Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Ireland’s National Maternity Hospital – Questions over “murky” new company’s role

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Doctor Peter Boylan – a former master of the National Maternity Hospital – and Róisín Shortall TD – co-leader of the Social Democrats party – are leading voices in a chorus of criticism directed against a proposed new Irish National Maternity Hospital. Their detailed policies on this issue are below. The source is the Irish Examiner newspaper, May 2 and 3 2022 issues.

These two relentless campaigners have focussed on “murky” Vatican plans to control women’s healthcare in Ireland. A number of Dáil political parties positioned on the left have aligned themselves with Shortall and Boylan’s critical campaign – Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit, plus others such as Leas Ceann Comhairle Catherine Connolly. A political firestorm erupted this week, which has frightened the Green Party, a junior partner in the ruling FFFGGG coalition headed by Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin. A government plan to finalise Holy See control of the new Maternity Hospital is currently “paused” for two weeks after Green Party TD’s such as Neasa Hourigan (Dublin Central) responded to growing public opposition.

John Meehan May 5 2022

Boylan: Government can’t guarantee Catholic ethos won’t govern new National Maternity Hospital

The former master of the National Maternity Hospital has insisted questions still need to be answered about the relocation of the hospital and the involvement of any Catholic ethos.

Dr Peter Boylan has written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin about his serious concerns following the announcement by the Religious Sisters of Charity that they have transferred their shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to St Vincent’s Holdings.

In the letter, which is copied to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, he says: “I see absolutely no justification for the new publicly funded National Maternity Hospital to be owned by St Vincent’s Holdings.”

He raises a string of questions: over any conditions that may have been set by the Holy See for the transfer of ownership of SVHG to St Vincent’s Holdings; around the role of two companies — Stembridge Ltd and Porema Ltd — in the latest developments; the potential for St Vincent’s Holdings to merge with a private US healthcare group; and an apparent €457m drop in valuation of SVHG, from an initial €661m in 2018 to €204m last week.


St Vincents Holdings CLG dismissed the criticisms and said some of the points raised by Dr Boylan are “scaremongering”.

Dr Boylan said the issues needed to be “urgently considered” by Government and said the current plans could leave maternity services as a “Cinderella service” within a larger hospital setting.

Referring to conditional permission granted by the Vatican for the transfer, Mr Boylan said the correspondence between the Religious Sisters of Charity and Rome “has never been made public”, arguing “it is clearly not possible for the Government to make any commitment or promise that Catholic ethos will not govern St Vincent’s Holdings and therefore the operation of the relocated National Maternity Hospital which will — as the plan currently stands — be owned and controlled by St Vincent’s Holdings.”

As for Stembridge Ltd and Porema Ltd, which are linked with thousands of offshore firms, he stressed there was no suggestion of any wrongdoing but queried why such a “complex” arrangement was required.

In response, St Vincents Holdings CLG said it was set up through a service provided by PwC. A spokesperson said: “It is standard business practice to use ‘off the shelf’ companies when incorporating a new company. This very common approach was used to facilitate the incorporation of SV CLG. Nominees of Porema and Stembridge acted as the first members/directors and as is normal practice were immediately replaced when the company became part of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and a new constitution was drafted.

“Any suggestion that there is something ‘murky’ about the manner in which the SV CLG was incorporated is disingenuous and continues the campaign of scaremongering and misinformation being spread about our group. It is unacceptable that such scaremongering persists despite the factual situation.”

The spokesperson said the board of SVHG “has always been clear in our determination to evolve as a secular organisation delivering world–class healthcare services in Ireland to provide the best outcomes for our patients and their families”.

Róisín Shortall’s unanswered questions

Róisín Shortall says there is a long list of unanswered questions over the new National Maternity Hospital and the “murky” new company involved.

The Social Democrat co-leader said she was “taken aback to hear that the Government intends to sign off the deed” in relation to the hospital at Cabinet today.

The lease for the new €800m National Maternity Hospital at St Vincent’s will now be 299 years in duration, not 149 as previously agreed, under plans to be approved by Cabinet. The memorandum to be tabled by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will also see increased State representation on the hospital’s board.

The site, which was owned by the Sisters of Charity religious order, has now been transferred to a holding company St Vincent’s Holdings (SVH). However, there are concerns this holding company will still be controlled by a religious ethos.

The Government has repeatedly said that the Sisters of Charity will have no input into the running or ethos of the hospital, and it is hoped that the lease timescale will ease critics’ concerns.

Ms Shortall says SVH will set policy and control the hospital, despite the State owning the building, which is of serious concern as it is not known what procedures the hospital will carry out.

“This is about the promotion of Catholic influence in healthcare,” she said.

“I can’t answer very fundamental questions about the new company that has been set up – St Vincent’s Holdings. This is the successor company to the religious Sisters of Charity.

“The Sisters of Charity will hold the full entire shareholding. So there are endless questions about that company.

What is the rationale for handing that over to a private company? A private company that was only established recently and we know nothing or very little about.

“Why isn’t the government just ensuring that this is a State hospital? It should be under State control if it’s State property.”

 The former master of the hospital, Dr Peter Boylan set out many of his issues with the deal in a very substantial letter to the Government yesterday.

“Is the Taoiseach going to completely ignore that letter?” Ms Shortall asked. “Is he going to ignore these huge national issues, issues of national concern.”

Ms Shortall said what should be happening is that the State should purchase or be gifted the site.

“When the minister talks about the State holding the hospital, what he means is that he’s owning the building, the institution is still run by SVH and that’s where the control is,” she said.

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