Government urged to publish correspondence on hospital site

Labour senator calls for clarity on efforts to purchase new national maternity hospital site

Under the current plans the Religious Sisters of Charity order is to transfer the site for the new national maternity hospital to a charitable entity, St Vincent’s Holdings. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Under the current plans the Religious Sisters of Charity order is to transfer the site for the new national maternity hospital to a charitable entity, St Vincent’s Holdings. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Government has been urged to publish correspondence around its attempts to buy the land the new national maternity hospital will be located on.

Plans to move the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street, Dublin, to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus have been delayed for years amid issues about ownership and religious ethos.

The ownership of the lands on which it would be built has been the source of renewed controversy in recent days. The Government is unhappy with the terms of the deal under which the State would lease the land for the hospital, as well as aspects of the governance of the project. Politicians were told in a private briefing last week that the State had unsuccessfully tried to buy the land.

The St Vincent’s site is owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity, who plan to gift it to a new body which will run the hospital. There were statements on Friday from both the order and the hospital group saying they had never received an offer from the State.

Labour senator Ivana Bacik has called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to release all correspondence relating to any attempts by the State to purchase the site.

“We need clarity about the prospects for public ownership of the land on which the State is now proposing to spend more than €500 million of public money,” she said.

“It has now become clear that in order to address all of our ongoing concerns about governance and ownership of the new national maternity hospital, both building and site must be owned by the State. Nothing else will do.”

Government sources said on Monday that meetings are now being arranged to explore purchasing the land that the hospital will sit on.

Under the current plans the order is to transfer it to a charitable entity linked to the hospital, St Vincent’s Holdings. Campaigners have argued the ownership structure envisaged under this deal could curtail the provision of services prohibited by Catholic teaching.

‘Too cute’

It comes as the religious Sisters of Charity were on Monday accused in the Seanad of “playing it a little bit too cute” in the controversy over whether they were approached to sell the land on which the hospital is due to be built.

Fianna Fáil senator Lisa Chambers said they had been asked via St Vincent’s Holdings and the St Vincent’s Hospital Group. “I think the Sisters of Charity, if I can say this, are playing it a little bit too cute in suggesting that they haven’t been asked to sell the site,” she said.

Raising the issue in the Seanad she called on the nuns and “all those entities in one shape or other who are clearly connected, to do the right thing” and to “sell the land at a reasonable price and remove themselves from all influence either directly or indirectly”.

Green Party senator Pauline O’Reilly called on the religious order to be “responsible”. “They’re not doing themselves any favours in the eyes of the public when they try to change the facts and pretend they’re handing something over to the State when in fact it’s going to another body,” she said.