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'If you don't trust me, fine, but trust hospital doctors': Taoiseach says NMH must go ahead

Mary Lou McDonald urged the Taoiseach to convince St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to gift the NMH land to the State.

Martin said the Government
Martin said the Government "can't dictate" what happens to the land.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has urged those raising concerns about the new National Maternity Hospital to listen to the hospital clinicians who are in favour of the building going ahead on the St Vincent’s Hospital site. 

The relocation to a site on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin has proved highly controversial as, until recently, the site was owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity.

The religious congregation has now transferred its ownership and if the relocation plan goes ahead the State would lease the land for 299 years.

Last week, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) completed the legal transfer of the Sisters of Charity’s shareholding in the group to a new company, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG, paving the way for the maternity hospital to be built on the St Vincent’s site.

But Cabinet has stalled the proposal to allow for documents about ownership and governance arrangements to be published, and to allow Minister Donnelly to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee tomorrow to address lingering concerns.

Land ownership

Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féín’s Mary Lou McDonald said the ownership of the land is not a “red herring” and hit out against the Taoiseach for what she was claimed was a dismissal of the concerns raised. 

She asked why the original agreement, of the land being transferred into public ownership, did not go ahead.  

McDonald urged the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to “get around the table” with St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and convince them to gift the NMH land to the State.

She told the Dáil that the financial power of the land and retaining control of the land so it can be used as leverage for a future financial transactions is the reason it has not been transferred or gifted to the State.

Labour’s Ivana Bacik made similar calls stating that the hospital should always have been built on State land. 

People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith told the Taoiseach to stop telling the Opposition that they are playing politics when they are merely raising legitimate concerns. 

She said the issue comes down to trust and the majority of the public don’t trust the deal on the table. 

Trust

“If you don’t trust me, that’s fine. Maybe you’d like to trust the hospital clinicians,” he said, listing off a number of doctors that work in the current national maternity hospital who have said they are in favour of the project going ahead. 

He told Bacik he didn’t understand the logic behind the proposal to go down the compulsory purchase order route, stating it would use up a lot more resources and take years. 

It is “dishonest” to suggest that a 300-year lease with a nominal rent of “a tenner a year does not amount to ownership”, the Taoiseach said. 

“You know damn well it’s the truth” Martin told McDonald, calling for the debate on the issue to have some “perspective”. 

He said it is being conveyed that the Government has some sort of “covert agenda” to create a new hospital that would deny women to legally permissible procedures.

Martin said the Government “can’t dictate” what happens to the land. 

“We have to get moving,” the Taoiseach said, stating that the Government only wants to see a state-of-the-art facility built for the care of the women and babies of Ireland. 

He said discussions about a new maternity hospital have been underway since 2013, and we have to get on and build the hospital now.

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Green Party Minister for the Arts Catherine Martin said the appearance of the minister before the committee tomorrow is the right decision, adding it was a “vigilant step” taken by the Government to press pause on the project. 

She said she is hopeful that reassurances will be provided by Donnelly tomorrow, “but I’m not going to preempt what happens”, she said.

Campaigners and opposition political parties have raised a number of concerns about the proposed deal, including the possibility that certain medical procedures such as abortions could not be carried out at the hospital because they are not approved by the Catholic church.

The history of abuse scandals involving religious orders, particularly regarding institutions such as Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools, has led others to say that religious organisations should have no involvement in the provision of women’s healthcare.

The Department of Health has repeatedly stated that all procedures that are currently provided at the National Maternity Hospital under Irish law will be provided in the new NMH if it relocates to the Dublin 4 site.

This includes termination of pregnancy, provision of contraception services including tubal ligation, fertility services and gender reassignment procedures.

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