Guarantees on National Maternity Hospital ownership needed, say campaigners

Minister for Health accused of being in 'hiding' over plans for relocation of hospital

Minister for Health  Stephen Donnelly: Plans to relocate the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street in Dublin 2 to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus have been beset by delays. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly: Plans to relocate the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street in Dublin 2 to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus have been beset by delays. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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Women’s health campaigners have accused Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly of being “in hiding” as his department finalises legal plans for the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH).

Opposition and Government TDs, as well as campaigners, are concerned that the hospital might not be fully State-owned and are seeking to meet Mr Donnelly to discuss the matter.

Plans to move the hospital from Holles Street in Dublin 2 to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus have been beset by delays amid concerns about future onwership and religious ethos. It is understood that the legal framework dealing with issues around ownership of the site is nearing finalisation and will be presented to the Government shortly.

Academic and activist Ailbhe Smyth said “cast-iron guarantees” around ownership were needed before any contracts are signed. She called for a full Dáil debate on the terms of the move.

“There must be no grey areas in the ownership or governance of the National Maternity Hospital,” she said, adding that “any small print” should be “made legible”.

Requests for meetings

Ms Smyth said she was keen to see “everything out there and on the table”, but that requests for meetings with the Minister have not been acknowledged.

“One of the major problems we are dealing with is that we have a Minister in hiding.”

The Department of Health did not respond to queries about the matter.

Concerns have been raised about a holding company being established to run St Vincent’s and the new maternity hospital. St Vincent’s Holdings CLG is being set up as the owners of St Vincent’s, the Sisters of Charity, cease involvement with the hospital.

Peter Boylan, former master of the NMH, said the new hospital must not be a subsidiary of the St Vincent’s Hospital Holdings Group “because that is fraught with risk”.

“St Vincent’s Holdings is a private company with a Catholic ethos in its constitution. The risks associated with this for women’s health going forward are immense and I don’t think they are fully appreciated by a lot of people.”

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan previously said in the Dáil that “the core values of the constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings are identical to those of the Sisters of Charity”. Mr Donnelly said last summer that he was advised canon law will not impact on the company.

Political promises

Mr Boylan said that he has written to Mr Donnelly outlining his fears and is awaiting a response. He said political promises were made that the hospital would be State-owned on State land but that “instead St Vincent’s is offering the State no more than a 99-year lease on the land”.

Three members of the Government have joined a cross-party group of Oireachtas TDs set up to lobby Mr Donnelly on the issue. Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart, Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and the Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan were signatories to a letter sent by Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall to Mr Donnelly on April 28th seeking a meeting to discuss the issue of public ownership of the hospital.

In the Dáil last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he accepted “points that have been made about the independence of the new hospital and that all State policies would be followed through without question in the policy of the hospital and the operational working of the hospital”.

Mr Martin said he would revert to Mr Donnelly “with a view first to conveying their views, but also seeking to get a resolution once and for all, because the current situation is not at all optimal in terms of women’s health”.