Leading critics of National Maternity Hospital plan may appear before Oireachtas group

Possible extra Oireachtas committee meeting on Thursday may feature Peter Boylan

The Oireachtas Committee on Health is expected to hold an extra meeting next week to allow leading critics of the new national maternity hospital to outline their opposition to the current proposal.

The meeting will be in addition to the scheduled appearance on Tuesday of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, who will defend the State’s plan to take a 300-year-lease on the site at a cost of €10 per annum.

A number of members of the committee, including Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall, have written to the chairman, Seán Crowe, requesting an additional public session on Thursday to hear from critics such as former master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, Dr Peter Boylan.

A possible appearance by Dr Boylan was raised by members at a private meeting this week. However, the committee is deeply divided on the issue. Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart will also write to Mr Crowe saying that supporters of the project should also be invited, namely the current master of Holles Street, Dr Shane Higgins, or former master Dr Rhona Mahony.


Mr Donnelly’s attendance at the committee was arranged after the Cabinet decided this week to delay by a fortnight giving approval to the project, over what were described as “genuine concerns”. This relates to doubts that the ownership, structure and operation of the new entity at the St Vincent’s Hospital site – which was formerly controlled by the Religious Sisters of Charity – would be completely free of church interference.

Doubts about the watertight nature of those arrangements were expressed at the Cabinet meeting by Fine Gael Ministers, and also by Green Party Minister Catherine Martin.

Fine Gael Minister Heather Humphreys was on Thursday asked about criticism of their party that occurred at Wednesday’s Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party meeting.

At the meeting, Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers said three previous Fine Gael ministers for health had failed to get the project over the line and “some in Fine Gael are expressing concern now”.

Ms Humphreys was among Fine Gael Ministers who raised concerns. She said the decision was taken collectively on “this very, very important issue”. She added: “There’s a lot of public discussion out there, and we can allay some of the concerns that people have.”

Clear advice

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Donnelly confirmed the Government received clear legal advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher against proceeding with a compulsory purchase order to acquire the hospital site .

Mr Donnelly said the Government had received very “clear legal advice” that there was “absolutely no guarantee” that such an order would succeed as the courts would regard a 300-year-lease as equivalent to ownership.

The Minister insisted there were no hidden agendas or motives behind St Vincent’s Hospital’s decision to grant a long-term lease rather than outright ownership .

Speaking on Thursday the Taoiseach argued the site of the hospital would be “essentially State-owned” as it was getting a 300-year-lease at “a tenner a year”. He said: “There is an urgency about making sure that a modern facility is provided.”

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall told the Dáil that “tellingly” the Taoiseach “he failed to mention that the actual rent stipulated in the lease agreement is €850,000 a year”.

“It has been reduced to €10 as long as a list of six conditions are complied with, including that the landlord, St Vincent’s Holdings, retain a controlling stake over the use of the hospital,” she said. “If these conditions are breached, the rent reverts upwards.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times