A win for the clinical independence of the maternity hospital but a new battle royal looms over abortion

Public pressure in the Republic boosted by saturation coverage has produced significant movement in 24 hours against Church influence or control over abortion rights and female sterilisation. On the future of the new National Maternity hospital, the Irish Times reports…

St Vincent’s Healthcare Group last night dropped its threat of last week to review the project and gave its most explicit promise yet of the operational independence of the Dublin maternity hospital after it moves from Holles Street to the Elm Park campus.

“In line with current policy and procedures at SVHG, any medical procedure which is in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Ireland will be carried out at the new hospital,” its chairman, James Menton, said in a statement.

Prof Chris Fitzpatrick, a former master of Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital, predicted the move will inevitably lead to conflicts of interest between doctors and the Catholic Church.

“It is wholly inappropriate in 21st-century pluralist, secular Ireland that the ownership of this publicly funded women’s and infants’ hospital should be entrusted in any shape, way or form to a religious organisation of any denomination.”

Some loose ends remain.

The Government believes the ownership structure of the new hospital will have to be changed in response to public concern. Minister for Health Simon Harris is expected to brief his Cabinet colleagues today on a process he will seek to initiate in the coming days to defuse the crisis, which has threatened the long-awaited move of the maternity hospital.

The shock verdict of the citizen’s Assembly to recommend abortion without restriction appears to be at odds with the latest public opinion polling, as Shane  Coleman reports in the Indie. While pressure for another referendum is mounting, defining the issue in a way satisfactory to both highly polarised sides  creates a huge  problem for a vulnerable government.

It’s worth recapping how the Citizens’ Assembly members voted. They wanted the Oireachtas to be authorised to legislate on abortion. A large majority (72pc) backed terminations for socio-economic reasons. There was also 64pc support for abortion without restrictions.

Contrast this outcome with the most recent poll on abortion. Just 28pc of voters then backed the idea of the Oireachtas legislating on abortion. Also in that poll, a big majority (60pc) rejected the legalisation of abortion where a woman “would be unable to cope because of age or circumstances”. Again, just 28pc favoured this option.

There were many differences between the results of the Citizens’ Assembly and the recent opinion polls on abortion. But ultimately it boils down to this: based on the recent poll findings, it was reasonable to conclude that 28pc of voters could be deemed ‘pro-choice’, with 10pc of people opposed to abortion in all circumstances, or ‘pro-life’, and a majority of voters somewhere in between.

Yet, according to the results of the Citizens’ Assembly vote, a minimum of 64pc – and arguably 72pc – are effectively pro-choice.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London