‘Misinformation’ on maternity hospital site ownership ‘derailing’ project, doctors say

Senior figures say all procedures allowed under law to be provided at maternity hospital

Dozens of doctors have urged the Government to quickly settle terms for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH), saying “misinformation” over the site’s ownership is “derailing” the project.

Senior medical figures including NMH master Prof Shane Higgins and three of his predecessors have said the deal now on the table includes “unbreakable legal stipulations” to guarantee that all procedures allowed under Irish law will be provided.

They went on to say that concerns raised about the new hospital on the St Vincent’s campus at Elm Park being “curtailed by any religious ethos are misleading and ill-informed”.

In a letter yesterday to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, 52 doctors said it was “manifestly false” to suggest that only full State ownership of the site can assure “the avoidance of religious influence”.


The letter, on NMH notepaper, was copied to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and top civil servants. It comes as efforts intensify to break the impasse over the disputed plan to move the NMH from Holles Street in central Dublin.

Ownership of the new NMH site will transfer from the Religious Sisters of Charity to an independent entity, which will lease it to the State for 299 years. Critics have long claimed that a Catholic religious ethos would live on, possibly compromising the hospital’s power to carry out procedures such as termination of pregnancies and sterilisation.

Licensing proposals

The critics include former NMH master Dr Peter Boylan, who has previously dismissed recent proposals for the hospital’s HSE licence to incorporate legal measures requiring it to provide all procedures allowed under law.

But the letter – co-signed by former NMH masters Dr Rhona Mahony, Dr Michael Robson and Prof Declan Keane – defends the licensing proposals in strident terms. All permissible procedures “including abortion, tubal ligation, gender affirming surgery and assisted reproduction” will be provided, it states.

“Those who argue to the contrary are derailing a vital national healthcare project that has already been delayed for far too long,” it adds.

“As you well know the HSE licence for the new hospital will include unbreakable legal stipulations requiring the provision of all the forms of treatment outlined above.

“The ownership debate is a red herring as a hospital can be built on land owned by another party with the lease terms ensuring that the owner has no hand, act or part in how the hospital runs its operations.”

Other signatories include Prof Fionnuala McAuliffe, Prof Donal Brennan, Dr Clare O’Connor, Dr Laoise O’Brien and Dr Donal O’Brien.

The letter said a combination of “misinformation and misunderstanding” was disturbing NMH staff and patients, and jeopardising the impetus to move to a new building.

“As clinicians at the coalface of providing services to women and infants, we are acutely aware of the tragedy it would be if the move to Elm Park does not proceed,” the letter said.

“With a cast-iron guarantee provided that the new hospital will provide all services legally permissible, the project’s critics should have no fears in this regard.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times