Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has publicly admitted that he has concerns about the ownership of lands upon which the new National Maternity Hospital will be built.
r Varadkar has also told the Dáil he is further concerned about the proposed new hospital’s governance system and saying arrangements “are not adequate”. But he has insisted there can be no limits to the kind of procedures it provides.
The Fine Gael leader said the land had not been gifted to the State but held by a private charity called St Vincent’s Holdings. It was given via a 99-year lease to the State, he added.
“We don’t think the safeguards around that are strong enough,” he said. The Tánaiste said there was also a difficulty that the hospital’s board would not be appointed by the Government.
“A hospital that is almost fully funded by the State should have a significant number, a majority appointed by the Government in my view,” Mr Varadkar told TDs.
Mr Varadkar was replying to People Before Profit TD Brid Smith and he said the “ideal scenario” would be for the State to own the site. But he said it will be a building integrated with the existing hospital and this posed practical difficulties.
Raising the matter in the Dáil, Ms Smith said that ideally the State should compulsorily buy the land. Staff could then run it “without any interference from a charity that the nuns can appoint directors to”.
She said the Mulvey report on which these arrangements were based should be “scrapped” because it was agreed before the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment on abortion and “repeal changed everything”.
There was surprise when Mr Varadkar conceded his misgivings on the issue. “You and I agree on this more than you may believe,” he told the Dublin South Central TD.
Earlier this month the Sisters of Charity, the religious order which previously ran St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, where the new hospital will be located, urged Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to speed up the transfer of the hospital to a new independent charity. The order said it was not now, nor would it be, involved in the management of St Vincent’s hospital, the new maternity hospital, or the new independent charity being set up.
But Ms Smith said the constitutional make-up of the new St Vincent’s Holding Group still allowed for the voluntary organisations to maintain a private Catholic ethos. She did not believe there was sufficient guarantee to ensure that some procedures and treatments would be provided because of that ethos.
The Dublin South-Central TD said there would be a demonstration on Saturday June 26 at 1 pm outside the Dail to campaign make the hospital “fully public”. And she called on the Taniste to allow the Dail examine the current draft of the legal framework, “to scrap the Mulvey plan because it had been redundant by the repeal made of the Eighth Amendment” and act to take the new maternity hospital into full public ownership”.
Mr Varadkar said there would be guarantees on the services which would be provided at the new hospital. “It is an absolute requirement that the constitution must specify that any procedures and treatments that are legal in the State are available in that hospital.There can be no ambiguity about that and it includes sterilisation, IVF, assisted reproduction and terminations,” he said.