Government and St Vincent's wrangle for ownership of maternity hospital site 

Government and St Vincent's wrangle for ownership of maternity hospital site 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly got the Cabinet's approval not to oppose a Social Democrats motion going before the Dáil, in which the party will call for the State to outright purchase the site for the hospital Pucture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) has said it “must retain ownership of the site” on which a new National Maternity Hospital will be built, ahead of a Dáil debate on Wednesday on the hospital's ownership.

The hospital group has also published letters showing the State offered to purchase the site under certain limited conditions only and does not appear to have made a direct offer yet.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly got the Cabinet's approval not to oppose a Social Democrats motion going before the Dáil, in which the party will call for the State to outright purchase the site for the hospital.

Concerns over Catholic ethos

Campaigners and politicians have expressed concerns the new hospital will have to follow the Catholic ethos of the host hospital group unless the land is publicly owned.

SVHG has now responded directly to claims at the weekend by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that the State had offered to buy the land.

“The views of the hospital on this matter were understood and accepted by the department, and a lease option on the land was accepted,” a spokesperson said.

“This is the basis of the Mulvey Agreement, and reports over the last few days notwithstanding, the basis of what we clearly understood to be Government policy.” 

A series of emails and letters shows a range of lease and licensing options were considered by both sides.

In a letter to SVHG on June 20 2017, then Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin offered two “alternative proposals”, one titled Option to Purchase.

Similar in many respects to the lease arrangement, it also suggested: “SVHG grants State/HSE (or its successors) an option to purchase the relevant site … exercised in certain circumstances including insolvency, breach of funding agreements, where the facility is not used for its intended purpose or in the event of the infringement of the reserved power of the NMH DAC.” 

A Department of Health spokeswoman said work continues on a draft legal framework following negotiations.

“The State sought the sale or transfer of the site in the context of these negotiations, but these efforts were unsuccessful,” she said.

99-year lease

The lease will run for 99 years with a potential extension for 50 years, she said, and health minister Stephen Donnelly will continue to engage with SVHG and the Religious Sisters of Charity.

A spokesperson for the hospital group said the ownership of the site is required “for the delivery of integrated patient care on the Elm Park campus”. 

The new hospital will be attached to St Vincent’s hospital by a corridor, and it is envisaged that some care will be shared between the two buildings.

SVHG also said the new maternity hospital will be “clinically independent”, and that “there will be no religious or Vatican influence”. 

The statement said all medical procedures legally available in Ireland will also be available in the new hospital, and are available in SVHG hospitals currently including “pregnancy termination, tubal litigation and gender reassignment surgery”. 

This is contrary to fears expressed by campaigners that the Catholic ethos of SVHG would limit clinical care at the new hospital.

The sisters have previously said they wish to transfer their shareholdings in SVHG to a new private charity, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.

Detractors of the deal have concerns about the Catholic ethos of this entity, which is outlined in its constitution. 

It is also not clear who the bodies are that will appoint the directors to this board, as the company constitution mandates that this information is redacted until the directors are confirmed.

Jason O’Sullivan, principal with JOS Solicitors said this is reasonable under GDPR rules but “full disclosure should be given in public interest without delay” as soon as they are confirmed.

Why is the National Maternity Hospital in the headlines?

A 2013 plan to move the hospital from Holles Street to share a campus with the private SVHG has been delayed amid fears of religious influence and ownership of the new hospital.

A motion on this will be heard in the Dáil today as politicians urge the health minister to buy the land on which the new hospital will sit.

However, SVHG says it needs to own the land to deliver “integrated patient care” across the campus.

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