Minister suggests Tallaght could be site for National Maternity Hospital instead – Boylan

Former master of Holles Street says Simon Harris made remark to him in private talk

Peter Boylan, former master of the National Maternity Hospital. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Peter Boylan, former master of the National Maternity Hospital. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

The former master of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) Peter Boylan has said Simon Harris informed him that the new maternity hospital may be located at Tallaght instead of St Vincent’s Hospital.

The plan to relocate the NMH from Holles Street in the city centre to the St Vincent’s campus at Donnybrook has been engulfed in controversy after the State’s attempts to buy the land that it will be built on were publicly rebuffed by the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

Some opposition parties have been calling on the Government to make the land the subject of a compulsory purchase order.

Speaking on RTÉ’s DriveTime programme, Mr Boylan said that last Saturday he had a conversation with the Minister for Higher Education Mr Harris, who was previously the minister for health, where the remarks were made.

“I think the Government are considering a plan B, and let me tell you why I say this. Last Saturday I was out returning from the shops when I bumped into Simon Harris. We discussed the issue of the hospital. He suggested that possibly Tallaght might be an option. That makes me think the Government are considering a plan B.”

He said Tallaght had the space for it.

“The ownership of the land is critical, and everything flows from that. There is no way that the Sisters of Charity will be able to hand over ownership of the land without the permission of the Vatican. The Vatican will not give permission to build a hospital in which abortions will take place.

“In the last few days, everything has changed. This has been going on for years.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said that the “Minister briefly met Dr Boylan while canvassing in Dublin Bay South on Saturday. They had a private discussion and the development of the National Maternity Hospital was discussed. Minister Harris reiterated his view and the Government’s view that the State should own the land and discussed other land the State owned in the city. As it was a private conversation, Minister Harris has no further comment to make.”

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said the comments were extraordinary and said clarity was needed from the Government on what their plans are.

“If we can rewind for a second a digest the full import of what Peter Boylan has said. He said he had a private conversation with a former minister for health, Simon Harris, who essentially said that another option of co-location with Tallaght now should be considered as an alternative at St Vincent’s.

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“We need absolute clarity from the Government, are they serious about a plan B.”

Elsewhere, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told a private meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party that his preference is that the NMH should be on State-owned land.

He said: “ we need to own the hospital, the land and the building we are paying to build.”

He added that all legal medical services offered in this country should be provided there.

Sources said Mr Varadkar told the parliamentary party meeting that there had been two memos to Government on the NMH project in 2017 and 2018.

However, he said these had been updates on the plans not memos requiring Government decisions.

The St Vincent’s Group on Tuesday said it is not willing to sell the land on which the new National Maternity Hospital will be built.
The St Vincent’s Group on Tuesday said it is not willing to sell the land on which the new National Maternity Hospital will be built.

Independence

However, earlier on Wednesday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly signalled it is possible for the NMH to achieve full clinical and operational independence at that St Vincent’s Hospital site in Donnybrook without State ownership of the land.

Mr Donnelly said it was his “preference” that the site be owned by the State but also said that clinical independence was more important.

He criticised the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) for putting up “red lines” on its refusal to transfer the land from its control. But he said his priority was full clinical independence once it moved from Holles Street to the Donnybrook site.

“In operational terms it doesn’t matter who owns the land,” he said.

In addition, Mr Donnelly all but ruled out the Government applying for a compulsory purchase order, as it could take years and would not be good for a “decades-long” collaboration to start in court.

The Programme for Government includes a commitment to acquire the site on behalf of the State but Mr Donnelly’s comments were being received as an acceptance that might not be possible without lengthy litigation.

Catholic ethos

The controversy has arisen over concerns the NMH would be subject to a Catholic ethos, which campaigners and Opposition parties said have continued from the Religious Sisters of Charity through to the SVHG.

In a speech on the motion, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said St Vincent’s Holdings will be obliged to uphold the value and vision of Mother Mary Aikenhead, the founder of the religious order.

“The Government may deny Catholic values will persist at the new hospital, but that is what the corporate structure is designed to facilitate: the continuation of the ethical code of the Religious Sisters of Charity Ireland, not only for the three existing hospitals in the group, but also for the main national maternity hospital.”

All Opposition parties are against the site being under the control of SVHG.

Mr Donnelly said he will meet all the stakeholders involved including the Religious Sisters of Charity and the SVHG, as part of the Government’s efforts to ensure the hospital is built on State-owned land.

The St Vincent’s Group on Tuesday said it is not willing to transfer the land for the new hospital to the State because doing so would impact negatively on the integration of services between the national maternity hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital on the co-located site.

It is understood while the NMH would strongly oppose any move to remove its voluntary status and make the hospital a publicly owned HSE facility.

While the preference of the NMH would be for a publicly owned site for its location, there was significant support among the governors of the NMH for the 2016 agreement brokered by Kieran Mulvey, which would see a long lease of either 99 years or 150 years on the land, with clinical and operational independence for the hospital.

The NMH provides a full range of medical services and interventions, including abortion, sterilisation and tubal ligation and has argued that retaining its voluntary status is essential to ensure continuity of that.