State’s plan to buy site of new national maternity hospital thrown into disarray

Government caught off-guard as St Vincent’s Hospital group says it will retain ownership

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the statement from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group has ‘upped the ante to the point where it makes the Government look ridiculous’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the statement from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group has ‘upped the ante to the point where it makes the Government look ridiculous’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

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The State’s attempts to buy the land that the new national maternity hospital will be built on have been thrown into disarray after the St Vincent’s Hospital group insisted it would retain ownership.

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

However, it added that “for the delivery of integrated patient care on the Elm Park Campus, St Vincent’s Hospital Group must retain ownership of the site”.

Political sources said the statement came as a surprise to the Government who were expecting a meeting to happen next week between the various stakeholders during which the purchase of the land would be broached.

A spokesman for the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, said on Tuesday night he “outlined in recent days that he wants to have further engagement with all stakeholders in the NMH project. Minister Donnelly will not be making any further comment on the nature of this engagement until it concludes.”

It is understood Mr Donnelly plans to proceed with the meetings.

Senior Government sources expressed surprise at both the contents of the statement and the timing, given the mooted meeting has not yet happened.

Governance

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

Fintan O'Toole

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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 objections about what they fear is a possible religious influence arising from the proposed governance arrangements.

The Religious Sisters of Charity owns the current site and is planning to transfer the ownership to a new charity.

In its statement, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) 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.”

‘Absolutely astounded’

A number of TDs on Tuesday 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, Micheál Martin, to confirm there would be an urgent full transfer to State ownership.

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

Responding to the statement from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said it has “upped the ante to the point where it makes the Government look ridiculous”.

“It would appear that a compulsory purchase order is the only way this can be sorted out now, and unfortunately that’s going to take some time. I called for a CPO of the site as far back in 2017 but there is no evidence that it was pursued.”

But Mr Martin asked earlier in the Dáil if he was “serious about a CPO? How long do you think that would last?” He added: “We all need to get real now.”

The Government will not object on Wednesday to a motion from the Social Democrats seeking full State ownership of the site.

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