‘You can’t afford to take their word for it. The church has tentacles everywhere’

Irish Times

Mick Heaney

As a cursory scan of the airwaves attests, the decision to hand over ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the Sisters of Charity is an almost unavoidable topic of conversation, much of it heated.

Few ecclesiastical voices are heard on the matter, however, which is strange given that church influence over medical care is the nub of contention. So kudos to Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) for landing an interview with the man behind the most high-profile Irish cleric of recent times.

True, writer Graham Linehan may not be familiar with the intricacies of canon law – “I’m not up on the ins and outs of what Catholicism does and doesn’t allow,” he concedes – but as co-creator of Father Ted, he helped change our perception of the church, from all-wise guardians of morality to institutional bumblers and chancers. On that basis alone, Linehan’s views on the controversy are instructive, no matter his comedic characterisation of the clergy now seems unduly benign.

Linehan is hardly neutral on the proposal to locate the new Dublin maternity facility on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital, owned by the nuns; he has spoken at a protest against the plan. He is sceptical about promises to respect clinical independence. “You can’t afford to take their word for it,” he says, adding that “the church has its tentacles everywhere”.

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