Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

National Maternity Hospital: Statements


2:25 pm

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)

Today the Tánaiste said the two weeks that we were given to consider the deal around the new national maternity hospital were given to look at what additional safeguards could be added. That question remains. What additional safeguards can be added? I am standing here because I am sore sitting. We have been sitting at long meetings about this issue all week. I will sit at more of them next week and the week after if necessary. But we have to make progress. The progress we have to make has to be based on a certain amount of honesty and openness and more honesty and openness than we have had so far.

Yesterday, it was very interesting to hear the consultants and the clinicians who deliver the services to women. They are very anxious to get this hospital built as are all decent-minded people in the country. They have fought long and hard to get that hospital built. They outlined to us very clearly why the current facilities are inadequate. However, I am still unconvinced that there is not something deeply wrong about this deal that has not been addressed or resolved and that the information that we have been provided with has simply highlighted and crystalised that concern for us, despite assertions from the Government and the Minister that this new state-funded facility to be built by the State in the coming years will be truly State owned and solely State controlled. That, as I pointed out to the Minister yesterday, is refuted by St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. Its fact sheet says the opposite to what the Minister is putting across as the case. Yesterday was interesting because we were once again drip-fed information that had not yet been put on the table. For example, there will be facilities that do not pertain to maternity or reproductive care located in the new national maternity hospital because other areas of the existing hospital will have been discommoded. The facilities for dermatology will be there although it is not clear whether those are to be public or private dermatology wards, departments, suites or consultant rooms. That flies in the face of the excuse that is given to us consistently around why we need the words "clinically appropriate" in the deal and why they need to be repeated six times all over the deal alongside "legally permissible". The reason we were given was because the consultants and the obstetricians need to know that the new maternity hospital is only for the purposes of reproductive health and maternity purposes. Yet here we have dermatological clinics, suites or whatever sharing the space of the new maternity hospital. That does not stack up. I am extremely worried that that wording will be left in. Again, I ask the Minister to remove that wording and give a guarantee to the women of Ireland that "clinically appropriate" does not mean that some clinician or a team of clinicians makes decisions over women's lives but that women have control themselves over decisions that need to be made. We have just heard testimony of one very stark case of why that needs to be done.

I am also very concerned because during questioning on this here the other day the Taoiseach told us that we had inherited a health and maternity system that is overwhelmingly private and voluntary and has a history of religious and mostly Catholic influence. He told us that it was not ideally where we would start from but it is where we are. We are where we are. It seems that the health service that we have is just an artifact of our history like the natural landscape. It is there and there is nothing we can do about it. We have a dysfunctional and broken system for a reason. It is because political choices were made over the last 100 years by parties, some of which are still in this House and others which are not, that they would hand over chunks of vital public services to be run by the religious orders, namely health and education. That was not an accident. It did not happen like the mountains appeared in Kerry. It was politically and ideologically motivated. This deal commits to the continuation of that broken system of private, often religious, interests in the care of women's health with the control to some extent over the choices that women want to make not being in their own ambit.

My opposition to this deal has hardened over the last week. It hardened further when the Minister said yesterday that even if we fully owned the hospital we could not guarantee that all services would be delivered. Other HSE hospitals, eight according to the Minister, are not delivering reproductive care that should be available to women, namely abortion. I asked the Minister in the corridor for the names of the hospitals. He could not remember them but he said that he would send them to me. So far, I have not received them. He then told me that the main reason they are not delivering the service is funding. Funding has been an issue for most of those hospitals. That is not the impression he gave Joe Public or the committee yesterday. The impression he gave was that there was an ideological issue that was crippling the HSE-run hospitals from delivering abortion care. He has to square that circle. We need more time, more discussion and more answers. There is a Byzantine complex structure with guarantees, golden shares and balances in board membership. There is the exit of the sisters and the promise of an evolving secular group. All this is necessitated by the determination and utter insistence of St. Vincent's Healthcare Group to hold onto the land and to refuse to gift it to the State.

At least the nuns were willing to do that. They want to retain dominance, influence and control over the new national maternity hospital. I know the Minister does not want that. He probably thinks the way the Taoiseach does in that we are where we are and we cannot aspire to a fully State-owned and run hospital, although that is what he would like. If that is what the Minister would like, he should join us on the protest on Saturday at 2 p.m. outside the Dáil, where women in this country will be saying to the Government that we have to move on and that we have to move away from an old and failed model with a suspicion and mistrust of the way business was done written all over it. We need to control and own that land in its entirety.


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