Public protest only reason nuns won’t own maternity hospital

This piece is from Colette Browne in today’s Irish Independent.

“The decision by the Order of the Sisters of Charity to relinquish control of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) is a victory for protesters – and an indictment of the Government.

Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday dubbed the decision by the order to cut ties to the hospital group …..”

No mention of the legal challenge against the State mounted by Dick Spicer and his son, Norman.

Update on move of NMH to SVUH campus

This update today is from the Irish Examiner:

Update 2.10pm: The Health Minister said he intends to have a discussion at cabinet about the ownership structures of hospitals.

It is after the Sisters of Charity announced it would be divesting its interest in the new national maternity hospital.

However under current plans the state still will not own the hospital, despite paying for it.

Minister Simon Harris said it is one of the issues that still needs to be teased out.

“There are still a number of discussions that need to take place with both hospitals in terms of how do you protect what is a substantial investment by the state.

“There are many different ways that you do that and just like I asked for a period of a month to work with the hospitals to address a number of concerns, I would ask for a little more time to tease out those issues.”

Earlier: There is a warning that the new National Maternity Hospital still will not have clinical independence.

That is despite the fact the Sisters of Charity announced yesterday that it would be divesting its interests in the project and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

The religious order is to sell the land on which the facility will be built to a new charity called St. Vincent’s.

Doctor Peter Boylan (pictured) claims the hospital’s new master will be part of a chain of command that ultimately reports to the CEO of the St Vincent’s Hospital Group – rather than the maternity hospital’s own board.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil said there needs to be clarity on the charitable status of the new national maternity hospital.

Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Deputy Billy Kelleher said the new charitable status will have to be scrutinised.

“We need to see the legal detail of that to ensure the state’s investment is both recognised and protected.

“The other key area is the issue around corporate governance. We welcome that fact there will be no religious involvement in medical and ethical oversight. That is critically important to ensure that all medical services are available to women.”

Statement from The Religious Sisters of Charity on its divestment from governance of St. Vincent’s Hospital Health Group


It looks as if the timely intervention by Dick Spicer and his son Norman crystallised thinking about a resolution to the medical ethics issue over the weekend.

A sensible outcome and a noble act by the Sisters of Charity.


Lessons from the death of Savita Halappanavar that bear on the decision made by Minister Harris to move the National Maternity Hospital to the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus

The HIQUA report ( into Savita Halappanavar’s death from sepsis while in labour at University Hospital Galway should be read by our politicians during the one month abeyance in the planning for the move of the NMH to SVUH campus decreed by Minister Harris.

“The Authority’s investigation also found that there is wide variation in the local clinical and corporate governance arrangements in place across the 19 public maternity hospitals/units nationally. This means that it is impossible at this time to properly assess the performance and quality of the maternity service nationally.

There has been no national review, or national population-based needs assessment, undertaken to date to identify the appropriate allocation of resources including multidisciplinary workforce arrangements, or the models of care required to ensure that all pregnant women have appropriate choices and access to the right level of care and support at the right time in Ireland”.

How do we know that co-location with SVUH is the best tertiary hospital choice when faced with this reality?

HIQUA specifically demanded this policy response from Minister Harris’ Department of Health:

“The Authority has also included a specific recommendation for the Department of Health to develop a ‘Code of Conduct’ for employers. This includes a code for managers that will clearly set out the behaviours and responsibilities expected in relation to achieving an optimum safety culture, governance and performance of an organisation. It should also include the duties and responsibilities in relation to the professional regulation of staff and the referral of healthcare professionals, where appropriate, to their professional regulators”.

How will the chilling religious ethic effect that will be present at SVUH be squared with this?

Some key issues in reproductive medicine, novel therapies and research at the new National Maternity Hospital campus location

The planned move of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the St. Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) campus

Some key issues in reproductive medicine, novel therapies and research at the new campus location

  1. Who is in charge of a patient who is transferred from the NMH to SVUH
  2. Is that patient to be treated under the Code of Medical Ethics of SVUH or of the NMH
  3. What are to be the codes of medical ethics of both SVUH and the NMH? Remember that both the SVUH and NMH at present are Roman Catholic hospitals. The term ‘National’ used to describe the NMH is a misnomer given its religious governance.

