Catherine Martin open to approving NMH plan if unchanged after scrutiny

Donnelly says new hospital will be fully operationally and clinically independent

A senior Minister who raised concern over the plans to move the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) has said she is open to approving the arrangements as they currently stand, once the matter has been scrutinised by TDs and Senators.

Green Party Minister Catherine Martin said the "absolute clinical independence" of the NMH must be "crystal clear, rock solid" and she welcomed plans for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to go before the Oireachtas Health Committee to brief members on the plan.

She indicated that if the plans for the NMH move were brought back to Cabinet unchanged after it underwent scrutiny by the committee then she would “of course” approve it.

Plans to approve the relocation of the NMH from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus have been put on hold for two weeks after a number of Ministers, including Ms Martin, expressed concern over the process.

The hospital project has been mired in controversy for years over concerns about governance and State ownership and also after critics voiced concerns about the potential influence of Catholic ethos in the new hospital.

The Religious Sisters of Charity last week transferred their shareholding in the company that owns the land where the hospital will be built to a charitable trust, which will then lease it to the State for 299 years.

Documents related to the deal have now been published and Mr Donnelly intends to bring the proposal back to Cabinet for approval in two weeks.

Mr Donnelly has said the new hospital would be fully operationally independent, clinically independent and would provide all services legally permitted in the country including termination, tubal ligation, gender reassignment and reproductive assistance.

‘Rock solid’

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday Ms Martin said “transparency is really key”.

“For me of paramount importance is that the absolute clinic clinical independence of the National Maternity Hospital is crystal clear, rock solid.

“And also that you know absolutely that all procedures and all treatments and that should be provided in a state-of-the-art maternity hospital are provided in the National Maternity Hospital.”

Asked if she wanted to see changes to the arrangement, she said: “I do believe a number of safeguards have been put in place but all safeguards need to be examined”.

She said the State investment in the project must be protected.

Earlier, Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik called for the State to issue a Compulsory Purchase Order for the land on which the new National Maternity Hospital will be built.

She said under the current agreement a public hospital was to be built on private land and she asked why ownership of the site was not vested in the State?

Documents released by Mr Donnelly on Tuesday night had raised concerns, especially two clauses which referred to provision of services that were “clinically appropriate” and legally permitted.

“Why is that phrase there?” asked Ms Bacik.

There should be clarity on the Minister’s “golden share” and the necessity for it in the agreement (if services are not being provided the Minister can intervene). “Why can’t there be a CPO to transfer the land to public ownership?”

Earlier, Mr Donnelly said “nobody is wrong to raise concerns” about the ownership of the new NMH, after the Government delayed approving its relocation to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus.

He said the NMH had to move as conditions in the hospital were not fit for purpose, Mr Donnelly told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

“In Holles Street right now we have women in 14-bed wards, wards that have insufficient toilet and shower facilities, we have women in labour queuing in public corridors to get access to toilets ... It’s simply not something we can stand over,” he said.

Mr Donnelly said that the new hospital would be fully operationally independent and there would be no representative of the religious order on the board of the new hospital.

When asked about the opinion of the Vatican on the transfer of the land from the religious order, the Minister said the "Vatican had nothing to do with the transfer".

Under a 2016 agreement there was a legal structure created involving two voluntary hospitals and the State to create a world class health campus, he said. “It’s a complex structure, that’s why we wanted to publish the documentation,” he said.