Thursday, 20 January 2022
National Maternity Hospital: Motion [Private Members]
It looks like we have been deserted tonight in regard to this debate. I want to concur with Deputy Connolly in terms of the response from the Minister of State. It is an insult, not just to me but to women in this country.
In setting up the legal entity and framework, the Mulvey agreement has spurred the Religious Sisters of Charity to continue on in the same vein. The project was about co-location; now it has changed to full integration. That is what the Religious Sisters of Charity and its holding group are looking for. The bugbear remains, and the minutes of the HSE board meeting of 29 October 2021 note that the board raised concerns regarding the ultimate ownership of the site, which is being provided through a long-term lease rather than by means of being sold to the State. That discussion will go nowhere because if the Religious Sisters of Charity and their lawyers are not going to agree to that, we will be here forever and a day. The Minister will never be able to bring a proposal to Government that will clearly state that the hospital and land will be under State control and ownership.
The Minister of State's reply was a bit insulting. In this House, we have always supported the Government in respect of the national maternity hospital project. What we are saying is that this discussion has been protracted and things have gone on for too long. How long more do we have to wait to agree legal discussions that are going nowhere because the HSE has said it will not deal with the project unless the site is sold to the State? The HSE has said that needs to be done, but the Religious Sisters of Charity has said it is gifting the land to the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. The Government should be honest and say whether it supports that. In his reply, the Minister of State not once said the Government is in favour of public ownership of the site at St. Vincent's University Hospital. He referred to clinical needs, but did not refer to ownership even though the Government has supported two motions on this.
Dr. Peter Boylan, who resigned from the board of Holles Street, stated that the ownership of the land on which the hospital is to be built is the key issue from which all matters relating to clinical independence from inappropriate religious ethos, protection of the State's investment and appropriate governance flow. He believes that the project has stalled because the sisters are refusing to sell the land to the State, even though they said they would gift to the State or the Irish people, as they put it, and that, in the absence of ownership of the land, no amount of legal negotiation over years on leases, licences, etc., has been able to provide the State with security on these issues. That is the reality. The project is going nowhere unless this issue is resolved.
Dr. Boylan went on the say that the board of the HSE has expressed grave concerns about the project and the Comptroller and Auditor General is conducting an audit of it. He stated that a new development paves the way forward for the National Maternity Hospital in a way that will resolve all concerns.
Groundbreaking legal opinion commissioned by Uplift and published by Mr. Stephen Dodd, SC, has concluded that the State could present a compelling case to meet the test to justify a compulsory purchase order on the Elm Park site. His legal opinion is that as the hospital being built is a national maternity facility which is being wholly funded by the State, the State has an interest in ownership that substantially outweighs that of the Religious Sisters of Charity and St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. This opinion cuts through the current impasse.
He has scrutinised the current proposals and has described them as Byzantine and Kafkaesque. His legal opinion is:
The fact that a set of labyrinthine arrangements have to be devised, where the construction and implications of the same are contentious and doubtful is highly unsatisfactory. Considering the importance of the NMH and vast monies being expended by the State, there would seem to be a significant public interest in certainty in relation to these matters.
Arguably the matter is of such importance to the State, that there is a legitimate state interest in achieving certainty which could only be secured by the State having full control through ownership of the relevant land and assets.
I again ask where we are going on this. If the Minister for Health gets the legal briefing on acquiring the site by CPO, the Religious Sisters of Charity would need to agree to it and if they do not, it will go to court. We would then see whether the Religious Sisters of Charity are being genuine in what they are saying. We need that land. The State needs that land. The women of this country need that land because what we do not own, we do not control; it is as simple as that. If we are still going through the process of legal discussions etc., the land will not be handed over to us unless we demand it. The Minister of State and Government backbenchers should go to the Minister and argue strongly that we must move to acquire that land by CPO.
Over the last century, in mother and baby homes, it was mainly women who were treated abysmally. We have had the practice of symphysiotomy. We have had the cervical cancer screening crisis which happened to women. We have had a detailed discussion on how we have lived in this patriarchal society for years and yet when it comes to one of the most basic things we need, having a publicly owned and publicly controlled national maternity hospital, the Minister of State said, "I would ask all Members of the House to support the Government in its continued commitment to women's health and progressing the necessary relocation", which is just patronising.
The State must move on this. It cannot wait another year, two years or three years. By acquiring the land by CPO, we would at least be showing that we can actually start building on that site a maternity hospital that is in the State's control.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for chairing the debate. I am bitterly disappointed with the response and bitterly disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is not here. It is not just me and others in this Chamber but also people on the streets who will continue to demand this. I put the Government on warning that people will not accept this long-term thing. I understand that the medical staff in Holles Street want to move out of a building which is ancient and difficult to work in. They want to move to a modern national maternity hospital, but that hospital must work under the legal demands of the State.