FROM the “golden share” of the Minister of Health to the unknown content of a possible letter from the Vatican, the agreement concerning the new National Maternity Hospital still requires greater clarity. The Taoiseach says concerns about its independence to provide all legally authorized services are “fully addressed”, but what are the main areas of confusion?
Letter from the Vatican
We are told the state will build and own the €1billion hospital on the site of St Vincent’s campus in Dublin, leasing the land for €10 a year from St Vincent’s Healthcare Group. Its subsidiary, St Vincent’s Holdings CLG, a not-for-profit company with charitable status and hospital trusteeship, was recently transferred the shareholding of the Religious Sisters of Charity, which have now left the premises. But former master of Holles Street, Dr Peter Boylan, told the Indo Daily podcast that, far from being discretionary, the religious order needed permission from the Vatican before the transfer. He called for the release of the order’s correspondence to the Vatican and vice versa to determine possible religious conditions.
He wondered if the Vatican would authorize the granting of land for a hospital that would perform abortions.
St Vincent’s Healthcare Group insists no instructions came from the Vatican.
The phrase “legally permissible and clinically appropriate” describes the procedures to be administered in the new hospital. But clinically appropriate remains undefined. Would abortions be allowed, without a woman providing a reason, within 12 weeks? Stephen Donnelly said the phrase ‘clinically appropriate’ was inserted by the HSE to mean that general hospital activities such as hip surgeries would not be carried out. What will prevent this contentious sentence from simply being deleted or refined?
The minister’s share of gold
The insertion of the “privileged share”, held by the Minister of Health at the time, was presented as an additional guarantee to ensure that he or she can intervene with special voting rights to allow all procedures legally allowed. The current minister is referring to the constitution of the corporation that will run the hospital, the National Maternity Hospital DAC, which states that the minister may direct the board to authorize legally authorized relevant services without religious ethos or other distinction.
Some jurists wonder how far this goes and point the finger at St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, the owner of the site, which is committed to continuing the “mission” of the order’s founder, Sr Mary Aikenhead.
Offer the site
The Religious Sisters of Charity, who have done so much for Irish healthcare for decades, have generously provided the site for the hospital. But it’s not quite what we initially understood as a “gift”. Instead, it is leased for 299 years with conditions. St Vincent’s says it must retain the property to ensure the best care on campus. A mandatory purchase order has been excluded. It is worth doing well. Can the State resume talks to quickly resolve crucial ambiguities?