The structure and composition of their respective boards of governance are set out here:


The RC Archbishop is ex-officio chairman of the Board. Dr. Diarmuid Martin is the present incumbent. Three local parish priests also serve ex-officio.


The governors of SVUH are responsible to the shareholders, the Religious Sisters of Charity, who are the owners of the hospital and its entire campus, including the Elm Park Golf Club, which leases its course from the Order.

We raise here a number of specific concerns to be considered, simply as examples of the ethical complexity of the consequences of the NMH moving to the SVUH campus.

The main question is whether the NMH and SVUH will guarantee that all procedures and therapies legal in Ireland will be available in both NMH and SVUH, if clinically required and following best international practices? It is vitally important that SVUH changes to become like the NMH and not the other way round.

The NMH gradually moved away from strict Catholic ethics under the courageous leadership of Dr. Peter Boylan, and others, but we must be concerned that it might revert to more conservative ethics under the influence of SVUH.

Consider this problem. If a procedure is requested by a patient or next of kin (in an emergency) or a nurse or doctor attending the case, and if it is known that a responsible consultant acting in the best medical interests of the mother might approve the procedure, but the consultant in charge of the patient could not carry out such a procedure because it would be contrary to his or her ethics, will SVUH (and NMH) guarantee that that doctor is required to withdraw from supervising the case?

One can imagine a very sick mother; still carrying her baby, being moved across to SVUH with decisions to be taken about caring for her that might definitely or possibly lead to the death of the baby. The mother’s life may not be immediately at risk but most doctors might decide that the risk of not intervening is too great – this is a matter of judgement.  The ethics of SVUH (like those in Galway with the late Savita Halappanavar) may well delay taking such tough decisions and even prevent them. The fear is that SVUH under its present medical ethics code will tend to err in favour of the baby and rather than the mother.

At the moment we understand that SVUH does not offer or perform “elective sterilisation” – that is sterilisation of a man or a woman, requested just for contraception.  Nor does SVUH officially give advice on modern contraception in general. So at the moment SVUH does not offer all procedures or therapies that are legal in Ireland and considered to be part of normal medical care in hospitals that are not required to abide by Catholic medical ethics.

Consider a case of a woman who has just had a child with a severe genetic disorder. She wants to have a tubal ligation to avoid conceiving a similar child.  She does not need to go to NMH. Will SVUH admit her and perform the procedure? The same question can be posed for the case of a man who carries a defective gene who wishes to avoid conceiving a child.

Now think of IVF, today only performed in the Rotunda and the NMH (apart from private clinics). At present the NMH has the only not-for-profit IVF clinic in the state. IVF is absolutely prohibited by Catholic medical ethics. So it is impossible to imagine that SVUH could approve the setting up of an IVF clinic on its campus. Yet it would be an excellent idea for the NMH, as the largest maternity hospital, to set up its IVF clinic at the new location. There has been silence on this key issue.

Even if the NMH was allowed to set up such a clinic would SVUH allow the use of its laboratories and equipment and health care and technical staff to facilitate an IVF clinic?

The ethical challenges can be very profound.  Consider the use of the laboratories and staff of SVUH to facilitate modern methods for avoiding the birth of severely genetically defective children. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Embryos are conceived in the test tube by allowing the father’s sperm to fertilise the mother’s eggs;
  2. Each embryo is allowed to grow into a few cells;
  3. A few cells are taken from each embryo and tested for the genetic defect;
  4. Embryos without the defect are either implanted or stored for implantation later;
  5. Embryos with defects are allowed to die. So you can see that we should expect that SVUH would block the setting up of an IVF clinic at the NMH.

One other variation would be the use of surrogate-sperm donors in IVF (when the mother’s partner is infertile)

Another would be the use of surrogate-egg nucleus donors in IVF (when the mother’s own nuclear genes carry a genetic defect, or might even be a cause of infertility)

Yet another would be the use of a surrogate-mitochondrial donor in IVF (when mother’s own egg carries defective mitochondrial genes).

The general point is that SVUH should, by its own rules, inhibit and do its best to block the introduction of any ethically unacceptable advances in reproductive medicine at the NMH that might involve SVUH as an associate through its personnel (consultants, nurses, medical laboratory technologists, etc. with positions in both hospitals), labs, paramedical services etc.

