Handover of land for hospital should be Vatican 'box-ticking exercise': McAleese
The Vatican's involvement in the handover of land for the new National Maternity Hospital should be a "box-ticking exercise", former president Mary McAleese said.
Ms McAleese, an expert in canon law, said the hospital was "by far the most important endeavour for many generations of women and babies in Ireland".
There are fears construction at the site of St Vincent's Hospital could be delayed because the land is owned by the Sisters of Charity.
The nuns have indicated they are willing to transfer the site to the State - but because of its multi-million-euro value they must receive sign-off from the top of the Catholic Church.
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The Vatican is coming under pressure from anti-abortion activists to stall the arrangement because the hospital would offer services such as termination of pregnancy.
Plans to put the €300m project to tender early next year will not proceed until it is confirmed the site will be transferred.
Government sources said they saw the Vatican's involvement as a "formality".
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall has now referred the initial allocation of €43m for the project to date to the State's spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General.
However, Ms McAleese said she did not believe Pope Francis would block something that the Sisters of Charity had agreed with the Government.
"I just hope for the sake of the mothers and babies of Ireland - currently enduring really conditions that belong to another century - that the door that needs to open to make sure that the future is different will open soon," she said.