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'A tenner a year lease': Martin says maternity hospital will effectively be in public ownership

Yesterday Cabinet delayed a final decision on the future of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) amid ongoing controversy over the project.

LAST UPDATE | 4 May 2022

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN said the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to land owned by the Sisters of Charity religious order effectively amounts to public ownership.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, he said:

“It’s now 300-year lease at a tenner a year. That’s what the agreement says. And to me, that is public ownership.”

His comments come after Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the government can give a “rock solid guarantee” that all health services provided for under Irish law will be available at the new National Maternity Hospital. 

The topic was raised at Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party meeting this evening, where it was noted that there is “ongoing debate” about the hospital.

The meeting noted that progress has not been made in the area for decades, with the exception of Cork University Hospital, and that discussions on the new hospital have been ongoing since 2013.

The party wants to see the hospital brought “to a conclusion” and said patients deserve modern world class facilities”.

“We must also deliver modern neonatal facilities to ensure the best outcomes for all.”

Similarly, at Fine Gael’s parliamentary party meeting, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said concerns and questions regarding the planned NMH must be listened to and that clarity must be provided before the government makes a final decision.

Varadkar repeated the government’s assertion that all legally permissable procedures for a maternity hospital will be permitted and there will be no religious ethos determining the care provided.

In relation to a compulsory purchase order of the St Vincent’s hospital land, existing buildings and site, the Tánaiste it could cost the State many millions of euro, take years and might be refused.


Yesterday Cabinet delayed a final decision on the future of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) amid ongoing controversy over the project.

The Taoiseach said today there are “a lot of conspiracy theories” flying around about the ownership issues and the control of the future hospital. 

He told the Dáil that the Vatican will have nothing to do with the running of the new hospital “and will have nothing to do with it, that is gone”.

Any religious ethos or influence is ‘”out of the equation, totally”, said Martin. 

The Taoiseach said that the current hospital site is “not physically fit for purpose”, adding that women right now are not getting the conditions they deserve.Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the state should own the hospital grounds “outright”.

“We will own the building and not the land, which will remain in private ownership and that makes absolutely no sense when the state is footing the bill,” McDonald said.

Martin accepted that “legitimate concerns” have been raised about governance, but added that they had been “comprehensively addressed”.

“Not via rhetoric, but with legal guarantees and documents which have been published. I implore you to read them,” he said. 

Labour’s Ivana Bacik made similar calls, asking if the hospital is in public ownership in all but name, why not just outright ensure that it is in public ownership through compulsory purchase of the land. 

Donnelly is set to go before the Oireachtas Health Committee to answer questions about the plans before the matter goes back to Cabinet in two weeks’ time.

There have been concerns about the independence of the new hospital due to its location on land formerly owned by the Sister of Charity.


Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister Donnelly said he could guarantee “100″% that procedures such as abortion, tubal ligation, gender affirming surgery and assisted reproduction would be available at the hospital. 

Donnelly said the hospital would be obliged to provide these services as they are built into the operating licence as well as the Constitution. 

There is also a “golden share” held by the Minister for Health which allows for direct intervention if the hospital were deemed to b failing to do what it is legally required to do.

“There are more protections to ensure all services will be provided in this hospital than I would imagine any of the other maternity units around the country, so we can give an absolute rock solid guarantee on those questions,” he said.

The hospital is currently located at Holles Street in Dublin city centre, but is set to move to Elm Park, where it will be co-located with St Vincent’s Hospital.

Religious group the Sisters of Charity owned the land on which the NMH was to be built and this has led to years of debate about how the project should proceed. 

Following the increasing opposition to the plans, the Sisters of Charity announced an end to their involvement with the St Vincent’s Hospital Group in 2017 and said they would therefore not be involved in the ownership or management of the new NMH

The transfer of their shareholding of the SVHG has been beset with delays, however, and it was only confirmed last week that this had been completed. Under the deal the site would be leased from the SVHG for 299 years and she HSE will own the hospital itself. 

Donnelly acknowledged that the State had attempted to obtain the lands and that the position of St Vincent’s was “they didn’t want to sell or they didn’t want to give the lands”. 

However he said “it doesn’t really matter who owns the land, what matters is who owns the hospital, who controls the hospital and all of that is set out in the legal framework”. 


Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Minister Catherine Martin said the examination of the details before the Oireachtas Committee will be “a valuable process”.

The Green Party’s deputy leader noted that there was only five days between Cabinet meeting yesterday and the announcement last week that the transfer of shareholding had been completed. 

“Transparency is the key and I just believe in merits what is now happening, that there be further parliamentary scrutiny, that the minister we go before the Health Committee and that we as Cabinet are then informed by the observations when Minister Donnelly returns,” she said. 

Martin said that clinical independence of the hospital must be “crystal clear, rock solid” but she declined to say whether changes to the legal framework would be required for her to support it. 

I want to hear what happens in the Health Committee. As I said i, t was five days from from the transfer the shareholding slash and we were being asked to approve the legal framework.

