Simon Harris: Month to save maternity hospital project

Health Minister Simon Harris is seeking a one-month national maternity hospital reprieve in a bid to rescue the crisis-hit project from the brink of collapse.

Simon Harris: Month to save maternity hospital project

Mr Harris announced the move as the hospital itself became embroiled in a fresh scandal over its attempt to remove board member Peter Boylan by text message over his criticisms of religious involvement in the site.

As St Vincent’s Healthcare Group separately published the new national maternity hospital’s legal independence assurances and said will carry out any legal procedure - potentially including abortions - once it opens, Mr Harris attempted to cool tensions surrounding the controversy.

In a statement, he said the facility will not receive planning permission before autumn and he wants to spend the next month meeting all groups in a bid to clarify the exact legal and clinical independence issues at stake.

“The minister repeats his request that some time be allowed for the detailed work that is necessary. He intends to report to Government on this project at the end of May,” said a spokesperson for Mr Harris.

The attempt to calm the controversy came as Cabinet meets today for the first time since the concerns emerged and as the hospital itself faces a divisive board meeting which may see the removal of an outspoken critic of the Sisters of Charity’s involvement in the site.

On Sunday, Holles Street board member Dr Boylan was told in a text message from current master of the hospital Rhona Mahony and deputy chair of the board Nicholas Kearns that he should resign.

The request — which came after Dr Boylan texted Dr Mahony and Mr Kearns to say “both of you and the minister are inextricably linked in this and you will either sink or swim together” — was rejected by Dr Boylan, who said: “I have no regrets. I am glad I did [speak out]. I’ll resign when I’m ready.”

Holles Street clinical director Declan Keane told RTÉ’s Six One News that although he would have “liked more consultation on it [the resignation call]” he believed Dr Boylan’s texts “made it very difficult to continue”.

Prof Keane said the stand-off would be discussed at a board meeting today which, in an unusual move, will be chaired by Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr.

A spokesperson for Holles Street - who failed to say how many board members were consulted about the resignation call - stood firm on the demand last night.

Separately, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group statement lashed out at the “entirely false” claims the new hospital will not provide services without religious interference, publishing the 25-page memorandum of understanding for new hospital outlining its legal independence assurances.

However, minister of state John Halligan defended Dr Boylan, saying: “I just hope he’s not being asked to resign because he has an opinion, particularly on a maternity hospital”.

Mr Halligan said the hospital must be “entirely in the control of Government”.

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that Mr Harris was not told of serious concerns about religious influence in the new national maternity hospital despite the issues being raised directly with his department’s secretary general Jim Breslin.

In a May 2016 meeting with the HSE’s Ireland East Hospital Group chair Tom Lynch, a department spokesperson confirmed that Mr Breslin was handed a document outlining “potential resolutions of the difficulties that had arisen”.

In addition, Mr Lynch spoke directly to Mr Breslin about canon law influence concerns due to the proposed hospital’s base at the Sisters of Charity-owned site.

While the department rejected Dr Boylan’s claim that the concerns were raised in a letter, saying “no letter was received”, it also confirmed the May 2016 document’s existence. Mr Harris was not informed of the concerns.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.