Owners of the proposed site for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) argued that having two landowners and two separate hospitals on the St Vincent campus “would pose significant risks to patient care”.
St Vincent Health Care Group (SVHG) chairman James Menton made the remarks during a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee.
He also told the committee that the transfer in April 2022 of the stake in SVHG held by the Religious Sisters of Charity (RSC) to another entity called SV Holdings “was the final formal step in achieving the Council’s goal of becoming a truly secular organization free from religious influence”.
Critics of the plan to move the NMH from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s Elm Park Hospital campus have raised concerns about the potential for lingering religious influence and also about the controversial “clinically appropriate” phrase contained in the agreement underpinning his move to St Vincent’s. Campus.
Some people have wondered why SVHG did not sell the land to the state or donate it.
The government and doctors involved in the relocation responded to these concerns by highlighting the protections in the agreement to ensure that all state-legal procedures can be performed at the new hospital.
Former Coombe Maternity Master, Dr. Chris Fitzpatrick expressed concern about the historic influence of the Church on the State, saying: “Seventy-one years after the rejection of the mother-child program, the Cabinet faces another similar decision.
He told the Irish Times that before the Cabinet approves around €1bn of taxpayers’ money for the new NMH, the government “must insist that all correspondence between the RSC and the Vatican regarding this site (and other related materials) be disclosed”.
Mr Fitzpatrick also said the government should ask SVHG “to donate or sell the site to the state in the national interest and in the interest of women”.
Mr Mention explained why SVHG does not want to part with the land in his opening statement to the Health Committee today.
He said ownership of the Elm Park lands “is critical to ensuring the continued delivery of the best possible care to all patients attending the Elm Park campus at SVUH. [St Vincent’s University Hospital]SVPH [St Vincent’s Private Hospital] or in the new NMH in Elm Park.
“The SVHG campus is large and complex with many health and related services on site.
“Two landowners and therefore two separate independent hospitals would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to manage the Elm Park campus and also pose significant risks to patient care.”
He added that the Mulvey report on the proposed NMH move “noted this important principle in the mediated agreement between the three parties.”
Tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting is expected to consider moving NMH to the St Vincent’s Hospital campus.
Government approval may require the contentious phrase in the agreement – “clinically appropriate” – to be further defined or even deleted from the agreement underlying the move.
The Irish Times understands that such an approach would not prevent Cabinet from approving the move tomorrow with the tender and final approval of the hospital’s business case still pending.
NMH legal counsel Alice Murphy said on Monday she had not received any instructions regarding an addendum or amendment to the new hospital’s constitution.
Ms Murphy, a partner at firm Mason, Hayes and Curran, told RTÉ Today with Claire Byrne radio that such a legal change could happen fairly quickly if all three parties involved agree.
However, Ms Murphy said she was not aware of any plans to change the legal documents. She acknowledged that the phrase “clinically appropriate” had caused a great deal of concern, but pointed out that throughout the constitution’s clause, all services must be provided. “I don’t think a codicil is necessary,” she added.
Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall – a critic of the NMH’s displacement plan – has expressed concern about the potential for lingering Vatican influence over the deal.
She said the Vatican must authorize the Religious Sisters of Charity to divest their stake in SVHG and said “the terms attached to this divestiture have never been disclosed.”
Ms Shortall added: In fact, the government said no one on the state side ever even asked to see the Vatican documents approving this surrender. Why not?”
Mr Menton said SVHG was “committed” to achieving the goal of becoming “truly secular” and “we did it”.
He said SV Holdings – the new owner of SVHG is a registered charity and not-for-profit company governed by Irish law.
“It is not a ‘public legal body’ and there is no vehicle in the registered constitutions of SVHG or SV Holdings through which religious authority or control may be exercised. It is a fact.”
When Catholic organizations give away their assets, they usually go to another institution called a public legal body and the ethos is maintained.
Mr Menton added: “It is also a fact that the RSC transferred its shares to SV Holdings without any conditions requiring the practice of a Catholic ethics or a religious ethos.”
He said: “St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is a secular organization. The hospital has no religious ethics.
“Services have been and will continue to be provided in accordance with international best medical practice, in line with Irish law and to people of all faiths and no religion.
“There are multiple protections in place to ensure that no religious authority or control can be exercised.”
The state will not own the land on which the new hospital will be built. Instead, it will be rented for 299 years.