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Covid costs threaten to further delay due date for Maternity Hospital

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Simon Harris didn’t commit to any timetable on construction

Simon Harris didn’t commit to any timetable on construction

Simon Harris didn’t commit to any timetable on construction

The catastrophic impact of the coronavirus on the State's economy is threatening another delay to the construction of the long-awaited new €350m National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.

It comes after the Vatican announced yesterday it had approved a decision by the Sisters of Charity to transfer ownership of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group to a new independent charitable body.

This paves the way for the new hospital to be built on the campus of St Vincent's Hospital.

The Religious Sisters of Charity say they intend to gift the lands, worth €200m, and the hope is the transfer can be concluded without undue delay.

However, as fresh questions over the ownership and control of the hospital are raised, there is now concern about the ability of the next government to deliver on big State projects.

The full cost is still unclear as the State finances grapple with recession.

A commitment to build the hospital would have to be part of the new Programme for Government with a clear timetable.

Health Minister Simon Harris was careful yesterday not to put any timescale on construction. He thanked the Religious Sisters for Charity for their "extraordinary contribution" and said it would pave the way for finalisation of the legal framework to protect the State's investment. The hospital will have full independence, he said.

A spokesman for the National Maternity Hospital said the "enabling works for the project are close to completion and we look forward to the main build commencing without delay".

It looked forward to a "world-class facility".

Work on a tender document, seeking bids from construction firms, is understood to be complete and ready to go.

Decision

In a statement, the Religious Sisters of Charity said, in line with canon law, formal approval for the decision to complete the transfer of ownership was requested and has now been received from the Holy See.

This will enable the completion of transfer of ownership of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group site from the congregation to a new, independent, charitable body to be called St Vincent's Holdings CLG.

The new St Vincent's Holdings CLG will continue to be a not-for-profit organisation

In the event of the new St Vincent's Holdings CLG going into liquidation, its surplus assets will be vested with the Charity Regulator and used for future healthcare purposes with similar values, to benefit the people of Ireland.

In July 2017, the Religious Sisters of Charity stepped down from the Board of St Vincent's Hospital Group.

A spokeswoman said it marks the final movement towards completion of all legal, financial and regulatory matters involved in the transfer of the Sisters' 186-year involvement in the hospital.

In 1834, Mary Aikenhead, founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity, established the first hospital in Ireland that freely admitted the poor, irrespective of their creed or ability to pay.

"We thank everyone who has supported us in recent years as we formalise the final steps towards our departure from St Vincent's Healthcare Group and hope that the transfer can now swiftly move to completion," the spokeswoman said.