What is happening with the National Maternity Hospital this week?

Government set to mount a full-scale information campaign to win over wavering TDs

During testy exchanges in the Dáil, Taoiseach Micheál Martin dismissed concerns raised by Sinn Féin about the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) as “nonsense” as he called for “honesty” in the debate.

He was firing the starting gun ahead of a week which will see the Government mount a full-scale information campaign to win over wavering TDs in Leinster House.

The issue of ownership of the land on the St Vincent’s site was raised by every Opposition party during Leaders’ Questions.

The real action is happening behind-the-scenes, however, and there are intensive efforts to win over TDs whose offices have been inundated with calls from worried constituents.


The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has packed his diary full.

Later on Tuesday he will brief Fine Gael TDs and Senators and answer questions they have. He will also appear before the Green Party parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday evening, which will be a key exchange given concerns held by Minister Catherine Martin.

Fine Gael Ministers who expressed concerns at last week’s Cabinet meeting have now come out and backed the relocation alongside Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, so Ms Martin is one of the few Cabinet members yet to give her backing.

The Oireachtas Committee on Health meets in private on Tuesday to decide which witnesses to invite, beyond Mr Donnelly and former NMH master Peter Boylan, to their two public meetings on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr Donnelly will appear for around four hours on Wednesday at the committee. On Thursday, a full questions and answers session is scheduled for the Dáil where Mr Donnelly will once again field questions.

The Government has made it very clear that it plans to proceed with the relocation of the hospital from Holles Street to St Vincent’s with the current legal documents to remain unchanged.

What are the concerns?

The two biggest issues raised privately by TDs, which the Government will try to convince them of this week, are around State ownership of the land and the existence of the term “clinically appropriate” in legal documents.

The fact is that the State will not own the land on which the new hospital will be built and instead it will be leased for 299 years. There will be a nominal rate of €10 a year but this can be increased to €850,000 if six fairly standard terms are not met.

TDs want to know why the land can’t be gifted or sold to the State by St Vincent’s.

They will be told that a 299-year lease is, effectively, State ownership and that St Vincent’s needs to own the land to properly run its other hospitals and provide seamless care for patients moving between corridors in the new NMH and St Vincent’s. Whether they will be convinced by this remains to be seen.

Secondly, the legal documents surrounding the move contain a phrase that medical procedures will be available that are “clinically appropriate and legally permissible.”

There have been conflicting explanations as to what exactly “clinically appropriate” means and whether it would prevent women from accessing procedures, such as terminations, which the Government denies.

Defining exactly what clinically appropriate is, with one universal explanation that makes sense, seems to be the least the Government will have to do in their information campaign this week.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times