a symptom of a more serious problem


It has now been eight years since the current plan for the National Motherhood Project was announced. Construction work on the St Vincent campus site in South Dublin is still in the preliminary stages. Meanwhile, each year more than 8,000 women continue to give birth in grossly inadequate and overcrowded conditions in a Victorian-era building on Holles Street. And meanwhile, politicians are repeating the same arguments that plagued the project from the start.

As part of a plan that is both a statement on the state’s modern healthcare ambitions and a messy compromise rooted in a century of official neglect in the same field, the government will build a hospital of 800 million euros on land belonging to the Sisters of Charity. . The nuns transferred the land to a new entity, St Vincent’s Holdings, which in turn leased it to the state. The religious order says it will have no involvement in the operation of the hospital, but some activists say the land ownership structure could restrict the provision of services such as abortion or IVF.

The government seems convinced that all legal procedures will be carried out at the hospital. But suddenly last week Tánaiste Leo Varadkar rekindled controversy when he said he had concerns about some outstanding elements of the tenancy agreement and governance. The government has said it would like to buy the site on behalf of the state, although the order and the hospital group say they never received an offer. Even though the state had indications that landowners would not sell, it seems unwise at best not to have put their resolve to the test. If there is a way to buy the land, even at this late stage, it should be done.

The state is content to outsource public health services, including entire hospitals, to religious and other private organizations

The political context is to be noted. St Vincent’s and much of its catchment area are located in the Dublin Bay South constituency, where government parties are in desperate need of a victory in a by-election next month. For weeks, moreover, there was internal turmoil over funding for the project, with Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath last month dismissing a request from Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to exempt the hospital’s development. formal rules governing spending on major capital projects.

Ultimately, the maternity feud is a symptom of a much bigger problem, namely that the state is content to outsource public health services, including entire hospitals, to religious organizations and the like. . The government is quite reasonably asking for the right to be represented on the board of directors of the new maternity unit, but it is happy to forgo a significant contribution in other hospitals that it funds but does not manage. It is fallacious for a government that presides over these contradictions to dismiss concerns about motherhood as ideological. As if maintaining the status quo was not in itself an ideological position.

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