Minister McGrath: NMH needs to be free from religious influence

Update 12.33pm: The Minister of State for Disability says the new National Maternity Hospital needs to be free from religious influence.

It is after the Health Minister last night said that the Sisters of Charity - on whose land it is to be built - would not be running the facility.

Campaigners are concerned that the presence of nuns or their representatives on the board could influence medical decisions.

Finian McGrath says while we desperately need the hospital to be built, there needs to be a separation of church and state: “I do accept the points made by Simon Harris and also the people directly involved in the front line services, in relation to the Governance issue and the whole independence of it.

“But my political position would be very very clear, I am strongly in favour of seperation of church and state.

“And I think that when we build a national maternity hospital, it should be a state run hospital and that is exactly my position and I would not be surprised if we end up in that position very soon.”

Update: 10;50am The Chair of the Oireachtas Health Committee says it is not important who owns the new National Maternity Hospital.

Doctor Micheál Harty says what matters is what happens inside.

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition to block the Sisters of Charity from owning the Dublin hospital when it opens in four years time.

The Health Minister has promised the nuns won't have any say over medical decisions despite their ability to appoint members of the board.

While Doctor Harty claims the ownership row is unimportant:  “For the women who need a termination in the case of a risk to her life, what happens within that hospital, is far more important than who owns it.”

Earlier: There are calls for the Minister for Health to explain to the Dáil how the ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital will work.

Simon Harris has insisted the Government will not go ahead with the project - on lands owned by the Sisters of Charity - unless he is convinced it will be free of religious interference.

He has dismissed claims that the nuns will be running the hospital and says he has written to the HSE to make sure the State's interest is fully protected.

However Fianna Fáil's spokesperson for Health Billy Kelleher still has a number of concerns: "I was amazed to find out it was only yesterday that he was writing to the HSE to find out the more intricate detail of this particular agreement which is an issue of concern.

"I do want the Minister to explain, in detail, either to the Dáil, or to a Health Oireachtas Meeting, the outline of what they have envisaged to ensure the protection of the states investment and the protection of the hospital itself."

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