National Maternity Hospital relocation plan on hold as Ministers express doubts

Ministers seek assurances that all legal healthcare services will be available amid fears over religious ethos

Government plans to approve the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) have been put on hold after Ministers expressed unhappiness at the process and sought further time to consider it.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly brought a memo to Cabinet yesterday regarding the proposed move from Holles Street in Dublin 2 to a site on the St Vincent’s Hospital campus in Dublin 4.

However, some Ministers pushed back and complained that they felt the approval of the decision was being rushed.

Fine Gael Ministers, including Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister of State for Transport Hildegarde Naughton, as well as Green Party Minister Catherine Martin, sought assurances from Mr Donnelly that all legal healthcare services would be available at the hospital.

The project has been mired in controversy for years over concerns about governance and State ownership and also after critics voiced concerns about the influence of Catholic ethos in the new hospital. The Religious Sisters of Charity last week transferred their shareholding in the company that owns the land to a charitable trust, which will then lease it to the State for 299 years.

It is understood that Ms Martin told Cabinet colleagues that she felt the arrangement was being rushed and raised concerns about the framework protecting the State’s investment in the hospital. Sources said Ms McEntee told colleagues there could have been greater advance communication on the issue.

The Attorney General is understood to have expressed satisfaction with the proposals while senior Government figures believe there is “misinformation” that they want to see tackled before the memo comes back before Cabinet in around two weeks.

Mr Donnelly said last night that it was agreed that the Oireachtas and members of the public “would be best served by seeing the details before a final decision is made by Government”. He said the documents relating to the move would be published.

A spokeswoman for St Vincent’s Holdings said that “bespoke governance arrangements protects the clinical, operational and financial independence of the new maternity hospital which will have its own separate service arrangement with the HSE”.

It has also emerged that the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland, who is on the executive committee of the NMH, last week privately expressed concerns about religious ethos.

In a letter to the NMH board’s co-location committee, obtained by The Irish Times through freedom of information requests, Ms Gilliland wrote that she continued to have reservations about whether all gynaecological procedures would be provided at the hospital. She also suggested changes to legal documents but was told by officials that these had already been agreed during a previous meeting.

Her concerns come after two members of the HSE board, Prof Deirdre Madden and Dr Sarah McLoughlin, dissented from a decision to approve the legal documents.

Furthermore, Green Party TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello were among dozens of party members who wrote to the party’s Ministers to “implore” them to block the proposed moved.

Opposition politicians yesterday called on the Government to delay approval of the move before an Oireachtas debate on the matter.