By James Ward, PA
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he is “confident” that issues around the new National Maternity Hospital can be resolved.
The planned relocation of the hospital from Dublin’s Holles Street to a site at Elm Park alongside St Vincent’s Hospital has been mired in controversy over governance and ownership.
The new hospital is expected to cost the state up to €800 million, but the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) has insisted it must retain ownership of the site, and has offered a 99-year lease, with a 50-year extension.
The Government would prefer to own it outright, and Mr Varadkar said engagement is continuing between SVHG and the Department of Health.
Speaking on Monday, he said he was satisfied the State “will own the hospital, we will own the building”.
He added: “There are still two outstanding issues around the ownership and the lease arrangement, around the site on which the hospital has been built, and also the governance piece, the representation on the board.
“But I’m confident that these can be resolved.
“It does require an engagement and that engagement is ongoing, involving the National Maternity Hospital, involving St Vincent’s, involving the HSE and the Department of Health.”
The Elm Park site is owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity order.
The order had said it intends to gift the 29 acres of land to the Irish people, with ownership transferred to a new independent charity, St Vincent’s Holdings.
Critics have questioned the independence of the new charity and raised concern whether the hospital will operate under a Catholic ethos, and what that will mean for abortion services.
In a letter to The Irish Times on Monday, a group 42 senior clinicians at the National Maternity Hospital, including current master Shane Higgins and three former masters, hit out at “misinformation” over the provision of services at the planned facility.
It said: “We, the consultants of the National Maternity Hospital, are concerned by the potential for misinformation and misunderstanding to delay a vital project to create a world-class maternity hospital for the women and babies of Ireland.
“The misinformation that services at the new maternity hospital will be curtailed by any religious ethos is particularly troubling given its inaccuracy.”
Mr Varadkar backed that view when asked about the letter on Monday.
He said: “I don’t have any concern about any procedure that’s lawful in the state being performed in the new National Maternity Hospital.
“That includes tubal ligations [sterilisations], includes terminations, includes gender reassignment treatments – I have no concern about that.
“I’m happy that what we have in various agreements covers that.”
SVHG has rejected calls to sell the land, saying it must own it “for the delivery of integrated patient care”.
On Sunday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin ruled out using a compulsory purchase order to acquire the site.
He said his preference would be for the State to own the facility “lock, stock and barrel”.
“I don’t believe a new site is on the cards, I certainly don’t,” he said in an interview with RTÉ.
“And I don’t believe in compulsory purchase orders either because it could take another five or six years.”
Mr Martin urged all sides to strive for a resolution.
“I think people need to hear what we’re saying from the Government side, work for the resolution of this,” he said.
“I’ve been honest and straight about this in respect to the Government’s perspective.
“I think other stakeholders need to be as well and need to get real too in terms of the realities of the modern era.”