Varadkar says ‘outstanding issues’ remain in relation to maternity hospital move

Tánaiste insists he has ‘no concern’ provision of lawful procedures will be blocked

The Tánaiste has said a number of issues in relation to the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital remain to be resolved but has expressed confidence that all legal procedures would be carried out at the St Vincent’s site. Photograph: Colin Keegan.

The Tánaiste has said a number of issues in relation to the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital remain to be resolved but has expressed confidence that all legal procedures would be carried out at the St Vincent’s site. Photograph: Colin Keegan.

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says he has “no concern” that medical procedures which are lawful in the State will be prevented from being carried out in the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) after its proposed move to the St Vincent’s campus.

However, he said there are “outstanding issues” over the ownership and leasing of the site where the hospital is to be built as well as with regard to governance and representation on the new hospital’s board.

His remarks come after a group of 42 senior clinicians at the NMH expressed concern that “misinformation” and “misunderstanding” about the planned relocation could delay the move.

In a letter, published in today’s Irish Times, the consultants insisted that all procedures will be available should the hospital move from Holles Street to a site on the St Vincent’s campus at Elm Park, including terminations and those relating to transgender and assisted reproduction services.

Mr Varadkar worked at the hospital during his training as a doctor and he was asked if he would have signed the letter if he was there today.

He pointed out he is not a consultant and didn’t say whether he would have signed.

However, he said: “I don’t have any concern about any procedure that’s lawful in this State being performed in the new National Maternity Hospital - that includes tubal ligations, includes terminations, includes gender reassignment treatments.

“I have no concern about that, and I’m happy that what we have in the various agreements covers that.”

He added: “I’m also happy that we will own the hospital, we will own the building.”

Mr Varadkar said there are “still two outstanding issues” - one “around the ownership and the lease arrangement” on the site where the hospital is to be built and the other being “the governance piece, the representation on the board”.

He said: “I’m confident that these can be resolved”, adding that engagement is ongoing involving the NMH, St Vincent’s, the HSE and the Department of Health.

The project has been mired in controversy after the Government admitted there were a number of problems in proceeding with the relocation, primarily in relation to governance and ownership.

The State, which is expected to invest some €800 million in the project, wants to buy the land that the hospital will be built on but the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) has said it must retain ownership of the site.

The Religious Sisters of Charity owns the land, which it intends to transfer to a new entity, St Vincent’s Holdings. It has proposed a 99-year lease and then a 50-year extension.

Dr Peter Boylan, former NMH master, who has campaigned against any religious influence in the new maternity hospital, said any “misinformation” around the deal related to the constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings.

Dr Boylan said there “would be a fear” that an inability to overcome the governance and ownership issues would delay the project for several years, if an alternative location had to be found for the new hospital.

‘Back to the 1950s’

However, he added that “proceeding with the current ownership arrangements would put us back to the 1950s”.

He said the State needed to own the hospital and the land it was on. “If the Sisters are willing to give it to a charity ... surely they could give it to the people of Ireland,” he said.

A rally held outside Leinster House at the weekend heard of concerns that access to all reproductive healthcare might not be provided at the new hospital because of potential religious influence.

Last week Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he hoped to meet all parties in the project to discuss the impasse shortly.

A Department of Health spokeswoman declined to comment on when any meeting was expected to take place.

“Minister Donnelly outlined in recent days that he wants to have further engagement with all stakeholders in the NMH project. Minster Donnelly will not be making any further comment on the nature of this engagement until it concludes,” she said.

SVHG has not received any correspondence from Mr Donnelly or department officials on the matter in recent days, one source said.