Latest: Minister for Health asks for time to pursue 'acceptable solutions' to maternity hospital controversy

Update 6.20pm:The Minister for Health Simon Harris has asked for "time to pursue solutions" to the ownership controversy of the new National Maternity Hospital.

In a statement issued by the minister this evening, Mr Harris said he believed the State can "devise creative and acceptable solutions" to the ownership of the facilities.

It follows the row over the news that the Sisters of Charity will own the new National Maternity Hospital, which is to be located on the St Vincent's site in South Dublin.

Mr Harris, who said that the "structure of our health service is diverse and complex", said that he wanted a broader conversation on the issue which he said "is long overdue".

The statement from the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, in full

"I am absolutely committed to building a new National Maternity Hospital which is so badly needed by women and their babies in this country.

"After many years of failed attempts, I was delighted when, late last year, the two voluntary hospitals involved agreed to work together to make this happen and to ensure co-location between maternity and acute adult services.

"I remain grateful to them and to Kieran Mulvey for their tireless work in coming to an agreement ensuring absolute clinical independence. I have also welcomed the statement by the Board of the St.Vincent's Healthcare Group earlier this week which reaffirmed this clinical independence.

"The agreement also has robust measures to protect the State's investment, in line with well established practice, and a new role for the Health Minister of the day in terms of a "golden share" - something which in my view is an improvement on the current reality in maternity services.

"This week, I asked for a period of time to allow me and my officials to work with both hospitals and report back to the Government, the Oireachtas and to the public at the end of May.

"I want to be very clear that I want this time to pursue solutions that address the issue of the ownership of the facility, that is the new NMH. The agreement reached between the hospitals recognised that the State will require a "lien" on the new facility in accordance with whatever funding agreements are in place by the State for such capital projects. Different options have been used in the past in doing this and I believe there is potential to devise creative and acceptable solutions ‎that will provide further reassurance regarding the ownership of these facilities which will be paid for by the State.

"As we've seen through this process and most particularly in recent weeks, the structure of our health service is diverse and complex. A conversation has now started in Ireland regarding this. That is a good thing and I want to separately put in place a process to facilitate that broader conversation which is long overdue and which will, rightfully, take some time. ‎

"This process can be expected to raise a broad range of complex policy issues that will need to be addressed on a general basis within the health service into the future.

"However the need for a new NMH is beyond doubt and that is why we must work now on the issues to be addressed so it can proceed.

"To facilitate this I do respectfully ask for a short period of time to work with Holles Street and St.Vincent's to provide further detail on the arrangements which could be put in place to address issues of public concern, which I have heard very clearly."

Update 1pm:There are renewed calls for the deal over the new National Maternity Hospital to be renegotiated.

The plan to hand ownership to the Sisters of Charity in exchange for land at the site at St Vincent's continues to cause outrage, despite assurances by the Health Minister that there would be no religious interference in the running of the new facility.

Well known consultant oncologist at St Vincent's, Professor John Crown, says he continues to be troubled by the ownership problem but adds that if the country ends up without a new hospital, nobody wins.

"When I heard that Vincent's were threatening to pull out of the project I was despondent.

"What rational person on the board of a rational institution looking at something which the women of this country urgently need, which the babies of this country urgently need, would actually say oh well actually we may walk away from it if you don't do it our way?

"That is not the thinking of somebody who has got proper programmatic health planning at heart, it is the thinking of somebody who is defending some other interest," he said.

Earlier: The man who brokered agreement between the National Maternity Hospital and St Vincent's Hospital says a "creative solution" can still be found to resolve the row over the ownership of the new facility.

Kieran Mulvey has told the Sunday Business Post an acceptable solution is possible to keep it in State ownership.

The row erupted after it emerged the Sisters of Charity will own the new National Maternity Hospital, which is to be located on the St Vincent's site in South Dublin.

“When the issue of ownership comes to the final stage, I have no doubt in my mind that a creative, acceptable solution will be found between them,” he said.

Mulvey's comments come after the former Master of the Rotunda Hospital said the proposed management structure has not been tested.

“In reality we do not know if it will work until it is challenged. That is not good enough,” he said.

Mulvey said the Sisters of Charity are reviewing their options, but that they will not be rushed into making a decision as they have been subjected to the "most appalling vilification".

Meanwhile, the Magdalene Survivors Together group says the Minister for Health is totally out of touch with the majority of people in Ireland over the new National Maternity Hospital.

They say the proposed 'gifting' of the new hospital to the Sisters of Charity has angered many women who passed through the religious order's institutions in the past.

Chairman Stephen O'Riordan, says they are calling for the minister's resignation.

"Their faith and their ethical views and the code of practice of how they operate as an organisation is in complete contrast to how the majority of women might feel in the context of receiving medical care.

"If that is not a reason for us to be really concerned then the Minister doesn't understand the role or conflict of interest," he said.

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