herald

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Harris is slammed for 'hypocrisy' over nuns' role in €300m hospital

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

The Health Minister has been accused of "hypocrisy" over the controversial decision to give the Sisters of Charity ownership of the long-awaited National Maternity Hospital.

The charge came as Simon Harris insisted the nuns would not gain financially or have any say over medical procedures or treatment.

In an official statement, the minister said it was "not true" to say the nuns would be running the hospital.

However, fresh questions have been raised over his position after it emerged he previously attacked financial arrangements linked to the religious order.

Three years ago, Mr Harris lambasted the St Vincent's Care Group, which is owned by the order, for using a public hospital as collateral for bank loans to build a private car park and health facility.

The loans meant the banks had first call over assets linked to St Vincent's Hospital.

At the time, Mr Harris, who was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said he was "appalled" by the revelation.

However, the minister is now being forced to defend his decision to allow the nuns to have ownership of the new €300m maternity hospital.

Defence

Yesterday, Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly said the minister seemed to have forgotten the nuns' "gross misuse" of a state-funded hospital.

"Minister Harris ... was scandalised at the time, yet here we are three short years later with Minister Harris being very vocal in his defence of the Sisters of Charity having ownership of a new state hospital," Mr Kelly told the Herald.

Labour’s Alan Kelly
Labour’s Alan Kelly

"He was outraged at their behaviour three years ago, it's time he was again and acted accordingly otherwise he is practicing hypocrisy."

However, last night, Mr Harris hit back, insisting Mr Kelly was making a "political charge".

"Deputy Kelly is entirely correct," he said. "As member of PAC [Public Accounts Committee] I was very robust in my defence of the taxpayer's interest." In his statement, the minister said there would be "no financial gain" to any religious order from the development of this hospital.

Redress

"Legal arrangements will be put in place which will 100pc protect the State's investment and interest in the new hospital," he added.

He said redress owed to the State by the nuns was "extremely important" but said it was wrong to "conflate" it with the construction of the new hospital.

Mr Harris said the charity should "cough up" the money it owes to the victims of abuse by the religious order.

The controversy over the ownership of the new maternity hospital has resulted in more than 65,000 people signing a petition urging the minster to reverse the decision.

The agreement was arranged after protracted negations between St Vincent's Hospital and Holles Street Hospital over the site for the maternity hospital.

The final deal was reached between the two hospitals following talks chaired by former chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey.

Former Health Minister James Reilly, who started the project while in office, said it was a "good deal for the State".

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