In other words the NMH would not be completely free to take advantage of advances in reproductive medicine because of the deadening effect of the SVUH overarching governance of the medical and nursing personnel working on the campus. This is known in law as a ‘chilling’ effect.

Nor would it be easy for the NMH staff to have access to significant research laboratories and their support services provided at SVUH – such laboratories are essential if staff at NMH are to be able to keep up with discoveries abroad, and indeed to contribute to them. It is a weakness of the Irish maternity hospitals that none of them has significant research facilities – the new NMH on the SVUH campus should be able to use the SVUH research labs. Some of the research undertaken at SVUH is in close collaboration with UCD biomedical scientists. But we must assume that there will be religious ethical restrictions on the kind of research going on in these labs?


@Dick_Spicer @NormanSpicer86

@HolyMess1 #HolyMess1

26 May 2017

Why is the National Maternity Hospital being co-located at the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus? Why not at another tertiary teaching hospital location not under overt religious control?

Press release issued 26 May: embargoed until 12:00 h [updated 15:30 h]

A Holy Mess!

Why is the National Maternity Hospital being co-located at the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus? Why not at another tertiary teaching hospital location not under overt religious control?

Dick Spicer and his son, Norman, believe that the State is acting improperly in funding the move of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the St. Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) campus. They have decided to challenge this decision in the High Court.

The plaintiffs                                                                          

Dick and Norman are both angry and dismayed at being put in the situation whereby they have to seek remedy, at law, for the failure of politicians to live up to their obligations under the Constitution. That a pensioner and a young married man (hoping in time to avail of the maternity services of the state) should have to take it upon themselves to undertake this action is a sad commentary on our republic. The proposed siting of the NMH on the SVUH campus is a gross example of political failure. It is almost impossible to believe, given the past history of Church-State dealings and the damage caused to thousands of women that this proposal could emerge from a government which knows the many negative outcome from church control of health care in the area of reproductive rights. Savita Halapanaver’s death should have given the Minister for Health and the Cabinet good pause for thought.

We hope that this action of ours will focus politicians’ minds on the absurdity of the proposed location with a Roman Catholic religious order firmly in control of the entire campus and with healthcare professional staff required to conform to a medical ethics code informed by Canon law precepts. We hope that this action will lead to a genuine re-think of how the co-location is to be organised. What we would like to emerge from today is the clear understanding that there are viable alternatives to the SVUH site, which has the same advantages of co-location and none of the disadvantages, i.e. Tallaght or St. James’ Hospitals, which are both tertiary teaching hospitals with the essential gynaecology specialism. We are asking politicians and public to focus on this simple fact and spare us the burden we have felt obliged to shoulder by virtue of this action.

The State

All taxpayers and citizens, especially those planning a family, should be concerned by the failure of the State to ensure that this huge investment be under direct State control. By gifting the Sisters of Charity with a capital asset of such magnitude they are abdicating responsibility for taxpayers’ funds and failing to protect to the utmost the rights of families in our State to have access to all procedures and therapies in reproductive medicine that are lawful in the State. Not only are they planning to place this asset and the health care staff under religious control and influence, they are boosting enormously the value of the existing site which is under the control of the Order.

The Sisters of Charity

The Sisters of Charity are of course fully entitled to follow the dictates of their religious conscience when controlling a medical facility. It is doubtful if they should avail of state funding to do so however. They are obliged to act according to Canon law in deciding which procedures now and in the future to permit in such an institution. It should be the case however that any State-funded facility be required to permit all procedures and therapies legal in the state to be performed there. This is not the case at present in SVUH and if the Order has a role on the governing board of the proposed NMH they will be obliged by their faith to seek to frustrate and impede any procedures or treatment they disagree with.

The Order requires all its medical and nursing staff to uphold a Roman Catholic medical ethics code informed by Canon law.                                                                                  

The proposed move of the NMH and the logic of Co-Location

By co-locating the NMH with a major tertiary teaching hospital the thinking is that patients of the NMH will have immediate access, if required, to the wide range of facilities and adult medical specialisms available at the SVUH facility and hence patients, especially in a medical emergency, will benefit. Other benefits, like access to clinical laboratory facilities and research laboratories, will also accrue to the NMH. However it is precisely in such emergency situations that the chilling effect of a religious medical ethic may manifest itself.


