Sisters of Charity won’t have role in governing new maternity hospital – Rabbitte

Independent TDs call for compulsory purchase order of Elm Park site in Dublin

The Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte has said while concerns "continue to circulate" in relation to the potential involvement of the Religious Sisters of Charity in the new National Maternity Hospital, the order will not play any role in the governance or operation of the hospital.

Ms Rabbitte said there has been further engagement with stakeholders in relation to the draft legal framework for the hospital and “this process will continue as we work towards the finalisation of these legal arrangements”.

She was speaking during a Dáil debate on a motion calling for the compulsory purchase of the site for the hospital at Elm Park in Dublin, which was put forward by Independent TDs Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle, on Thursday.

While the Government has said it will not oppose the motion, it has not changed its position and does not intend to purchase the site.


Instead, it is seeking to conclude a long-term lease – expected to last 299 years – with the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, owners of the site adjacent to St Vincent's hospital in Dublin 4.

Ms Rabbitte said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly could not attend the debate on Thursday evening as he was meeting the National Public Health Emergency Team on Covid-19 matters.

“The Minister for Health has been very clear that he will not be bringing any proposal to Government in relation to the new National Maternity Hospital unless it provides assurances around all legal permissible services being provided in the new hospital, as well as affirming that the State’s investment is safe guarded,” she said.

“Concerns continue to circulate in relation to the potential involvement of the religious Sisters of Charity in the new National Maternity Hospital. As such, the Minister for Health wishes to make it absolutely and unambiguously clear that the sisters will not play any role in the governance or operation of the new National Maternity Hospital.”

Ms Rabbitte said she was advised that the sisters have resigned from the St Vincent’s Hospital Group board and their shareholding is to be transferred to a new charitable entity, St Vincent’s Holding CLG.

“Under the terms of their legal service agreement, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group requires the consent of the HSE to share transfer. This consent has been sought by the St Vincent’s Health Group and it is anticipated that the matter will be addressed in the context of the finalisation of the draft legal framework,” she said.

‘Bitterly disappointed’

Ms Collins said there is not “one single hospital anywhere in the world, built on Catholic land” that allows procedures such as elective sterilisation, IVF, genetic testing, abortion and other procedures “specifically forbidden by the universal Catholic teaching”.

The Dublin South-Central TD said she was “bitterly disappointed” that Mr Donnelly could not attend the debate and asked the Government to “act now” on obtaining legal advice for a compulsory purchase order on the site, adding “it’s gone on too long”.

“We have to move on it,” she said.

Ms Collins said the current National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street is “an ancient building” that doctors and nurses find difficult to work in and want to move to a more modern facility.

Mr Pringle said only “full public ownership and full public governance” can guarantee “a full service of reproductive healthcare”.

“I cannot stress enough that the new maternity hospital must be public and it must be secular,” he added.

Labour TD Duncan Smith said the practice of the Government "not opposing motions" was "starting to wear a little thin". He said it was "a dishonest way" of putting forward the Government's position and it "had to stop".

"You [the Government] don't support this motion, you don't agree, you didn't agree with the Social Democrats [previous] motion on it, you didn't with Sinn Féin's motion or when Alan Kelly or Ivana Bacik raised it . . . so say that, stand over it and be honest with the people and give the parliament the respect it deserves on an issue of such importance," he said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times