Saturday 19 October 2019

'I'm not resigning' - Dr Peter Boylan refuses to move after he's told to resign by text message

Dr Boylan reveals the full details of his text conversation

Amy Molloy and Eilish O'Regan

Former master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dr Peter Boylan, has said he is not resigning from the board and will attend a board meeting on Wednesday night.

Dr Boylan was asked to resign by text on Sunday after speaking out against proposals to move the new €300m National Maternity Hospital to a site owned by the controversial Sisters of Charity.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Boylan said it would be "inappropriate" for the State to invest €300m on a new hospital that would have strong links to the Catholic Church.

He revealed he sent a text to deputy chairman Nicholas Kearns and current master of the hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony on Sunday in a bid to "sort things out".

"Sometime on Sunday I felt we need to sort this out, there’s been call for calm heads and a lot of talk about misinformation.

"I sent a text to Nicholas Kearns and to Dr Rhona Mahony.

Protesters outside the Department of Health in Dublin
Protesters outside the Department of Health in Dublin

The text read: "'I’m sorry it’s come to this, but I did warn you.

"The way out for both of you is to make it clear that you were misled by SVHG, you accepted their bona fides and assurances...

"Both of you and the Minister are inextricably linked in this and you will either sink or swim together."

Mr Kearns then replied as follows: "Both the Master and I have received and read your text sent to us at 13.47 today.

The position of the new National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent's campus
The position of the new National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent's campus

"We are now asking for your immediate resignation from the Board of Holles St - both because of your public intervention to criticise and oppose the overwhelming majority decision of the Board taken in November last to approve the agreement reached with SVUH for the transfer of Holles St to Elm Park - a vote on which you abstained - and in addition because of the content of your text sent today.

"Its intimidatory tone is most regrettable.

"The Board will clearly require to be briefed on Wednesday as to the contents of your text communication if your resignation as sought is not forthcoming."

When asked if he would resign, Dr Boylan responded: "No".

"I don't feel I should resign. There has been questions about loyalty to the board, I feel loyalty to the women of Ireland," he said.

Dr Boylan, who is a brother-in-law of Dr Mahony, retired as an obstetrician last year. He said that it is important to have a board with "diverse opinions".

A spokesman for the hospital said last night Dr Boylan was a member of the board at all times during the six-month period of mediation which resulted in agreement last November to co-locate the National Maternity Hospital with St Vincent's University Hospital.

"The board was kept fully briefed on all developments by the negotiating team during that period.

"The decisive final meeting of the board overwhelmingly supported the agreement with 25 in favour, two abstentions (including Dr Boylan) and one vote against.

"Thereafter the agreement was approved by Government and planning permission was lodged. Last week, some five months after the agreement was approved, Dr Boylan, without warning, consultation with or notification to the board, its chair or the Master of the hospital, went public in attacking the agreement."

Compulsory purchase route is costly and open to legal challenge

Adverse public opinion about the decision to allow the Sisters of Charity to own the proposed new National Maternity Hospital is threatening to derail the deal put in place for the publicly-funded construction of the €300m facility. But are people getting worked up about nothing when there is a deal in place guaranteeing the independence of the hospital?

An agreement document states the hospital's clinical services will be free of any religious considerations, while other safeguards include a 'golden share' being held by the State to ensure the hospital's independence.

A lien, or legal charge on the hospital, would also mean it cannot be sold. But not everyone is convinced these measures will guarantee that clinical decisions are not in some way subject to religious interference.

Couldn't this all be solved if the State just bought the land?

It could, but it wouldn't be simple. There is no guarantee that the St Vincent's Hospital Group would agree to sell.

The proposed location of the new hospital is right in the centre of the St Vincent's campus, adjacent to the main ward block of the existing public hospital.

A sale would be a much likelier proposition if the new hospital was to be located on the periphery of the campus.

Could the State seize the land?

In theory it could, but this would be a very expensive option, especially when you consider the State is being offered the use of the land for free. The land would have to be bought by way of a compulsory purchase order, an instrument used to allow public infrastructure projects to go ahead for the common good. Under CPO rules the hospital group would have to be paid the value of the land, which would be considerable given its Dublin 4 location.

A premium would also need to be paid for any potential diminution of value of the remaining lands in the campus, plus other costs arising from disturbance or loss of profits.

Could a CPO be subject to legal challenge?

Most definitely. Indeed if there was a CPO and it was to be challenged, the project could be set back several years with no guarantee it would go ahead eventually at the chosen site.

One just has to look at the case of Kildare farmer Thomas Reid who resisted efforts by IDA Ireland to compulsorily purchase his land in 2011. The matter went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Mr Reid won his case in 2015.

What about a long-term lease?

This would lead to a situation where the State owns the hospital buildings but not the ground on which they stand.

In the context of the deal that already exists, this option wouldn't make much sense, financially or otherwise, unless it involved a peppercorn rent and the lease being for an awfully long time, effectively guaranteeing the buildings for use as a maternity hospital in perpetuity.

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