The issue of the ownership and governance of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) dominated Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil again on Thursday, with the Opposition grilling Government on the terms of the proposed 299 year lease. There are now questions being asked about legal stipulations that the much-heralded €10 a year rent could actually be hiked up to €850,000.
Q: What is the context for these new concerns?
The current NMH in Holles Street is due to relocate to the St Vincent’s campus but there has been controversy over the fact that the State will not own the land outright. The issue has been compounded by the fact that the land was owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity who have transferred their shareholding to a new company with charitable status, and this company, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG, will lease it to the State for 299 years. Earlier this week the Health Service Executive released legal documents governing the move, including the terms of that lease
Q: What do those documents say on ownership and leasing A: The documents don't, as you might expect, lend themselves to an easy read.
Among the legalese, however, is an undertaking that the average rent will be €10 per year as long as six conditions are met.
Q: What are the six? A: Before we get into that, St Vincent's Healthcare Group will be the landlord and the HSE will be tenant for the purposes of this lease.
The conditions are:
- The first proviso for the €10 rent remaining will be that the HSE or any other State health authority must remain as tenant;
- The second is that the HSE does not transfer the lease to another person;
- The third is that there is no change to the intended use of the land, that is, a hospital;
- The fourth is it should be used for public health service provision;
- The fifth is that the HSE does not abandon use of the premises;
- And the sixth is that the HSE does not attempt to acquire St Vincent's interest, which, it is understood, includes the State or HSE trying to acquire the freehold.
Q: What are the politicians saying? A: Opposition politicians have firstly questioned why the State can't buy the land, why St Vincent's won't sell it, why the land can't be gifted to the State forever. And if none of this can happen, why the State can't serve a CPO [Compulsory Purchase Order] for the land. Many Opposition politicians believe a €1 billion State-run maternity hospital should exist on State land.
As they were poring over the legal documents they found the €850,000 yearly rent provision. Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall described it on Thursday as a “punitive penalty clause”. She said Taoiseach Micheál Martin made a “big deal” of the €10 rent clause and wants to know why this was not referenced. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan defended the deal and said the lease is akin to ownership, but the Opposition are not buying it.