State to have ‘effective ownership’ of maternity hospital land following legal advice

‘It is ownership,’ said the Taoiseach following questions from Mary Lou McDonald

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the 299-year lease for the land at the proposed new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) is "effective ownership" and has received legal advice in this respect.

Mr Martin said there was no clear indication as to what the difference was between the proposed lease versus freehold ownership or how the lease would "materially impact" upon the operational, clinical or financial independence of the hospital.

The Taoiseach was addressing Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald during Leader’s Questions in the Dáil on Wednesday.

The site of the proposed new hospital at Elm Park in south Dublin was owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity, who transferred its shareholding to a new company, St Vincent's Holdings CLG. The land for the new hospital is to be leased to the State for 299 years at €10 per year.


Ms McDonald pointed to a letter from two members of the HSE board who have restated their concerns about the planned relocation of the hospital.

In a letter to the Oireachtas Committee on Health, Professor Deirdre Madden and Dr Sarah McLoughlin explained why they had dissented from a HSE decision to approve the legal documents for the move.

They said they believed there should be “absolute clarity on the separation of Church and State” notwithstanding the transfer of shares from the Religious Sisters of Charity to St Vincent’s.

“This would be better achieved if the State owned the land on which the hospital will be built”.

Ms McDonald said the concerns raised by Prof Madden and Dr McLoughlin were mirrored by the Opposition, some Government TDs and people right across society.

She said the best way to allay fears and to resolve the problem was to “secure full public ownership of the land” with St Vincent’s healthcare group transferring the land directly to the State”.

“That after all, was the initial promise or undertaking from the Sisters of Charity, and this would provide absolute airtight clarity,” she said.

“It would ensure the best protection of the State’s interests in what will be a very expensive project and it will ensure beyond doubt that it is the State’s health authorities who set the range and the clinical governance for services provided at the hospital.”

The Dublin Central TD said it was "a matter of common sense" and that St Vincent's Holdings group and the Government needed to "step up".

“Through inaction you will be acquiescing and colluding in a deal and arrangement that does not fully protect the public interest,” she added.

In response, Mr Martin said: “The 300-year lease at €10 a year is effective ownership and I have received legal advice to that. It is ownership.”

He said he had read the letter to the Oireachtas Health Committee and that there was "absolute clarity on the separation of Church and State" contained in the new hospital's constitution.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times