Thus proposing to place the NMH on the SVUH site is impossible to square with a desire to have an independent State-funded facility in a position to deliver medical care in keeping with the laws of the land into the future. Even if the Order was to be excluded entirely from the board of the NMH, by placing patients in a situation where health and well-being could be at risk in an emergency, due to the particular religious beliefs of the Sisters of Charity who would still be in control of the SVUH, the state is failing in its constitutional obligations to its citizens.

We conclude, by asking any and all TDs who are keeping this government in office to immediately reconsider their position and insist that this shameful abdication of responsibility be abandoned and that the proposed NMH be sited instead at another tertiary teaching hospital with appropriate specialisms and not subject to Canon law interference in health care workers’ contracts.


Dick Spicer: is a married 70 year old pensioner and grandfather. He co-founded the Campaign to Separate Church and State in the 80’s and lodged a legal case against the State over its’ failure to safeguard taxpayers funds over the sale of Carysfort Teacher Training College. His action was instrumental in forcing the Sisters of Mercy to repay two and a quarter million in funds and equipment to the state.  He subsequently founded the Humanist Association and played a significant role in the divorce referendum.

Norman Spicer: is a 30 year old married man, former New York litigation attorney and recent ex-soldier of the Irish Defence Forces. He has served in the Irish army over a period of 12 years during which time he also performed peace keeping duties in central Africa.
He recently discharged (honorably) from the Defence Forces and has at all times had an exemplary conduct record. He is currently a full-time student at University College Dublin on a master of laws program. He resides in Bray, Co. Wicklow.


Dick Spicer: 086-609 5799



@HolyMess1 #HolyMess1

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Education (Admission to Schools) Bill – Minister Richard Bruton moves to deal with regularising admissions procedures

This is the announcement made yesterday by Minister for Education & Skills, Richard Bruton TD about the proposed Bill to regulate National School admission practices.

The Bill outline fails to deal specifically with the use of religion tests (baptismal certificates) by some schools for admission of some pupils.

Not good enough Minister!

Education (Admission to Schools) Bill introduced to Oireachtas following approval by Government

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, today announced that Government has approved the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016.  The Bill will be introduced to the Oireachtas this week with view to enactment as soon as possible after that. The Programme for Government targets enactment of this legislation before September 2017.

Minister Bruton has written to all opposition parties seeking to consult on this legislation, and hopes that all parties can work constructively on this legislation with a view to having these important measures in place as early as possible.

Among other things the new law will:

  • Ensure that where a school is not oversubscribed (80% of schools) it must admit all students applying
  • Ban waiting lists, thus ending the discrimination against parents who move in to a new area
  • Ban fees relating to admissions
  • Require all schools to publish their admissions policies, which will include details of the provisions for pupils who decline to participate in religious instruction
  • Require all schools to consult with and inform parents where changes are being made to admissions policies
  • Explicitly ban discrimination in school admissions
  • Provide for a situation where a child (with special needs or otherwise) cannot find a school place, and allow the National Council for Special Education or Tusla to designate a school place for the child

Minister Bruton said: “The basic aim of this Government is to use our economic success to build a fair and compassionate society. Few areas are more important to this vision than education.This legislation is a significant public service reform designed to make it easier for parents to more easily access local schools and to enrol their children in a school that meets their needs.”

This legislation will increase the transparency and fairness of school admissions. It makes clear that every school must be welcoming of every young person –regardless of their colour, their abilities or disabilities. It will help to end the soft barriers that some of our schools erect in the way of children with special needs.”

“The vast majority of our schools work to welcome every child in their communities; to give them the care and attention that their young minds demand and to support the integration of all children, whatever their differences. But I know that some schools are oversubscribed. They cannot be blamed for that.  But they must be fair and transparent in deciding how to prioritise children for admission to the school. This Bill will make sure that is the case in all schools.”

– See more at:

Labour’s School Admissions Bill to combat religious exclusion

The Labour Party intends to introduce a Bill in the Oireachtas to combat religious exclusion on admission by means of a religious test (baptismal certificate).

“There is a clear tension between provisions in the Constitution that impact on schools admission policy. On the one hand, the Constitution makes it clear that the State is entitled to fund denominational schools and that those schools are entitled to provide religious instruction during the school day.

On the other hand, the Constitution requires that legislation on State aid for schools must not prejudice the right of any child to attend a State-funded school without attending religious instruction at that school.

