Right now the only thing that can be said of the Irish health system with any accuracy is that it is a mess - Irish Times.
As it stands Holles Street Maternity Hospital is a “dilapidated, antiquated building not fit for purpose” in which health professions "are practising 21st-century medicine in a building that is crumbling.” That a plan to move and modernise has for the past fortnight been the source of a voluble and contentious public discussion seems incongruous in a modern society. As the Irish Times Opinion Editor put it:
It is strange state of affairs when a former president of the High Court has to come out and publicly declare that a new maternity hospital will not be run by nuns. But such is the level to which the debate about the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) moving to the St Vincent’s hospital campus has descended.
Women in Ireland have a right to the best medical care available and have justifiable fears about it being compromised in deference to an authoritarian religious institution. More progressive countries in the Global North and Central and Eastern Asia will likely look on aghast that there is even a suggestion that pregnant women in the 21st Century risk having their health care dictated to by women whose attire and attitude is more akin to a bygone age. The image nuns project – or which is manipulated and manufactured by their critics – through their formal dress and religious opinion is one of witches, rather than health professionals, who favour magic over medicine.
Having a teenage daughter who might at some point need to avail of maternity services, I took to expressing the view that hospitals should be a safe space for Irish women by prioritising patients over priestcraft. I was amused to find myself treated to the accusation that I was an anti-Catholic bigot. That at least was a fresh addition to the repertoire of pejoratives I have experienced over the years.
In spite of this blinkered buffoonery, the debate should not, however, descend into one of exercising bragging rights over the Catholic Church where virtue signalling becomes a form of reverse discourse employed to allow some self-indulgent expression of Schadenfreude. The focus should remain firmly on asserting the rights of women to have their health care safeguarded from any form of superstition, religious or otherwise. Many who are happy for The Sisters of Charity to own a maternity hospital would howl if the same privilege were to be bestowed on the Islamic Centre.
Doubtless, the sharp, at times strident, tone that has emanated from opponents of the move has been fuelled by the recent exposé of The Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours in Tuam, where:
No one, apart from a handful of Catholic extremists, denies that conditions in the home were grim, and that the women and children who lived and died there were gravely wronged.
Consequently, if as a result, "nuns in Ireland have been so stereotyped in Irish public debate that they have been reduced to the role of the villain in an old-fashioned Hammer horror movie", they have provided their detractors with an abundance of ammunition.
No society should allow pregnant women to fall into the hands of religious institutions when there is a serious conflict between religious teaching and best health care practice and where the religious opinion of nuns is considered more important than the health of women.