Hundreds attend rally demanding full public ownership

Hundreds of people attended a rally at Leinster House calling on the government to reject the current plan to develop the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) on private land in favor of a deal which meant the state had the full ownership.

Opponents of the plan, which is due to be presented to Cabinet for approval on Tuesday, continue to raise concerns about possible outside interference in the running of the hospital despite assurances from the master of the NMH, the government and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG).

As part of this plan, the Sisters of Charity transferred their stake to SVHG, which will lease the land on which it is proposed to build the new NMH for 299 years.

Peter Boylan, former master of the NMH and persistent critic of the deal, told the protest that it was “madness of the highest height” for the government to agree to the deal without seeing all the correspondence between the religious order, the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Vatican.

Wendy Halpin and her daughter Daisy (12), from Leixip, Co Kildare, taking part in the ‘Our Motherhood’ protest outside the Dáil on Saturday, to oppose government plans to go ahead with what we have called for giving the new National Maternity Hospital to a private company run by nuns. Photography: Tom Honan

“I would like to issue a challenge to the Catholic Church to confirm that it has accepted the transfer of the property of the sisters for the construction of a hospital in Dublin, which will facilitate procedures directly contrary to Catholic teaching.

“I won’t hold my breath. Their [the Vatican’s] technique consists of saying nothing, denying, blocking, making obscure comments and statements, etc. It’s a well-worn path. They’ve been there for 2,000 years,” he told a crowd of around 1,000 people.

Current master Shane Higgins said this week he was “alarmed by the combination of emotional misinformation and misunderstanding that is prevalent” in discussions of the new hospital.

At a press briefing on Friday, Mr Higgins reiterated that there would be no religious ethos in the new NMH.

“We don’t think there will be an impact on the services we provide through a Catholic philosophy, or any other philosophy for that matter.”

Government sources have confirmed that work is underway on a legal codicil that would clarify a statement in the documents that the procedures would be available in the hospital where “clinically appropriate and legally permitted”.

Former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Peter Boylan, during the protest outside the Dáil on Saturday.  Photography: Tom Honan

Former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Peter Boylan, during the protest outside the Dáil on Saturday. Photography: Tom Honan

Mr Higgins said NMH would either support the definition of “clinically appropriate” or delete it.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Saturday that the government owes it to Irish women of today and tomorrow, as well as newborn babies, to get the NMH built.

There was already clarity in place in terms of the legally authorized services that would be available at the hospital, he added. The HSE’s operating license at the hospital “gives that guarantee”, he said.

Ivana Bacik, leader of the Labor Party, during the demonstration in front of the Dáil regarding the future of the National Maternity Hospital.  Photography: Tom Honan

Ivana Bacik, leader of the Labor Party, during the demonstration in front of the Dáil regarding the future of the National Maternity Hospital. Photography: Tom Honan

Furthermore, “the constitution of the hospital is very strong in guaranteeing beyond any doubt that all legally permitted services will be available in the hospital”.

Earlier, Higher and Further Education Minister Simon Harris suggested the additional codicil would be “welcome” as a way of reassuring opponents.

He said the recent debate over the ownership of the site “has been very helpful” in airing the issues surrounding the deal between the owners of St Vincent’s Holdings CLG Hospital and the state.

Asked whether such a legal addendum should be added to the deal, Harris said any further clarification and assurance the government could provide would be welcome.

Protesters demand that the new National Maternity Hospital not be handed over to a private health care company

Protesters demand that the new National Maternity Hospital not be handed over to a private society of ‘nuns’, during a rally outside the Dáil in Kildare Street, Dublin, on Saturday. Photography: Tom Honan

Speaking in Dublin on Saturday, Mr Harris said: ‘I think the government will now reflect on all the important issues that people have raised, especially this term ‘clinically appropriate’.

“It was always a phrase that was intended to show that national motherhood would be just that – motherhood. But I think any additional clarification or assurance the government can provide when it makes a decision on Tuesday would be welcomed by many.

“The government is listening, the government will think. I want to see this project progress, really, and I expect a decision to be made on Tuesday. In the meantime, we will think about how we can provide the highest level of assurance possible.

On Friday, Green Party Minister Catherine Martin gave her first support for the move of the new NMH.

In a statement, Ms Martin said she had received assurances from Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, the NMH, the HSE as well as the SVHG.

In a letter sent to Ms Martin by St Vincent’s Hospital, the chairman, James Menton, confirmed in writing that the following procedures would be available in the new NMH: “Termination of pregnancy, voluntary sterilization (tubal ligation), care of affirmation, fertility and assisted reproduction treatments.

A model of the planned new National Maternity Hospital.

A model of the planned new National Maternity Hospital.

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