As Mister Justice Donal Barrington described it in the Supreme Court, if a school accepts public funds then any child, no matter what his or her religion, is entitled to attend it and has the right not to attend any course of religious instruction at the school”.

The Bill is available here:

Minister Bruton’s favouring of Community National Schools (CNS)

This Letter to Editor appeared in the Irish Times on Friday 10 June 2016.

 Whatever about the possible merits of the CNS model it completely undermines their bona fides to have it suggested by Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, that any church have a role in running these school in the future. Does the Minister not know that the people removed the special position of the Roman Catholic church and the recognition of other named religious denominations from our Constitution on 5 January 1973 – yes that long ago! [5th Amendment]

No churches should be involved in management or control of any ‘divested’ or CNS school.

Sir, – Currently, children of parents whose identity is interwoven with a religious faith – Muslim, Christian or Hindu, for example – as well as those whose identity is interwoven with a belief or a life-stance – Buddhism, humanism or atheism – all attend community national schools.

Given this multifaith and belief community, the Goodness Me, Goodness You programme is a response to the ministerial brief given to these new schools in 2008 “to cater for all faiths and none during the school day”.

The programme has been created in accordance with a particular set of guiding principles and governed by the community national school ethos, which includes the commitment “to respect, celebrate and recognise diversity in all areas of human life”.

Goodness Me, Goodness You is a faith and belief-nurturing programme. It is not an ethical-moral programme, nor is it a programme that assumes a secular stance from which it educates about religions. Community national schools do not invite the child to enter the school and then require her to “suspend” a part of herself that it decides should be excluded from its educational endeavour. Rather, it welcomes all children and it welcomes all of “who” the child and her parents believe her to be. It educates by acknowledging and working with the child’s experience, affirming the child’s core sense of identity and belonging and seeking to nurture the child’s developing sense of different ways of belonging and not belonging, in different contexts (home, school, local community, faith or belief community, civil society, material world, and so on). It endorses the child’s faith or belief as an important factor – stronger for some than for others – influencing her sense of identity and belonging.

Pupils and parents in the community national school community share much in common. But they also have differences between them (and indeed within them) – differences that enrich our plurality and are to be celebrated. For example, Islam is not the same as Hinduism, Christianity is different from humanism, and there are also differences within Christianity, as there are differences within Islam, yet all teach respect for the Earth and its life-forms.

In an effort to be true to what is shared in common and equally true to what is not shared but is distinctive, Goodness Me, Goodness You has sought to evolve both programme content and ways of structuring teaching and learning that enhance the educational potential of commonality and difference.

Currently, for 24 weeks of the school year, all children in the class explore the same Goodness Me, Goodness You lessons. Children interpret these lessons in different ways and, with the support and guidance of their home, bring the riches of their particular faith or belief tradition to their interpretation.

For approximately four weeks of the year, children regroup according to their different faith or belief tradition and explore lessons designed to take account of that specific tradition.

Much has been made of this second dimension of the community national school approach as “segregation of children along religious lines”. I would like to challenge this view. In following the primary school curriculum, children form and re-form into many different groupings and sub-groupings at different times and for different parts of the curriculum, depending on children’s needs and available resources.

To interpret the forming of groups according to distinctive faith or belief needs as “segregation” seems to me to deny the right of community national schools to recognise children’s faith and belief needs as needs.

Furthermore, it would seem also to deny this part of the curriculum as a legitimate curriculum on a par with all other parts of the curriculum. It also denies the school, under its ethos, the right to adopt strategies in relation to its curriculum that best meet its children’s differing needs.

The question is not therefore whether it is legitimate that children should form groups according to their faith and belief traditions. The real question is, in the eyes of those who claim segregation, what prejudice prevents children’s needs in this part of their school curriculum from being recognised as valid and deserving of strategies designed to meet them?

If recognition of difference were the only basis on which children’s curricular needs in this area were dealt with, then the accusation of segregation would be a serious one. However, this is patently not so. The fact is that for the much greater part of their school year, children are brought together to be educated in faith and belief. Community national schools, I would argue, are the only schools that deliberately bring children together to educate them in faith and belief. They do not bring children together and bypass the difficulty of “faith” by removing it from the curriculum altogether, in favour of “belief” that is non-religious. – Yours, etc,


Marino Institute

of Education,

Dublin 9.