Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

National Maternity Hospital: Statements


2:15 pm

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

This State and the religious orders have a shameful track record in their treatment of women and children. It is written into our Constitution, the foundational document of the State, that a woman's place is in the home. Until 1957, a married women became the legal property of her husband. Until the 1970s, a marriage bar forced women to resign from work upon getting married. Marital rape was not made a criminal offence until 1990.

We have all heard the apologies from previous Governments over the years. Only a year ago, the Taoiseach apologised in this House. On that occasion, he apologised for the institutional abuse suffered in mother and baby homes. As the Taoiseach said, "The State failed you", and we need to recognise a profound failure of empathy, understanding and basic humanity over a very lengthy period. We need to have that empathy and understanding at the core. Two years before that apology, the Tánaiste also stood in this House and apologised on behalf of the State.

That time it was to people who were sexually abused in day schools and for the delay afterwards and acknowledging its responsibility to protect them. In that very same year, he gave another State apology. That time it was for the CervicalCheck screening programme. He said "we vow to make sure that it never happens to anyone else ever again”. The Irish Times reported at the weekend, the HSE is continuing to outsource cervical samples.

Before that the Tánaiste’s predecessor, former Deputy Enda Kenny, also stood up in the Dáil and he issued a State apology. He issued a State apology for the Church-run Magdalen laundries. No sooner had he issued this apology, than the HSE had to issue its own apology to Praveen Halappanavar, the husband of the late Savita Halappanavar, who died needlessly in my local hospital, Galway University Hospital. She died because religious ethos took primacy over that poor woman's right to life. Galwegians like myself and all those who marched for women's rights to choose remember the pictures of Savita which were present at every single march; her smiling face watching down over us, driving us to ensure that it would be a case of “never again”. We have heard the apologies. We have heard the “never again” and the “lessons have been learned” lines yet here we are. I am not going to rehash the legal arguments around the leasing arrangement with St. Vincent holding company or the separation of religious orders from their stakeholders. Many legal experts and people far more qualified to speak about this than me have raised serious concerns. I think these concerns compounded by the appalling track record of the treatment of women in this State lead me to fear that we will at some point hear more apologies in this House.

I will conclude by telling a story about a good friend of mine. She is living proof of what happens when a religious order does have a share in the hospital. In 2018, she was allowed sign for a hysterectomy when her life was in immediate danger. Thankfully her surgeon was skilled enough to remove an ovary, tube and growth without the clinical necessity of a hysterectomy. A year later, it became clear that she required a radical hysterectomy to have any quality of life. Her condition was life limiting but not life threatening. While a hysterectomy was clinically appropriate it was not deemed necessary and hence permissible. As a result, other treatments were prescribed: months-long cocktails of Pethidine injections, morphine patches, Oxycodone and Fentanyl were prescribed destroying her quality of life. Because she was 26 and had no living children, the hospital's religious ethos deemed a surgery that would improve and eventually save her life to be inappropriate. In fact, she later discovered that her medical team could not mention the possible need of a hysterectomy with her at that point due to that ethos. That was despite her uterus slowly perforating. Eventually she had to travel to England for this operation. Another Irish woman forced to cross the sea to seek the medical services denied to her in her own State.

We must have, as so many women have said in the past weeks, months and years, a public hospital on public land to ensure that women get the healthcare that they need and that they have full confidence within it. We can see from the last number of weeks how important that is to women.

I only had five minutes and I have used all of my time. Maybe in his own summing up, the Minister will address some of the concerns that were raised.


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