Harris pledges no ‘religious interference’ in new maternity hospital

Sisters of Charity are making ‘very valuable’ land available to the State for free, says Minister

Minister for Health Simon Harris said the Sisters of Charity would lose out by making “very valuable” land available to the State for free. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Health Simon Harris said the Sisters of Charity would lose out by making “very valuable” land available to the State for free. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has promised key protections against possible “religious interference” will be put in place before the move of the National Maternity Hospital to St Vincent’s goes ahead.

Mr Harris rejected claims that the Sisters of Charity, who will own the new facility through their ownership of St Vincent’s, have been “gifted” the hospital or that they will be running it.

The Sisters of Charity will lose out by making “very valuable” land available to the State for free, he pointed out. “In doing so, they have foregone the opportunity to put this land to alternative use.”

While acknowledging “legitimate questions and opinions” have been voiced since it emerged that the Sisters of Charity would own the new €300 million hospital, Mr Harris said he was committed to protecting to “absolutely protecting” public health policy, taxpayers’ money and the State.

“Let me very clear: there will be no financial gain to any religious order from the development of this hospital. Legal arrangements will be put in place which will 100 per cent protect the State’s investment and interest in the new hospital.”

The build could only be used for the defined purpose of providing public maternity, gynaecological and neonatal services, he said.

“Robust contractual arrangements must be put in place to make sure that this is a reality.”

Mr Harris said he has told HSE director general Tony O’Brien three specific criteria must be adhered to before any contact are entered into.

These relate to the development of a hospital that is in line with best international practice for maternity hospitals; the provision of clinical, operational and financial independence “with no question of religious interference” and a role for the Minister to guarantee this; and the protection of the State’s financial and public health interest.

Referring to the Sister of Charity’s failure to pay its full commitment to the redress scheme for survivors of institutional abuse, he said redress was “extremely important” but it was wrong to conflate this with the decision to build the “desperately needed” new maternity hospital.

“We need to provide a new National Maternity Hospital. The current buildings are no longer fit for purpose. We need to provide modern healthcare facilities for the women and infants of Ireland. We will protect the Mastership model.

“We need to ensure patients attending the National Maternity Hospital have immediate access to theatres, high dependency and intensive care provision in an acute adult hospital if the need arises. That is what I intend to do, while absolutely protecting, public health policy, taxpayers’ money and the State.”