Government may ask Sisters of Charity to gift land to State

Harris given month to find solution to controversy over ownership of maternity hospital

A senior Government source said it was inevitable the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital  would be changed

A senior Government source said it was inevitable the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital would be changed

 

The Government may ask the Sisters of Charity to gift their land to the State in a bid to defuse the row over the location of the National Maternity Hospital.

Minister for Health Simon Harris briefed the Cabinet on the issue and the controversy surrounding the ownership of the hospital, which is to be built on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital.

Mr Harris told his colleagues the focus of the discussion had been on property and ownership rather than on the mothers and babies that the hospital would care for.

The Minister said he would report back to Cabinet within three weeks on the progress made but was seeking creative solutions.

A senior Government source said it was inevitable the ownership of the hospital would be changed.

It is most likely a long-term lease will be entered into in return for a nominal fee to the Sisters, the source added.

“The consequences of this discussion are significant. If the view is now that everything the State invests in, it must own; that is significant.

“We are looking at all options. We could ask the Sisters to gift the land to the State but realistically a long-term lease is a more likely outcome.”

Mr Harris has asked for a month to come up with a solution that will draw a line under the major public controversy, which has been ongoing since it was disclosed that the Sisters of Charity would retain full ownership of the facility.

It is understood that neither the Government nor officials from the Department of Health have been in contact with representatives of the Sisters of Charity but that will happen in the coming weeks.

Amendment

The Government has also begun consulting with Opposition parties seeking an amendment to a Sinn Féin motion calling for the hospital to be taken entirely into public ownership.

The Private Members’ motion, sponsored by Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, will be debated in the Dáil today.

It calls for guarantees that the new hospital (a replacement for the current facility in Holles Street) be built as quickly as possible, remains entirely within public ownership and has legally guaranteed independence from all non-medical influence in its clinical operations within the laws of the State.

Fine Gael was last night drafting a counter-motion falling short of committing the State to full public ownership of the hospital.

Fianna Fáil has also tabled an amendment to the Sinn Féin motion which is close to the Fine Gael position.

It calls for a guarantee that the “investment of €300 million by the State is reflected in the ownership of the new hospital”. To that end, it proposes that the Government “explore the possibility of a 999-year lease of the property.”

Senior sources from both parties last night indicated they were confident that an agreement could be reached on the counter-motion.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher has also sought written legal assurances of the full clinical independence of the hospital from the influence of any religious ethos.

Sinn Féin last night emphasised it did not want to delay in any way the construction of the new hospital but also insisted that the ownership issue was a fundamental one that needed to be settled in a definitive and clear manner.

Ms O’Reilly said there was a possibility that compromise could be reached on this question among all the parties.

“We would not be open to an amendment to change the substance of the motion,” she said. “If people believe there is an enhancement to be made, we would be amenable to discuss it.”

She pointed out that a compulsory purchase order could be completed quickly if it were not contested.