By James Ward, PA
A new location may need to be found for the National Maternity Hospital if Government red lines are not met, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar said there is a risk that the long awaited hospital may not go ahead as planned at the Elm Park site in Dublin 4, amid concerns over its governance and ownership.
Plans to relocate the national maternity hospital at Holles Street to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus in south Dublin have been beset by delays.
During the week, Mr Varadkar flagged concerns over the governance and ownership of the hospital, with the St Vincent’s site owned by religious order the Sisters of Charity.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the National Maternity Hospital may not go ahead at the St Vincent’s site if Government redlines are not met. pic.twitter.com/PXDzLaRTvO
— James Ward (@newswardie) June 19, 2021
Asked on Saturday if the hospital might not proceed at the site, he said: “Of course there is that risk, that’s the reality of the situation.”
Mr Varadkar said Government red lines will have to be met, including that the hospital is state-owned, and provides a full range of obstetric and gynaecological services.
He told reporters: “There have been problems all along. That’s why this matter has not been concluded for the last couple of years, even though we secured planning permission.
“In terms of red lines for the government and for us, this hospital has to be publicly owned and it has to be the case that any obstetric or gynaecological service that’s legal in the state has to be available in that hospital.
“As is currently the case in Holles St, which is technically a Catholic hospital.
“So there are absolute red lines.”
He added: “There are some issues around the ownership of the land on which the hospital is going to be built. That is a difficulty.
“We’re not happy with the current proposal around the lease, and also the governance of the hospital.
“We strongly believe that this hospital should have Government or ministerial reps on the board.”
He added: “This hospital has to be publicly owned and it has to be the case that any obstetric or gynaecological service that’s legal in the State has to be available in that hospital.”
Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told RTÉ: “From my perspective, the ideal position is that when the State is investing so much money in a new hospital, the State should own that hospital, and the land on which it is built.
“The key point is that of course, in terms of the hospital itself, it will serve the women of Ireland.
“It will not be in any way influenced by any religious ethos whatsoever, I’m very confident about that aspect of it.
“But there’s a very basic point in terms of the taxpayer, and I think into the future we’re in a new era, when the State is building new hospitals and paying the full total of the costs, the State should own the facility.
“That’s the basic principle that’s informing our thinking.”
Last year, the Sisters of Charity said it intended to gift 29 acres of land at the St Vincent’s Hospital site to the Irish people, with ownership of the land being transferred by the religious order to a new independent charity St Vincent’s Holdings.
The land is worth 200 million euro.
Fresh concerns over the hospital emerged earlier this week, when Mr Varadkar was quizzed on the issue at Leaders’ Questions by People Before Profit TD Brid Smith.
Ms Smith said the Sisters of Charity would no longer have any involvement in the day-to-day management of the hospital but they “may be able to appoint directors and are entitled to appoint their successors to the holding company”.
“I don’t think the women of this country, those of us who fought so hard, should go forward with a new maternity hospital that is still dominated by the (Catholic) ethos of the St Vincent’s Group,” she said.
Ms Smith added that questions needed to be answered and that she could not accept the guarantee that full reproductive rights, including gender realignment, will be available, “because the constitution of the new holding company specifically states that its core values are identical to that of the St Vincent’s Group”.
“Ideally the State should purchase the site by compulsory purchase order, fully pay for it and build it and staff it and run it via the State without any interference from a charity that the nuns can appoint directors to,” she told the Dail.
“That’s the only way out of this.”
Mr Varadkar said “it was an absolute requirement” that any procedures that are legal in this State are available in this hospital.