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Big ideas like redress and national hospitals rarely delivered on time

Inside Politics: Maternity Hospital relocation proposed in 2013 but decision delayed again


Good morning,

There is rarely a plan or idea in politics that once devised, isn’t inevitably delayed.

National strategies, redress schemes, new legislation, you name it: even with the best will in the world, big ideas are rarely delivered on time.

No project quite compares to the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH), however. The mooted relocation has been in the works since at least 2013 and yesterday it finally found its way to the Cabinet table. Yet once again, it wasn't to be.

A final decision has now been kicked back for another two weeks.

To say it has been beset by delays and complications would be an understatement. In 2016 industrial relations trouble-shooter Kieran Mulvey was brought in to chart a path forward for governance and ownership.

Despite the fact proposals were made and negotiations continued, the project has remained stalled until whispers in recent weeks that major progress had been made.

One of the biggest concerns from critics, such as former master of the NMH Peter Boylan, has centred around a possible clerical influence arising from St Vincent's traditional Catholic ethos and what this would mean for procedures like terminations.

This is heightened because the Religious Sisters of Charity owned the land which they have transferred to a new entity, St Vincent’s Holdings, which will in turn lease it to the State.

The Sisters have said they will not be involved in any way with the hospitals in the future but campaigners say they want to see any terms attached by the Vatican to the transfer.

The original plan was that the State would lease the land for 99 years with a 50 year extension but last year it emerged that senior politicians were uncomfortable about injecting nearly €1 billion into a hospital that it would not even own.

The Government also wanted more representation on the board which will run the hospital, as well as cast-iron legal guarantees that every procedure legal in the State would be made available to women.

The plan put to Cabinet yesterday was for a 299 year lease and increased State representation on the Board of the new NMH.

In the hours leading up to the meeting TDs and Ministers were being inundated with complaints from the Opposition and queries from the public.

Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and People before Profit-Solidarity amongst others said the documents and terms should have been debated in the Oireachtas before they went anywhere near Cabinet.

And yet go before Cabinet they did, where further unhappiness emerged. A number of those present told the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly that they felt the decision was being rushed and that more time was needed. It was decided instead to "note" the memo and come back to it into two weeks time after giving everyone time to parse the legal documents which were published last night.

The decision to hold off, for the time being, resulted in the unusual spectacle of Donnelly and a range of senior clinicians appearing at a late press conference on Tuesday to talk about a deal that has not yet been agreed.

You could sense that this was supposed to be a big set-piece, but the fizz was gone.

Expect all of this to feature in today’s Dáil debates while the Oireachtas Committee on Health will also consider it next week.

In the meantime, here is our lead detailing exactly what happened in that Cabinet meeting last night.

Here is Harry McGee's report from the late press conference afterwards. and Paul Cullen's analysis.

And we will of course keep you updated on this developing story on irishtimes.com throughout the day.

Cabinet round-up

There were some other big ticket items on the Cabinet agenda, feast your eyes here.

Harry McGee reports on the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris plans to reform the funding of the third-level sector which will be outlined today.

Mr Harris will say that student loans will not form part of the future funding model and the Government will instead commit to a multi-funded model of additional Exchequer investment and employer contributions through the National Training Fund. In that scenario, the upshot will be that "student contributions will be gradually reduced".Cormac McQuinn, Jack Horgan Jones and Harry McGee have the latest on Ukraine and Russia.

They report that a broadcast on Russian state television which showed a mock nuclear attack has been condemned as “very sinister”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was a “very sinister, intimidatory-type tactic by the Russian Federation” and that the broadcaster and the Russian authorities should apologise.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney described it as a "trash video on Russian state TV" and added: "Let's not allow ourselves to be distracted from the real atrocities being committed by Russian Forces in Ukraine by disinformation like this."

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Playbook

Dáil Eireann

Up at 2pm will be Leaders’ Questions, with Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, People Before Profit-Solidarity and the Regional Group asking the questions. After that the Order of Business will be taken before Taoiseach’s Questions at 3.05pm. During Government business there will be a motion to enable Eurojust to collect, preserve and analyse evidence relating to war crimes in Ukraine. At 6.35pm it is time for Private Members’ Business with Sinn Féin bring a motion on the rising cost of rent. At 8.45pm Topical Issues will be taken before the Dáil adjourns at precisely 9.33pm.

Seanad

Commencement Matters begin at 2pm followed by the Order of Business and then at 4.45pm, a debate on The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022. At 6.45pm Private Members’ Business is scheduled with a motion to support the right of Ukraine “to exist as a sovereign, independent state that is free to choose its own political and military alliances following its own legal and constitutional provision”. This is being brought forward by Senators Regina Doherty and all of her Fine Gael colleagues, Senator Lisa Chambers and all Fianna Fáil Senators, Senator Pauline O’Reilly and all Green Party Senators, and Senator Victor Boyhan. The Seanad adjourns at 8.45pm.

Committees

First up at 9.30am is the Select Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment where the Sick Leave Bill 2022 will be discussed and Minister of State Damien English will appear.

The Select Committee on Environment and Climate Action will discuss the circular economy and hear from the Minister of State Ossian Smyth.

Also at 9.30am, the Joint Committee on Health will discuss the now abandoned appointment of the chief medical officer Tony Holohan to Trinity College. The secretary general Robert Watt will appear as will Mr Holohan.

At 1.30pm the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications will discuss the transport strategy for the Greater Dublin region with representatives from the National Transport Authority (NTA), Dublin Bus as well as representatives from the Dublin Commuter Coalition.

At 5.30pm the Committee on Budgetary Oversight will discuss the Stability Programme Update (SPU) with the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.

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