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large crowd Thousands protest against ‘Church ownership’ of new National Maternity Hospital

Marie O’Connor of the Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women’s Healthcare said that State ownership of the land on which the new facility is being built is “essential”.

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Protest outside Leinster House over the ownership of the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Protest outside Leinster House over the ownership of the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Protest outside Leinster House over the ownership of the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Thousands of people attended a rally outside Leinster House on Saturday afternoon to protest against ‘Church ownership’ of the site of the proposed new National Maternity Hospital.

The rally, organised by the Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women’s Healthcare, attracted a large crowd and gardaí moved to close off Kildare Street to traffic temporarily as the numbers grew.

Speakers at the rally included Opposition TDs Róisín Shortall, Louise O’Reilly and Bríd Smith, while many other advocates voiced their displeasure at the current situation concerning the site of the new hospital on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital.

Marie O’Connor of the Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women’s Healthcare said during a speech at the rally that State ownership of the land on which the new facility is being built is “essential”.

“The Religious Sisters of Charity are refusing to sell the freehold of the site, because they are determined to exercise power and control over the new National Maternity Hospital.

“Owning the land enables them to lease the site to the State. You can add conditions to a lease, but not to a freehold. This lease hinges on one key condition, that an exclusive license is given straight back to themselves to operate the new hospital.

“This license emasculates the lease by taking all power and control away from the State – from us – the people who are paying for it. The lease contains a covenant, a direction to the State to build and equip the hospital, now set to cost at least €800m, and to continue paying the running and payroll costs for the duration of the lease, which in practice is forever,” Ms O’Connor said.

She said that “with freehold ownership comes ethos”, and claimed the “object of the new company set to own the new maternity hospital is to provide healthcare that complies with Catholic medical ethics”.

“Board members, who are clerical appointees, are legally obliged to enforce the values of Mary Aikenhead, who founded the Religious Sisters of Charity.

“These values are written into the constitution of the company. Behind them lies the nuns' healthcare code, which has been translated into codes of ethical practice for their hospitals, and these codes are enforced through employment contracts,” Ms O’Connor said.

Ms O’Connor said recent claims made by St Vincent's Healthcare Group that the Church has no role in the new hospital are caveated by the fact the new hospital “will be operated by board members appointed by the Church”.

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“They say that procedures banned by the Church, such as gender reassignment, tubal ligation and pregnancy terminations are available in Vincent's hospitals. These claims are baseless. Gender reassignment surgery is not done anywhere in the Republic, and the HSE actually funds people for surgery abroad.

“Tubal ligation cannot be done, because direct sterilisation is prohibited by the nuns' healthcare code.

“Pregnancy terminations are also forbidden by the nuns' healthcare code, as you would expect. St Vincent's Healthcare Group is legally obliged to uphold the code of the Religious Sisters of Charity, so none of these can be done as procedures of choice in their hospitals,” Ms O’Connor said.

The campaign claims it’s “perfectly feasible” for the Government to decide to build on State land at Tallaght Hospital.

“The alternative, of course, is to CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order) the land at Elm Park.

“However it is done, the bottom line is that the State must own the land on which the hospital is to be built,” Ms O’Connor said.

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