I notice that most of the reports here are mostly negative, so I would like to share my good story. There is severe overcrowding in Dublin maternity units, which contributes to the problems many people have mentioned here. Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda (just north of Dublin) has a midwife led unit and is more progressive than Dublin hospitals. Also, don't miss Tracy Donegan's The Better Birth Book. She is a great resource for everything related to positive birth in Ireland! www.doulaireland.com
for the book and/or her gentle birth classes. I did her class and it was very helpful.
Anyway, I had my baby as a public patient in Letterkenny General Hospital and had a great experience there. I had combined care with my GP and the hospital clinic (midwives and consultants (obstetricians), you always see different ones). They don't see you in the hospital clinic until about 20 weeks. It's very low key. They don't weigh you or do a lot of tests they do in some other places. They do basic blood tests twice and quick ultrasound scans at a lot of the visits, but again nothing major. They don't tell you the sex of the baby, for example. They don't do the triple-test or nuchal fold test (for chromosomal abnormalities) either, but you can have these done privately in Dublin or Belfast if you want. Basically, they check the basics and concentrate a lot on asking you how you're feeling. I also went to antenatal classes at my local health centre. All of these were good to excellent. I rarely had to wait in the clinic and never for the GP.
With regards to the labour and birth, what I experienced was much more expectant management (natural) than active management (time limits, induction, oxytocin drip, etc.). I didn't want to be induced and the consultant was happy enough to let me go over 42 weeks (I had my baby before though). In the maternity unit, all the midwives were excellent and very supportive of my desire to have a natural birth. That said, they also offered the epidural, so if that's what you want, it seemed that you could get it on a Monday morning. You can also have gas and air and/or pethidine. They have birth balls and beanbags and you can move around and eat/drink, do basically whatever you want. All of the new labour suites (no more labouring with other women!) have private bathrooms, some with tubs, so ask if you want a tub. Everything was very clean. My midwife suggested positions and breathing techniques but was very relaxed. She was there the whole time, but very relaxed and let me be at peace mainly. There was never any question of episiotomy. You can deliver in the position of your choice. A young doctor was called for second-stage, but she just observed.
The only thing I didn't like was that you can only have one person with you at a time. I had my mother and husband alternate, but I didn't think it was ideal.
You stay in the labour suite with your baby for a little while. They do Apgar scores and dress the baby, but they don't wash him or anything. You get to hold him right away and they suggest you put him on the breast too. They also bring you toast and tea/coffee, which is super! You can have a shower there. Then you walk or roll (your choice) to the postnatal ward, where there can be up to 6 women and their babies. You have your own bed/table/chair separated by curtains from the others. This may sound insane, but it is OK, very fun to see the other babies and meet the mothers. I got your first meal in bed, and then you get up to go to the dining room with all the other mothers at meal times. Your baby stays with you all the time and you take care of him, but you have a lot of help from the midwives and even classes about how to change/bathe/calm baby. They seemed especially keen to help breastfeeding mothers and told me to ring the bell anytime I needed help. I did and they really came and were helpful every time. Women who had had a section obviously had meals brought to them and more help.
In terms of material comforts, it may be less than what you are used to. You have to bring your urine to the clinic and take it away too as they don't have disposal facilities. You bring in your own clothes and towels and sheets for the baby, many other things too. They give you a list. In the end it is more hygienic for you to have your own things and it saves money for the public health system. In the post-natal ward, you do share a bathroom and it is usually clean. There are always cleaners around trying to keep the place as clean as possible. Everyone is lovely and pleasant and treated me and baby with a lot of care and respect.
I had a normal delivery and stayed 3 nights but could have stayed more if I'd wanted to. After you go home the public health nurse comes out to your house to check on you and baby, a few times during the first week and once a week for 6 weeks or so. This is excellent as a lot of them are midwives and you can ask whatever questions you might have.