There is growing concern that the new National Maternity Hospital will “still ultimately come under the control” of the Catholic Church, according to Dublin TD Bríd Smith.
It comes after the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that he has “problems” with plans for the new hospital which is to open at the St Vincent’s Hospital campus in Dublin.
The land is owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity; however, they agreed to hand over the lands to the State to build the new hospital back in 2017.
Last year, the Vatican approved what the sisters said was a “gift” of land worth €200m to the people of Ireland.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said there is “growing concern” that the new hospital will “still ultimately come under control of the ethos of the order of the Sisters of Charity.”
“They have said they have gifted the land to the people of Ireland – this is not correct,” she said.
“They have leased the land back for 99 years on a complex arrangement of a subsidiary group called St Vincent’s Groups Holdings which is actually a private charity.
“Most of the board is self-appointed by the pre-existing St Vincent’s Hospital Group and in their statement of constitution, the St Vincent’s Hospital group are committed to the ethos of Mother Mary Aikenhead or in other words the Catholic Church.”
In the Dáil yesterday, Minister Varadkar agreed with many of Deputy Smith’s concerns – noting that the safeguards around the leasing arrangement were “not strong enough.”
He also voiced concern about the governance of the hospital and the fact that Government will not be appointing board members to a hospital built with taxpayer’s money.
Deputy Smith said there is real concern that the ethos of the Catholic Church will dominate the board.
“All of these discussions and arrangements started to take place pre-repeal,” she said.
“Repeal changed everything and post-repeal, women in this country are worried that a brand-new National Maternity Hospital that was paid in full for by the State would not deliver the services for which we fought very hard and won.”
Compulsory purchase order
She said she now believes the State should move forward with an attempt to acquire the land by way of compulsory purchase order (CPO).
“Negotiations on this have been ongoing since 2013,” she said. “People are running out of patience with trying to get a new National Maternity Hospital that is very badly needed up and running.
“You could CPO and I think that is probably going to be the step that is going to have to be taken.
“It is just huge delay with long protracted negotiations where we end up with a very messy, very complicated situation yet again in terms of women’s health.”
When controversy over the ownership of the land first broke in 2017, then-Minister for Health Simon Harris ruled out a CPO of the land.
At the time, solicitor Brendan Slattery told Newstalk the State would face three main obstacles to any CPO attempt – establishing the need for it when the land is freely available, the length of time it could take and the potential compensation owed to the Church.
You can listen back to Deputy Smith here: