The Vatican does not and will have "nothing to do" with the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) should its proposed relocation go ahead, the Taoiseach has said.
Micheál Martin said the agreement regarding the move to a site on the St Vincent’s Hospital campus at Elm Park in Dublin, a 300-year lease at €10 per annum, represented “public ownership by any historic or objective analysis”.
He was addressing concerns raised by Opposition leaders in the Dáil on Wednesday, after the Cabinet decided to delay giving approval to the relocation when it met on Tuesday.
Mr Martin said there was no religious ethos involved in the proposed hospital and "there will not be".
“Our concern primarily right now has to be the establishment of a national maternity hospital to replace a hospital that is not physically fit for purpose in the 21st century and that is my biggest concern, that as we continue to debate on this issue, that women right now are not getting the physical conditions they deserve,” he said.
“Also we have the physical transporting of women with serious complications from one place to another. We have to put that to an end.”
Mr Martin said legitimate concerns had been raised about the move but these were comprehensively addressed “not via rhetoric but via legal guarantees and documents which have been published”.
‘Not fit for purpose’
He said that through the constitution of the new hospital all legally permissible services in the State would be provided to women “today and right into the future”. He said that he wanted to see the long mooted move “done”.
“I do believe that we should get it right but the latest phase of this co-location proposal began in 2013, it is now 2022. How long more do people want to wait? How many more years are women expected to occupy or be in a hospital that’s physically not fit for purpose?” the Taoiseach asked.
He said there were “a lot of conspiracy theories floating about the place” regarding the move, including about potential Vatican influence at the facility.
“The Vatican should have nothing to do with anything to do with healthcare here in terms of public hospitals, has nothing to do with healthcare in terms of this particular maternity hospital and will have nothing to do with it,” Mr Martin said.
“Forget about that, that’s gone, out of the equation, totally. Likewise in terms of any involvement of any religious ethos, out of the question. That’s very clear in the legal documents that underpin this new hospital that will be built.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the €800 million hospital was being funded by taxpayers’ money and that the State should “own the hospital and the ground that the hospital is built on outright”.
“That’s simple common sense. Under your proposal, we will own the building but not the land which will remain in private ownership and that makes absolutely no sense when the state is footing the bill,” she said.
“We need a publicly built maternity hospital on publicly owned land, delivering public healthcare services for women to a standard of excellence.
“Instead what is proposed is a convoluted maze in which the Sisters of Charity have transferred the land to a holdings company that then leases the land to the State. It’s all very messy, unnecessarily so and it’s stoking unease and worry.”
Labour leader Ivana Bacik said concerns around ownership, control and governance at the new NMH remained.
“The key question that everyone is asking is, if this is public ownership in all but name, why don’t we just move to public ownership?” she said.
“If a 299-year lease amounts effectively to State ownership, why don’t we see a gifting of this site to the State so that it is truly and beyond doubt within public ownership, rather than this Byzantine series of legal arrangements.”