Ownership of new national maternity hospital "not important"

Sole ownership of the new hospital is set to be handed to religious group, the Sisters of Charity

The chair of the Oireachtas Health Committee has said it is not important who owns Ireland’s new National Maternity Hospital.

The new €300m facility is set to be built on the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus in Dublin, and will cater for up to 10,000 births per year.

The Elm Park campus is owned by religious group, the Sisters of Charity – and Health Minister Simon Harris has come under severe pressure since it emerged that sole ownership of the facility will handed to the group once the hospital is built.

The Minister has claimed the group will receive no financial gain from the new hospital - and has pledged to ensure the facility will remain entirely independent in terms of its clinical, operational, budgetary and financial operations.

Hospital ownership

On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, the Oireachtas Health Committee Chairman, Dr Micheál Harty said the ownership row is unimportant:

“I think who owns the hospital is not the issue,” he said. “It is what happens within the hospital that is the issue - and I think there has to be obviously clinical and operational and financial governance within that hospital that has to be independent.”

“I think that there needs to clarity [...] if the Sisters of Charity for instance came out and definitively stated that they would not have any ethical involvement in the running of the hospital that would clarify the issue very quickly.

“In relation to the hospital it has to have a secular ethos, it cannot have an ethos that is run by one religious body."

Public backlash

There have been widespread calls for the decision to hand ownership of the taxpayer funded facility to be reversed in recent days.

A demonstration was held outside the Department of Health yesterday afternoon and an online petition calling for the religious group to be blocked from owning the facility has now garnered more than 76,000 signatures.

On Newstalk Breakfast, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher called on Minister Harris to explain in detail to the Dáil how the ownership of the new hospital will work:

“I was amazed to find that it was only yesterday he was writing to the HSE to get clarity on a lot of the more intricate detail of this particular agreement, which is an issue of concern,” he said.

“I do want the minister to explain in detail either to the Dáil or a health Oireachtas committee meeting the outline of what they envisage to ensure the protection of the state’s investment and the independence of the hospital itself.”

Child abuse restitution

The Sisters of Charity are one of the many religious orders that have failed to live up to their obligations in terms of paying their share towards redress for the historical child abuse that occurred in their industrial schools.

In 2002 the group pledged to pay €5m towards the state redress scheme – but it has only paid €2m to date.

“Certainly there is a moral obligation on the order to fulfil the commitment to pay the outstanding money that they have not paid in relation to redress,” said Dr Harty.

“That is absolutely essential and they do have moral obligation to do that and I think the government does have the power to put pressure on them to fulfil that obligation.”

Dr Harty said that although the ownership decision had been made last November, planning permission has yet to be approved on the site and the Hospital board has yet to vote on it.

He said he believed the health minister had misread the situation and was unprepared for the backlash to the decision.