Mother and Child Scheme 1950/51 (The Archbishop and Dr. Noel Browne)
In the early 1950s, Noel Browne, the First Inter-Party Government's Minister of Health, – shocked by the absence of ante-natal care for pregnant women, and the resulting infant mortality rates in Ireland – proposed providing free access to health care for mothers and children in a new Mother and Child Scheme. The Archbishop's criticism of the scheme, compounded by political misjudgements by Browne, as well as tensions between Browne and Sean MacBride, his political party leader, and Browne's behaviour towards other ministers, helped pave the way for the government's decision to withdraw the scheme.
In his memoirs published in October 2000, former Minister for Health [1982-87], Barry Desmond launched a strong attack on his former Labour Party colleague, Dr Noel Browne, accusing him of "shamefully" destroying records in the Department of Health to bolster his own political image. Desmond wrote that Noel Browne, a political icon for many, fostered divisions in Irish politics and "led young political radicals on his ego merry-go-round".
In his book 'Finally and In Conclusion', Barry Desmond described Noel Browne as having a "semi-persecuted presence" and said that he was "quite incapable of consistent loyalty to the democratically elected executive of any of the parties he joined." Desmond said that Browne's own memoir, 'Against the Tide' (published in 1986), was "a poisonous denigration of some 90 persons he had come across in his career". He also laid the blame for the collapse of the Mother and Child Scheme with Browne, saying he missed 80 of the 261 cabinet meetings held during his term as Minister for Health.
In 2005 "That Day's Struggle" a memoir by Sean MacBride was finally published. MacBride who died in 1988, had been the leader of Clann na Poblachta, the party to which Noel Browne belonged, when both of them were Ministers in the Inter-Party Government led by John A. Costello. In his memoir, MacBride gives a description of his party colleague that has much in common with that provided by Barry Desmond. He depicts Browne as a destructive, inefficient, irresponsible and childish politician who was bent on fighting with the Catholic Church and bringing down the government of which he was a minister.
Sean MacBride claims that Noel Browne, who was appointed Minister for Health on his first day as a TD in 1948, orchestrated "a systematic effort to pick a row with the bishops" over his Mother and Child Scheme. "He did say . . . 'if I can really pick a row with the Irish hierarchy, I'll be made.'" He also says Browne wouldn't attend cabinet meetings, claiming they were a waste of time. He "manoeuvred himself" into becoming a martyr and because of his "irresponsible" handling of the issue, the Mother and Child scheme failed. MacBride concluded that Noel Browne "definitely decided to bring down the government" and his aim was also to wreck the party of which he was then a senior figure. McBride is not a neutral commentator on Browne; he was a leading member of the government that folded under pressure from the bishops owing to their opposition to the "Mother & Child" scheme.
The fallout from divisions in government did eventually lead to the fall of the inter-party government in 1951. It also led to the demise of Clann na Poblachta.
An unpublished essay by Dr Browne was the main source of John Cooney's allegations (in 1999) that Archbishop McQuaid was a paedophile. It was not the only potentially libelous manuscript penned by Browne. In "Passionate Outsider", John Horgan's biography of Dr Browne published in 2000, Horgan revealed that the PUBLISHED version of Browne's memoir "Against the Tide" did not tell the full story: "No version of the original text is extant but notes of the editing process, contain among other things lists of people who might be expected to sue for libel if Noel Browne's comments about them were published. They included as might be expected Sean McBride, Barry Desmond, May and Justin Keating (two pages about Justin Keating were eventually excised), C.J. Charles Haughey, Garret Fitzgerald and Daniel Morrissey ".
Noel Browne slandered everybody - not just the Archbishop. He got worse over the years but obviously the seeds were there from the very beginning. Note that several of the people referred to by John Horgan were left-wing, liberal or anti-cleric but that didn't protect them from Browne's slanders!