Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

National Maternity Hospital: Statements


2:15 pm

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this very important, very sensitive and very emotive debate for everyone in the House, including the Minister. I appreciate the decision taken by the Government to pause for two weeks in order to address many of the very understandable concerns and suspicions held not just by members of this House but the vast majority of people in this country and, most importantly, the women who have been betrayed institutionally by this country for so long up to this point. We hold a very clear responsibility to be their voice in this Chamber and to ensure they are not betrayed again.

The concerns I referred to have been raised by others this afternoon. I make the point that, like everyone, I want to see this hospital built urgently. It has taken nine years to get to this point, plus another two weeks. If it has to take another two weeks for the Cabinet to reflect, as the Minister rightly said, on the mood not just in this Chamber but in the Seanad and the health committee, it is worth waiting to assuage those fears that can be assuaged. I appreciate that for some people this deal will never be perfect. That will lace their opposition to it, which is understandable and a perfectly just opinion to hold. However, I want to make sure the best possible deal can be secured, not for me or the Minister but for the very many women we represent, be they in Wicklow or Dublin Rathdown.

I will return to the points raised by Deputies Hourigan and Shortall relating to the phrase "clinically appropriate". I was very grateful for the briefing the Minister and his officials gave to my parliamentary party the other evening and I look forward to the press conference to be held tomorrow by officials. I will repeat the concern I expressed at the briefing that there should be an addendum, or a rolling update from the Minister of the day, to ensure that every single service the women of Ireland are legally entitled to and allowed to have is guaranteed. We cannot go back to the ridiculously dark days where, on a whim based on the ethical opinion of the person who was there, using the State's laws and supposed public opinion as a defence, women in this State were absolutely robbed of the best possible maternity healthcare.

I put that very sincerely to the Minister. He has asked for and wants reflection and to listen to us. As a Government backbencher, I am saying to him we need to have that clarity of definition. It is not for me. We need to have that reassurance for the dozens and dozens of women and their husbands, brothers, children and parents who are flooding my office. They are not the usual suspects. They are not the campaigners. They are people I know personally and are my friends on Instagram. They have genuine, heartfelt, understandable concerns. Those concerns do not need to be assuaged to satisfy the 160 Members but, more important, the people of Ireland who will foot not just the financial bill of the establishment of this new hospital, but the moral and social bill. That is a very grave responsibility and I very much hope that is resolved.

I fundamentally accept the basis that there is no religious influence on this hospital. I accept that. It has been made very clear. As the Minister will understand, however, the history of this State means there is understandable concern over what religious influence can be. I spoke with a former Church of Ireland chaplain to the National Maternity Hospital. He is a very progressive and understanding man who knows this issue in and out. He came up against a system, when dealing with patients of a minority faith background, like me, who were not allowed access care because of the religious ethos of the hospital they were going to for supposed best care. Many people in the State have no religious ethos. He said he went up against this for decades as a chaplain to the National Maternity Hospital and he wants to know the detail, not just on his behalf but on behalf of the very many women he was able to talk to, many of whom he had to counsel and ensure could be accompanied to the United Kingdom to receive the level of care they were entitled to. He wants to know where the detail is. What is in the letter from the Vatican to the Sisters of Charity? What are all the legal documents allowing for this transfer? It may be a very simple matter for that clarity and confirmation to be given to those people. If it is, I implore the Minister to lay it all out on table to make sure there is not any suspicion because, sadly, too many people in this State have died, suffered and been robbed of very basic decent human rights due to the suspicious and malevolent actions of this State over its centenary history when it comes to the care of our women.


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