St Vincent’s says it must retain ownership of National Maternity Hospital site

Statement from group is a blow to Government plans to buy the site in Dublin 4

St Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin. Photograph Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

St Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin. Photograph Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

 

The St Vincent’s Hospital Group (SVHG) has said it must retain ownership of the site that the new National Maternity Hospital will be built on, in a blow to Government plans.

In a statement the group said it is “more than willing” to meet the Government to discuss the relocation of the hospital from Holles Street.

However it added that “for the delivery of integrated patient care on the Elm Park Campus, SVHG must retain ownership of the site”.

The Government has said it wants to buy the land that the new hospital will be located on amid concerns about ownership and religious ethos.

The issue has sparked public controversy in recent days after the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar admitted there were concerns in Government that the new hospital will not be on State owned land and will instead be the subject of a 99 year lease with the option for an extension.

Campaigners have also raised concerns about the governance structures and what they fear is a possible religious influence arising from those arrangements.

In a statement on Tuesday, the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group said it “remains committed” to the new hospital.

“We are aware of renewed public controversy since last Thursday and a planned Dáil debate tomorrow. This hospital is long overdue and we are more than willing to meet with the Government, should it wish to engage with us.”

The group said that “for the avoidance of doubt” the “new National Maternity Hospital will be clinically independent.”

“There will be no religious or Vatican influence.

“All medical procedures, in accordance with the laws of the land, are available in SVHG hospitals, including pregnancy termination, tubal ligation and gender reassignment procedures.”

The group also said that the State’s interests are “protected through the Minister of Health’s ‘Golden Share’, detailed legal agreements and HSE service level agreements.”

Religious ethos

When the controversy over the maternity hospital was raised earlier in the Dáil Taoiseach Micheal Martin reiterated his view that “when the State is investing, the State should own”.

He also said that there had to be stronger public interest on the board of the new hospitals, which under current arrangements would be decided by the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

And he insisted that “there will be no influence by any religious ethos and, in particular, the Catholic church or the Sisters of Charity will have no influence - good, bad or indifferent - whatsoever in terms of this national maternity hospital”.

A number of TDs raised the issue including Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who said her party raised serious concerns about the matter in a motion in 2017 and she was “absolutely astounded” that four years later “we do not have a straight answer from Government in respect of ownership of this new national maternity hospital”.

She called on the Taoiseach to confirm there would be an urgent full transfer to State ownership.

Mr Martin said “I cannot confirm that right now”. He said the Minister for Health had inherited the situation, “a long saga” begun in 2013, and was dealing with it.

Labour leader Alan Kelly called for a three month deadline on negotiations and asked if he agreed with comments by theTanaiste that they may potentially have to look at a new site.

Otherwise “the land will have to be acquired by way of compulsory purchase order (CPO).We have to deal with this one way or the other.”

But Mr Martin asked “are you serious about a CPO? How long do you think that would last?” He added: “We all need to get real now.”

Mr Kelly said it should have been done years ago and he suggested it in 2017.

Mr Martin said “when the State invests, the State should own it from then onwards but that is not where we have arrived at”.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said the Taoiseach “has to get real”. The Taoiseach had insisted governance would not be an issue but currently IVG treatment or sterilisation procedures are not provided at St Vincen’ts hospital.

Mr Martin said there would be stronger public interest representation on the board, the State should own what it is investing in and he insisted there would be no influence “good, bad or indifferent” by any religious ethos.

People Beforee Profit TD Bríd Smith said it was extraordinary that “national discourse” on an issue going on for years had utterly changed.

She called on the Taoiseach to “respond to the statement of Dr. Peter Boylan that this issue is a test of the State’s resolve with regard to who owns critical health infrastructure built with public funds”.

The Taoiseach said “there are certainly issues around the ownership of it and the representation of the State on the board. Those are issues that have to be addressed because of the level of State investment involved and the consequences for accountability as a result of that investment.”

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