The real reasons for NMH delay

Sir, – Stephen Collins is incorrect that delay in progressing the National Maternity Hospital move to Elm Park was "caused by claims that the hospital would be subject to dictates from the nuns who run St Vincent's Hospital" ("National Maternity Hospital decision is a welcome sign of the Government's backbone", Opinion & Analysis, May 20th).

The first delay was between November 2014 and November 2016 after St Vincent’s rejected the original plan of NMH co-location on its campus, insisting instead on full ownership of the new hospital.

Progress stalled for two years as two government-sponsored mediations between the hospitals failed, before NMH Master Dr Rhona Mahony and deputy chair Nicholas Kearns conceded in September 2016 to the third mediator, Kieran Mulvey, that, “We are willing to dissolve the [NMH] Charter and agree that the ownership of what is now the NMH will transfer to the ownership of SVHG, a private company owned by the Sisters of Charity.”

This concession formed the basis of the Mulvey report of November 2016, welcomed by then minister for health Simon Harris.

Five months later in April 2017, there was public uproar when it emerged that a Catholic religious order which had run Magdalene laundries would own the new NMH.

Mr Harris then asked the NMH and SVHG boards to enter a month-long negotiation process to agree a new ownership structure.

An apparent breakthrough came on May 29th when the Sisters of Charity announced they would transfer their shareholding in SVHG to a new private charity St Vincent’s Holdings (SVH). Simultaneously, however, SVHG chairman James Menton insisted the move would “only proceed on the basis of existing agreements that give ownership and control of the new hospital to St Vincent’s Healthcare Group”. SVH directors would be committed to “upholding the values and vision” of Mother Mary Aikenhead.

The Sisters’ shareholding transfer to SVH required three related steps: Vatican approval, registration with the Charities Regulator, and HSE approval (as SVHG is a Section 38 organisation).

Eighteen months later, however, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Dublin confirmed in December 2018 that the Sisters had not commenced the Vatican approval process.

A further 15 months elapsed before Vatican approval – conditional on the observation of specified canon laws – was issued on March 16th, 2020, adding up to nearly three years of delay on the part of the Sisters of Charity and Rome.

Registration of SVH with the Charities Regulator was filed on August 18th, 2020.

A further delay of 19 months ensued during which the HSE board considered concerns about the ownership and governance arrangements raised by its audit and risk committee. Prof Deirdre Madden and Dr Sarah McLoughlin dissented from the board’s majority decision to grant approval eventually taken on March 14th, 2022.

The constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings was only then filed with the Companies Registration Office.

What has not delayed the process – but in my view should have – are the following: Government approval of the business case for the project (still under review after three previous rejections); the outcome of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s audit on spending on the project (commenced in August 2021); and scrutiny of the full correspondence between the Sisters of Charity and the Vatican on the terms and conditions for setting up St Vincent’s Holdings. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Given that the decision to proceed with the building of the hospital was made in 2013, the Government “resolve” he refers to was years in the making! – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.