The National Maternity Hospital

 

Sir, – It is just over four years since I resigned from the board of the National Maternity Hospital, detailing my concerns about the ownership of the land on which the planned new hospital will be built at Elm Park and the ownership and governance arrangements of the new hospital facility. Successive governments have been unable to resolve these core issues in a way that will both safeguard public investment and guarantee the availability of the full range of legal reproductive healthcare services, free of Catholic ethos.

I welcome the statement by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, in the Dáil last Thursday, that the Government has “big concerns” about these core issues. Mr Varadkar noted that the land will be owned by a private charity (St Vincent’s Holdings) rather than the State, with only a 99-year lease being provided and that the Government “does not think the safeguards around that are strong enough”. He also raised the problems relating to the proposed governance structure, noting that “the board will not be appointed by the government, and that’s a real difficulty too, because a hospital that is fully funded by the State or almost fully funded by the State should have a significant number or majority of members of the board appointed by the government”.

In relation to the question of Catholic ethos, he called for the constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings – which will own the NMH DAC, the company that will operate the new hospital – to explicitly state in its constitution and memorandum of association that the new hospital will provide abortion, IVF, contraception and other services which are absolutely prohibited by Catholic teaching.

Without the resolution of these issues, he stated that the Government has “problems, quite frankly, going forward with this project”.

As matters stand, the only way that the Government’s concerns can be satisfactorily addressed is for the State to own the land on which the hospital is to be built, and for the governance and ownership arrangements of the new NMH to be revisited in full so that the NMH DAC – the company which will operate the new hospital – is not owned by St Vincent’s Holdings but is fully secular and State-owned, with a board reflective of that reality.

On the part of the State this will require the setting aside of the Mulvey report and a complete revision of the ownership and governance of the new hospital.

On the St Vincent’s side, the Religious Sisters of Charity will need to make a fresh alienation application to the Vatican, specifically to the Congregation of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, headed by Cardinal Joao Braz de Avis. This application will need the support of the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin; the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell; and the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Jude Okolo, by way of a statement of “Nihil Obstat” (no objection) to the Order’s plans to either sell the site to the State or, better still, fulfil the commitment made by the Sisters in May 2017 to “gift” the site to the “people of Ireland” in the form of the State.

I do not believe that a compulsory purchase order of the site at Elm Park is achievable in view of several articles of the constitution. Indeed, The Irish Times reports that “the State has tried everything possible to buy the land the new hospital will be built on but has failed to do so” (News, June 18th).

The Tánaiste has now clarified the issues that must be resolved in order for the new NMH project to proceed at St Vincent’s.

That the Irish State, in 2021, depends on a decision of the Vatican to proceed with the building of a State-funded secular maternity hospital speaks volumes about the need to separate Church and State in the provision of healthcare. This is an opportunity to break that connection and a test case of the State’s resolve. – Yours, etc,

Dr PETER BOYLAN,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – After more confusing signals from the stakeholders in question, it now looks like the hospital site will be sold. The Tánaiste says the Government is willing to buy the land “at a reasonable price”. Let’s see what emerges from the negotiations. I don’t think they will get a bargain at this stage! – Yours, etc,

TADHG McCARTHY,

Bray, Co Wicklow.