Let’s Talk About: Why the National Maternity Hospital must be public and secular

On the 14th of May 2022, a large crowd is expected outside Leinster House to protest against the government’s plan to hand over our new National Maternity Hospital to a private company called St Vincent’s Holdings. 

This process began in 2013 with the decision to relocate the National Maternity Hospital, Holles St; to the site at St Vincent’s, Elm Park. Nine years on, we are no closer to resolving the issues surrounding governance and ownership of what will be Ireland’s flagship maternity hospital. 

It is true that Religious Sisters of Charity, the same organisation that historically managed some of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, no longer own the land. However, it is owned by a private company they established and is run by three directors they hand-picked. St Vincent’s Holdings mirrors the Mary Aikenhead core values verbatim that currently direct St Vincent’s Healthcare Group services. 

These values, “human dignity, compassion, justice, equality and advocacy”, seem innocuous, but the values of “human dignity” and “advocacy” are open to interpretation. Advocacy is described as speaking “for the voiceless, acting with and for them to achieve the right quality of care.” A person who is anti-abortion will interpret this differently from ARC. These values currently prevent St Vincent’s Healthcare Group from providing complete reproductive health services, including tubal ligation, abortion on demand and vasectomies. 

ARC supports the rights-based approach that underpins Sláintecare and that HIQA describes as “the ability of a person to direct how they live on a day-to-day basis according to personal values, beliefs and preferences, in a health and social care setting, autonomy involves the person using a service making informed decisions about their care, support or treatment.” A rights-based approach would remove any ambiguity that surrounds the terms “clinically appropriate” and “legally permissible”.

ARC is also concerned about a governance structure where, of the NMH’s nine directors, three will be chosen by St Vincent’s Holdings and the Minister for Health will choose three. If these plans go ahead, a future Minister for Health who may be anti-choice will hold considerable power in determining the board’s makeup. We only have to look to Northern Ireland to see how the anti-abortion beliefs of Health Minister Robin Swann have impacted the failure of his department to commission services. 

Nine publicly funded maternity care providers in Ireland already don’t offer complete abortion services and have not been sanctioned. ARC remains fundamentally opposed to the conscientious objection clause within our Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. We are not alone. In their most recent  Abortion Care Guidelines (2022), the WHO recognises that it “operates as a barrier to access to safe and timely abortion.” As long as conscientious objection remains enshrined in law, the unacceptable capacity for healthcare workers to prioritise their right to object over the legal right of a person to obtain an abortion will prevail. 

ARC calls for nothing short of full secular care and full public ownership of our National Maternity Hospital. A rights-based approach should guide this hospital. If the Sisters of Charity (through St Vincent’s Holdings) will not gift the land, as they implied they would, a compulsory purchase order should be immediately pursued. Or a different co-location site should be used, for example, Tallaght or Blanchardstown, both of which are easier to access for people outside of Dublin.

Please get involved where you can. Attend the protest this Saturday, May 14th, at 2 PM. Contact your TDs to let them know that you support a National Maternity Hospital that is public and secular. Use the hashtag #MakeNMHOurs so that we can keep the pressure up. We repealed the 8th; we also have strength in numbers to push for this change.

We are sponsoring 10 train tickets for those who want to attend the protest from across Ireland. If you are interested please DM us on social media or email [email protected] for details.