Controversial cameras needed at children’s hospital ‘to prevent babies being taken’

‘No decision’ made to use Chinese-made facial recognition technology, councillors told

Controversial facial recognition technology is being installed in the new national children’s hospital in order to prevent babies being snatched, local politicians in Dublin has been told.

The special child protection responsibilities of paediatric hospitals was also cited by the chief executive of Children’s Health Ireland as a reason for equipping the new facility at St James’s Hospital with the Chinese-made technology .

Eilísh Hardiman said the hospital’s CCTV system has a built-in capacity to control access by way of facial recognition technology, but that no decision had yet been made to use such technology.

Addressing members of Dublin City Council from the south central area of the city, she said the operator of the hospital took its responsibilities seriously in relation to data protection, people’s privacy, and civil rights issues.


However, children’s hospitals have heightened responsibilities in relation to child protection issues, she emphasised, and there had been instances in the past of babies being taken from hospitals.

Speaking afterwards to The Irish Times, Ms Hardiman said that three per cent of the hospital’s CCTV cameras would have a capacity for facial recognition. These cameras could be used without employing facial recognition software.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has expressed concern the hospital might use Hikvision CCTV cameras with facial recognition technology

The State’s data protection watchdog has said the use of such technology would have to be justified and shown to be proportionate.

The use of Chinese company Hikvision’s technology has been banned in US federal government buildings because of fears of espionage, while the cameras have also been linked to human rights abuses in China.

Ms Hardiman told the councillors that finding enough nurses will be one of the biggest challenges for the new hospital.


Approximately 1,600 nurses will be needed once the €1.4 billion facility becomes operational in three years’ time, and while it is planned to employ new Irish nursing graduates, nurses will also be needed from abroad.

Ms Hardiman said it was envisaged that approximately 4,000 people would be employed at the hospital, including 1,600 nurses and 250 consultants.

A committee was in place to examine the issue of access to the hospital, parking and other matters. The new hospital, which will share a campus with St James Hospital, will have 1,000 underground car parking spaces.

The "frame" of the new hospital will be "pretty much in place" by the end of the year and the building will be ready for being kitted out by 2022, councillors were told by project director, Phelim Devine.

The hospital will be ready for beginning operations in 2023, which was within target.

Mr Devine said the hospital was the largest construction project currently under way in the State. It will have a floor area of 160,00 square metres, whereas the average commercial office development is approximately 20,000 square metres.

Some parts of the development are already three storeys high, while three below ground level floors have also been constructed on the site.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent