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Debate around NMH may be hot topic but deal is done

Inside Politics: Approval delayed to allow for debate but no legal changes contemplated

Good morning,

The debate around the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital may be a hot topic politically but the message from Government is that the deal will be done when the debate has been had.

Cabinet may have withheld approval for the memo brought by Stephen Donnelly on Tuesday, but as Pat Leahy reports on the front page today, Ministers and officials fully intend on proceeding at pace.The decision to delay approval for two weeks was taken to allow for a debate on the outstanding issues raised by campaigners and critics, but no legal changes are contemplated.

In other words, the Government wants to take the defuse the controversy with reassurances and explanations.

For the next two weeks you can expect to hear a lot about canon law, perceived religious ethos and the pros and cons of the State owning or not owning the land on which the hospital will be built on.

Speaking outside Arbour Hill church yesterday afternoon, Mr Donnelly came out swinging and said there are no issues in relation to Vatican approval for the transfer of land from the Religious Sisters of Charity to a new charitable company.

He also said that State ownership of the land is a “red herring” and that it is untrue to say that doctors, and not women, will decide what is clinically appropriate for them in terms of procedures ie that abortions will only be carried out if “clinically appropriate”.

Here is a Q&A breaking down some of the main issues at hand.

Regardless of what the Government may want, the questions persist.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald had her say last night and urged Cabinet to go back to the drawing board specifically in relation to ownership.

“The Taoiseach keeps saying that the lease will only cost €10 a year, but this does not change the fact the new hospital will have a private landlord. This is madness when the taxpayer is footing the bill,” she said

“The question has to be asked why the Sisters of Charity doesn’t simply gift the land to the state? Why is the government accepting this convoluted, messy ownership model that is stoking uneasiness and worry?” she added.

When Mr Donnelly was asked by The Irish Times yesterday why the land is not just gifted to the State forever, rather than for 299 years, he said, referring to negotiations between the various parties and St Vincent’s, “they didn’t want to, they didn’t want to”.

He also seemed to suggest the land could indeed be bought but questioned the cost of that.

As Harry McGee reports today from the parliamentary party meetings last night, Mr Donnelly said a compulsory purchase order was considered but was ruled out on legal terms. Taoiseach Micheál Martin also gave a strong contribution where he echoed earlier comments from Mr Donnelly that the Vatican has no say in what happens in the new hospital.

This story will rumble on for at least another two weeks, and then some, if recent and not-so-recent history is anything to go by.

Another historic election?

The day has come for what has repeatedly been described as the most important election in a generation, as voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls.

For the first time in the history of Northern Ireland, a nationalist could be elected to the top job in Government.

As Freya McClements reports today polling suggests Sinn Féin is on course to secure the greatest number of seats in the Stormont Assembly and therefore the position of First Minister.

Will an Executive be formed after the election? Will the DUP take the role of Deputy First Minister? Will there be another election? And what does this mean for all-island politics, with Sinn Féin potentially in the driving seat?

McClements writes that the campaign has “generally been characterised as lacklustre and low-key” while “all parties have sought to emphasise bread-and-butter issues over constitutional ones, with a focus on the cost-of-living crisis and the need to reform the health service”.

Voting began at 7am and finishes at 10pm.

Keep a close eye on irishtimes.com throughout the day for the latest coverage.

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Playbook

Dáil Éireann

The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (whew) Catherine Martin will take questions on her brief at 9am followed by questions for the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien at 10.30am. Leaders’ Questions are up at noon followed by questions about promised legislation.

At 1.44pm Government Business will be taken with statements on the response to accommodation needs for those fleeing Ukraine. And just when you thought the turf wars story was going quiet, the Independent Group will bring forward a motion in relation to the sale and supply of turf regulations. Topical Issues are scheduled for 7.14pm and the Dáil adjourns at 8.02pm.

You can find the detailed agenda here.

Seanad

Proceedings kick off at 10.30am with Commencement Matters followed by the Order of Business at noon. After this will be a motion about the collection of information relating to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ukraine. The Seanad will adjourn at 2.15pm and you can read a more detailed schedule here.

Committees

There is a busy day ahead in the committee rooms.

The Joint Committee on Gender Equality meets at 9am to discuss recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly in relation to norms, stereotypes and education. The Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris will appear.

At 9.30am the Joint Committee on International Surrogacy will discuss the issues faced by same sex couples, both male and female, entering international surrogacy arrangements and achieving parental recognition. The committee will hear from solicitor Fiona Duffy, representatives from Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI) and representatives from LGBT Ireland

The Public Accounts Committee meets at 9.30am to discuss exchequer returns and the Ireland Apple escrow fund.