State should take land from orders owing redress money - Minister

John Halligan ‘very unhappy’ with Sisters of Charity maintaining an interest in National Maternity Hospital

Some 200 people gathered outside the Department of Health in protest at the Government’s plans to give ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity.

 

The Government should introduce legislation to allow it to take over lands belonging to religious orders who still owe the State money under the redress scheme, maintains Independent TD and Minister of State John Halligan.

“No religious order should have anything to do with a hospital,” he told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

He was speaking after it emerged that the Department of Health will to give the order sole ownership of the €300 million National Maternity Hospital when it moves from Holles Street to the Elm Park campus, next to St Vincent’s University Hospital.

Mr Halligan said that there had not been any discussion by the Independent Alliance on the issue of the location of the National Maternity Hospital to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus in advance of the agreement.

He said he was very unhappy with the prospect of the Sisters of Charity maintaining an interest in the new hospital.

“The Government should take the land from them and compensate abuse victims.”

When it was pointed out that the Constitution would not allow this, he said that legislation should be brought in to allow that.

He added that he did not feel that the Government should not be involved in any land deal involving a religious order.

Clinical independence

Elsewhere Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher wants safeguards to guarantee the clinical, medical and ethical independence of the National Maternity Hospital when it relocates to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus.

He also wants guarantees on the State’s position with regard to ‘leans’ and agreements on the ownership of the hospital building.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland that the Minister for Health Simon Harris ‘has come late to the table’ by seeking assurances from the HSE this week on ownership.

Such assurances should have been sought much earlier, he said.

When asked if he supported his party leader Micheál Martin’s call for lands and property to be seized from religious orders who have not honoured the redress scheme, Mr Kelleher said that there should be an opportunity for the State to secure land or assets in such circumstances.

He said that if he were Minister he would have insisted that strong legal protections were in place for the State’s investment before a move was agreed.

“I would have insisted that all leans and charges were in place.”

Key Protections

On Thursday Mr Harris has promised key protections against possible “religious interference” will be put in place before the move of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to St Vincent’s hospital goes ahead.

Mr Harris rejected claims 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 would be running it.

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

After a day when Opposition politicians mocked the Minister for “hiding behind tweets” on the issue and 200 people protested outside his department’s Hawkins House offices, he issued a statement saying he would seek new safeguards before the project went ahead.

“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 building can be used only 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.”

Religious objections

However, former NMH master Dr Peter Boylan called on the Minister to ensure ownership does not pass to the Sisters of Charity and changes are made to the structure of the board that will run the new hospital.

Religious objections

Writing in The Irish Times today, Dr Boylan said the board structure currently proposed meant the four members from St Vincent’s would have “fundamental religious objections” to clinical work such as abortion, IVF and gender re-assignment surgery being carried out.roviding public maternity, gynaecological and neonatal services, he said.

“This structure will inevitably create conflict and is not a recipe for a harmonious working relationship at board level.

“Are we seriously expected to believe that if the hospital goes ahead according to the proposed arrangement it will be the only maternity hospital in the world owned by the Catholic Church, and run by a company owned by the Catholic Church, that will allow these procedures? This stretches credibility to breaking point. Indeed it would seem to be naive.”

However, current NMH master Dr Rhona Mahony insisted the nuns would not be running the hospital after it moved to St Vincent’s and it would be “completely independent”.

Responding to Opposition calls for the agreement brokered by mediator Kieran Mulvey to be published, Mr Harris said he wanted the Oireachtas health committee to have the opportunity to discuss the document, and it was unlikely it would be published before then.