Simon Harris: ‘I am not giving any hospital to the nuns’

Taoiseach, Minister insist no religious ethos in new National Maternity Hospital

Minister for Health Simon Harris has insisted the new maternity hospital will be run according to State law Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris has insisted the new maternity hospital will be run according to State law Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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The Taoiseach and Minister for Health have both insisted there will be no religious ethos in the new National Maternity Hospital and that it will be run on the laws of the land, not Canon law.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris faced questions on what was described by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith as a “cold war” between the Department of Health and the boards of the National Maternity Hospital and the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group over the planned hospital’s ethos and ownership.

The plan to relocate the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street in Dublin to the grounds of St Vincent’s hospital has been in the offing for the past 18 months but negotiations are still ongoing about its ownership, its ethos and the State’s representation on the board of the new facility.

Mr Harris insisted during Dáil health questions that “I am not giving any hospital to the nuns” ahead of a planned march on Saturday from the spire on O’Connell Street by the Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women’s Healthcare.

‘Robust governance’

Mr Harris pointed to a letter in The Irish Times by the outgoing and incoming masters of Holles Street that the new hospital would act in accordance with State law, not Canon law.

He also referred to claims by an anonymous hospital source in media reports that he was “meddling” in the issue and said the public was right to believe the Minister should be concerned that the hospital should have “robust governance” and that the State should have a seat at the table when the board was making decisions.

The Minister said the charitable status of St Vincent’s hospital also had to be sorted since “the nuns have said they are leaving” as well as public ownership.

But during Taoiseach’s questions Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall sharply criticised the Minister over his handling of the issue and described it as “pathetic”.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall has labelled Simon Harris’ handling of the maternity hospital issue as ‘pathetic’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
File photograph: Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall has labelled Simon Harris’ handling of the maternity hospital issue as ‘pathetic’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

She said a private deal had been done between St Vincent’s and Holles Street without any regard to the public interest. The Minister had only belatedly realised St Vincent’s would own and control the hospital and he was now seeking a seeking a public interest director for the board, she claimed.

Ms Shortall asked the Taoiseach to “consider this - a new public hospital funded by the taxpayer, to be operated by public money and the Minister is pleading for one director on the board to protect the public interest”.

She said “apart from the fact that this represents an admission that the Mulvey report (the negotiated agreement between the two hospitals) got it completely wrong, isn’t it really pathetic that the Minister has put himself and indeed taxpayers in this position”.

The Taoiseach told her what the Government was trying to achieve in the ongoing negotiations was State ownership of the hospital and State control of the land.

They also wanted to ensure that the staff would be public servants, that there would not be a religious ethos, that any procedure including any women’s health procedure “that is legal in this State will be provided in the hospitals and that the laws that apply will be those enacted in the Oireachtas, not Canon law.

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