Donnelly not ruling out changes to proposals on relocation of NMH

Minister considering options including clarification of ‘clinically appropriate’, says source

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said he is not ruling out changes to proposals around the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) when a memo is brought back to Cabinet.

Mr Donnelly was asked by the Oireachtas Committee on Health on Wednesday to delay bringing a memo to Cabinet next week to allow for further time to consider the matter but it is understood the Government, at present, intends to press ahead.

While Taoiseach Micheál Martin and other Ministers have also indicated that legal changes to the plans to relocate the hospital from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s campus are not to be considered, a source said the Minister is considering what options he has including around clarifying what the phrase “clinically appropriate” means precisely.

Opposition and Government TDs want an addendum to legal documents, while Mr Donnelly has also offered to send a detailed clarification to the committee.

At the committee on Wednesday, Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said she did not think correspondence between Mr Donnelly and the committee "is something that in 200 years or 150 years could be laid before a court as legally binding."

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane asked Mr Donnelly if there would be any fresh discussions with St Vincent's, given recent concerns.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Mr Donnelly replied.

Mr Donnelly was also asked why St Vincent’s do not simply gift the land to the State. “They were asked by this Government and the previous government,” he replied. “They have been consistent for the last nine years that it is simply not something that has ever been on the table for them.”

The site of the proposed new hospital was owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity, who have transferred their shareholding to a new company, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG. The land for the new hospital is to be leased to the State for 299 years.

In his opening remarks, Mr Donnelly said the new NMH will be “fully clinically, operationally and financially independent. It will have its own constitution and its own operating license with the HSE.

“All procedures that are currently carried out in the NMH in Holles Street will be provided in the new NMH. This includes terminations, tubal ligations and gender affirming procedures.”

Potential religious influence

Former master of the NMH Rhona Mahony told the committee she was "absolutely not" worried about any potential religious influence and that there were layers of protection in the legal documents.

Questions were also raised after it emerged that St Vincent’s will be providing some services in the new maternity hospital.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall asked Mr Donnelly about the phrase “clinically appropriate” and about briefings to politicians which said St Vincent’s would provide some services on the NMH.

Mr Donnelly said that “as part of the building, some existing services in St Vincent’s are being displaced so they are being accommodated in the new works.”

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the NMH decision "should not be put off forever", adding that "proceedings on the issue between now and next Tuesday will be closely followed."

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times