Taoiseach Micheal Martin has suggested that the phrase “legally permissible” is “very clear” that any procedure that is legal in Ireland has to be provided at the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH).
Clinicians on Friday offered a vocal defence of the planned move of the hospital to a new site, in a bid to assuage concerns that no religious interference would be possible in the future.
Controversy about the ownership and governance structure of the hospital has continued for almost two weeks now, since Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly’s memo to Cabinet was stalled to allow for further scrutiny of the arrangement.
Speaking to reporters in Sallins, Co Kildare, at the opening of 29 new homes, the Taoiseach defended the agreement as sufficiently clear to guarantee that all procedures would take place at the hospital.
“‘Lawfully permissible’ is very clear – anything that’s legal in this country has to be provided at the new hospital, and is currently provided at Holles Street,” he said.
“The guarantees are cast iron in respect of all legally permissible services being made available at the hospital. The constitution of the new hospital is very strong in terms of all services being made available. Also, the operating licence of the HSE (provides further assurances).
“Above all, the clinicians in the hospital I listen to a lot. Many women involved in maternity, obstetrics and midwifery are unanimous that this hospital must go ahead in the interest of the health of the women in the country.”
The comments come ahead of a crunch meeting of the Cabinet next week, at which the Government is currently expected to approve plans for the new National Maternity Hospital.
Green Party minister Catherine Martin threw her support behind the plan on Friday, in a significant intervention that suggests the Cabinet may be able to fully back the plan on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Culture Minister said: “During this necessary extended two-week period of time, I sought answers and assurances in correspondence from my Cabinet colleague, the NMH, the HSE as well as St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.”
She continued: “I am satisfied that following assurances received (including written assurances I received containing required additional clarifications, including from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group) that this has resulted in greater transparency around this project.
“I now believe that the safeguards and protections are there to protect services for women.”
The hospital is currently in a 130-year-old building at Holles Street in Dublin city centre, which has been criticised as unfit for purpose.
The main calls from campaigners and opposition TDs is to clarify the phrase “clinically appropriate” and to push for outright ownership of the land that the hospital is to be built on.
As it stands, the NMH deal provides for the Government to lease the land from St Vincent’s for 299 years at 10 euro per year, which the Government has argued effectively amounts to ownership.
“It’s been a good debate over the last two weeks, we’ve published all the documentation. I thought the legal presentations from quite a number of people yesterday were quite strong,” the Taoiseach said.
Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Professor Shane Higgins, told a briefing on Friday that he believed the move would ultimately be approved.
Flanked by several colleagues and clinicians, he said that he believed that all concerns had been answered in the last week-and-a-half.
It is not fair to continue to delay this project. It is a huge investmentDr Roger McMorrow, NMH clinical director
Alice Murphy, the legal advisor to the hospital, said that some of the concerns had arisen from a misunderstanding of company and charity law.
She said: “The conflation of geography, with control – just because one is located in a physical premises does not magically or without any legal mechanism, generate a control or controlling influence.
“Where we hear that, ‘oh, there’s a very worrying provision in the constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings, which affects the maternity hospital’.
“It is my view that there’s a misunderstanding there of the basic principles of company law, that each company is governed by its own constitution.”
NMH clinical director Dr Roger McMorrow said: “It is not fair to continue to delay this project. It is a huge investment.”
He said there was unanimity inside Holles Street for the new project.
Dr Peter Boylan, former master of the NMH, has been among the voices leading the opposition to the current arrangements for the new hospital.
I would like to think that over the course of the last week-and-a-half, the engagement on behalf of the hospital by many of the clinicians with the various parliamentary parties has helped to allay some of the anxietiesProfessor Shane Higgins, Master of the NMH
His stance came in for criticism at the briefing, as Prof Higgins questioned the former master’s understanding of the legal arrangements.
“I can’t speak on behalf of Dr Boylan and I’m not going to attempt to do so. I’m not sure that he has the understanding of the proposed move and the detail,” Prof Higgins said.
Referencing the campaign against the move, he added: “They’ve moved away from the nuns and now we’ve got ‘clinically appropriate’, the new hot topic, or the leasehold.
“And I think when you drill down, if you take them all separately and look at them from a purely objective point of view, none of them hold any water.”
Prof Higgins said that he would not be disappointed if Cabinet decided to delay a decision again, but added: “I would like to think that over the course of the last week-and-a-half, the engagement on behalf of the hospital by many of the clinicians with the various parliamentary parties has helped to allay some of the anxieties.
“I don’t think I will speak on behalf of the Government but I think that we have clearly outlined the need for the move.”