Hundreds of people have attended a rally at Leinster House calling on the Government to reject the current plan for developing the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) on privately owned land in favour of a deal that meant the State had full ownership.
Opponents of the plan, set to go before Cabinet for approval on Tuesday, continue to raise concerns about possible external interference in the operation of the hospital despite reassurances from the master of the NMH, the Government and the St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG).
Under the plan, the Sisters of Charity have transferred their shareholding to SVHG, which will lease the land on which it is proposed to building the new NMH for 299 years.
Peter Boylan, a former master of the NMH and a persistent critic of the deal, told the protest it was "folly of the greatest height" for the Government to agree to the deal without seeing all the correspondence between the religious order, the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Vatican.
"I would like to issue a challenge to the Catholic Church to confirm that they have agreed the transfer of the sisters' assets for the building of a hospital in Dublin which will facilitate procedures which are directly contrary to Catholic teaching.
“I won’t be holding my breath. Their [the Vatican’s] technique is to say nothing, to deny, to block, to issue obfuscating comments and statements and so on. It is a well worn path. They have been at it for 2,000 years,” he told the crowd of approximately 1,000 people.
The current master Shane Higgins said this week he was "alarmed by the combination of emotive misinformation and misunderstanding that prevails" in discussions about the new hospital.
At a press briefing on Friday, Mr Higgins restated that there would be no religious ethos in the new NMH.
“We don’t believe there will be any impact on the services we provide through any Catholic ethos, or any other ethos for that matter.”
Government sources confirmed that work is under way on a legal codicil which would clarify a statement in the documents that says procedures would be available in the hospital where “clinically appropriate and legally permissible”.
Mr Higgins said NMH would support either defining the term “clinically appropriate” or removing it.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Saturday the Government owed it to the women of Ireland now and in the future, and to newborn babies, to get the NMH built.
There already was clarity in place in terms of what legally permissible services would be available at the hospital, he added. The operating licence from the HSE to the hospital “gives that guarantee”, he said.
In addition, “the constitution of the hospital is very strong in relation to ensuring without any question that all legally permissible services will be available in the hospital”.
Earlier, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris suggested the additional codicil would be "welcome" as a way of reassuring opponents.
He said the recent debate about the ownership of the site “has been very useful” in airing issues surrounding the agreement between the hospital owners St Vincent’s Holdings CLG and the State.
Asked whether such a legal codicil should be added to the agreement, Mr Harris said any further clarifications and assurances that the Government could provide would be welcome.
Speaking in Dublin on Saturday, Mr Harris said: “I think the Government will reflect now on all of the important issues that people have raised, particularly that phrase ‘clinically appropriate’.
“It was always a phrase that was meant to show that the National Maternity Hospital would be just that – a maternity hospital. But I think any additional clarifications or assurances that the Government can provide when it makes a decision on Tuesday would be welcomed by many.
“The Government is listening, the Government will reflect. I want to see this project progress, I really do, and I expect a decision to be made on Tuesday. We will reflect between now and then on how we can provide the highest level of assurance possible.”
On Friday, Green Party Minister Catherine Martin gave her backing to the relocation of the new NMH for the first time.
In a statement, Ms Martin said she had received reassurances from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, the NMH, the HSE as well as SVHG.
In a letter sent to Ms Martin by St Vincent's Hospital, the chair, James Menton, confirmed in writing that the following procedures would be available in the new NMH: "Termination of pregnancy, voluntarily sterilisation (tubal ligation), gender affirming care, fertility and assisted human reproduction treatments."