New maternity hospital to provide all procedures allowed under Irish law

Legal measures in HSE licence designed to ensure NMH can carry out terminations

The HSE licence for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) will include legal measures requiring it to provide all medical procedures allowed under Irish law, under new proposals to advance the long-delayed €800 million project.

The revised provisions follow recent Government moves to reopen a draft agreement in which the Elm Park site in south Dublin will come under State control for 299 years after its transfer to the NMH from St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

An informed source said the agreement, which has still to go to Cabinet for approval, will be changed to include specific provisions to reflect the fact that procedures at the new hospital will include “anything permissible within Irish law”.

The text of that agreement between the HSE, the NMH and St Vincent’s would then be incorporated directly into the licence under which the hospital will operate. The talks are well advanced and the parties are working towards a final settlement in coming weeks.


Although the plan to move the NMH from Holles Street in central Dublin to the St Vincent’s campus has been in train since 2013, the project has been mired in controversy for years.

The Religious Sisters of Charity are due to transfer the ownership of lands at St Vincent’s to an independent entity, which will lease the new maternity hospital site to the State. But critics have claimed for years that a Catholic religious ethos would live on, possibly compromising the hospital’s power to carry out procedures such as pregnancy termination and sterilisation.

The new measures, confirmed by a second source with direct knowledge of the talks, come after the Government asked the NMH and the St Vincent’s group to consider looking again at the terms in a bid to quell controversy over the deal. “It was reopened to make it more explicit,” the second source said.

“There is language to ensure that the commitment to provide all procedures available within the law is completely clear and that there can be no doubt that it means what it says.”


The agreement will be included in a Government memorandum due soon for consideration by Ministers. Only then will the procurement process begin. Final contracts for the construction of the hospital will be subject to separate Cabinet approval.

The opponents to the move have included Dr Peter Boylan, a former master of the NMH, who has questioned “unverified assurances” about the services the new hospital would provide. The Government has always rejected such claims, saying the new hospital will have operational and clinical independence to deliver all services that are permitted in the State.

However, both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have expressed concern in the past about aspects of the project. Mr Martin has insisted there can be no semblance or even perception of religious influence in the new hospital.

Political concern

The new changes in the draft agreement reflect political concern within the Coalition to have a specific text built into the agreement to enable Ministers to defend the plan against claims that procedures contrary to Catholic teaching won’t be allowed on the site.

“The objective is to close off various issues raised by those concerned about the hospital project,” the second source said.

Still, the text will not set down a list of specific procedures permitted under Irish law.

The reluctance to go down that road reflects anxiety that including such a list might create complications over the introduction of any new procedures that might in the future receive State approval. Any need to update such a list would lead to a reopening of the hospital’s founding documents.

The latest revision comes four months after moves to prolong the hospital lease to 299 years, in effect doubling the duration of an earlier proposal for a 99-year lease with a 50-year extension. Plans were also set in motion at that time to increase the number of public interest directors on the board of the new hospital.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times