Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

National Maternity Hospital: Motion [Private Members]


7:25 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

There comes a point where words fail me. The Minister of State is in an extremely difficult position. Let me say openly that it is totally unacceptable that the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, is not here and that she has had to read out this speech, which is an insult to the women of Ireland. I will speak strongly on what I have heard, and that somebody would write a speech for the Minister of State to read out calling on all Members to support the Government in its continued commitment to women's health. I will try to remain calm on this.

This is the third motion in seven months. The Government has accepted each motion. I am not sure whether the Government is able to read or understand what these motions call for. Perhaps they are nuanced. They call for the new national maternity hospital to be publicly owned and operated on a site owned by the State. It is crystal clear. If the Minister of State agrees to this then we need a speech that deals with it. I will not personalise this. I have seen the Minister of State work extremely hard along with her colleague, Deputy Butler, and I have paid tribute to her. In this case, when it comes to reading out this speech, there comes a point in the life of a Minister of State to say that something is simply not acceptable.

This is the third motion on this topic. We have a choice here. It might be better if each of us stood in silence for ten minutes. It might be a more effective way to get through to the Government on the democratic process. All the Dáil is unanimously stating the State should own the national maternity hospital and own the site. The Minister has not shown up tonight and a speech such as this was written in a week that we have focused on the tragic and unacceptable death of Ashling Murphy. We have had statements on how unequally women have been treated in our society during which each and every Deputy has spoken. I want to stay away from politicising it. It is in the context of the debate on inequality. Today we debated legislation on access to records. Once again it is slow and we are still not emerging from the patriarchy. The Adoption Act 1952 was closed and secretive and it is beginning to open up.

The national maternity hospital has been on the cards since 2008 following a KPMG report. We then had the 2013 announcement by the then Minister, James Reilly, on co-location. For a civil servant or somebody to write a speech for the Minister of State giving us a lecture on the importance of co-location is insulting and unacceptable. The decision on co-location was accepted by all governments and Deputies from 2013 onwards. What is not accepted are the Byzantine Kafkaesque arrangements going on behind the scenes on religious ethos. The nuns might be gone but not those believing in the philosophy of Mary Aikenhead. Fair play to them; I have no problem with that as long as it is not being imposed on a public hospital. This is the difficulty.

From when the then Minister, James Reilly, announced it in 2013 until today we have had all sorts of suggestions, including that the nuns were gifting it to the people of Ireland. It is some gift. We then had a 999-year lease, a 99-year lease and now a 299-year lease. We speak about operating licences. We speak about St. Vincent's holding group, the health group and the designated activity company Byzantine does not cover it. I will try to stick with a simple message because I know where the Minister of State's heart is but I would like to know what her views are on this. Who will stand up and make language mean something? A national maternity hospital has to be owned by the State for the men and women of Ireland in future generations. There is no going back on this.

We have had four male Ministers. That is fine but we have had different messages from each of them in turn. I cannot remember what James Reilly said when he was Minister. When Deputy Harris was Minister he said we would have a public hospital on a site that was leased. When the Tánaiste was the Minister he said we would have a public hospital on a public site. Instead of going forward on that, we now have the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, who cannot be here tonight giving us reassurances. I do not want reassurances as a female Deputy. I am sure my colleagues who are male do not want reassurances. We want a public hospital on public land. If we go back to the gift from the nuns let us make it a reality.

I am looking at this period in women's lives and the parallel efforts, deaths and suffering that led to the national maternity strategy that is being boasted about. The strategy came 100 years after the 1916 Proclamation. It was forced on the deaths and suffering of women. We have had Portlaoise, Portiuncula and Savita Halappanavar in my city. We have had report after report highlighting the inadequacy of maternity services throughout the country, notwithstanding the wonderful staff. Let us not do this. I am not giving out about staff; I am giving out about the lack of resources and the lack of commitment and services run on a charity basis.

We look at all of this and what have we achieved? We are here getting reassurances. Out there while we are in here, another secret deal will be negotiated, notwithstanding the overwhelming demand from people in Ireland as demonstrated by those who protested in Dublin, the constant representations we get and the fantastic work of Dr. Boylan, Marie O'Connor and many others. There is also Uplift, which paid for and organised a senior counsel's opinion. There is no reference to it in the speech from whoever wrote it. I would love to know whether the Minister wrote it. If he did, I would like him to be in here to stand over it. It is an opinion and other opinions can be sought but I would like to hear whether the Department got other opinions on it.

Uplift commissioned an opinion on our behalf. It points out there are possible obstacles to a compulsory purchase order but they can be overcome. At the end of the day it comes down on the side of there being no obstacle. It is quite possible under the Constitution to use a compulsory purchase order on the land if necessary. The only thing I have ever heard from the Tánaiste on this is that it would delay the project unnecessarily. I stand here and ask all of the other Deputies to confirm that we do not mind a delay. We do not want a delay and a delay is unacceptable but if that is the strongest reason the Tánaiste can come up with for not using a compulsory purchase order on the site, it is totally unacceptable.

A compulsory purchase order would put it up to the entities involved. It is worthy of a mystery novel at this stage with the number of entities out there for a public national maternity hospital. A compulsory purchase order would not be necessary if these entities agree. All we want is for the Government of the day to listen to the overwhelming voices of the people in the Dáil on behalf of the people of Ireland who say enough is enough.

We have said that in other contexts this week, on gender and domestic violence, the fundamental right of access to records without hurdles and various steps from a patriarchal society or management which thinks it knows best. The Minister of State knows enough is enough. We are speaking of a national maternity hospital.

We are more than halfway through the national maternity strategy, Creating A Better Future Together 2016 – 2026. An implementation plan was only published just before Christmas as a consequence of pressure from the Dáil and a motion I and others introduced on the implementation of the strategy. When we talk about a strategy, one has to ask how it is being implemented. The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, did a report in 2020 on it which stated that progress was slow, patchy or absent and nobody knew who they were reporting to. This is the strategy being crowed about in this debate.

Chun deireadh a chur le mo chúpla focal, tá mo dhóthain agam. Tá sé thar am beart a dhéanamh de réir ár mbriathar agus brí a thabhairt d’fhocail agus don chóras daonlathais.


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