- 24 Jun 21
The dispute, which has been ongoing since 2013, has been brought to a boiling point after St. Vincent's Hospital Group (SVHG) insisted on retaining ownership of the land for the new maternity hospital site.
The St. Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) has refused to sell the site on which the new National Maternity Hospital is planned to be built.
The reason cited for wanting to maintain ownership over the land "is for the delivery of integrated patient care," between St. Vincent's Hospital and the maternity hospital.
The row has played out in the Dáil this week as the opposition has demanded that the new hospital must be "fully publicly owned and governed that the site on which it is built is fully publicly owned," according to co-leader of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall.
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith questioned the SVHG's logic regarding the delivery of integrated patient care in the Dáil, asking “why is that the case? This makes no sense at all. When required, patients are routinely transferred from one hospital to another all over this country and this has been the case for decades".
An Taoiseach, Michael Martin, and Táiniste Leo Varadkar have both said that demanding a compulsory purchase order (CPO) could further delay the building of the hospital and could possibly "undermine the prospect of ever getting the hospital built" - according to Varadkar.
The Taoiseach also agreed that the matter surrounding the ownership of the hospital is of great concern as he called for the SVHG to reconsider their position on maintaining the land.
"A hospital that the State builds is a hospital the State should own,” he said.
The concern around the ownership of the land on which the maternity hospital will be built lies in whether or not there would be any religious influence on the care given on the new campus and the proposed 99-year lease agreement.
The land which the Religious Sister's of Charity own is set to be transferred to a new entity, St. Vincent's Holdings, which the sisters have promised they would have "no involvement" in the management of either St. Vincent's or the new maternity hospital.
"We will have no role, whatsoever, in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, the new independent charity or the new maternity hospital," according to a statement by the Religious Sisters of Charity.
Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns stressed the importance of not allowing the ownership of the hospital to be transferred to a private entity on Twitter, she said "We fought hard to repeal the 8th - we cannot allow our #NationalMaternityHospital to be gifted to a religious entity which will restrict our access to reproductive health care".
We fought hard to repeal the 8th - we cannot allow our #NationalMaternityHospital to be gifted to a religious entity which will restrict our access to reproductive health care.
The @SocDems are bringing a motion to the Dáil tomorrow - please share and contact your TDs 🙌. pic.twitter.com/5ATWsaGIzA
— Holly Cairns TD (@HollyCairnsTD) June 22, 2021
Doubts surrounding the involvement of the sisters in the new hospital lie partly due to statements by superior general Sr. Patricia Lenihan last year, which said; “We are confident that the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group board, management and staff will continue to provide acute healthcare services that foster Mary Aikenhead’s mission and core values of dignity, compassion, justice, equality and advocacy for all into the future".
The "core values" which Sr. Lenihan referenced are also mentioned within the constitution of the holding which lists "Human Dignity: Respect the dignity and uniqueness of each person, Compassion: Accept people as they are, bring empathy and care to all, Justice: Act with integrity which respects the rights of all, Quality: Strive for excellence in all aspects of care" and "Advocacy: Speak for the voiceless, act with and for them to achieve the appropriate quality of care".
This ethos essentially rejects most reproductive healthcare, including contraception and abortion services. There is an undeniable feeling of fear amongst campaigners that this ethos will be continued. Marginalised people in Ireland face significant barriers to reproductive healthcare since the 8th Amendment was repealed, according to the National Women’s Council (NWC)'s new research paper 'Accessing Abortion in Ireland: Meeting the Needs of Every Woman'.
Just over half of maternity hospitals provide abortion services, while women in rural areas and from marginalised backgrounds face extra challenges in accessing abortion care. Access also remains particularly difficult for women and pregnant people facing the devastating news that their baby has a severe or fatal foetal anomaly. Only 1 in 10 GPs are providing abortion services in Ireland, the report says.
The Campaign Against Church Ownership of Women’s Healthcare said it would be “unthinkable” for the new, state-owned maternity hospital to have such a religious ethos, according to the Irish Times.
The involvement of religious orders within Irish health, particularly maternity care, has caused havoc within the state for at least a century.
TD Holly Cairns highlighted this in the Dáil this week as she discussed the state-funded, church ran mother and baby homes which she said "incarcerated, abused and dehumanised women and girls for being pregnant," in which the Religious Sisters of Charity ran some of these institutions.
She also discussed the high maternal and infant mortality rates in the early years of the Irish free state and the criminalisation of contraception.
Maternity services in Ireland have been the centre of controversy over the past year as pregnant people have had no choice but to attend hospital appointments alone whilst their partners must wait outside during the pandemic.
Maternity care campaigners have reported women having to attend unplanned appointments and scans alone or their partners not being allowed to stay for the full duration of labour.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that a plan is "being worked on" to allow partners to attend emergency visits on an appearance on Newstalk FM's 'The Hard Shoulder' last Monday.
“The plan will be put in place this week and then in the coming weeks it will be rolled out across the country," he said.
He also said during the show that all 19 maternity hospitals must have the same rules regarding restrictions being lifted on visitations.