I thank the committee for the invitation to attend and for the opportunity to discuss the proposal for the new national maternity hospital. I am joined by Mr. Ciarán Devane, chairperson of the HSE board, Professor Mary Higgins, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Ms Mary Brosnan, director of midwifery and nursing at the National Maternity Hospital, and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr. Rhona Mahony, who knows the history of this project like few others and who negotiated the initial Mulvey agreement and can speak to that. I am also joined by Ms Ita O'Sullivan and Mr. John O'Donoghue, members of the HSE's legal team for this project.
While there is good, proper and important debate about this issue, I believe we all agree on many of the important issues relating to this project. First, clinicians at the National Maternity Hospital, NMH, provide excellent care to women and infants and have been leaders in modernising women’s healthcare. Second, a new and modern hospital building is urgently needed for the National Maternity Hospital and services for women need to be expanded there. Third, the new hospital should be built beside a major adult hospital to ensure women will have access to the widest possible range of healthcare. Fourth, the new hospital must be fully clinically independent and there must be no religious influence, now or in the future. Fifth, the new hospital must provide all services and all procedures that are permissible under law. Finally, the State’s investment must be protected.
The proposal we are discussing meets all of these goals. This is a partnership between the State, the National Maternity Hospital and St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group. The National Maternity Hospital will provide all the clinicians, who will move from Holles Street to the new building, and the National Maternity Hospital will run the new hospital. The State will fund the construction of the new hospital building and retain full ownership of the building as an asset, while St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group will provide lease ownership to the State for 300 years. Each party will appoint three directors to the new board of the NMH, and the NMH will, in turn, appoint directors to the board of St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group. The two hospitals will be physically connected to ensure seamless access to care for patients, which is especially important for critically ill patients. Both hospitals will provide shared services to be used throughout the healthcare campus. Many clinicians will work in both hospitals, as they do now.
A structure was agreed in the 2016, namely, the Mulvey agreement, whereby the shares in the NMH charitable company will be owned by the St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group charitable company. This provides St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group with some administrative rights relating to, for example, accepting annual accounts at general meetings and approving the appointment of auditors. The national maternity hospital will be fully clinically, operationally and financially independent. It will have its own constitution and its own operating licence with the HSE. All procedures that are currently carried out at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street will be provided at the new national maternity hospital. The new hospital will provide all maternity, gynaecology, obstetric and neonatal services that are legally permissible. These include, but are not limited to, terminations, tubal ligations and gender-reaffirming procedures. Religious involvement in St. Vincent's Healthcare Group has ended with the transfer of shares. Religious involvement in the National Maternity Hospital will also end. For example, the chairperson of the National Maternity Hospital since its foundation has been the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. Religious influence of any kind is expressly prohibited in the new national maternity hospital. There is no mechanism for any religious involvement, now or at any time in the future, in either St. Vincent's Healthcare Group or the new national maternity hospital.
Ireland does not have a good track record when it comes to religion and women’s reproductive health.
It has a poor and dark history. Women are, therefore, rightly demanding that when it comes to our new national maternity hospital there can be no religious involvement whatsoever at any point, now or into the future. Women and, indeed, men are right to demand that. People for very understandable reasons are demanding absolute assurances that all legally permissible services are provided, and they are right to make that demand. All of these services are provided in Holles Street today. The same clinicians, some of whom are here today, are going to provide these new services in the new hospital.
Concerns are understandably being raised and questions are being asked about land ownership and other issues. I look forward to discussing these issues with the committee. I also look forward to hearing from the people who provide the services in Holles Street. Those of us who campaigned for repeal of the eighth amendment said we must listen to the midwives, nurses and doctors working in our maternity hospitals. That is what I asked people to do in Wicklow when I walked up and down the streets and knocked on doors week after week. Some of those same clinicians are with us today. I hope that on this important issue, we will once again listen to the midwives, nurses and doctors working in our maternity services and providing these services.