Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that concerns about the ownership agreement over the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) have been “comprehensively addressed”.
Government is planning to press ahead with the plans to co-locate at the St Vincent’s Hospital site in Dublin, he added.
Mr Martin told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland tha,t in his view, the current hospital was not fit for purpose and plans for the new hospital were a significant advance.
The proposal to co-locate at St Vincent’s had been agreed by experts 20 years ago, he said.
Fears on ownership had been comprehensively addressed through the constitution of the new hospital, which would be obliged to carry out all procedures that are legal in the State.
The new hospital will be “more secular” than the current hospital, which was already carrying out all these procedures, and the Minister for Health would also have the power to instruct the hospital to provide such services, he added.
Meanwhile, two Cabinet members who raised concerns about the plans to move the NMH to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus defended the project over the weekend.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton were among Fine Gael and Green Ministers who last week sought assurances from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly that all legal healthcare services would be available at the hospital.
The new NMH will be located on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, which was formerly run by the the Religious Sisters of Charity. The order last week transferred its shareholding in the company that owns the land to a charitable trust, which will then lease it to the State for 299 years.
There has been concern expressed by the Opposition and others at the extent of the new hospital’s independence from religious influence, and the impact this could have on the provision of abortions or fertility treatment.
Both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Mr Donnelly have insisted the new hospital will have no religious influence.
Ms Humphreys said at the weekend her concerns had been allayed, and she would back the project.
She said the current location of the NMH at Holles Street had gone past its sell-by-date and it was important to “move this on now as quickly as we can”.
Ms Naughton told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics there will be “clear protections” to ensure the new NMH has complete operational and clinical independence.
She said she knows there are “genuine concerns” by women around maternity services and the provision of care.But she said the leasing arrangement will have “no impact on the provision of clinical, obstetric and gynaecological services”.
“There will be complete operational and clinical independence. The hospital will be in State-ownership, that is absolutely categoric.”
Mr Donnelly brought the proposed deal for the NMH’s move from Holles Street in Dublin to a site on the St Vincent’s site to Cabinet last week. However, plans to approve the project were put on hold for two weeks after a number of Ministers expressed concern.
Mr Donnelly engaged with people on social media over the weekend in multiple posts insisting that the hospital building will be owned by the State and the NMH will be “clinically and operationally independent and obliged to provide all services”.
He is to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Health this Wednesday to face questions on the plans.
The Committee will meet in private on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of holding another meeting this week.
A second meeting would potentially hear from former master of the NMH, Dr Peter Boylan – who is opposed to the move to St Vincent’s as well as supporters of the plan like the current master of Holles Street, Dr Shane Higgins, or former master Dr Rhona Mahony.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall and a member of the Committee on Health said her main concern is that the Government “effectively and inexplicably gifting a publicly-funded hospital to a private entity, and completely contrary to the principles of Sláintecare”.
She told the Irish Times: “There are umpteen outstanding questions about the purpose and nature of this deal in respect of ownership, control and ethos which require to be answered.”