FF claims Harris 'a rabbit in headlights' on hospital
Health Minister Simon Harris responded to the controversy over plans for the new National Maternity Hospital like "a rabbit caught in headlights", Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has claimed.
Mr Martin made the remark in the Dáil as his quizzed Taoiseach Enda Kenny over the furore that has erupted due to plans to move the €300m hospital to the St Vincent's hospital campus, which is owned by a religious order, the Sisters of Charity.
He said: "[Mr Harris] rushed out saying he was going to write to the HSE to seek clarification on the deal. When in doubt, the ministers write to the HSE now - as if he knew nothing about it.
"A rabbit caught in headlights, because the furore that developed as a result of the revelations seemed to catch him by surprise."
Mr Martin also questioned why the nuns would want to own a maternity hospital.
He asked for confirmation that the new hospital would have clinical independence and the Sisters of Charity would not have a majority on the board.
He also asked if Mr Kenny would ensure that the State would own the hospital.
Mr Kenny insisted the hospital would have "complete clinical independence". But he said Mr Harris had asked for a month "to allow space" to discuss the question of ownership.
The Taoiseach said there was agreement on co-locating the maternity hospital with a major hospital and the "need for new facilities for expectant mothers and their babies".
He said the current facilities at Holles Street were inadequate, and claimed this was partly because Mr Martin allowed the situation "to drift" while he was health minister.
Mr Martin asked why the Sisters of Charity wanted to own the new hospital, asking if there was a complicated financial set-up at the St Vincent's campus that prevented them from giving the property to the State.
On Saturday, the Irish Independent reported that Kieran Mulvey - the mediator brought in to strike a deal in relation to moving the hospital - said the land was tied up in financial and legal agreements.