The State has tried everything possible to buy the land the new national maternity hospital will be built on but has failed to do so, Government and Opposition TDs have been told.
Sources said that during a “candid” private briefing on Thursday with Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and officials from his department, politicians were told it has not been possible to buy the south Dublin site, which has led to concerns about safeguarding the public investment in the project.
Plans to move the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus have been delayed for years due to issues about ownership and religious ethos. The site is owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity, who plan to gift it to a new body that will run the hospital.
However, there is growing political disquiet after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil there are “problems” with the project, including around the plan to rent the land as part of a 99-year lease.
He said the site was “not being gifted to the State but to a private charity” and that “we have a difficulty with that. We do not think the safeguards around that are strong enough”.
The Tánaiste also said he had “a difficulty with the governance of the proposed new hospital” because it would not be appointing the board.
“That is a real difficulty because a hospital that is almost fully funded by the State should have a significant number or majority of members of the board appointed by the Government.”
Campaigners have also raised concerns about possible religious influence over the new hospital. Mr Varadkar said “it is an absolute requirement” that the hospital’s constitution “must specify that any procedures and treatments that are legal in the State are available in that hospital”.
“There can be no ambiguity about that and it includes sterilisation, IVF, assisted reproduction and terminations,” he said.
The Social Democrats will bring a motion to the Dáil next Wednesday seeking to ensure that site is bought by the State.
A source who attended Thursday’s meeting with Mr Donnelly said they were more worried than ever about the future of the project. They said it seems the State “cannot square that circle” about the full ownership of the site and in turn the governance.