Nuns from a Catholic order that ran institutions in Ireland where women were enslaved and children abused for decades have given up any involvement in running the country’s new national maternity hospital.
After weeks of pressure and public outrage, the Sisters of Charity announced on Monday it was ending its role in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG), the trust set up to manage the new maternity facilities in Dublin.
In a statement, the Sisters of Charity said it would not be involved in the ownership or management of the new hospital.
It said the two sisters on the board would resign with immediate effect.
Last month, one of Ireland’s most respected obstetricians, Dr Peter Boylan, resigned from the board after it emerged that the religious order responsible for running the notorious Magdalene Laundries would exercise influence over the new hospital.
His resignation was the latest controversy in the debate about church-state relations and the influence of Catholic institutions in provision of public services in Ireland.
Two large demonstrations were held over the last few weeks protesting against the Sisters of Charity’s proposed role in running the hospital. More than 100,000 signed an online petition opposing the move.
The Sisters of Charity was one of the orders that ran the Magdalene Laundries, institutions that were controlled by Catholic orders from the late 18th century and well into the 20th.
Many of those incarcerated were young, unmarried women who became pregnant and had their babies taken from them – in some cases sold to wealthy Catholic couples without children in the US.
In 2013, the taoiseach, Enda Kenny, issued an apology on behalf of the Irish state to the women held in the institutions. Kenny said their maltreatment and exploitation had “cast a long shadow over Irish life”.
A financial redress scheme was set up in Ireland after an inquiry published in 2009 detailed abuse against children in residential institutions. The Sisters of Charity offered to pay €5m towards the €1.5bn redress bill and inquiry costs incurred by the state, but has so far contributed only €2m.
Overall, Irish Catholic orders have agreed to pay almost a quarter of the bill, but an audit report published in December 2016 found they had still contributed only 13% to the overall compensation costs for victims.