Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

National Maternity Hospital: Motion [Private Members]


7:55 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

At the outset I commend Deputies Joan Collins and Pringle on bringing forward this motion. It is a very good and timely motion because we have been waiting many years for movement on a new national maternity hospital. This was first announced in 2013 and there have been three Ministers for Health since. Issues started to arise in 2016 and I have lost count of the number of parliamentary questions I have asked and the number of Dáil debates that have taken place on this. Every time a parliamentary question is put in and we ask for the updated position on the proposed new hospital, we are told legal documents are being finalised and will be completed shortly. That has been the reply for approximately five or six years.

The Government got itself on a hook when it decided it would co-locate the new national maternity hospital with St. Vincent's University Hospital. It did so not taking into account the question of ethos, with a hospital essentially controlled and many of us would say owned by a religious order. There will clearly be a major problem relating to ethos and the curtailment of services available under the law in this country. They are unlikely to be available in a religious hospital. No Catholic hospital in the world provides the full range of women's healthcare services and there is no reason to think Ireland is going to break the mould in that respect. It just will not happen and that is the reality. That is the first concern.

One must ask why on earth, in 2022, this is happening. Consider all of the difficulties in the past where responsibility was outsourced to the religious for schools, care facilities and healthcare, and all of the attendant difficulties associated with that, and that the State funded all of these services and facilities and has no way now of taking ownership of them. Given all of those problems and all of the problems associated with the kind of control that the religious too often exercised over women and children in this State, why in heaven's name would the Government, of all types of hospitals, fund and hand over our national maternity hospital to religious control? It is outrageous when one thinks about it.

The Government commissioned its own report, the Dr. Catherine Day report, which looked at all of these issues relating to section 38 and section 39 organisations and the handover of vast amounts of public infrastructure to religious orders. Dr. Day found that State-funded facilities should, of course, be in State ownership. It is only a couple of years since the Dr. Catherine Day report came out but the Government is ignoring its own commissioned report. There is no doubt that if this arrangement, as currently proposed by the Government, goes ahead there will be severe restrictions on the services that are available to women. Even though this is denied we are aware that up to the last year so - it may well still be the case - there are plenty of examples where the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group has advertised for staff. There is a requirement to follow the religious ethos of the owners of that hospital. That is the first point. I really believe that the Government and successive Ministers have been in complete denial about this. A lot of new information is coming to light in recent times. Ms Marie O'Connor in particular has done extensive work on this, where it is quite clear that the constitution and the operational values of the hospital are intended to be based on the original values and ethos of the Religious Sisters of Charity, who have been running St. Vincent's Hospital for so long. It is beyond argument that this would be the case.

On the principle of it, why would the State fund a hospital to the tune of €800 million and hand it over to a religious organisation? There is no logical justification, on any grounds, for that. From the taxpayers' perspective, why would the State invest in a major piece of public infrastructure in the shape of a national maternity hospital, plough €800 million into that and hand it away or give it away to private interests? Why would one do that? It shows a complete disregard for the need to protect the public purse. Why are we repeating the mistakes of the past? It does not make sense on any grounds.

It seems that the Minister does not understand the corporate structure entailed in this proposal, or he is just choosing to ignore it. The corporate structure is about St. Vincent's, which is wholly owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity. It is wholly owned by them at the moment. They are proposing to transfer their shareholding into a holding company. That holding company does not exist yet, but we were told some years ago that this is what would happen. It is proposed that this holding company would then own the new national maternity hospital which would be the national maternity hospital company, DAC. We would have a situation whereby the ground on which the new hospital is to be built would be owned by the St. Vincent's holding company and the company operating the hospital would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the St. Vincent's holding company. It would transfer - in its entirety it would appear - to the ownership of the St. Vincent's Hospital holding company. This just does not make sense on any level whatsoever.

There is a requirement for a business case - or three business cases - under the public spending code. Those business cases have not yet been prepared. There is a difficulty in preparing them because this does not stack up financially. The HSE's own audit and risk committee has turned down this proposal on six different occasions. This proposal stinks on a number of fronts. It cannot be proceeded with. It would be a dereliction of the duty of this Government, in ethical terms and in financial probity terms. It cannot go ahead.


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