Maternity hospital row: Health official did not tell Simon Harris of concerns

The Department of Health’s secretary general failed to tell Health Minister Simon Harris of serious concerns over the independence of the new national maternity hospital when they were raised in May 2016.

The fresh controversy emerged last night as St Vincent’s Hospital Group published the 25-page legal independence document for the hospital and Holles Street’s clinical director said it will perform any legal procedure when it opens, potentially including abortions, despite ongoing fears it will fall under religious control.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Holles Street board member Peter Boylan — who will refuse to resign over his criticism of the hospital site at a board meeting this evening — claimed the department was warned of the religious interference concerns a year ago.

Citing a letter from 2016, Dr Boylan said Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin was told of the concerns by the HSE’s Ireland East Hospital Group chairman, Tom Lynch.

Senior department sources later insisted no such letter exists.

However, the department last night confirmed that Mr Breslin was informed of the concerns in a formal meeting about a number of issues with Mr Lynch in May 2016, during which he was handed a document on “potential resolutions of the difficulties that had arisen” at the site.

The Irish Examiner separately understands that Mr Lynch also raised the religious interference concerns in a conversation with Mr Breslin at the same meeting.

However, it is understood Mr Harris was not told of, and is still unaware of, any issues raised at that time.

Meanwhile, the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group has again attempted to address concerns that the new national maternity hospital may be subject to religious interference by insisting it will perform any legal procedure when it opens.

In a statement last night coinciding with the publication of the new hospital’s previously leaked 25-page memorandum of understanding, St Vincent’s lashed out at “entirely false” claims by Dr Boylan and others.

The statement said the clinical independence of the facility will be enshrined in the memorandum, and specifically noted the legal independence assurances of its deal, which include:

  • A ministerial “golden share” veto to protect its autonomy;
  • “Agreed reserve powers” to ensure services “without religious, ethnic, or other distinction”;
  • Guarantees that St Vincent’s Healthcare Group will be the sole “owner” of the new company governing the maternity hospital and will fall under the influence of the State.

Speaking on RTE’s Six One News, Holles Street clinical director Prof Declan Keane went further, saying the new hospital will provide any legal procedure, saying “absolutely, absolutely” when asked if this will potential include abortions.

The Holles Street board will meet this evening to discuss the ongoing controversy and calls for Prof Boylan to resign for criticising the chosen site.

Prof Boylan yesterday said: “I have no regrets. I am glad I did [speak out]. I’ll resign when I’m ready.”

More on this topic

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Fianna Fáil calls for independent inquiry into Holles Street termination caseFianna Fáil calls for independent inquiry into Holles Street termination case

National Maternity Hospital to be extended despite plans for relocation National Maternity Hospital to be extended despite plans for relocation

Simon Harris: New maternity hospital to be free from religious influenceSimon Harris: New maternity hospital to be free from religious influence


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