Thursday, 12 May 2022
National Maternity Hospital: Statements
I will touch on that issue again, so the Minister may have a chance to come back to it.
Those of us who have been on the health committee and who have looked at these documents at length and considered the matter yesterday and again today have had the time this incredibly complex agreement requires. I hope we will have a little more time because one of the things I want to do is talk to a legal or governance expert from St. Vincent's Hospital to ask why it would not consider giving the land to the State. Considering the way other sites in the State work, I am not sure I accept the current explanation.
I have many other questions around this deal. I would have liked more time to consider the business case and why it has been returned for review. I would have liked more time to think about why it came to Cabinet when the business case had not been signed off because this is a major project. Why have we managed to get to that €1 billion figure we talked about yesterday when, I am sorry to say, the construction costs just do not indicate it would cost €1 billion? Why do we have an empty hospital, block 1 in Elm Park, sitting empty for ten years, which the National Maternity Hospital, NMH, agreed in 2012 was suitable for its needs? Why is that empty and sitting there? What does this hospital mean for Sláintecare contracts? I would have liked time to consider all of that, but we do not have time for that today.
We all want the maternity hospital built and we all want it to proceed, no one more than me who has small children. I was very glad to hear the Minister talk about and recognise the dark history of women's health in this country. If we are to recognise that, we have to address the lack of faith, not dismiss it and call it a red herring, but actually recognise it. I have suggestions for how we could recognise it so that extra time would be helpful. We also need to release all legal documents relating to the share transfer and take up the Irish Family Planning Association, IFPA, suggestion of encouraging the NMH to have a professorship of abortion care because our maternity hospital must be a centre of excellence. It is not just that it should allow abortion and sterilisation. It must be a centre of excellence for that care.
As Deputy Shortall spoke about at length, the term "clinically appropriate" should be removed, clarified or added to, either in the documents or as an addendum or memorandum of understanding. There is a lack of faith and trust from the public in Irish institutions. We can solve that in a number of hours and days. It worth doing that. I point out that many of the parties in this Chamber found themselves massively out of step in 2018. Not just the Government but those in the Opposition were out of step with the public mood in 2018 when it came to abortion. Let us not go there again and let us not contextualise this debate as Government versus Opposition because I do not think it is that.
Yesterday, we talked about listening to doctors and I said "No". That is not what I walk the streets for. I walk the streets to listen to women. The women of this country care about this and my voters care about this. I suspect those who are actually giving their votes to the Minister and the Minister of State care. Make no mistake, I do not want to see this Government and the institutions of this State continue what we have done in the past, which is to assume we know better when we do not. We should listen and clarify before we sign off. The people involved in this discussion are not just the Minister - I thank him for this time - but also the three leaders of the coalition parties and the master of NMH. If we are truly listening to women, I ask and implore those five men to act.