'Letters of comfort' clear the way for new National Maternity Hospital

'Letters of comfort' clear the way for new National Maternity Hospital

A model of the new National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent's campus. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

The Government will finally sign off on a new National Maternity Hospital after "letters of comfort" confirming that abortions will be performed at the site ended any resistance to the plan among ministers.

Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin, who had been the sole minister refusing to back the project, has now said she is supporting the hospital’s relocation to the St Vincent’s Hospital site in Dublin 4.

Final sign-off will take place at Cabinet on Tuesday, clearing the way for construction of a project that has been beset with delays amid concern that a Catholic ethos would influence healthcare decisions at the St Vincent’s location.

Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin, who was the sole minister refusing to back the project, now says she is supporting the hospital’s relocation to the St Vincent’s Hospital site. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin, who was the sole minister refusing to back the project, now says she is supporting the hospital’s relocation to the St Vincent’s Hospital site. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The land at St Vincent’s was owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity, who have transferred their shareholding to a new company, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.

The religious order says it will have no further involvement in the project.

The St Vincent’s hospital group, the HSE, and the Master of Holles Street — the site of the current National Maternity Hospital — have confirmed to Ms Martin that all legally permissible procedures will take place.

Ms Martin’s support for the St Vincent’s site is viewed from within Government as “highly significant” in allowing it to press ahead with the project.

Termination of pregnancy

A letter to Ms Martin, sent by St Vincent’s Hospital chair James Menton, confirmed that termination of pregnancy, voluntarily sterilisation, gender-affirming care, fertility, and assisted human reproduction treatments would be available at the new site.

A similar letter was sent by the Master of the Holles St National Maternity Hospital, Shane Higgins, and the HSE.

Ms Martin said: “I am satisfied that following assurances received — including written assurances containing the required additional clarifications, including from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group — that this has resulted in greater transparency around this project.

“I now believe that the safeguards and protections are there to protect services for women.”

She said Health Minister Stephen Donnelly also gave clarity about the clinical independence of procedures at the new hospital.

Master of Holles St National Maternity Hospital Professor Shane Higgins said he would support a change to legal documents for the relocation of the hospital amid concerns about the phrase 'clinically appropriate'. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Master of Holles St National Maternity Hospital Professor Shane Higgins said he would support a change to legal documents for the relocation of the hospital amid concerns about the phrase 'clinically appropriate'. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Prof Higgins, at a press briefing, said he would support a change to legal documents for the relocation of the hospital amid concerns about the contentious phrase "clinically appropriate", which critics of the deal fear will affect which services are provided.

“Having seen how much upset it has caused, we certainly would be open to either defining or removing it,” he said.

However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has appeared to dismiss suggestions that the term would be changed.

Mr Martin said the guarantees on the National Maternity Hospital are “cast iron” in respect of the services available.

“The constitution of the new hospital is very strong in terms of all lawful services being made available,” he said. “And the licence of the hospital from the HSE is equally so, and that’s the only realistic way it could be.”

Despite Ms Martin’s shift in position her party colleague, Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan, said her doubts about the deal still stand and she refused to say if she will vote with the Government on a Sinn Féin motion in the Dáil next week. She said:

“I haven’t decided about the motion yet. My concerns stand.

Ms Hourigan has asked for the release of remaining documentation about the transfer of shares between St Vincent’s corporate bodies and to remove, clarify, or add to the term "clinically appropriate".

The St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee on Monday to discuss the proposed new National Maternity Hospital plan.

The hearing will take place before the issue goes before Cabinet on Tuesday.

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