Labour Women's chairwoman Sinead Ahern in a statement.

"Now we are being told that they are to be put in sole ownership of a facility that is there for women in what is possibly the most vulnerable time of their lives; this is nothing short of a disgrace."

Roisín Shortall from the Social Democrats also criticised the decision, saying it was highly inappropriate and deeply insensitive.

'Golden share'

The Department of Health said a new company - called the The National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park DAC - was being established to run the maternity hospital.

The department added that this company would have powers to "ensure that the new hospital is clinically, operationally and financially independent, and that healthcare services provided will be without religious, ethnic or any other distinction".

The department confirmed that the new company would be owned by the St Vincent's Healthcare Group.

However, it said the health minister "will hold a golden share which will serve to underpin and protect the reserved powers".

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.

When the BBC asked the department to clarify ownership of the new maternity hospital, a spokeswoman pointed out that currently, St Vincent's University Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital were voluntary hospitals, not owned by the State.

"The State funds voluntary hospitals to provide healthcare services," she said.

"Where capital investment is required on voluntary hospital campuses, the State, through legal mechanisms, protects that investment."

Last month, the leader of the opposition said hospital sites owned by the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland should be handed over to the state.

Micheál Martin, who leads the Fianna Fáil party, said Irish governments had invested public funds in the facilities for many years and the state - not the Church - was essentially running the hospitals.

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