Thursday, 20 January 2022
National Maternity Hospital: Motion [Private Members]
I commend Deputies Joan Collins and Pringle and the Independent Group on moving this motion. I will start by saying the practice of the Government not opposing motions is starting to wear a little thin. The motion is not being opposed but that is not because the Government agrees with it. Sometimes a motion comes to the House and the Government, understandably, does not oppose it because it might be a motherhood and apple pie motion. This motion, however, calls for something specific and it is very clear the Government does not support it. I refer to the compulsory purchase order for the land, because the Government is not going down that road. By not saying it or putting this to a vote, necessitating voting against it as is its position, it is a dishonest way of putting forward that Government position.
This really must stop. Perhaps the Government wants to save its backbenchers a difficult weekend or longer in their constituencies. It may be a product of the culture of using screenshots of voting on social media, and maybe that is something for which we should all take responsibility in how we practise our politics. It is not right with a motion like this because the Government does not support it or agree with it. The Government did not agree with the Social Democrats or Sinn Féin motion on it, it did not agree with Deputy Kelly on the matter when he raised it during Leaders' Questions, and it did not agree with Deputy Bacik when she raised the topic during one of her first contributions in the Dáil. She made contribution during Leaders' Questions and the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, responded. The Government does not agree with the motion and it should be honest about it and stand over its position. It should be honest with the people and give the Parliament the respect it deserves on a matter of such importance.
Going back to last summer, in June an all-party motion was agreed and the Government allowed it to go through. In his response to Deputy Bacik, the Tánaiste said we needed to move ahead on this and there would be a delay with a compulsory purchase order. He argued that a compulsory purchase order process was not guaranteed either and we should not let perfection be the enemy of the good. Sometimes the good is not good enough, however, and that is what we have here. Nobody has convinced anybody in this House, including people on the Government benches, that the new national maternity hospital will be free from religious ethos, whether that is in the termination of pregnancies, assisted human reproduction or IVF treatment. No guarantees have been given on that. We cannot even get guarantees there will not be religious iconography on the walls, as there currently is in the National Maternity Hospital not a couple of hundred yards from where we are now.
This is not an idle motion but rather the exact opposite. This has been going on for ten years, particularly for the five years since Deputy Harris was Minister for Health when this really became a live issue, with decisions having to be made. It has been clear the Government is going down the path of least resistance, taking a gamble at a time when we are four years on from repealing the eighth amendment and we still have women having to travel.
There is an assisted human reproduction Bill that is going nowhere. The general scheme was published nearly five years ago now and a draft Bill apparently has been somewhere in the Department for the past three years but it has not been brought to this House. There are people all over this country waiting for that Bill. They are people waiting for surrogacy, gay couples and widows with the gametes of their deceased partners, which is all they have left and which are in the freezers of private fertility clinics. These people are waiting for guiding legislation on what can be done. These are the harrowing stories we hear day in and day out from people waiting for legislation relating to women's health. It is interlinked and almost crystallised in this debate about the national maternity hospital. It is really annoying that this happens again and again when the matter comes before the House.
This motion has been debated in an intelligent and even-tempered manner, like previous motions and contributions on the matter. I believe there is a critical mass within the Government that knows this is the right thing to do. The Government is not doing it, however, and it is going with the good over the perfect. It is taking a massive risk. Quite simply, it is a very basic ask in having a State-owned and run national maternity hospital in 21st century Ireland and that we cannot guarantee it is a sad indictment of how far we still have to go. This debate would not be happening in any of our sister democracies in Europe. We would not have such a debate once, never mind multiple times over recent years.
Even the clinicians in favour of the move to Elm Park know they cannot provide these guarantees. They are pragmatists, however, and may be non-political. They just want to get on with it but they know they cannot provide those guarantees. They have said it to us. There is this sense of the unknown and risk but there does not have to be. We could follow what this and other motions from the Opposition have called for consistently, intelligently, passionately but in a calm manner. We want to go to a process of compulsory purchase order, and although it would be disappointing and difficult if it delayed the project, we would ultimately get a national maternity hospital suited to the majority of people in this country in terms of their politics, women's healthcare and what they need and desire in the years ahead.