The Government needs to "play hardball with the nuns" to ensure the new National Maternity Hospital site is fully owned by the State, Róisín Shortall says.
The Social Democrats co-leader says it would be "unforgivable" to have a new hospital with religious involvement.
Her party will table a motion in the Dáil today, calling for the new hospital to be fully owned by the State.
Yesterday, the St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) said it must retain ownership of the site in Dublin.
The group said that is needed to facilitate the delivery of "integrated patient care" at the hospital campus.
However, it has insisted the new hospital will be clinically independent, with "no religious or Vatican influence".
The Government has said it will re-engage with the St Vincent's Group and the Religious Sisters of Charity about buying the site, amid concerns over the medical independence of the new hospital.
There have been calls for the Government to use a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to ensure the State owns the new hospital - with Fine Gael Minister of State Anne Rabbitte among those backing such an approach.
The letters C, P and O come to mind 🤔 https://t.co/ROjFMVg8uw
— Anne Rabbitte TD (@AnneRabbitte) June 22, 2021
On Newstalk Breakfast, Deputy Shortall said SVHG's arguments "don't really stand up to scrutiny".
She said: “There’s no reason why a separate, state-owner hospital could not operate on the site of St Vincent’s, providing the site was actually disposed of to the State.
“Last year, the Sisters of Charity said they were gifting the site to the people of Ireland - they weren’t doing that, of course: they were gifting it to their own holding company.”
Deputy Shortall said the hospital represents a "massive investment" of €800 million, and the land must therefore be owned by the State to ensure the investment is protected.
She also noted there's now a "strong public desire" for the separation of church and state in Ireland.
The Dublin TD also argued that while all the focus is on the ownership, there are also questions to be answered around the company that will own and operate the hospital.
She explained: “As things are proposed at the moment, the new national maternity hospital company will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of St Vincent’s.
“We know - and it’s set down in black and white - that the core values of the Sisters of Charity… are incorporated into the St Vincent's Healthcare Group."
Deputy Shortall argued that if the land isn't handed over to the State, the Government needs to look at another site - saying Tallaght would be a "real option".
However, she said the Government needs to make a decision now to avoid any further delays.
Compulsory Purchase Orders
Dermot Flanagan – senior counsel that specialises in Compulsory Purchase Orders - told Breakfast a Compulsory Purchase Order can be a lengthy legal process.
He explained that the acquiring authority needs to first establish a need for a CPO, present the paperwork to the landowner, and publish public notices in the likes of newspapers.
‘Nearly all’ such cases in Ireland then go to An Bord Pleanála, who have to decide if any objections to the purchase order are merited.
Mr Flanagan explained: “I should say that even if the board confirms the CPO, the issue of compensation is not a matter that the board considers. They consider the principle of the acquisition - is it the right thing to do, in simple terms. The compensation issues go to a property arbitrator.
“Within eight weeks of [An Bord Pleanála] decision, an application can be brought before the High Court. There’s also the right of appeal to the Court of Appeal, and since 2014… you can in theory have an application to the Supreme Court as well.
"It could get tied up for several years on the principle of the acquisition - independently from the whole question of the value.”
In this particular case, Mr Flanagan said the Government would likely need to answer whether there’s been a change in circumstances that would warrant such a change in the agreement already made with SVHG.
There would also likely be many negotiations around the value of the site, even if a CPO was used - with the senior council suggesting a “premium” could be sought by the landowners before they hand over the land to the State.