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Government 'hasn't ruled out' CPO of National Maternity Hospital site

The Tánaiste said it is not clear whether the owners of the land are willing to discuss the sale.

Image: Department of Health

THE GOVERNMENT HAS not ruled out using a compulsory purchase order to acquire the new National Maternity Hospital site, the Tánaiste has said.

Speaking to RTÉ’s This Week, Leo Varadkar said a compulsory purchase order (CPO) is “a possibility” but that it would be complicated.

“That can take years, it’s kind of a land-locked site, it’s a site within the wider Vincent’s campus which creates complications too and the risk of going down the CPO route will be that we might lost the cooperation of St Vincent’s, if we were to go down that route to take them to court to CPO the land,” he said.

“So it’s not an option we have ruled out, but we would much rather agree a sale. If they’re willing to talk about that then we are too.”

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.

During the week, Varadkar flagged concerns over the governance and ownership of the hospital. The Religious Sisters of Charity, which owns the land, is transferring it to a new private charity St Vincent’s Holing CLG. It will then be leased to the State for 99 years.

Directors and members of this new private charity are the shareholders of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, of which the Sisters of Charity are the sole shareholders.

Varadkar said it is important to note that the hospital itself will be owned by the State and it will provide any obstetric or gynaecological service available in the State to women.

“I think there are people who are maybe trying to question that more than they should because what’s the case in Holles Street now will be the case in the new National Maternity Hospital,” he said.

However Varadkar said “historic arrangements” about the makeup of the new hospital’s board should be changed to ensure that the government can appoint members.

“The current position is that there won’t be any and I have a problem with that,” he said.

He said it is his understanding that there is correspondence between the Department of Health and St Vincent’s “in which St Vincent’s say they are not willing to discuss the sale of that particular parcel of land”.

He said the government is willing to talk to “whoever we need to talk to” about buying the land but said it is not clear to him “whether they’re willing to talk to us about it”.

The Tánaiste said moving the project to an alternative site “would not be a good result” as it would set it back ten years.

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“I don’t think that would be a good outcome for the women and children of Ireland, who need this new facility as soon as possible,” he said.

Also speaking to RTÉ, Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said the ownership of the site “is the critical issue” and the governance of the hospital “has to be secular”. 

She acknowledged that a compulsory purchase order “is not ideal and certainly would add to the delays”, but this site was selected because the ideal situation is to have it co-located with an acute hospital. 

If it’s a question that the ideal is not going to be available, moving to a different location would be a last resort. But if it’s the last resort, that last resort will be very much determined by those who currently own the site at the moment. And I think that would be hugely regrettable, given all that has transpired in the past.

In a statement this week, the Religious Sisters of Charity said it has “never at any point been contacted by government or the State to discuss purchasing the site at SVHG”.

“It has not been involved in any functions or operations of the SVHG since 2017 when it stepped down from the Board. It has not been involved in any way with the appointment of Directors to either to St. Vincent’s Holdings CLG (the new company established by St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group) or indeed to the existing SVHG Board since it ceased all involvement in 2017.”

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