Maternity hospital standoff may see last-minute breakthrough
Government hopeful of deal with hospitals on new facility ahead of year-end deadline
St Vincent’s University Hospital in south Dublin, site of the proposed new National Maternity Hospital. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
After a stand-off in recent weeks which threatened the future of the proposed new national maternity hospital, the Government believes it can reach agreement with Holles Street and St Vincent’s hospitals to allow the project commence before the end of the year.
A new agreement to allow for the development of the long-planned maternity hospital is expected to involve the new €300 million facility being leased by the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to the Health Service Executive for 99 years.
The HSE would pay a nominal rent to the St Vincent’s Group, possibly about €10 a year.
The future of the planned development has been under threat in recent weeks as a result of a stand-off between the Minister for Health Simon Harris, the existing National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, and St Vincent’s University Hospital over Government proposals for a new public interest director on the board of the planned operating company.
Fears were growing that unless a breakthrough took place over the next three weeks, new EU building rules to come into effect on January 1st for publicly-run facilities would force the hospital to be redesigned, escalating costs, delaying and potentially derailing the entire project.
The hospital was seeking funding from the Government to begin works, but Mr Harris was unwilling to release the money without agreement on the legal and ownership issues.
On Friday night, Mr Harris issued a statement saying his officials and the hospitals “are working extraordinarily hard in ensuring this facility is built, but from my perspective progress on the remaining elements is important in concluding this investment decision”.
However, hospital and political sources suggested that the issues of the public interest director; clarity that there will be no religious influence in the new hospital, and lease agreements which guarantee the State’s interests would likely be agreed over the coming weeks to meet the December 31st deadline. This would allow the funds to be released, and the works to start before the deadline.
A new deal for the development of the facility is also likely to involve significant restructuring of the governance arrangements at the existing National Maternity Hospital.
This is likely to end the arrangement whereby the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin is the chairman of the Holles Street executive committee, although the current archbishop is not actively involved in this position and has suggested this role should be removed.
Meanwhile, a demonstration will take place on Saturday in Dublin calling for public ownership of the new hospital. In a statement issued on Friday, the organisers said that the “recent repeal referendum shows that the current proposal for a new maternity hospital is clearly not acceptable to the Irish people”.
The Labour Party said the new hospital should not be run with any religious ethos, while Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall called for the land at St Vincent’s to be bought by the State before the new hospital was constructed.
But writing in The Irish Times on Saturday, the former HSE chief Tony O’Brien says “paying for land that is available for free is nonsensical”.
The Government and the hospitals say there is no question of religious influence in the new hospital.