Religious order exits healthcare as part of deal paving way for NMH to proceed

Religious Sisters of Charity transfers ownership of Elm Park land to trust

The Religious Sisters of Charity have declared their departure from healthcare after more than two centuries, in a move to clear the way for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to be built at the Elm Park site in Dublin.

The nuns have transferred their shareholding in the company that owns land for new NMH and three hospitals to a charitable trust, a key step in the long-delayed process that has been mired in controversy for years.

Their interest in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group – which owns St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Vincent’s Private Hospital at Elm Park St Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire – is now held by St Vincent’s Holdings CLG, a not-for-profit company with charitable status which is governed by Irish company law.

“We will have no role in the future of the new independent charity, the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, St Vincent’s Holding CLG or the new National Maternity Hospital,” said Sr Patricia Lenihan, superior general of Religious Sisters of Charity. “Our sisters will continue to work with local communities in Ireland and abroad.”


In a deal under discussion with the Government, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group will lease the NMH site to the State for 299 years. In addition, the hospital’s Health Service Executive licence will incorporate legal measures requiring it to provide all procedures allowed under law in Ireland.


The transfer of the nuns’ interest follows the HSE board’s approval of measures to ensure the independence of the new NMH but the ultimate deal still needs Cabinet approval. Despite the most recent advances in the process, a decision is unlikely when Ministers meet next week.

The NMH project faced persistent claims from critics – long denied by defenders of the project – that a Catholic religious ethos would live on, possibly compromising the hospital’s power to carry out procedures such as termination of pregnancies and sterilisation.

Senior medical figures including NMH master Prof Shane Higgins and three of his predecessors said in February that the deal now on the table includes “unbreakable legal stipulations” to guarantee that all procedures allowed under Irish law will be provided.

In a statement on Thursday, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group said the oversight role of St Vincent’s Holdings CLG reflects “compliance with national and international best practice guidelines on medical ethics and the laws of Ireland”.

James Menton, the chairman, said the transfer was “very significant for St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and for Ireland’s healthcare sector”.

He added: “The sisters’ role in the development of modern healthcare for Irish people from all walks of life cannot be underestimated and we thank them sincerely for their commitment, dedication and service.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times