Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

National Maternity Hospital: Statements


2:35 pm

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister again for being here for these statements, as he was a number of weeks ago when time was made available to discuss this issue of the national maternity hospital. On that occasion I said I did not believe any Member of this House wanted the national maternity hospital run by a religious order and that is still the case. Not only is it the case but, following the publication of the documents, it is clear the Government’s strategy has been to ensure all legal protections are put in place to make sure there is no religious interference with or limitation on the services that will be provided in the national maternity hospital.

I echo the points a number of other speakers have made. I appreciate the time that has been put in during recent weeks to read the documents and for the Minister to do exactly what he promised he would do a number of weeks ago in the House, that he would give time for us to do that. That has been beneficial and it has allowed us to answer and ask many of the questions because other speakers are correct that we have a long, dark, unhappy and unpleasant history on this issue. Sometimes answering concerns, even if legal experts believe they are unfounded, is appropriate and it is useful in a public debate on the national maternity hospital. That is not to undermine the necessity to deliver this project but these two weeks will not significantly delay it and I welcome that.

I am no expert in any of these areas but I have taken the time to read these documents, particularly the lease because the issue of ownership of the public land seems to be of particular concern. I can find no legal mechanism in the lease which allows the landlord to interfere with or limit the services in the national maternity hospital. If there are Members who believe there are ways for the landlord to do that and that therefore freehold is important, I ask them to plot that out. How do the Pope, the cardinals or the heads of the religious order practically limit the services? I invite them to show me the conditions in the lease that allow them to do that. They are not there and, therefore, that issue of public ownership of the land is not one we need to surmount to protect the legally permissible services that will be provided there. If Members believe we need to surmount this issue, I would like to see the reasons for that, but I cannot find any mechanism in the lease which would enable the landlord to interfere. Then you move to the issue of the ownership and management of St. Vincent’s University Hospital, of the clinically independent national maternity hospital and of the combined campus. In the operating licence and in all the other documents, I cannot find a way where that would happen.

In all the times I have talked to the Minister about this, I have never mentioned the following.

Deputies might be surprised to hear - I was certainly surprised - that I am a former governor of the National Maternity Hospital. I was very surprised because when I was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin, I was made a governor of the National Maternity Hospital. The reason I was there was because when the Archbishop of Dublin, who is the chairperson of the National Maternity Hospital, was not able to chair the meetings, I had the responsibility of chairing the meetings.

My two children were born in the National Maternity Hospital. There is much debate about the building being outdated, but the governance model of the current National Maternity Hospital is completely outdated because the Archbishop of Dublin and the Lord Mayor of Dublin chair the board. I remind people who believe the current model is appropriate or that it allows all legally permissible services that the Archbishop of Dublin is the current chairperson of the National Maternity Hospital. Based on my assessment as a layperson, I believe the current legally permissible services are available.

I welcome the Minister's comments that he will look at that issue of the term "clinically appropriate". He has done everything to reassure people to this point and I hope he will continue to do that.

I stress to people that we need this hospital. If the current National Maternity Hospital, which is chaired by the Archbishop of Dublin and whose freehold is owned by the Earl of Pembroke, can provide legally permissible terminations and if St Vincent's hospital, which is now a secular hospital, can provide terminations at the moment, then in a hospital which has far greater secularisation - in fact, not only do we have one secular hospital, we now have two secular hospitals as a result of this process - and with all the guarantees I have seen, I can see no reason or method whereby those services could be limited.


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