Senior doctor resigns over plan to hand Dublin a hospital for the order of nuns

One of Ireland’s most respected midwives resigned from the board of directors of a maternity hospital on the plans for the transfer of property of a religious order who ran the institutions in which women were slaves and children abused for decades.

Secular activists have led the opposition to the government plan – which emerged at the beginning of this month – to move the National maternity hospital in Dublin for the St. Vincent Elm Park campus, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity.

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Dr Peter Boylan’s resignation is the latest flash point in a row that has reignited a debate about church-state relations and the influence of Catholic institutions in the provision of public services.

The supporters of the movement have argued that the Catholic order – which is still € 3 million (£2.5 m) for a government compensation scheme for victims of institutional abuse – do not have a voice in medical decision-making to the new site.

Boylan has told Irish radio: “I can’t be a member of a board that is so blind to the consequences of his decision to transfer the exclusive property of the hospital of the Sisters of Charity, and so deaf to the concerns of the public that it serves.

“It has been said that the sisters are not going to run the hospital – that is absolutely correct. I never suggested that they would run in the hospital, but the hospital, the company that manages and who have undue representation on the board of directors”.

Peter Boylan. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Two events were held in Dublin against the proposed move, and nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Department of Health to reconsider the transfer.

Emily Duffy, the campaign of the Lifting assembly, said: “This is an issue that people in Ireland are clearly outraged about – it is rare that we see a petition go viral so quickly, and it shows that people are deeply disturbed by the state of total contempt for the many victims of the abuse, which took place in institutions run by orders such as the Sisters of Charity.

“It is difficult to imagine what [the health minister] Simon Harris and the Department of Health is thinking, handing over a € 300 million hospital to a group with a history of immoral, untrustworthy, and abusive behavior. Especially since they still refuse to stand up and accept the consequences of this history.”

Harris has defended the relocation plan, and has promised security measures to protect the hospital against any interference with the religious of the Sisters of Charity.

Harris said: “I would like to be very clear: there will be no financial gain to any religious order of the development of this hospital. Legal arrangements that will be put in place which will 100% protection of the state, investment and interest in the new hospital”.

The Sisters of Charity was one of the orders which ran Ireland’s “Magdalene laundries”, institutions which were controlled by the Catholic orders from the late 18th century and into the 20th. Many of those who were arrested were young people, unmarried women who got pregnant and had their children taken away from them, and in some cases sold to rich childless Catholic couples in the United States.

In 2013, the northern Ireland prime minister Enda Kenny, issued an apology on behalf of the Irish state for women held in the institutions. Kenny said their mistreatment and exploitation, and had “cast a long shadow over Irish life”.

A financial redress scheme was set up in Ireland, after a survey published in 2009, detailed abuse against children in residential facilities. The Sisters of Charity offered to pay €5m to €1.5 billion of the defence and investigation costs incurred by the state, but contributed only 2 million euros.

In the complex Catholic orders agreed to pay nearly a quarter of the bill, but an audit report released in December found that they have contributed only 13%.

Patrick Walsh, a former inmate at the Artane industrial school for boys in Dublin, which was run by the Christian Brothers order, and famous for sexual abuse and violence, has declared that it is time that the government bypassed the Irish orders.

“We believe that any further horse trading with the Roman Catholic church, in Ireland, is useless, and that the state should ask the papacy to Rome for direct intervention to settle this debt of honor with the victims,” Walsh said.