The Cabinet has delayed sign-off on the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly brought a memo to Cabinet this evening seeking approval for the construction of the new facility at St Vincent's Hospital campus in Dublin, but later told reporters that the decision will come before the Cabinet again in two weeks' time.
The planned move from Dublin’s Holles Street to the site at Elm Park has raised concerns about potential religious interference in the delivery of services, as the hospital will be built on land leased from a company given the property by the Religious Sisters of Charity.
It is understood sign-off on the relocation was delayed this evening as a number of Ministers asked for more time to consider the documents.
Fine Gael Ministers Heather Humphreys, Helen McEntee, and Hildegarde Naughton and Green Minister Catherine Martin all sought assurances from Mr Donnelly that all legal services, including abortion and sterilisation, would be available at the new national maternity hospital, according to a report in The Irish Times.
Following the Cabinet meeting, Minister Donnelly sought to respond to critics of the ownership arrangements for the long-delayed hospital by publishing legal documents on the HSE website and promising to take questions from the Oireachtas Health Committee.
There are multiple layers of protection in place
“The new hospital will be the greatest investment in infrastructure in women’s healthcare that we’ve ever had,” he told a media briefing said.
“There’s various concerns being raised, so around the investment in the State and the investment of the State being protected, but I think the biggest concern that people are raising is they want reassurance.
“They want absolutely reassurance that the new hospital will be fully independent, that it will be clinically independent, that it will be operationally independent, and it will offer all services.
“That is absolutely the case. There are multiple layers of protection in place.”
'See for themselves'
Mr Donnelly said that he wanted people to “see for themselves and be able to see within the memorandum of understanding the clinical protections in the NMH and indeed the obligations on the new National Maternity hospital to provide all services.”
The planned decision to push ahead with Cabinet approval on Tuesday had been met with criticism from both protesters and from politicians.
Mr Donnelly indicated that the Government would now try to alleviate those worries.
“There is absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever about the clinical and operational independence of the National Maternity Hospital," he said.
“That’s absolutely guaranteed with multiple layers of protection in place.”
Mr Donnelly, flanked by several health officials including the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Professor Shane Higgins, and Dr Rhona Mahony, a consultant obstetrician and board member of Vincent’s Healthcare Group, stressed that there could be no more delays.
He said that the health of women was at stake, after years of delay.
“Who owns the land under the building has absolutely no impact on the services provided, or the governance of the building,” he said.
He said that the State also does not own the land under GP surgeries or primary care centres.
Ahead of this evening’s Cabinet meeting, the Taoiseach said he felt “genuinely satisfied” safeguards are in place to allow the new hospital to proceed and he had been assured it would operate with no religious influence.
-Additional reporting by Press Association.