Transfer of lands to maternity hospital
Sir, – Several newspapers and media outlets announced the transfer of hospital lands at St Vincent’s by the Religious Sisters of Charity to “the State” or to “the Irish public” (although not The Irish Times, which simply referred to the “transfer of lands” in its headline of May 8th).
The relinquishment by the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent’s, and consequently of the proposed new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at the St Vincent’s site, will come as a great relief to those of us who held serious concerns about the influence of St Vincent’s Catholic ethos on the ability of the NMH to provide independent medical treatment to women, in accordance with Irish law and with the woman’s wishes and medical best practice at the fore of its decision-making.
However, from an examination of the Sisters’ statement, it does not in fact appear to be the case that St Vincent’s will be transferred to the State. Rather, a transfer will be effected to a private charitable body, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG (company limited by guarantee).
The property law maxim superficies solo cedit (“a building becomes part of the ground“), the continued application of which in Irish law is confirmed by section 3 of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009, means that no matter how much taxpayers’ money is invested in the new National Maternity Hospital, it will become the property of the owner of the land on which it is built, ie this new CLG.
The Religious Sisters of Charity’s move in relinquishing their ownership of a hospital they have been involved in for 186 years is courageous and admirable.
One wonders, however, whether the transfer – at least of that part of the lands on which the NMH is to be built – ought not to be to the State which will fund the building of the hospital?
At the very least, surely the public deserve to know who will run this new CLG? If a gift is to be made – and it is difficult to see why it should be made – surely the taxpayer deserves to know who it is gifting its hospital to?
Can the public be sure, as the Minister seems to be, that the Sisters’ announcement “will remove any remaining concerns” about religious influence on the NMH?
Surely that will depend on who is running St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.
The Sisters, for their part, express themselves to be “confident” that “the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group Board, management and staff will continue to provide acute healthcare services that foster Mary Aikenhead’s mission and core values of dignity, compassion, justice, equality and advocacy for all into the future”.
While it is hard to argue with any of those values, let us not forget that Mary Aikenhead’s mission and core values most certainly did not encompass the provision of contraception services, abortion, assisted fertility treatment, sterilisation or gender reassignment surgery.
These services must continue to be provided to women by our National Maternity Hospital. The women of Ireland waited long enough to be entitled to appropriate medical treatment, on an equal footing, in the eyes of the law.
Let us hope that the building of our new NMH allows them to enjoy that right in facilities of the highest standard, under the care of independent medical experts unhindered by any ethos other than care for its patients. – Yours, etc,