Thursday, 12 May 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Ivana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
I return to the question of the national maternity hospital. First, I thank the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, for his engagement with the Labour Party Parliamentary Party yesterday evening. We were very appreciative of the opportunity to engage with the Minister, clinicians and legal advisers to hear more about the Government's proposals, to dig into the legal documents somewhat and to hear more about the choice of the St. Vincent's site. While we did receive clarity, our concerns remain. We received much greater clarity as to why the St. Vincent's site is optimal in the view of clinicians. It is clear from the view of senior clinicians that this is almost the only site on which they might envisage that the new maternity hospital would be built.
However, this clarity just crystallised the position for us which is that if that is indeed the optimal site, the optimal approach to acquiring that site for the building of the hospital is to acquire it freehold, to ensure it is either gifted or sold at a nominal fee to the State. That is why we renew our calls today, as we renewed them last night with the Minister, for the State to consider the compulsory purchase order, CPO, option. If this is the optimal site, we need to look at the best approach on which the site is to be held. That is clearly a freehold ownership by the State. That is clear from the evidence given by the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to the health committee yesterday where he stressed that successive Ministers for Health including the Minister, Deputy Harris, repeatedly asked the Religious Sisters of Charity and the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group to gift the land to the State but that this had been refused.
We say that the Minister should now have the courage to take on the successor company that holds the land and to seek that the land be gifted, to renew calls that the land be gifted or sold at a nominal fee to the State or indeed to take up the CPO option. The State has real history of taking up the CPO option. It is not some kind of far-fetched notion. Our colleague Deputy Howlin, who has extensive experience, has advised that this is a realistic option. It is time that we stood up to the religious orders and their successor companies. For far too long, the State has been submissive in enabling ownership of land to continue in the hands of religious organisations, and the lay-run trusts that have succeeded them in property ownership, in our school system and in our hospital system.
If we know that the optimal way to have this hospital built is on land that is owned freehold, then let us go back and ensure that that is done, that the land is gifted or sold to the State for a nominal fee. I know the health committee has sought a further short delay on the making of the Cabinet decision in the interests of further engagement to allow us to hear from further stakeholders. I ask the Tánaiste to consider that request and to consider the Government's policy by looking now at taking on the power of the religious orders and successor entities.