The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCSU) today joined calls for the new National Maternity Hospital to be publicly owned.
A campaign against church ownership of the hospital has recently gathered steam after a repeal vote that galvanised a movement against church influence on the state.
Speaking to The University Times, TCDSU Gender Equality Officer Aoife Grimes said that it was important to campaign for public ownership of the hospital because of students’ support for repeal. “A huge amount voted yes and that in itself shows a mandate from young people”, she said. She added: “I think that anyone who needs reproductive healthcare should have access to it and we need a second National Maternity Hospital for that.”
Over 100 people gathered on O’Connell St to show support for the campaign, listening to speeches from some of the major repeal campaigners who have mobilised once again for this cause.
Speaking to the crowd in front of the Spire, USI Vice-President for Equality and Citizenship Aisling Cusack said: “We will not stand for Simon Harris to be gifting the sisters of charity a Christmas present worth €350 million of our money. It’s our money and it should be our hospital.”
“The Union of Students in Ireland have campaigned for decades for reproductive healthcare and abortion access in Ireland. Student travelled to the ballot boxes in their thousands … we didn’t vote yes to see later see prohibitions come into place, to later see the ground we voted on be watered down”, Cusack said.
She called for “compassion” in hospitals, emphasising access to abortion “safely and without judgement and Catholic guilt”.
USI’s national council – made up of union sabbatical officers from around the country – voted to support the campaign. A motion was recently brought to TCDSU council for debate but due to the loss of quorum, council was unable to vote on the issue.
The new hospital is set to be built on the campus of St Vincent’s Hospital, on a site owned by the Sisters of Charity, sparking concerns that abortion and IVF services would not be available if the Catholic church had ownership of the hospital. The religious order had said that it would give up control of the land and create a new charitable company, the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group. This company has yet to be set up.
The Sisters of Charity had previously promised to relinquish control of the hospital to a new company, the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, but this new charitable company has still not been created.
Ailbhe Smyth, the Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and a long-time equality activist, spoke fervently in favour of the public ownership of the new hospital.
“History has taught us a really tough lesson in this country”, she said. “We know that a symbiotic, hand-in-glove relationship between church and state is really dangerous for women, and particularly for women having babies.”
The move of the National Maternity Hospital has reached a stalemate, after Minister for Health Simon Harris demanded for a state-appointed director on the board of the institution. However, the two hospitals have said that contracts for the move must be signed by the end of the year to comply with building regulations.
Smyth said: “We do know we need a new maternity hospital and that it is urgently required but that does not require us to sacrifice the wellbeing and the rights of women now but also the wellbeing and rights of women in the future.”
“What difference does 10 days make?”, she asked.
Also addressing the crowd, joint leader of the Social Democrats Roisin Shortall said: “The impression has been created that the issues have been dealt with and we know that they haven’t so let’s not be fooled by this.”
She encouraged campaigners to continue their efforts: “Let’s keep up the pressure and ensure that we keep the battle going to ensure public ownership and a secular maternity hospital and nothing else should be acceptable to us.”