Latest: Fine Gael TD calls on Government to buy maternity hospital land from religious order

Update 3.35pm: A Government TD has broken ranks to call on Health Minister Simon Harris to consider buying the €300m land on which the new national maternity hospital will be built in a bid to end the escalating scandal, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell urged the move as a way to resolve the stand-off, saying either entering into a long-term lease with the Sisters of Charity or buying the land outright is the only realistic option.

Speaking on RTE Radio's Today with Sean O'Rourke as Sinn Féin confirmed it will table a motion seeking legal guarantees the hospital "remains entirely within public ownership" and will be independent in all clinical matters, Ms O'Connell said ownership remains the key issue in the dispute.

While Minister Harris has to date refused to speculate on purchasing the new National Maternity Hospital site, she said the Health Minister must consider the move during the coming month of talks with all groups involved.

"I think it's time for cool heads. The Minister has asked for a month to try and address concerns,” she said.

"My own view is that we should try and negotiate with the Sisters of Charity and come to some form of agreement."

Ms O'Connell later confirmed to the Irish Examiner that she believes that either buying or leasing the land are the only options available.

Speaking on the same programme, Iona Institute patron Prof Patricia Casey said she also believes "the nuns should sell the hospital or sell the land" instead of agreeing to "sell their consciences".

While independent of the Sisters of Charity, she said: "I would be extremely surprised if the Sisters of Charity wanted to be abortion campaigners or abortion providers".

The comments came as Sinn Féin confirmed it will table a motion on the ongoing new National Maternity Hospital when the Dáil returns next Wednesday, which among other issues will demand legal guarantees over the facility's complete independence from any religious influence.

The motion, which was published by party health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly yesterday, includes a specific reference to the ongoing controversy over the independence of the new national maternity hospital which calls on the Government to: “ensure the new National Maternity Hospital is built on the St Vincent's Hospital campus as quickly as possible, remains entirely within public ownership and has legally guaranteed independence from all non-medical influence in its clinical operations within the laws of the State”

Update 12.25pm: Maternity service users in Ireland are calling on the Sisters of Charity themselves to clarify whether certain medical procedures will be permitted at the new National Maternity Hospital.

While the St Vincent’s Hospital Group has said it will allow all legal procedures, AIMS Ireland wants the religious order themselves to make a statement.

The Association for the Improvement of Maternity Services said it needs clarity on whether abortions, IVF and sterilisations would be permitted by the religious sisters.

Chairperson of AIMS Ireland Krysia Lynch said: “The women of Ireland, the childbearing women of Ireland, they absolutely do not want to find that their bodies are being controlled by religious ethos - or by anybody.

“They want autonomy over their own bodies and at the moment that is 100% not guaranteed.”

Update - 11.10am: Dr Chris Fitzpatrick has said he felt he had no alternative but to resign from his position on the project Board planning the National Maternity Hospital (NMH).

He explained that he stood down over concerns about the proposed governance and control of the new facility at St Vincent's hospital.

Dr Fitzpatrick said: "I would like to say that I registered my concern about this almost a year ago to the day.

"I spoke in a public forum in relation to it, I spoke to the media and was encouraged by the National Maternity Hospital to address their concern in relation to the governance structures that were being discussed at the time with St Vincent's Healthcare."

Dr Fitzpatrick said his anxiety "concerned ownership and control of the hospital".

However, he insisted that none of the deliberations should derail or decelerate the project and it is absolutely essential the NMH co-locates at St Vincent's as planned.

He said "there is an opportunity to resolve the problem" as it is of "national significance" as the first maternity hospital being built this century.

He said it is absolutely critical there is absolute separation between Church and medicine, especially when it comes to female reproductive healthcare, and made it clear that he was not reassured by the statements issued by other consultants on the Board or by Nicholas Kearns' statements.

Dr Fitzpatrick told the Sean O'Rourke programme on RTÉ Radio 1 that the "sufficient ambiguity in the composition of the Board" will guarantee division and confusion.

"This is not the way to run a maternity hospital," he said, referring to it as a "compromise governance model".

He said he very much shared the view that it should exist as a co-operative partnership with St Vincent's hospital.

Update - 10.45am: Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay has said he did not anticipate another fallout concerning maternity hospital ownership in 2017.

"I didn't think we would ever have a row again about the state consciously, deliberately deciding to build a maternity hospital, and giving it to the Catholic Church, " he said on Newstalk Breakfast.

"I just cannot understand the basis behind the decision, the logic behind the decision. You wouldn't build a university and hand it over to the Catholic Church. It's inexplicable."

Meanwhile, the former master of the Rotunda has defended Ireland's maternity hospital system.

Sam Coulter Smith said current facilities are all free from religious influence, and that the new hospital can be autonomous if current standards are followed.

"It must be very clear who's in charge, who's making the decisions and how those decisions are made, and who those decisions are reported to," he said. "There can't be any interference from any outside body with any other interest.

"That's what we have in the maternity hospitals at the moment. We have a mastership system. We've got a system that works."

Update - 8.45am: The former Master of the Coombe has resigned from the project board of the National Maternity Hospital.

Professor Chris Fitzpatrick has stood down in support of Dr Peter Boylan who resigned yesterday over reservations about the proposed religious ownership of the hospital.

In his resignation note, Prof. Fitzpatrick said he shared Dr Boylan's concern that the Sisters of Charity will own the new €300m taxpayer-funded hospital.

Earlier: The boards of Holles Street and St Vincent's hospitals are to begin working on the governance and legal agreements for the new national maternity hospital.

St Vincent's board confirmed last night that it is fully supportive of the decision to locate the facility on its land.

The boards are now expected to meet with Simon Harris to complete the necessary agreements - which they say will guarantee the hospital's clinical independence - as set out in the original deal.

However, Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall believes that the deal is not sufficient to guarantee independence.

She said: "That would indicate that what we've been led to believe in relation to the independence of the new National Maternity Hospital is not actually the case.

"When you look at the detail of the report, you see that what is proposed is a company that is to be set up that would be entirely owned by St Vincent's and equally a board that would be dominated by St Vincent's.

"That is not an independent hospital."


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