Green TD Neasa Hourigan set to vote against Government on NMH

Coalition TD says she wants to ‘formally register objection’ in wake of Cabinet approval

The Government may face the renewed risk of losing a TD on Wednesday during a vote on the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital.

The prospect of TDs voting against the Government in the wake of Cabinet approval for the controversial move appeared to have receded as the Coalition indicated it would not oppose a Sinn Féin Dáil motion calling for public ownership of the site.

However, the Rural Independent Group opposed the Sinn Féin motion and called for a vote on Wednesday night. If 10 TDs call for a vote on Wednesday evening, the full house must vote on the Sinn Féin motion.

It raises fresh doubts over the future of Dublin Central Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan, who on Tuesday evening indicated that she will vote with the Opposition.

“Although the Sinn Féin motion is not binding, I will be supporting the motion in order to formally register my objection to the National Maternity Hospital proceeding in its current format.”

Her party colleague, Dublin South Central TD Patrick Costello, was also sharply critical of the Cabinet decision, but his voting intentions could not be ascertained on Tuesday evening.

“I need to take some time to reflect on this,” he said on Tuesday night. “Voting against the whip and voting against the Government is not something a Government TD should be doing lightly so I need to take some time to reflect on my vote and the consequences of that,” he told the Tonight Show on Virgin Media.

He reiterated his view that the Cabinet decision was the wrong one. “This is an important issue to me and part of it is about weighing up the consequences of the choice that I make next”

“By tomorrow I’ll have to decide because when the bell goes you can’t avoid that... there is a reckoning coming and I have to decide.”

It is understood the Green Party will wait until the result of any vote before deciding what to do if deputies do not vote with the Government. The Government has two choices , it can either abstain or vote against the motion, and face the prospect of some of its own deputies voting against it, and potentially losing the whip , or vote with Sinn Féin, and effectively against a Cabinet decision taken a little more than 24 hours previously, albeit on a non-binding basis.

The relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) from Holles St in Dublin to St Vincent’s was on Tuesday approved by Cabinet.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said a clarification on the phrase “clinically appropriate” was added to the Cabinet memo.

The clarification in the memo, seen by the Irish Times, states that the Cabinet agrees that “the term ‘clinically appropriate’ allows the new hospital to provide all legally permissible procedures in the areas of maternity, gynaecology, obstetrics, neonatology, and gender recognition; and that it is not expected that the new NMH will provide cardiac or orthopaedic surgery, for example.”

Mr Donnelly said the Government now intends to expedite the process around building the new hospital after previous tendering processes for other hospitals took up to two years.

Minister for Public Expendtiure Michael McGrath told Cabinet that the project could come back to Government for approval of the business case - a vital next step in the process - by July.

However, he warned that any temptation to bypass oversight procedures introduced in the wake of the overspending on the National Children’s Hospital must be resisted. He is understood to have told Xabinet that external oversight processes regarding the business case can be run in tandem with preparations for the tender, and that both could be ready by mid-summer. Previously, Mr Donnelly had sought leeway for the hospital on official rules governing spending on large capital projects.

In April, the Religious Sisters of Charity transferred its shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) to another entity, St Vincent’s Holdings, which will lease the land on which it is proposed to building the new NMH for 299 years.

There are fears in some quarters that potential lingering religious influence could mean abortions or fertility treatment would not be allowed to take place at the new hospital. Questions have also been raised about why the land is not being sold or gifted to the State.

Such concerns have been dismissed by the Government and the hospital’s supporters in the medical community.