Yesterday in the Dáil the Taoiseach was questioned by a number of TD’s on his dialogue and meetings with the various churches, faith groups and non-confessional bodies.
These meetings are part of what is termed the Church State Structured Dialogue Process, which was established in 2005 and forms part of what the Government calls its “commitment to carry out wide-ranging and inclusive consultation on public policy.”
One of those to seek a response from the Taoiseach on the content of the meetings was People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett.
Par for the course, Deputy Boyd-Barrett held nothing back, with his contribution being made with all the aggressively anti-Catholic spleen for which he and his group are known.
It was here that he also made the following charge about the Sisters of Charity:
“There are visually impaired and disabled residents near the campus of St. Vincent’s Hospital in St. Mary’s Telford, who themselves went through mother and baby homes and who are now being evicted by the Sisters of Charity. Elderly women who are blind are being evicted by the Sisters of Charity. This is a publicly funded critical part of the national health service but run by a religious order that is unaccountable to anybody and has behaved in these ways.”
Almost all of that is wild exaggeration based on a completely misleading presentation of the facts.
For while it is true that some of the residents of St Mary’s may be moved from their current accommodation, they are not being “evicted by the Sisters of Charity” as Deputy Boyd Barrett claims.
It is also not correct to say, as Deputy Boyd-Barrett claims it is, that St Mary’s is “run by a religious order that is unaccountable to anybody.”
However desperately sad the reality is it is far more prosaic. But since it is less conducive to the conspiratorial plots that Deputy Boyd Barrett likes to engage in, it is safely ignored.
The reality is that St Mary’s Centre has been in existence for over 150 years, ever since it was established by the congregation as an all-girls boarding school for the blind.
However, due to the advanced age of the orders members it had to establish an independent company to take over the running of St Mary’s in the early 2000’s.
This means that for the better part of 20 years the Sisters of Charity have had next to nothing to do with the day to day involvement in the running of the facility.
This is not the impression you would get from reading Richard Boyd Barrett’s claim in the Dail yesterday, that St Mary’s is “run by a religious order.”
You would also not have known from the Deputies contribution that, and as Aodhan O’Faolain pointed out last year, the company tasked by the Sisters to oversee St Mary’s sought had to seek an court order to wind up the facility, because it was unable to meet redundancy payments of €950,000.
Perhaps even more importantly, at that time, the company also cited “regulatory difficulties, concerns over future funding from the HSE and an inability to comply with HIQA recommendations to modernise its facilities as reasons why it should be wound up.”
And as Ailbhe Connelly also highlighted in her report on the matter, the Religious Sisters of Charity said the company governing St Mary’s was specifically established “to ensure that it would be managed autonomously and professionally by an appropriately skilled and experienced people to take over from the ageing Sisters so they would be run with the best advice into the future”.
Does this sound like a bunch of demon nuns eager to throw blind old ladies out on to the street or does it sound like pragmatic, caring and reasonable people who made every attempt to secure the future of the facility for the residents when they could no longer physically do so?
Incidentally, when the issue of the independent company winding itself up came before the High Court last October, Mr Justice Michael Flynn made the winding up order “after being satisfied that the company was insolvent and unable to pay its debts, and that it was just and equitable that an order be made for its winding up.”
Since that time the Sisters of Charity have continuously expressed their wish that the HSE and HIQA bring about the maximum transfer of residents possible.
But of course, none of this managed to make its way into the melodramatic contribution of the good Deputy Boyd-Barrett.
This makes it all the more ironic that the very women religious who for 150 years have sought to put people before profit are now the very ones being demonised for doing so, and during International Womens’ Week to boot.