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Harris asks for a month to consider all options for ownership of maternity hospital

Minister Simon Harris has said that a public ownership option is possible for the hospital.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said that the State will “pursue solutions that address the issue of the ownership” of the new national maternity hospital.

In a statement last night, Harris said that he had asked for a period of time to explore all potential options before he would report back to the government, Oireachtas and the public at the end of May.

One potential option he referred to was the possibility for public ownership of the hospital.

The minister also reiterated the urgent need for the hospital to be built, and said he would work with both Holles Street and St Vincent’s to “provide further detail on the arrangements which could be put in place to address issues of public concern”.

Controversy

The government has come in for sustained criticism in recent weeks over the new national maternity hospital, which will be located on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital and be owned by that group, of which the religious order the Sisters of Charity is a major shareholder.

Numerous assurances have been given by Harris and his department, the board at current maternity hospital Holles Street and the hospital master Dr Rhona Mahony that the new hospital will be run independently from any religious interference.

That has done little to assuage those who believe otherwise, with ex-Holles Street master Dr Peter Boylan resigning his post last week after raising numerous concerns over the proposals.

To date, over 100,000 people have signed an online petition aiming to block the Sisters of Charity being the sole owner of the national maternity hospital.

Opposition parties have called on the government to consider a compulsory purchase order on the hospital site, to ensure the State owns the new maternity hospital.

Speaking yesterday on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said it is her own view that the order should hand over the site.

“I don’t think it’s a done deal. I think the whole discourse, the positioning of the different parties over the last week reflects the fact that this is still a situation in motion. The State needs to acquire the site,” she said.

“Complex process”

In his statement, Harris again reiterated the measures in place to ensure the independent running of the hospital but admitted he would look into solutions that “address the issue of the ownership of the facility” in light of public concerns.

One such solution could be public ownership of the facility.

He said: “The agreement reached between the hospitals recognised that the State will require a “lien” on the new facility in accordance with whatever funding agreements are in place by the State for such capital projects.”

When referring to a lien, Harris is saying that the State sought a legal right to the possess the property if the owners of the hospital don’t fulfill certain obligations that have been agreed upon, such as clinical independence. He added:

Different options have been used in the past in doing this and I believe there is potential to devise creative and acceptable solutions that will provide further reassurance regarding the ownership of these facilities which will be paid for by the State.

Harris added that it was a good thing that a conversation had started around the structure of the health service in Ireland.

He concluded by “respectfully asking” for a short period of time to work with Holles Street and St Vincent’s to provide “further detail on the arrangements which could be put in place to address issues of public concern”.

Read: Calls for Sisters of Charity to detail exactly what procedures will be possible at new maternity hospital

Read: Ex-Holles Street master resigns from board in maternity hospital row

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Sean Murray

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