A Government bid to buy the site of the new National Maternity Hospital by compulsory purchase order (CPO) could result in the facility never being built, the Taoiseach has said.
Opposition parties have ramped up pressure on the Government to CPO the site, amid ongoing concerns over ownership and governance.
The facility is set to be moved from its existing location at Dublin’s Holles Street, to a site at Elm Street in Dublin 4, where it will be co-located with St Vincent’s Hospital.
The St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) issued a statement on Tuesday, rejecting calls to sell the land, saying it must own it “for the delivery of integrated patient care”.
The statement was described by Labour leader Alan Kelly as “two fingers” to the Irish people, who called on the Taoiseach to CPO not just the Elm Street site, but the entire St Vincent’s Hospital campus.
Responding, the Taoiseach said: “You know the implications of the CPO. It can take a long time.
“And it could – let’s be honest about it – it could undermine the prospect of ever getting the hospital built. That has to be weighed up.
“We don’t rule anything out here, but that has to be weighed up.”
Mr Kelly told the Taoiseach he is unlikely to have any other choice but to CPO the site.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, he said: “Being honest with you, given the statement issued, unless they have a complete change of heart and engage with the minister and decide to gift the land, I don’t believe you’ll have any choice.
“Because the public won’t tolerate it and that’s just reality.
“This is a crossroads for Irish society. The idea that the Church is going to have a role in healthcare and maternity care is just not an option. It can’t happen.
“Your Government is going to have to be the one that will make sure that this change happens, because the time is now.”
“You told me to get real yesterday Taoiseach” when @alankellylabour brought up CPO so it would be a publicly owned site.
“We need a solution here. Your junior Minister for Health said the words C, P and O come to mind.#NationalMaternityHospital #makenmhours pic.twitter.com/2E1FAYYnXlAdvertisement
— The Labour Party (@labour) June 23, 2021
The Taoiseach said the issue was not just with Church ownership.
He added: “It’s about trusts, who followed through after in the aftermath of what was once religious ownership.
“That’s happening on a number of fronts. And it’s about the capacity of such trusts actually, in my view, into the future, to be in a position to manage and govern major tertiary hospitals of this magnitude and complexity.
“This is an important moment because it sends a signal to any future developments.”
Mr Martin continued: “If we CPO, are we prepared to say that we wait another number of years as conditions (in Holles Street) deteriorate?”
He called on SVHG to reconsider their position ahead of a planned meeting with the Minister for Health.
“A hospital that the State builds, is a hospital the State should own,” he said.
“The investment that the State would make in this hospital would be very, very significant, in terms of the hundreds of millions that could be spent here, and that investment needs to be protected.”
Plans to relocate the national maternity hospital at Holles Street to the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus in south Dublin have been beset by delays since they were announced in 2013.
Last year the Sisters of Charity said it intended to gift 29 acres of land at the St Vincent’s Hospital site to the Irish people, with ownership of the land being transferred by the religious order to a new independent charity St Vincent’s Holdings.
Opposition members have questioned the independence of that charity.
As it stands, the Government will fund the development of a new hospital building, which it will own, but it will not own the land on which it is built.
The statement yesterday from St Vincent's Hospital group was a two fingers to the Irish people says @alankellylabour
The Taoiseach must stand up for the Irish people and fight for a #NationalMaternityHospital that is publicly owned and publicly governed #MakeNMHOurs pic.twitter.com/MfeDNVnBDZ
— The Labour Party (@labour) June 23, 2021
St Vincent’s say that the new building will be owned by the State, but the site will be owned by SVHG and leased to the state for 149 years.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil earlier that ownership of the site would not be a prerequisite for ensuring clinical independence.
Last week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar flagged a number of concerns about the hospital ownership, the provision of services and a lack of Government representation on the board.
He said the Government would have to consider a new location, if red lines around these issues are not met.