Friday 6 December 2019

Fears 'Vatican veto' will result in fresh delay for National Maternity Hospital

'Going to tender next year': An artist's impression of the new National Maternity Hospital building at the St Vincent’s Hospital campus
'Going to tender next year': An artist's impression of the new National Maternity Hospital building at the St Vincent’s Hospital campus

Eilish O'Regan and Kevin Doyle

The long-awaited new National Maternity Hospital looks set to face further delay as the Vatican stalls on whether to allow it go ahead on a proposed site in the St Vincent's campus.

It is understood plans to put the €300m project to tender early next year will not proceed until it is confirmed that the site will be cleared for transfer from the Sisters of Charity. However, the Vatican is now subject to strong lobbying not to approve the transfer as the new maternity hospital would include services such as termination of pregnancy and IVF treatments.

Raised concerns: Ex-master of the maternity hospital Dr Peter Boylan. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Raised concerns: Ex-master of the maternity hospital Dr Peter Boylan. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Senior Government sources still insisted that Vatican sign-off is ultimately "viewed as a formality". But the hospital, originally due to be ready in 2018, will miss another deadline and would be stretched out beyond the projected 2024.

The Religious Sisters of Charity, who are exiting healthcare, said yesterday that in line with canon law, they are required to seek formal approval from the  Archbishop of Dublin and the Vatican of their decision to transfer the land to be the site of the new hospital.

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“The archbishop has approved and recommended our decision to the Vatican for formal sign-off. We are confident of a positive outcome shortly,” they said.

Health Minister Simon Harris recently said progress was being made in finalising the legal framework around the new hospital and the plan was for it to go to tender in early 2020.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said yesterday he “has been very clear that in advance of the substantive building works commencing, all outstanding issues need to be resolved”.

“He understands work is under way in this regard. The minister will return to Government when this work is completed,” she said.

“The importance of this hospital for the women and children of Ireland is clear and the minister would like to see progress on outstanding issues as quickly as possible.”

The need for the Vatican to sign off on the land is “viewed as a formality” by the Government.

Senior sources said they believe “bureaucracy” is at play – but maintain the issue will be resolved without fuss.

Enabling works are under way at the site and it’s understood Mr Harris intends to bring the full project to Cabinet for approval in the first quarter of next year.

“The nuns and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin are on board. The Vatican hasn’t delayed the hospital by one day so

far because there’s a lot of work to be done before it goes to full tender anyway,” a source said. “It’s genuinely not seen as a risk factor. It’s all in

progress.”

However, it is believed that until there is clarity on three key pillars the tendering process cannot begin.

The key elements that need to be completed include the religious order leaving St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, the provision of a public interest director on the board, and a lease agreement to be in place to ensure building remains in public ownership.

A spokeswoman for the Religious Sisters of Charity yesterday declined to say what the order of nuns would do if the Vatican refused approval for the transfer of the land.

The religious order said that “in May 2017 the Religious Sisters of Charity issued a statement confirming that we were relinquishing all involvement and shareholding in St Vincent’s Hospital Group and would be stepping down from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Board”.

“Our two sister directors resigned from the board with immediate effect,” they said.

“Since then, they have no part in the ownership or management of the new hospital, nor have shares in the new entity being established to run the two hospitals on the St Vincent’s site.”

 

Independence

A spokesman for the National Maternity Hospital said the new facility to be built at the St Vincent’s Hospital campus will have complete clinical independence.

“It will provide all healthcare services available under Irish law. All involved have made this clear repeatedly over several years,” he said.

The need for the Vatican to approve the transfer of the land was recently highlighted by the former master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Peter Boylan in his book ‘In the Shadow of the Eighth’.

The Vatican press office did not respond yesterday when contacted by the Irish Independent.

Already around €43m has been spent on the preparatory work around the proposed hospital.

The current maternity hospital, based in Holles Street, is not fit for purpose and conditions are outdated and cramped.

The new hospital plan envisages 244 single-occupancy rooms.

Irish Independent

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