By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has accused Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald of “playing politics”, in another heated exchange in the Dáil over the co-location plans for the National Maternity Hospital (NMH).
The Cabinet is due to decide next week whether to approve the plan to move the NMH from Holles Street in Dublin city centre to St Vincent’s Hospital’s Elm Park site.
Concerns have been raised about the ownership structure of the NMH at the new site, in which the State will own the building and the land will be owned by a legal entity called the St Vincent’s Holdings Group.
The Government has stressed that the clinical integrity of the hospital is preserved in its constitution, and that the leasing arrangements, costing €10 a year for 299 years, effectively amounts to public ownership.
However, concerns have been raised by campaigners, opposition TDs, and some members of Government.
Minister Catherine Martin says the scrutiny over the NMH is warranted, as the project is one of such "significance" that it needs "transparency at it's very heart".
She welcomes Stephen Donnelly's appearance before the health committee tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/GXbVdpj1JQ
— Gráinne Ní Aodha (@GNiAodha) May 10, 2022
Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin said on Tuesday that the project is one of “such significance that there should be transparency at its very heart”, and welcomed the planned appearance before the health committee on Wednesday of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ Radio on Tuesday that he had spent “pretty much all of Sunday” going through the legal documentation related to the ownership structure of the NMH.
“Having read the documents over the weekend, I am confident that the NMH will be clinically independent, that all legal procedures, terminations, sterilisations, IVF, gender reassignment will happen.
“What’s happening here is that two hospitals that had, or used to have, a Catholic ethos are now being secularised.”
Citing a letter from senior midwives at the National Maternity Hospital asking that the Government’s plan be approved “without delay”, Mr Martin told TDs that there was support from those at the “coalface” of maternity care for co-location.
Ms McDonald told the Dáil that “it simply makes sense” to transfer the land earmarked for the new maternity hospital to the state instead of pushing ahead with a “complicated, messy ownership” structure.
“It’s about the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group retaining control of the land, so it can use the value of it for future financial transactions.
“It’s about private interests of this group trumping the public good, and a government that is willing to let this happen,” Ms McDonald said.
She said that it would be up to a judge to adjudicate on any legal disputes that may arise over the ownership and the clinical operations at the NMH’s new site, and not the Government.
“The ownership of this site is not a red herring, Taoiseach,” she said.
“Everybody wants this new hospital, and we want it built quickly, but we need to get it right.”
Mr Martin said that there was an impression that the Government or the HSE had a “hidden, covert” agenda, and that the Government finds its “integrity and bona fides questioned” on this issue.
“We shouldn’t play politics with this because it’s too important, too important for women’s health,” Mr Martin said.
“It’s too important for premature babies who will be born into the future and need a first-class neonatal facility. That’s what the new hospital will do – we’ll go from 35 neo-natal beds to 50.”
Addressing the Sinn Féin leader, Mr Martin said: “It suits the opposition to delay this project, it seems to me at this stage.
“You’re playing politics with every issue that comes before the House, every issue.
“Whatever it is, you just want to weigh up how can you undermine the government of the day on any issue now – it doesn’t have to be the National Maternity Hospital.
“We’ve got to get moving, I think we should get this hospital built.”