Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Religious Orders in Hospitals.

77.

asked the Minister for Health if it is the policy of the Government to retain the religious orders for nursing in hospitals; and if he will make a statement on this matter.

The religious orders engaged in hospital nursing have made most valuable contributions to our health services over the years and I am convinced that in the field of nursing the sick where religious and charitable motivation is so relevant we should seek to ensure that they will continue to play an important role. There is no question of altering the present policy.

I am anxious to give the Minister an opportunity to clarify this situation in the minds of many people. Is the Minister aware of the extent of the anxiety that is spreading amongst religious arising out of the belief which is growing amongst them, that the long-term policy of the Department is designed to remove their authority and their effective functions in their own hospitals, and substitute for them virtually lay control under which they would be required to function under lay direction? May we say to the religious who approach us in that regard that it is the long-term purpose of the Government to ensure the control of hospitals operated by the religious will continue to remain in the hands of the religious?

In general, yes is the answer to that. May I say I was not impressed by Deputy Ryan in replying on the Private Members' motion last week when he sought, in my opinion, to make mischief on this issue which is a very important one? I should like to assure the Deputy and the House, as I said in my reply, that there is no question of altering the present policy in regard to religious orders. One could certainly see over the next 20 years certain changes taking place I hope in the hospital structure generally, as recommended in the Fitzgerald Report. There is not any question, and there will not be any question, of removing from the purview of the sisters or the orders the hospitals they now control. This will continue to be the policy.

I am anxious to help the Minister to clarify the position as it is. Therefore, I venture to ask him if he has used the word "purview" advisedly, or may I reply to inquirers who approach me in this regard by saying that it is no part of Government policy to interfere with the control of the hospitals by the religious who own them as at present operated, subject to whatever agreed adjustments may be made between him and the religious orders concerned?

That is right. That is a completely accurate expression of opinion. If I may say so, I did not use the word "purview" advisedly.

That is an accurate expression of the Minister's opinion?

That is a completely accurate expression of my opinion.

I am obliged to the Minister.