St Vincent’s Healthcare Group says ownership of NMH site is ‘essential’

James Menton tells committee two owners would make it difficult to manage campus

Political Correspondent

The owners of the proposed site for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) have argued that having two landowners and two separate hospitals on the St Vincent's campus would "present significant risks to patient care."

The chairman of St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) James Menton made the remarks at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee Health.

He also told the committee that the April 2022 transfer of the shareholding in SVHG held by the Religious Sisters of Charity (RSC) to another entity called SV Holdings “was the last formal step in reaching the Board’s objective of becoming a truly secular organisation free of any religious influence”.

Critics of the plan to move the NMH from Holles Street to the St Vincent's Hospital Elm Park campus have raised concerns over the potential for lingering religious influence and also over the contentious phrase "clinically appropriate" contained within the agreement underpinning its move to the St Vincent's campus.

Some people have questioned why SVHG has not sold the land to the State or gifted it.

The Government and doctors involved in the relocation have responded to these concerns by pointing to protections in the deal to ensure that all procedures legal in the State can be carried out at the new hospital.

Former Master of the Coombe maternity hospital, Dr Chris Fitzpatrick raised concern over historic Church influence on the State saying: "Seventy one years after the Mother and Child Scheme was rejected, the Cabinet faces another similar decision."

Taxpayers’ money

He told The Irish Times that before Cabinet signs-off on around €1 billion in taxpayers' money for the new NMH, the Government "must insist that all the correspondence between the RSC and the Vatican in relation to this site (and other related documents) be disclosed".

Mr Fitzpatrick also said the Government should call on SVHG “to gift or sell the site to the state in the national interest and in the interest of women.”

Mr Mention explained why SVHG does not want to part with the land in his opening statement to the Committee on Health today.

He said ownership of the Elm Park lands “is essential to ensure the ongoing provision of the best possible care for all patients attending the Elm Park campus wither in SVUH [St Vincent’s University Hospital], SVPH [St Vincent’s Private Hospital] or in the new NMH at Elm Park.

“The SVHG campus is large and complex with many different health and related services on site.

“Two landowners and thus two separate independent hospitals would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to manage the Elm Park campus and would also present significant risks to patient care.”

He added the Mulvey report on the proposed NMH move “noted this important principle in the Mediation Agreement between all three parties.”

Tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting is expected to consider NMH move to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus.

Government approval may stipulate that the contentious phrase in the deal - “clinically appropriate” - be further defined or even deleted from the agreement underpinning the move.

The Irish Times understands such an approach would not stop Cabinet approving the move tomorrow with tendering and final sign-off for the business case of the hospital still outstanding.

Amendment

The legal adviser to the NMH, Alice Murphy said on Monday she has not received any instructions about a codicil or amendment to the constitution of the new hospital.

Ms Murphy, a partner at the firm of Mason, Hayes and Curran, told RTÉ radio's Today with Claire Byrne show such a legal change could happen quite quickly if all three parties involved agreed.

However, Ms Murphy said she was not aware of any plans for a change to the legal documents. She acknowledged that the expression “clinically appropriate” had caused a lot of worry, but pointed out that within the entire clause of the constitution all services must be provided. “I don’t think a codicil is needed,” she added.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall - a critic of the plan to move the NMH - raised concern about the potential for lingering Vatican influence on the deal.

She said the Vatican had to give permission to the Religious Sisters of Charity to dispose of its shareholding in SVHG and said “the conditions attached to that disposal have never been disclosed.”

Ms Shortall added: In fact, the Government has stated that nobody on the State side ever even asked to see the Vatican documents assenting to this disposal. Why not?”

Mr Menton said SVHG was “determined” to achieve the objective of becoming “truly secular” and “we have done so”.

He said SV Holdings - the new owner of SVHG is a registered charity and a not-for-profit company governed by Irish law.

Divest

“It is not a ‘Public Juridic Body’ and there is no vehicle in the registered Constitutions of SVHG or SV Holdings by which any religious authority or control can be exerted. This is a fact.”

When Catholic organisations divest their assets they typically go into another institution called a Public Juridic body and the ethos is maintained.

Mr Menton added: “It is also a fact that the RSC transferred their shares to SV Holdings without any conditions requiring the practice of any Catholic ethics or any religious ethos.”

He said: “St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is a secular organisation. The hospital has no religious ethos.

"Services have been and will continue to be delivered in accordance with best international medical practice, compliant with the laws of Ireland and to people of all faiths and none.

“There are multiple protections in place to ensure no religious authority or control can be exerted.”

The State will not own the land on which the new hospital will be built. Instead it will be leased for 299 years.