Thursday, 12 May 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Leo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
About two weeks ago, the Government decided to pause making a final decision on this matter. I think that was a sensible approach. It allowed people to ask questions and, in many cases, to get answers. It allowed for transparency and the publication of documents. It allowed for some people to be reassured and also allows us to consider what additional safeguards we might be able to add to the Government decision next Tuesday. I expect there will be a Government decision on the matter next Tuesday, but we will see how things develop between now and then.
Above all, we should not lose sight of what we are trying to achieve here. This is the biggest single investment in women's health in Ireland since the foundation of the State. It is part of an overall strategy to improve women's health, maternity care and neonatal care, including improvements at the Rotunda, the new Coombe hospital, a new hospital in Limerick, a new unit in Galway as well as community units. We want to achieve a world-class maternity hospital. I worked in Holles Street hospital and I know it well. It is a great hospital but it has conditions and infrastructure that are from 50 or 100 years ago.
In the new facility, every woman will have a single room en suitewith the dignity that comes with that. In addition, there will be much better infection control. There will be a state-of-the-art newborn intensive care unit, NICU, for those little babies born prematurely who are most vulnerable. There will be five theatres instead of two. Think what that will do for gynaecology waiting lists. It will co-locate with a major adult teaching hospital, St. Vincent's. That means if something goes wrong, such as a woman having a major haemorrhage, cardiac arrest or stroke, within 20 minutes she can be in the ICU or in theatre in the adult hospital with all those specialists around her. At the moment women need to be transferred into an ambulance, through the streets of Dublin, out of the ambulance and into St. Vincent's Hospital. That is very much suboptimal. That is the prize. If we go for the plan in front of us, we can have that new hospital under construction as early as next year or, if not, the year after.
The CPO approach Deputy Bacik proposes does not give us that guarantee. The difficulty with the CPO, which was considered by the Government, is that we would not have the co-operation of St. Vincent's when it comes to that CPO. It would need to be a compulsory purchase, not a voluntary purchase. That would definitely mean additional costs and additional delays. At the end of it, the CPO might be refused because we would need to prove to An Bord Pleanála and to the courts that the CPO is necessary. We are being offered a 300-year lease. Deputy Bacik is a lawyer and she will know that a 300-year lease is considered to be secure title. That would make it very hard to give the women of Ireland any assurance or guarantee that the CPO would be successful. The alternative the Deputy is proposing - I understand the purity and rationale behind it - would definitely involve higher costs and further delays, and it might actually fail in the end.