Board of National Maternity Hospital 're-endorses' St Vincent's deal

The Government has indicated the project is "absolutely going ahead" despite concerns over ownership

Board of National Maternity Hospital 're-endorses' St Vincent's deal

The National Maternity Hospital on Dublin's Holles Street | Image: RollingNews.ie

The board of Holles St has voted to press ahead with building the new National Maternity Hospital at the St Vincent's campus in Dublin.

At a meeting this evening, it reaffirmed its commitment to the original deal by a large majority.

In a statement, the board said: "This agreement provides that the clinical, financial and operational independence of the National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park DAC shall be enshrined in its memorandum and articles of association and all related legal agreements." 

Sinn Fein Councillor and board member Mícheál Mac Donncha was one of those who voted against the motion tonight.

He explained: "I have continuing concerns about the ownership of the new hospital by, effectively, the Sisters of Charity - the St Vincent's Hospital trust".

Earlier, the Government also said it is to go ahead with plans to leave the new National Maternity Hospital in religious ownership, but will use legal deals to make sure it has full clinical independence.

A Government spokesman has insisted the project was "absolutely going ahead" on the St Vincent's site.

Health Minister Simon Harris has also ruled out a compulsory purchase order to buy the site on which the new facility will be built.

He says the hospital will have full clinical independence without any additional cost to the public.

"I would point out though, as many politicians of different sides of the political spectrum have, that compulsory purchase is not the ideal solution here in any way, manner or means.

"We need to build this National Maternity Hospital - we don't need to be caught up in some potential legal difficulty for a large number of years.

"We've also got to remember the site is being donated free of charge".

Minister Harris has also called for a period of calm to allow the boards of both hospitals to meet - and has said he will be meeting both groups in the coming weeks.

Concerns have been raised about the potential for religious influence over the new hospital – after it emerged that sole ownership of the facility will pass to religious group, the Sisters of Charity when construction is completed.

"Storm in a teacup"

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Master of the NMH, Dr Rhona Mahony said the storm over the ownership of the facility was a "storm in a teacup" and a "non-issue."

Speaking outside Government Buildings earlier, Minister Harris said it is crucial the project goes ahead.

"I don’t want to lose this project, it is too important; it has been too hard fought for over a long period of time," he said.

"There is a reason we are locating it on the site at St Vincent's; it wasn’t plucked from the air; co-location is so important in terms of women who need emergency care.

"We have had significant public debate; the agreement is published, it is there for all to see and what I am asking people now for is a month."

He pointed out that Dr Mahony had made it absolutely clear that the new facility would have operational and clinical independence.

 Compulsory purchase order

However, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr – a member of the hospital’s board – has said that the best way to ensure there are no questions surrounding the hospital’s independence is for the government to issue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the land.

"Everyone is dedicated and committed to having a world class hospital there for women and children but it is the Minister for Health who could actually CPO the land and take a lot of the heat out of this debate," he said.

"Rather than us debating who is running the hospital, who owns the hospital, we can start debating how this hospital can actually benefit the people of Ireland."

Cooling off period

Minister Harris said that An Bord Pleanála are not due to decide on planning permission for the project until the autumn, adding "there is a period of time now to get this right."

"We have got to build this hospital," he said. "Government decided in 2013 to go ahead and build this hospital; we are now in 2017 and women in Holles Street just down the road are still in a situation where they are being cared for in inadequate facilities."

"There is an onus on all of us to deliver this hospital and I remain as determined as ever to get this over the line."

He said the agreement will set out "in black and white" that no organisation will profit from the hospital and that there will be no interference from anybody other than doctors.

He insisted that the property could not be used to mortgage or borrow by any entity, adding that the Department of Health will ensure that the legal and contractual arrangements protecting tax-payers interests will be put in place before one cent of tax-payers money is expended.

Mr Carr said the current agreement has yet to be put to the 100 governors of the National Maternity Hospital.

He warned that - as one of the governors - he is not sure if he would be happy to have a vitally needed hospital left in religious hands.

Reporting by Mick Staines, Jack Quann and Stephen McNeice