Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Dáil this weekend to demand the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) is built on publicly-owned land, but Taoiseach Micheál Martin insists the public can have confidence that all “legal and permissible services will be available”.
The new hospital is set to be co-located alongside St Vincent’s Hospital, 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.
St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) recently completed the legal transfer of the Religious Sisters of Charity’s shareholding in the group to a new charitable company, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.
As it stands, the NMH deal provides for the Government to lease the land from St Vincent’s for 299 years at €10 per year, which the Government has argued effectively amounts to ownership. There has been intense scrutiny of the phrase “clinically appropriate” in legal documents related to the hospital relocation that set out what procedures will be carried out there.
An Taoiseach vehemently defended the arrangement when speaking with reporters in Cork at the weekend.
“There is very strong clarity in relation to this already,” he said.
“I think the constitution in the hospital is very strong in relation to ensuring [without any question] that all legal and permissible services will be available in the hospital. The operating license from the HSE to the hospital equally fits that guarantee.”
He spoke of what the facility will mean for the country as a whole.
“The National Maternity Hospital will represent a very significant advance for women’s health in Ireland and also for neonatal care,” he said.
He acknowledged that progress needs to be made where maternity services are concerned in Ireland.
An Taoiseach added that he thinks it is remarkable that the only co-location of services has been of the maternity hospital in Cork with the Cork University Hospital.
“We need to move on to make sure that other centres can be created, the most immediate of which is the National Maternity Hospital.”
He said that we owe it to women and future generations of women and newborn babies to get the hospital finished.
“It’s now 2022 and this will take some time to build,” he said.
“We owe it to women now and into the future — as well as newborn babies — to get this hospital finished.
Ministers are considering whether further clarity on the phrase “clinically appropriate” could be provided, potentially in the form of an amendment or addition to the legal documents that would specifically detail what procedures would be undertaken.
Ministers from the three Government parties — Fianna Fáil, 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 proposal.