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'No good reason given' as to why NMH could not be transferred to state, says Cullinane

Ministers are set to make a final decision on relocating the National Maternity Hospital on Tuesday, following intense scrutiny over the terms of the arrangement with St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

Sinn Féin's health spokesperson David Cullinane.
Sinn Féin's health spokesperson David Cullinane.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

SINN FEIN’S HEALTH spokesperson David Cullinane has said that “no good reason has been given” as to why the site of the new National Maternity Hospital could not be transferred from St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to the state.

Government figures, including Taoiseach Micheál Martin, and some healthcare professionals have insisted have insisted that procedures such as abortions will be carried out in the hospital and that there will be no interference from the Catholic Church in the provision of services, despite the land being owned by a religious group.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme, Cullinane said that the current arrangement, where the state leases the land from SVHG for 299 years, amounts to “a very messy situation, contractually, legally, with different companies involved”.

“No good reason has been given to me, and many in opposition, but also healthcare campaigners, as to why we cannot simply see a transfer of the land from St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group to the state which would remove all of the ambiguity which currently exists,” Cullinane said.

The new hospital is set to be co-located alongside St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4 but the previous ownership of the site by the Religious Sisters of Charity has led to concerns from some about the potential influence of a Catholic ethos within the new hospital, and whether that would be compatible with the provision of services such as elective abortion.

As it stands, the deal provides for the government to lease the land from St Vincent’s for 299 years at 10 euro per year, which the government has argued effectively amounts to ownership.

Ministers from the three government parties – Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party – are set to make a final decision on the plan on Tuesday, having deferred the move last month in a bid to address concerns about the proposed relocation.

Sinn Féin will next week bring forward a fresh Dáil motion calling on the government to ensure the new hospital is built on state-owned land.

As hundreds gathered yesterday calling for the government to ensure the new hospital is fully secular and publicly owned, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said “it is factually incorrect” to suggest that the Catholic Church will have any influence in the new building.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said he was confident cabinet would back the plan to build the facility at the St Vincent’s Hospital site in south Dublin despite the ongoing controversy over ownership and governance arrangements.

“I think there’s an absolute determination among all three government parties and across the government to ensure that we move on and build this hospital, which is which is massively needed,” Mr McConalogue told The Week in Politics on RTÉ.

The term “clinically appropriate” – referring to which medical procedures can be performed in the hospital – has been a major sticking point in the controversy.

Cullinane said: “When you have legal ambiguity, it isn’t something then that is adjudicated upon on the floor of the Dáil or even in surgical operating theatres by clinicians. It’s lawyers, it’s judges and we need to get this 100% right.”

He said Cabinet was due to sign off on the matter this week, and criticised last-minute “letters of comfort” confirming that abortions could take place in the new hospital.

“I have no idea what legal standing those comfort letters hold.”

Green Party minister Catherine Martin had voiced concerns about the plan but on Friday said she had been satisfied after receiving assurances on the project.

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Also speaking on This Week, Jenny Walsh, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Holles St, said she had “no concerns” over the phrase “clinically appropriate”.

“I don’t think we could have imagined or they could have imagined the potential connotations that have been put onto that phrase.”

Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne expressed doubts on the programme about the addition of a codicil clarifying what “clinically appropriate” means.

Byrne, who is also a qualified solicitor, said: “We’ve had these words just thrown around. A codicil in law refers to a will. So I’m not sure who is proposing this. But it’s certainly something I’m not familiar with.

“If you want to amend the documents, you could do that if you want, but what the documents state is that all legally permissible services would be provided in that hospital. I’m not sure how much further they could go.”

Representatives from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group will tomorrow give evidence to an Oireachtas committee on the issue.

– Additional reporting from PA

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