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Fresh proposals on control of the new NMH site 'smoke and mirrors', campaign group says

The Campaign Against Church Ownership Of Women’s Healthcare said the proposals were aimed to deflect from concerns around the ownership of the site.

The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.
The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

A GROUP CAMPAIGNING for the independent ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) has said that the fresh proposals for extending the lease of the site are a “smoke and mirrors exercise”.

The Campaign Against Church Ownership Of Women’s Healthcare said the proposals were aimed to deflect from “legitimate concerns” around the ownership of the site, and the “intransigence of an organisation determined to hold on to a valuable asset”.

The campaign group’s comments come after The Irish Times reported that the State is set to take control of the site of the NMH from St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG), who own the Elm Park site in south Dublin. 

The new arrangement proposes leasing the €800 million hospital to the State for 299 years, double that of the previous offer, as well as changes to the composition of the board of the hospital that would see three directors each representing the public interest, SVHG and the NMH.

However, the campaign group has criticised the reported new proposals. 

In a statement to The Journal, they said: “Extending the length of a lease over the site, which the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group insists it must own for “clinical, governance and operational reasons” does nothing to instil confidence regarding the independence of the new hospital. If ownership of the site is necessary for governance, the State must own it.

“Increasing the number of public interest directors on the board of a private charity cannot obscure the fact that this board will govern the operations of a publicly funded hospital built on religiously owned land,” they said. 

SVHG, which also operates St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, wish to retain ownership of the site on which the hospital is to be built, having previously said it would allow “the delivery of integrated patient care”. 

The issue of ownership

The land on which the NMH is to be built was owned by religious order the Sisters of Charity, which also founded St. Vincent’s University Hospital almost 200 years ago. 

In 2017, the order announced that they would transfer their shares to a newly formed company with charitable status called St. Vincent’s Holdings (CLG).

The decision effectively saw the order giving up its ownership of the land on which the NMH was to be built, but the issue of ownership has continued to be debated, with many calling for the State to own the land as well as the hospital.

In June, The Religious Sisters of Charity called on the Minister for Health to complete the transfer of management from them to the hospital’s new, independent management group “as soon as possible”.

But shortly afterwards, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “nothing has been signed off” on with regards to the hospital.

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He described this situation as “not entirely satisfactory” but said that stakeholders should not be “overly obsessed” with ownership of the hospital. He added that it has always been his view that any new hospital should be owned by the public.

The Department of Health told The Journal that the process to finalise the legal arrangements for the new National Maternity Hospital is ongoing and has not completed.

The Campaign Against Church Ownership Of Women’s Healthcare said they remain “vehemently opposed to the handover of a publicly constructed, publicly funded facility to a private charity”.

“We are further opposed to the involvement of the St Vincent’s Hospital Group in the running of what must be a fully secular hospital – assurances of independence notwithstanding,” they added. 

SVHG was contacted for comment. 

About the author:

Jane Moore

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