The drama of the maternity hospital is an inconvenience to the target audience
A remake of Call the Midwife, the BBC’s heartwarming drama about a group of midwives working in 1960s London, wasn’t such a big hit here.
Call the Solicitor just doesn’t have the same resonance. Revised for Irish consumption, this Dublin-based motherhood drama fails for much of its target audience.
A lot of women have said they really, really want to like it because they’ve waited years for it to happen but, sadly, they’re still not sold on the script.
Then again, the ongoing saga of building a new National Maternity Hospital seems more suited to the scene, containing as it does some of the basic ingredients of classic Irish drama: religion, land, money, nuns, childbirth, politics, law. and strong women.
There’s even an unrelated subplot simmering in the background. About grass.
Back at Leinster House, the leaders’ questions were dominated by concerns over the government’s plan to sign off on the NMH relocation deal on land previously owned by the nuns but now under the control of what Labour’s Ivana Bacik has called “the successor company to a religious association”.
This group will lease the land next to St Vincent’s Hospital for a grain rent of €10 a year for the next 299 years, which an exasperated Micheál Martin says amounts to “property by any other name”.
“But that’s not the case,” replied his interrogators in chorus.
The plot was “offered” to the state, he insisted.
“But it’s not,” they shouted.
“Private interest trumps public good,” said Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, invoking the term “private owner” for good measure. If St Vincent’s Healthcare Group really wants to give the nation a gift, let the company put it straight back into a ‘clean transfer’.
McDonald and Bacik and Bríd Smith of Solidarity-People Before Profit agreed that the legal settlement – which the government intends to sign next week – looks oddly complicated.
“Byzantine” and “labyrinthine,” said Bacik, who is a lawyer.
Micheál was very upset by their response to what he considers to be a great deal for the state and, more importantly, for the women of Ireland. The aging NMH in Holles Street is falling apart and not fit for purpose.
“We have to move !” he told them. Now is not the time to play politics.
Brid was disgusted.
“First of all, Taoiseach, I’m going to ask you to stop. Stop on this side of the House trying to make us believe that we don’t care about motherhood and the reproductive care of women,” a she fumed. It wasn’t, as he wanted to phrase it, doing politics or opposing for opposition’s sake.
Mary Lou was also annoyed, given the harmful influence of religiously motivated politics on women’s health over the decades. “When we raise these issues, we do so out of bitter, bitter experience and the determination that it won’t happen again.”
It didn’t help that Micheál’s general reaction to these very concerned women was to tell them to approach the problem in a more balanced and calm way.
Armed with an abundance of legal advice, the support of an overwhelming majority of medical experts working in Holles Street, and all sorts of assurances (and some rental conditions) from a landlord determined not to sell everything simultaneously giving the appearance of giving everything. , he is determined to conclude this agreement.
The way they were talking “you would honestly believe the government had a hidden, secret agenda”.
Oh, but there is an agenda. Bacik is convinced of this. But it is not piloted by Micheál. She thinks that her good faith is not in question.
“There is clearly an agenda behind the decision not to give the land to the state or sell it at a reduced rate. It’s not a government agenda, it’s not the HSE agenda. But there is an agenda and there is presumably a justification behind the decision of the current owners of the land not to transfer it to the state,” she said. “And that’s the question we’re asking and we don’t have a satisfactory answer.”
That is the problem, and that is why the government’s concerted efforts to assuage the public’s concerns are not entirely successful. No number of press briefings or Twitter marathons or committee appearances by the Minister of Health is going to sweep away those nagging doubts.
Meanwhile, senior lawyers are surfacing with legal opinions everywhere and not all of them are as comforting as the arguments presented by the government.
After “100 years of attacks on women and their health” by institutions run by clerics, women have a right to be suspicious. “There’s a legacy and a history and a bad taste in our mouths,” Smith said.
The complicated legal architecture erected around a simple transfer of land sounds the alarm, argued the Labor leader, and only serves to fuel “doubts about a lingering religious philosophy” at the new motherhood.
“If there is a will to transfer it on a 299-year lease, why not put the deal beyond doubt and provide it to the state in perpetuity?” she asked. “If it’s ownership in all but name, why not put the matter beyond a reasonable doubt?”
The Taoiseach struggled to convince them that there is no ulterior motive behind the structure of the agreement. He urged skeptics to listen to doctors, who say all legal procedures will be carried out at the badly needed new hospital. “I’m advocating that people at least read the documentation.”
He can’t force St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to sell them the land. “If people don’t want to hand over ownership, they don’t want to hand over ownership.”
Bríd Smith intervened immediately. “Why?”
Maybe even now, at this late date, the company that ran what was once the nun’s business will reconsider. Put them around the table, urged Mary Lou McDonald, and convince them to sell the land to the state.
“And in one fell swoop, all problems will be solved.”
The Taoiseach says his government is determined to get this new hospital built and opened. The planning has been too long and it must be done. Listen to the doctors, he said. Listen to Fergus Finlay, former Labor Councilor, who sits on the HSE Board. Everything is in order. Ignore the misinformation, you’ll be fine.
It’s like all talk about the deal requiring Vatican approval. It never happened because it was never a requirement. But the nuns, passing the baton to the new company, still checked with the bosses in Rome, and the guys still gave their approval.
Here is a thought. What if the Vatican had said “No”?
Let’s hope the Taoiseach, whose motives are in the right place and beyond doubt, is right.