Donnelly says concerns over NMH have been addressed as Cabinet expected to sign off on new deal

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CABINET IS EXPECTED to approve the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) deal today. 

The decision to approve the NMH’s move to St Vincent’s Hospital was delayed for two weeks in order to give more time for ministers, medical experts and the public to reflect on the proposals, according to the Government. 

The Oireachtas Health Committee formally requested that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly further delay any Cabinet decision to allow for more consideration of the matter. 

The relocation of the NMH to a site on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin has proved highly controversial as, until recently, the site was owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity.

The religious congregation has now transferred its ownership and if the relocation plan goes ahead the State would lease the land from St. Vincent’s Holdings for 299 years.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the 299-year lease for the State is “effective ownership” but opponents of the current plan have said that the State should have full ownership of the site. 

Speaking to reporters on his way into Cabinet this morning, the Health Minister said “we can’t keep debating” the new NMH. 

“Ultimately, there will always be people with legitimately held views as to things that should be different, but what’s important is the concerns that have been raised have been comprehensively addressed,” Donnelly said.

I think people, very rightly, for the reasons of Ireland’s history, have said there can be no religious influence. That’s guaranteed. People want a public hospital, it is a public hospital. People want the state to own the building and own the land, we own the state and we own the land in leasehold ownership for the next 300 years.

“It is a very, very strong and positive project, and ultimately, we can’t keep debating these things and discussing these things for more years. We have to get on we have to build a hospital,” he added.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Leinster House on Saturday to call on the government to ensure the site of the new NMH is fully publicly owned. 

Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin is understood to have raised concerns around the Cabinet table two weeks ago, but has now said she is giving her full support to the plans to relocate the hospital to the Elm Park site. 

There had been concerns raised by some about some of the language used in the legal documents. The Chair of the St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group said yesterday that in his estimation it would be possible to remove or define the term “clinically appropriate” in the framework of the new NMH before the plan goes to Cabinet. 

James Menton told an Oireachtas Committee that this would require the engagement of all stakeholders in the project but that “it wouldn’t take a huge amount”. 

The phrase is one of several issues that has caused concern among opponents of the plan, with former NMH master Dr Peter Boylan telling the same committee last week that the phrase was “a major red flag”. 

However, Donnelly said this morning that the phrase is there to “protect services” for women.

“Part of the reason ‘clinically appropriate’ is in there is to make sure that other services can’t simply, you know, force their way in and start taking up all of these resources. So there is a very good reason why it’s there,” he said.

“Questions were asked around could it in some way be used as a backdoor to withhold any services and the absolutely, clear, categoric answer to that is no it can’t.

He said the phrase is used by health professionals like clinicians, doctors, nurses and physiotherapists “all over the system, all the time”. 

“It didn’t say ‘ethically appropriate’ or ‘morally appropriate’ or anything like that, it’s clinically appropriate, timely, high quality care, but critically, for a maternity hospital. So really it’s there to protect those services in the future for women.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he expects the plans will be signed off today.

“I think there’s been a lot of clarification in the last two weeks and I think that’s a good thing, around that issue: what is ‘clinically appropriate’? It’s been clear at all times that this was led by medics, often the same medics, female medics who led out in the Repeal Campaign, saying this is the best approach,” he said.

“So I, I’m sure like a lot of other people over the last two weeks, listened to them and I think they’re confident [clinically appropriate] allows them the full freedom to do every procedure within the law.”

Speaking to reporters yesterday afternoon, the Taoiseach said no changes had been made to the documents, and the deal that was on the table two weeks ago still stands.  

Sinn Féin is to bring forward a motion in the Dáil next week to compel the Government to ensure the National Maternity Hospital is a public hospital on public land.

Yesterday, the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group told TDs and Senators that maintaining ownership of the land on which the new maternity hospital is planned to be built is “essential for best possible care”.

Chair of SVHG James Menton told the Oireachtas Health Committee that having two landowners on the same wider campus would be “very difficult, if not impossible, to manage” and that it would ”present significant risks to patient care”.

Religious group Sisters of Charity owned the land on which the NMH is to be built and it had been proposed that the proposed deal would see the religious order owning the facility because it was providing the lands at no cost to the State. 

Following the increasing opposition to the plans, the Sisters of Charity announced an end to their involvement with the SVHG in 2017 and said they would therefore not be involved in the ownership or management of the new NMH. 

The transfer of their shareholding of the SVHG has been beset with delays, however, but was finally completed last month. 

Menton told the committee that the transfer of that shareholding was “without any conditions” and achieved SVHG’s objective of being “truly secular”. 

Ukraine

Separately, Cabinet is expected to green light the decision reached last week to roll out €400 payment to households who host Ukrainian refugees. 

The Cabinet subcommittee on the State’s response to the Ukraine crisis met last Thursday and agreed in principle to the new measure that is aimed at helping those who take in refugees with their rising household bills. 

The overall cost of the measure is not yet known, given the unpredictability of how many households will apply for the payment, it is believed.

The new measure will require legislation and a couple of months to process, said sources. 

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