A mere six weeks have passed since the Tuam Babies case made international headlines and here I am, again, writing about the latest of Ireland’s disturbing ironies: a religious order of nun’s will be ‘gifted’ ownership of Ireland’s largest maternity hospital. The same order that still owes 3 million euros in compensation to survivors of abuse in Sister of Charity institutions.
In fact perhaps we have moved from irony to self-parady: Waterford Whispers barely had to stretch the truth to come up with a headline in what is usually a strictly satirical news source: ‘Religious Order That Won’t Pay Abuse Victims Perfect To Run New Maternity Hospital.’
I don’t even no where to start with how wrong the Irish government has got it, once again. Women and men all over Ireland and the world have taken to the streets over the last year in record numbers to demand bodily autonomy for Irish women beginning with a repeal of the 8th ammendment; the greatest obstacle to the full realisation of sexual and reproductive rights for women. Alongside this movement has been the wider demand of Irish citizens for Church-State separation in health, education and politics. Irish people have been calling for an end to the abuses in the church, justice and compensation for the survivors of clerical abuse and the Magdalen Laundries.
Rather than taking steps to end Church patronage still existing in the majority of schools and hospitals in Ireland are still religiously run, the government seems to be going backwards by giving the Sisters of Charity ownership of what is meant to be Ireland’s most important maternity hospital. The same religious order that ran Magdalen Laundries that imprisoned unmarried mothers and sold, abused or institutionalised their children?
Let’s leave aside discussion on the crisis in Irish maternity care and whether a religious order can be trusted to address this. I’m also not going to go into too much detail about why the Sisters of Charity are particularly unsuited as Emer O’Toole and Una Mullally have already got this covered. Let’s talk about accountability. Can a religious order which is responsible for perpetrating terrible abuse against women and children over decades and which has still failed to live up to its agreements to compensate survivors really be considered a suitable institution for overseeing a hospital that will in theory be dedicated to caring for thousands of pregnant people? Is it possible that in Ireland rather than condemning such institutions we continue to reward them? Will there ever be any significant consequences for the Catholic Church’s prolonged and systematic abuse of vulnerable Irish people?
And what about future accountablility? How can we guarantee that people seeking care at the National Maternity Hospital will actually recieve first class, unbiased, evidence based care? Under the current regime Irish doctors are already limited in providing full care for pregnant people that would allow for humane and timely interventions when their life or health is at risk. They are unable to perform obstetric procedures which are standard in many countries because of the existence of the 8th Amendment.
Even if the 8th Amendment is finally repealed how do we have any guarantee that the Sisters of Charity would actually offer appropriate services to Irish women? Questions have rightly been raised about access to services such as IVF, sterilisation and gender reasingment in this new maternity hospital. I would go further and question whether even more basic services like access to unbiased information on family planning and a range of contraceptive methods under the Sister’s of Charity’s patronage if these are not in line with the Catholic Ethos.
How many more reports condemning the the institutional abuse carried out by the church, tolerated and covered up by the state, need to be written? How many more remains of abused and neglected children need to be found in mass graves on church grounds? How many more survivors of church abuse need to speak recount of the horrors they lived through at the hands of nuns and priests?
How many more women who have made that journey to England have to speak out about the truama caused by Ireland’s regime of shame and secrecy around abortion have to speak out? How many more EU Court of Human Rights and UN Human Rights Commission resolutions and rulings related to educational discrimination and the cruel and inhuman treatment of Irish women do we need? How many more women have to die, martyrs to the 8th amendment?
How many more indications do our politicians need before they realise that that the Church’s position in Irish public life has become completely discredited and its continued administration of health and education completely untenable?
I am so tired of writing these lists, of enumerating one tragedy after another, and still nothing changes. The government does everything possible to delay decision making and evade responsibility for changing our current, draconian, abortion regime, yet with the sweep of a pen they will gladly hand over the running of a maternity hospital to a religious order, when the legitimacy of the Catholic Church’s influence in Irish life has never been more scrutinised.
Barely four years have passed since the moment when Savita Halappanavar was told by medical staff they would not be able to end her non-viable pregnancy because Ireland is, quote, ‘a Catholic country’. And yet we are supposed to believe Minister Simon Harris when he says that there will be no interference from the Sisters of Charity in the running of the maternity hospital?
Get informed and get active here:
You can take action by signing the petition to Block Sisters of Charity as ‘sole owners’ of National Maternity Hospital here.