She added: “I do believe it a number of safeguards have been put in place but all safeguards need to be examined to make sure that we guarantee a State investment of this significance.” 

Agreement by all at Cabinet, says Harris 

While there have been reports that it was Green Party ministers that pushed the pause button yesterday, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris told reporters today that there was unanimity around the Cabinet table yesterday. 

He said there was agreement across the three Government parties, and all genders. 

Harris said it “made sense to share the information” with the Oireachtas and the Irish people. 

The health minister has made the “right call” in publishing all the documents, said Harris, stating: “This is a big decision, it is one to get right.”

Co-location of the maternity hospital on the St Vincent’s site is the right decision, said Harris, however he added that it is “not good enough” for him to just say that.

There has to be answers to the legitimate questions that people have, said Harris. 

‘We do at some point have to make a decision on this – this can’t go on forever and a day,” he added. 

“We must govern in the sunshine, we should be transparent in relation to this,” Harris told reporters. 

Pausing the process for a “matter of weeks” is a “good thing to do”, he maintained. 

“This is a big decision. We’re going to do with the state of the art hospital for the women of Ireland and their babies. Why not have that transparency? Why not publish the documents?” said Harris, stating that the Opposition was right in asking for this to go before the Oireachtas Health Committee for further scrutiny. 

“I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s very sensible idea,” he said.

Harris said he listens to the doctors working in maternity hospitals when it comes to views on this matter, stating:

“They’re the people that I listened to when I was Minister for Health, the people that we trust with the care of women in this country in the delivery of babies.

“I also know and everybody knows that in times when something goes wrong in a maternity hospital and things can sadly go wrong, as Minister for Health you get a notification, you get a report, every time there’s a maternal death in this country. That stays with you forever,” he said.

Harris said there is a better clinical outcome when maternity hospitals are located next to an adult hospital, so women are “not waiting for an ambulance, or sometimes other means, to actually get to the hospital”.

“We should listen to the doctors working in the hospital today and we should ask them a very simple question. Are you satisfied that this is good? Are you satisfied that you can go back to your job? Are you satisfied there will be no interference?

“And I hope we can maybe take down the tone. Not to say that one person cares more than the other person,” he said.

Harris added that there was a need to have a “rational, informed discussion in full transparency”. 

Improving care

Donnelly said he wanted to emphasise how important the hospital is for improving the quality of maternity care provided in Ireland.

“Right now we have women in 14-bed wards,wards that have insufficient toilet and shower facilities,” he said.

“We have women in labour queuing in public corridors to get access to toilets, to get access to showers. It’s simply not something we can stand over any longer.

“We’ve been talking about this hospital now for nine years. It’s the most important investment in infrastructure and women’s health care in the history of the State, so it’s really, really important that we bear in mind – whilst providing all of the assurances – just how essential for health care this hospital is going to be.”

Speaking this afternoon, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said there was “unanimity” across the three parties at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that it “absolutely made sense” to delay the decision and publish the documents in relation to it. 

“Absolutely, I believe that co-locating the National Maternity Hospital on the grounds of St Vincent’s is right. I also know, though, it’s not good enough for me to believe that’s right. We’ve got to answer the legitimate questions that people have,” he said.

“We should govern in the sunshine, we should be transparent in relation to this, and I think after a process that’s been going on for many years, I think providing a matter of weeks is a good thing to do.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said there are still “very serious and very valid concerns remaining around the ownership control and governance” of the new NMH.

“The reality is that the hospital will not be built on state land. The St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group remain the landlord and I’ve looked at the lease agreement on the HSE website. They’re described as the landlord, the HSE will be the tenant, there’s a provision for an €850,000 per annum rent. So the ownership is simply not vested in the State,” she told Morning Ireland.

If the lease is to be so long, then why not simply hand over the land to the State? What is the blockage on that? We know from what the Minister said that the State did seek to take the land and in entirety, so there’s still that question: Why have St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group retained this ownership of the land?

Bacik also said that concerns remain about the governance of the hospital, focusing on a phrase in the NMH designated activity company document stating that the hospital will provide all “clinically appropriate” and “legally permissible” healthcare. 

“It’s that “clinically appropriate” phrase that I think does raise serious concerns about if it qualifies that obligation to provide legal services like terminations of pregnancy,” she said.

She added that she would like clarity from Minister Donnelly on why the State cannot “do a compulsory purchase order to move the land into public ownership.”

Asked if she would continue to oppose the hospital if it were not moved to State land, she said: “We want to see this hospital built, but we want to see it built in the right way. We’ve spent years, unfortunately, in this country, decades, putting State money into religious owned infrastructure. We’ve seen the impact that’s had on women’s reproductive health care.

“Those of us who fought to see the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in 2018, we don’t want to see the sort of roll back we’re seeing, unfortunately, in the US, with the Supreme Court, apparently looking at overturning Roe V Wade. We have to move in the right direction on this.”

With reporting from Christina Finn, Rónán Duffy and Jane Moore

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