Boylan claims maternity hospital site still under religious control
Outstanding issues need to be resolved before building begins at St Vincent’s site, says Harris
Dr Peter Boylan told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane show on Saturday that the Sisters of Charity who own the site at St Vincent’s hospital had not yet received permission from the Vatican to change its status to a secular structure. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that all outstanding issues about the National Maternity Hospital have to be resolved before substantial building work begins on the new site.
Former master of the maternity hospital Peter Boylan said on Saturday that the St Vincent’s hospital site was still under religious control.
Dr Boylan told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane show: “The archbishop has been quoted in the Irish Catholic [newspaper] as saying the Sisters [of Charity] have to get permission from the Vatican to alienate the land – that is to transfer ownership of the land and the buildings into a secular structure.”
Dr Boylan said the entire project should be “paused” until agreement had been reached with the Vatican to “alienate” the lands at St Vincent’s.
He said the board of St Vincent’s and the Sisters of Charity, the religious order which owns the land, needed to produce “credible documentary evidence” they had sought and achieved permission from the Vatican to transfer the assets to a new “vehicle”.
He added that if the building of the hospital was completed before the Vatican handed over the land, it could prevent procedures such as IVF, abortions and the prescription of contraception being carried out there.
A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said: “The Minister has been very clear that in advance of the substantive building works commencing, all outstanding issues need to be resolved. He understands work is under way in this regard.”
The spokeswoman added that Mr Harris would only bring the issue back to Government “when this work is completed”.
“The importance of this hospital for the women and children of Ireland is clear and the Minister would like to see progress on outstanding issues as quickly as possible.”
The Department of Health said the St Vincent’s Hospital Group was completing the process in which the Sisters of Charity religious order will withdraw from the group and transfer their shareholding to a new company St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.
In a statement, the department reiterated that the hospital group would lease the site on which the new facility will be built to the department for 99 years. It said “this will allow the State to retain ownership of the new facility”.
The statement also said the hospital’s governance arrangements would be based on the 2016 Mulvey agreement which states that the hospital will have clinical, operational, financial and budgetary independence in the provision of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services.
The Religious Sisters of Charity said in a statement it was confident that the “smooth legal transfer” of its shares in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group from the Religious Sisters of Charity was “imminent”.
“The Archbishop [of Dublin] has approved and recommended our decision to the Vatican for formal sign off. We are confident of a positive outcome shortly. This process has not and should not delay the new hospital project in any way.”
Earlier, Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly called on Mr Harris to clarify who was in charge of the site.
Mr Kelly said that “between all of this in-fighting, the only loser in all of this is the women of Ireland and their children.
“I fully support the remarks of Dr Boylan, that women’s health has to be at the centre of care at the new national maternity hospital.”
“The national maternity hospital must be owned by the State, nothing else will do.”
Mr Kelly also criticised Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, claiming he was “asleep at the wheel” on spending at the national children’s hospital.
He was speaking at the Labour Party’s national conference as ongoing rows about spiralling costs for the hospital intensified after it emerged that the current €1.7 billion price is expected to rise because of further claims from the building contractor.
His party wants to build essential infrastructure but he said it would not be signing blank cheques for the hospital.
He said the children’s hospital was the greatest capital spending scandal he had ever seen and that Ireland’s health system is the “most unbalanced” it has ever been.
“When you hear private hospitals advertising on national radio for people to go to them it actually turns my stomach.”
He said it showed Fine Gael’s ideology and “the inequality that they actually push out there and are happy to oversee”.