St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and State struggled to agree on land ownership in 2017

Hospital project has been beset by delays amid concerns about site ownership and potential religious influence over new facility

An argument that the State should own the land that the new national maternity hospital will be built on was rejected by the board running St Vincent’s Hospital, newly released correspondence shows.

The National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street has been due to relocate to the St Vincent's campus at Elm Park in Dublin, but the project has been beset by delays amid concerns about ownership and potential religious influence over the new facility.

The issue was reignited recently as the Government said the State should ideally own the land the hospital would be built on after Opposition politicians raised concerns about the planned investment of €800 million.

Fresh correspondence released by the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group shows how the hospital group and the State struggled to agree on the ownership issue throughout 2017.

In a letter sent on May 29th, 2017, James Menton, chair of the St Vincent's Hospital Group, said that certain parties had raised the question of ownership of the proposed maternity facility.

“It has been suggested that since construction costs will be covered by public funds the facility should be placed in public ownership, including the land on which it is built,” he said.

“We believe that this argument is not correct in its interpretation of the facts and also that it fails to recognise the extensive protection provided to the State regarding the use of the facility once it is built.”

Care pathways

He said that “any separation of ownership or governance would disrupt the seamless care pathways that are planned for all patients on the enlarged campus, which would lead to concerns over responsibilities and liabilities in each hospital, separation of care teams by hospital and the use of transfer protocols that could cause restrictions or delays on physical movement of patients between hospitals, with increased risk to patients.”

The group said it was for these reasons they could not countenance the sale of the land or separate ownership.

The letter also said that any procedures that are in accordance with law would be allowed in the hospital.

In relation to the transfer by the Religious Sisters of Charity of their land to a new charity, Mr Menton said in the letter that the order had concluded that “the best way to perpetuate the vision and values of their founder is to transfer ownership of the group to a newly-formed company with charitable status, which will not be subject to undue influence by individuals or from any source”.

The founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity was Mary Aikenhead, and campaigners have raised concerns that any attempt to uphold her values could result in a religious ethos being attached to the new charitable company.

Legal mechanisms

In response, the former secretary general of the Department of Health, Jim Breslin, outlined a series of legal mechanisms that were favoured. These included an outright site transfer, a long lease or mortgage, or an option to purchase.

Responding the following month, Mr Menton said that none of the four options were in keeping with previous agreements, but he proposed a “bespoke” licensing arrangement. Mr Breslin said, however, that there will still issues that had not been adequately addressed.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times