herald

Saturday 19 August 2017

'Historic decision' sees nuns give up ownership of maternity hospital site

James Menton
James Menton

The Religious Sisters of Charity have moved to settle the row over the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) by giving up its ownership of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group.

The order will receive a multi- million euro settlement as part of its exit from the St Vincent's Hospital complex in south Dublin, it was confirmed yesterday.

James Menton, chair of St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG), confirmed that the Dublin 4 site is being bought at "commercial rates".

He said the site would generate a sale price running into "single" rather than double- digit millions.

"It is a very modest amount when you think of the number of religious sisters who worked without remuneration," he said

A total of €14.6m in rent was paid to the Sisters of Charity from 2003 to 2015, according to accounts.

There was a public outcry over the plan to move the maternity hospital from Holles Street to the St Vincent's campus amid fears that procedures including fertility treatments such as IVF are against Catholic teachings and would not be allowed at the new site.

Health Minister Simon Harris last night welcomed the nuns' "historic decision", saying it "directly addresses concerns regarding the question of religious influence in the new National Maternity Hospital".

Resign

The order announced it is transferring its ownership of SVHG to a new charitable company to be called St Vincent's. The nuns will have no involvement.

This transfer is to involve a "nominal" payment and the two nuns on the board of SVHG are to resign.

A statement from the leader of the order, Sr Mary Christian, confirmed it will not be involved in the new NMH.

SVHG currently runs three facilities - St Vincent's University Hospital, St Vincent's Private Hospital and St Michael's Hospital, Dun Laoghaire.

The nuns' statement said that once the transfer is complete, the requirement for the hospitals to comply with the nuns' ethical code will be replaced in favour of compliance with "national and international best practice guidelines on medical ethics and the laws of the Republic of Ireland".

The order believes it is in the best interests of patients and children that the NMH be moved to a modern facility at St Vincent's, said Sr Mary Christian.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the transfer of ownership "will provide a blueprint for other religious organisations".

Dublin Lord Mayor Brendan Carr - a member of the NMH board - said he thinks the new hospital should be state-owned rather than by a private charitable company, given the expected €300m cost of the project.

He said only a compulsory purchase order of the site or obtaining a 999-year lease would adequately allay public concerns over the ownership of the new NMH.

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