Opposition parties lined up to condemn the Government on Tuesday, after it pushed ahead with plans for the new national maternity hospital.
Cabinet signed off on Tuesday morning on the ownership structure for the co-location of the new National Maternity Hospital, after weeks of debate around whether the proposal provides enough guarantees to safeguard the medical care of women.
That debate, which intensified in the last two weeks following a Cabinet decision to postpone approval, was labelled a “charade” by opposition parties in the Dail as Taoiseach Micheal Martin offered a robust defence of the plan.
During leaders’ questions, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald attacked the Government decision to approve the proposal for co-location with St Vincent’s.
The appearance of chairman of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, James Menton, at an Oireachtas committee on Monday was referenced by all sides of the debate, as politicians clashed over questions of ownership and the alleged failure of the Government to secure state ownership of the new hospital site.
Ms McDonald said: “It’s obvious that the best way to safeguard this investment and to allay public concern is for government to secure the transfer of the land into state ownership.
“It transpires that far from proactively seeking the best outcome you and your government make no real effort to secure state ownership of that land,” she said.
“What’s at issue here is the failure of your government to secure the land in public ownership.”
What is the message then to the women of Ireland? Is it calm down, you don’t need legal guarantees?Roisin Shortall
Mr Martin rebuked Ms McDonald, shrugging off criticism and stating that many of the accusations levelled against the maternity hospital plans had been disproved.
“When this hospital gets built, and it’s a good decision today, for the women of Ireland and for newborns into the future, we will have a new maternity hospital and a new neonatal centre of excellence in public ownership, in state ownership for the next 300 years.
“And when that happens, and when it’s proven to be such that you and your party will have the good grace to acknowledge that that indeed is the case and that you won’t try and erase from the public memory your ongoing, downright opposition to it.
“You are wrong by any yardstick, by any legal analysis,” Mr Martin told the Sinn Fein leader.
He rejected concerns regarding ownership, repeating his belief that a 300-year lease at 10 euro a year amounts to state ownership.
“There is no doubt in the minds of the St Vincent’s Healthcare group who owns the land,” Ms McDonald claimed.
Earlier, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly had defended his role in negotiations and Government attempts to secure the land.
“With regards to the Health Committee yesterday, I did approach St Vincent’s, I approached the chair of St Vincent’s, I approached the order as well. I had a meeting with them as well on the topic. And it was made very clear the State’s position up to and including last year.
“So I believe the Department released documentation to that effect last night, and my understanding is St Vincent’s are more than happy to correct the record if that helps.”
Mr Martin indicated that the time for debate was over.
“It’s time to wrap this part of it up now, because the arguments presented by Government on this have been held up robustly,” he said.
Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall labelled the entire process a “sham”.
She said: “What was the point of the last two weeks?”
“It is quite clear now that was actually a charade.
“What is the message then to the women of Ireland? Is it calm down, you don’t need legal guarantees? The word of the Cabinet will suffice.
“The overall attitude of the Government has been incredibly patronising and completely dismissive of good faith attempts of the opposition and the public to engage with these documents and improve the deal.
“The unseemly rush to ram this decision through the Cabinet is inexplicable.”