Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has come under pressure to reveal how many abortions have been carried out at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.
It comes amid fresh concerns over the provision of services at the new National Maternity Hospital.
The planned relocation of the hospital from Holles Street to a site at Elm Park, alongside St Vincent’s Hospital, has been mired in controversy over governance, ownership and the impact of a potential Catholic ethos on services.
The new hospital is expected to cost the State up to 800 million euros (£681 million) but the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) has insisted it must retain ownership of the site – offering a 99-year lease with a 50-year extension – but the Government says it wants to own the land outright.
Mr Donnelly told the Oireachtas health committee: “A lot of progress has been made and I believe we’re close to finding an agreement.
“With regards to site ownership, for me it is mainly symbolic. The governance issues can be dealt with largely through the legal agreements, the reserve powers, the public interest directors and so forth.
“I don’t believe that who owns the site has an impact on the clinical and operational independence of the hospital.”
The Government has repeatedly insisted that a full range of services, including terminations, sterilisations and gender reassignment surgeries would be available at the facility.
Minister Donnelly told the committee that abortion services were “not something that’s precluded” at St Vincent’s but could not reveal how many had been carried out at the Catholic-run hospital.
Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall replied: “I find that hard to accept, I have to say.
“I think it goes way beyond being symbolic, because of the fact that there is no example anywhere in the world, that I’m aware of, where there is a hospital operation under the auspices of a Catholic organisation, and which performs the full range of women’s healthcare services.”
Mr Donnelly said the Government “categorically” was not setting up the National Maternity Hospital under the auspices of a Catholic organisation.
“I double-checked, the charters of the hospital don’t contain any reference to religious ethos” he said.
Ms Shortall replied that the “entire St Vincent’s operation” remained fully owned by the religious Sisters of Charity.
The Sisters own the Elm Park site, which is to be transferred to the charity St Vincent’s Holdings.
It seems extraordinary that you cannot establish whether or not terminations, as just one service of reproduction that women are legally entitled to, whether or not they can be performed in St Vincent'sBrid Smith, People Before Profit
Ms Shortall said that group “has the same ethical code as the religious Sisters of Charity”, which are based on the views of its founder Sister Mary Aikenhead.
Asked again how many abortions had been carried out at St Vincent’s, Minister Donnelly replied: “What I get is a report on the total numbers, I don’t get any information as to where they are performed.”
Fianna Fail TD John Lahart, Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway, Green party TD Nessa Hourigan and People Before Profit’s Brid Smith all called on the minister to reveal the figures.
Ms Hourigan said his comments had not given assurance that services such as gender affirming surgeries or services related to reproductive rights had been provided at the hospital.
She added: “There’s a piece of work to be done about rebuilding trust between the State and the women of Ireland, and for that trust to be rebuilt, we need to see those numbers.”
Minster Donnelly said he would engage with the Department of Health and St Vincent’s “to get as much detail as possible for the committee”.
It's one thing saying that services are available but its another thing to state has it actually been provided and has it happenedMartin Conway, Fine Gael
Ms Smith cited a survey by the National Women’s Council on the delivery of abortion services following the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
She said: “One of the things they were able to show quite clearly is that around half of the maternity hospitals in the country do not deliver abortion services at all, since the legislation was passed.
“So if they can find that piece of information, it seems extraordinary that you cannot establish whether or not terminations, as just one service of reproduction that women are legally entitled to, whether or not they can be performed in St Vincent’s.”
Senator Conway said: “You need to get that information and they need to provide it to you. And if they don’t provide it to you, then we have a problem.
“It’s one thing saying that services are available but its another thing to state has it actually been provided and has it happened.”