Thursday, 12 May 2022
National Maternity Hospital: Statements
Imelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
It is amazing what a mess can be created by certain governments attempting to build hospitals. Fine Gael helped by Fianna Fáil has already made a fine mess of the financing of the national children's hospital. Now we have the current debacle with the new national maternity hospital. The main problem with the national maternity hospital is ambiguity. We all know the dangers of ambiguity and what can happen when what are understood to be long-standing agreements or principles break down. Let us consider Roe v.Wade in the United States. Established law from the early 1970s protecting women's rights to healthcare may be overturned on ideological grounds 50 years later.
We need to introduce safeguards against any kind of ambiguity or uncertainty. The best way to do that is to build a public hospital on public land. This is the very best way to guarantee all services required will be offered to women attending the hospital and it is the best way to protect the State's investment. I do not understand why the State cannot just own the land. As it is obviously not a financial issue, what is it? Why does St. Vincent's Healthcare Group want to keep control over the site?
I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts and we have seen countless times the consequences of major capital projects going over budget and over schedule. We have seen the consequences of the State being beholden to private enterprises. The Government, for once, needs to learn from its many mistakes in the past and try to do this properly. One of the major stumbling blocks has been the "clinically appropriate" clause in the contract. The rent will be €10 per annum if six terms are complied with, including that there can be no change to permitted use without the consent of St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. Permitted use is subject to the clinically appropriate text which is undefined. Clinically appropriate can mean different things to different people in different times. What might be clear and obvious to the current Minister might not be so to a future anti-choice Minister in 50 years' time.
The safeguard of the golden share might not be worth a grain of salt in this case. We need stronger safeguards and Sinn Féin along with others here feel that a public hospital on public land is the best way to achieve that. The Government has not given any good reason we cannot do this. Of course, I understand about the need to avoid delays but I do not think we should proceed as things stand. There are simply too many unknowns.
I appreciate that clinicians in the field feel that things can proceed as they are, but our job is to ensure the State gets best value for money and that the rights and the healthcare needs of women in Ireland are protected. It is not just the Opposition and interest groups who can see this. Some Ministers and Government Deputies clearly have the same concerns we have, but it has taken some convincing to get them on board. For the umpteenth time we need a public hospital on public land. That was the original plan and that is the plan we need. For once we hope the Minister will listen this time and try to get things right from the get-go.