Members of the public are continuing to sign a petition to prevent the Sisters of Charity from becoming the sole owners of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH), despite the Minister for Health's insistence that the hospital will have ‘clinical, operational and financial independence'.
Over 74,000 people have signed a petition after it was recently revealed that the much-needed hospital, which will receive €300 million from the taxpayer, will be handed over to the Sisters of Charity.
The Sisters of Charity are one of the organisations included in the Ryan Report, which provided details of widespread institutional abuse going back decades in Ireland. They were ordered to pay the State €128 million as part of a redress scheme for victims of abuse, however, they have so far failed to pay what they owe.
As the new hospital is to be built on a site at St Vincent's University Hospital in south Dublin that is owned by the organisation, and they are the shareholders of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, they are to be the sole owner of the hospital.
Anger has been mounting among the public over this issue and on Thursday, a protest was held outside the Department of Health. Earlier that day, the former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, which is currently located at Holles Street, said he believed the ownership structure of the new hospital ‘is completely wrong'.
"It's just not right that a maternity hospital in 2017 in Ireland, 100 years after the foundation of the State, should be transferred from the governance of the maternity hospital to the religious orders of the Sisters of Charity.
"This is 2017, it's Ireland. Can we not grow up and just stop this from going on, of handing over State assets to a religious order. A maternity hospital being given to the nuns? Come on," commented Dr Peter Boylan.
In a statement, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said that he wants to assure people that he is ‘absolutely determined that before this project proceeds beyond the planning permission phase, key criteria must be in place'.
This includes the hospital having clinical, operational and financial independence, ‘with no question of religious interference and with a role for the Minister for Health of the day to guarantee this'.
"This will ensure all relevant health services legally available in the Irish public health service must and will be available in this hospital. The State's financial and public health interest in this hospital must also be fully protected. No private entity or religious order can profit in any way.
"The building can only be used for the defined purpose of providing public maternity, gynaecological and neonatal services. Robust contractual arrangements must be put in place to make sure that this is a reality," he said.
The Minister added that he has met with the director general of the HSE to request that before any contracts are entered into, ‘these criteria must be satisfied in full'.
"Let me be very clear - there will be no financial gain to any religious order from the development of this hospital. Legal arrangements will be put in place which will 100% protect the State's investment and interest in the new hospital.
"I have heard people say that nuns will be running the hospital. Not true. I have heard that nuns have been gifted the hospital. Not true. I have heard people talk about nuns and redress. Redress is extremely important and I have previously said that the religious orders must step up to the mark and pay what is long overdue. However I think it is wrong to conflate redress with the decision to build the desperately needed new maternity hospital," Minister Harris said.