Thursday 22 February 2018

Now Harris wants to set up new forum on ownership of hospitals

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Niall O'Connor and Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris is considering establishing a national forum that will examine how to divest some of the country's hospitals that are owned by religious orders.

It's understood the forum will be modelled on the approach adopted by former education minister Ruairí Quinn in relation to Catholic primary schools.

As the row over the future of the National Maternity Hospital continues, Mr Harris is expected to bring proposals in relation to ownership to Cabinet in the coming weeks.

He is understood to favour the setting up of a forum that will include a number of experts who will examine international comparisons in relation to the role religious orders play in hospitals.

Sources said any such body would need to conduct a public consultation and an engagement process involving the clinical community.

Read more: 'I want time to pursue solutions' - Health Minister to report back on hospital deal 'at end of May'

A number of Dublin's hospitals are under the ownership of religious orders.

Along with St Vincent's, the Order of the Sisters of Charity also owns St Michael's Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.

The Order of the Sisters of Mercy owns the Mater Hospital, Temple Street Children's Hospital and the Cappagh Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas.


Government sources noted that any move towards divestment would take many years and could potentially run into legal difficulty.

Mr Harris moved to defuse the row over the St Vincent's site on Sunday as he indicated the State would look to take an ownership stake in the maternity hospital after it is transferred to the St Vincent's campus. It's understood a long-term lease of up to 999 years is being considered as a potential option.

St Vincent's declined to comment on the minister's intervention last night.

A spokesman for Holles Street, the current site of the National Maternity Hospital, said: "We are looking forward to engaging with the minister over the coming weeks."

Speaking on RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland', the former master of the Rotunda, Sam Coulter-Smyth, welcomed Mr Harris's intervention.

"The suggestion that they need some time to work things out I think is absolutely true. I think this needs to be taken out of the heat of battle away from the front pages of the newspapers," Dr Coulter-Smyth said.

Irish Independent

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