'The State's interests will be protected and no religious order will gain financially' - Minister Harris breaks silence on maternity hospital row
Minister Simon Harris has broken his silence on the controversy surrounding ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital by releasing a statement to the media.
Minister Harris has drawn significant criticism this week after responding to concerns about the ownership issue on social media only.
The new hospital is set to be built on a site at Elm Park in south Dublin - which is owned by the Sisters of Charity.
It will be located on the St Vincent's University Hospital campus and will cater for up to 10,000 births per year.
The Sisters of Charity are the shareholders of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, which the Department of Health announced would be the "sole owner of the new hospital".
Critics have hit out at the fact that the religious order, who previously rang Magdalene Laundries and were ordered to pay redress to victims which they have not yet done, should have any role in maternity care.
However, Rhona Mahony, Master of Holles Street maternity hospital, has stridently defended the move and insisted the hospital will be fully independent and that independence will be protected by a "triple lock system".
“Let me be very clear, the nuns will not be running this hospital, it will not be under Catholic ethos. It will be completely independent.
“The ethos will be excellence in clinical care, it will not be a Catholic ethos."
- Read more: National maternity hospital explainer: The nuns, the €300m in taxpayer's money, and the suddenly-quiet health minister
Now the Minister who has remained silent, save for some reaction on social media, has released a statement which says:
"Let me very clear: there will be no financial gain to any religious order from the development of this hospital. Legal arrangements will be put in place which will 100pc protect the State’s investment and interest in the new hospital.
"I have heard people say that nuns will be running the hospital. Not true. I have heard that nuns have been gifted the hospital. Not true. I have heard people talk about nuns and redress.
"Redress is extremely important and I have previously said that the religious orders must step up to the mark and pay what is long overdue. However I think it is wrong to conflate redress with the decision to build the desperately needed new maternity hospital.
"We need to provide a new National Maternity Hospital. The current buildings are no longer fit for purpose. We need to provide modern healthcare facilities for the women and infants of Ireland. We will protect the Mastership model.
"We need to ensure patients attending the National Maternity Hospital have immediate access to theatres, high dependency and intensive care provision in an acute adult hospital if the need arises. That is what I intend to do, while absolutely protecting, public health policy, taxpayers’ money and the State," he said.
Minister Harris said the order has provided the "valuable land" has been donated to the state by the nuns to allow the hospital to be developed there.
"In doing so, they have foregone the opportunity to put this land to alternative use," he said.
The Fine Gael TD said he met with the Director General of the HSE today and requested that three criteria are "satisfied in full" before contracts are put in place.
To satisfy these criteria the new hospital is developed in line with international best practise
It must have "clinical, operational and financial independence, with no question of religious interference".
The contracts must mean that no private entity or religious order can profit and that the building can only be used for the defined purpose of providing public maternity, gynaecological and neonatal services.