Minister has ‘absolute certainty’ all procedures that may be allowed in new NMH

Secretary of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne has said he has “absolute assurance” that all procedures legal in Ireland would be allowed under legal agreements governing the construction of a new National Maternity Hospital (NMH).

Mr Byrne, Fianna Fáil TD for Meath East, said he didn’t think the cabinet would try to remove the language, which has been the source of controversy as health care proponents and the opposition came under scrutiny, suggesting that it could allow for the influence of a Catholic ethos on the hospital.

When asked if he thought the cabinet would change the language, he told RTÉ’s This Week program that “the” [legal] documents already cover every procedure that is legal in Ireland”.

Mr Byrne, who is a lawyer, said he could say “with absolute certainty” that the proceedings would be allowed according to the documents. He said he hopes the cabinet will approve the deal on Tuesday, “because it has been delayed for far too long”.

“Honestly, I don’t know what else we could do because people will find flaws in everything that is put forward,” he said.

Asked if a “codicil” could be added to the agreement outlining what procedures are allowed, he said: “we’ve just thrown these words around – a codicil in the law refers to a will, so I’m not sure who it suggests this, but it’s definitely something I’m not familiar with.”

“If you want to change the documents, you can if you want, but the documents state that all legally permitted services are provided in that hospital. I’m not sure how much further you could go.”

Asked about reports that Green Party TD could vote for Dublin Central Neasa Hourigan against the government in an upcoming Sinn Féin motion on the subject, he said the government would continue “in the interest of Ireland’s women”, but that for “a TD to lose the party whip on this would not be very wise in my opinion, because I can say with absolute certainty … there is no problem whatsoever in connection with this”.

‘No worries’

On the same program, Dr. Jenny Walsh, an obstetrician gynecologist at the NMH, said she had “no worries” about the phrase “clinically appropriate.”

“I believe it is as it stands that procedures that are appropriate and clinically indicated” would be possible, she told the program.

However, she again indicated that doctors at the hospital would be open to revisiting it if the government felt it was necessary. “As clinicians, are we attached to that expression? I think [NMH Master] Prof Shane Higgins was very clear about that yesterday: absolutely not.”

My preference is that our ability to provide that care is protected. I believe that’s protected with that phrase, but if there’s a phrase that the government… decides it’s more appropriate, NMH has been very clear that we’re willing to come to the table about that, and absolutely have it removed, have it replaced,” she said, if it could be done in a “timely fashion”.

Fine Gael TD for Dublin Rathdown, Neale Richmond, said he expects the cabinet to approve it on Tuesday. “The two weeks have been really helpful and it’s now at the stage where we don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

However, he said defining the phrase “clinically appropriate,” which has been strongly objected to in some quarters, would be “helpful,” as would rolling reviews about how abortion and other hospital services operate once it was built. “Writing something down would certainly help a lot of people outside the political spectrum, just to reassure them,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Charlie McConalogue said the government is “absolutely determined” to “make sure we move forward and build this hospital that is sorely needed”.

“I really hope we can make a decision in cabinet on Tuesday that is really, really essential to women’s health care.”

He said the phrase was the correct one that “would ensure that all services are provided”. [and] will be provided in the future – both those that are legally available in the state now, as well as those that may become available in the coming years.”

He told RTÉ’s Week in Politics program that there had been “good discussion” in the two weeks since the cabinet decided to suspend political assent to proceed with the project. “I am certainly looking forward to coming to the situation, hopefully Tuesday at the cabinet … where we actually proceed with the preparations for the construction of the hospital.”

In the same program, Sinn Féin Social Protection spokeswoman Claire Kerrane said that “no one wants to delay the construction of the National Maternity Hospital, but we have to get it right.” Cian O’Callaghan, the Social Democrats’ housing spokesperson, said that “it is really not acceptable to proceed with a project where there is such a degree of ambiguity”.

“If we don’t do this right, when will we get to the point where we’re building public hospitals, with public money, on public land?” he said.

Elimination of term

People for Profit Solidarity TD Bríd Smith said there was no “legal commitment” inherent in the letters of consolation issued last week by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and St Vincent’s Hospital Group regarding the procedures that will be available in the Hopital. “What’s needed is the removal of that term, clinically appropriate,” she said.

Ms Kerran said the effort to build the hospital “was rushed at the end and we won’t get a chance to scrutinize what the taxpayer’s investment of up to €1 billion will be.” Her party colleague and health spokesman David Cullinane said later in the day on the This Week program that the legal status of the letters was “problematic”.

dr. However, Rhona Mahony, the former master of the NMH, said the cabinet had to make a “very important” decision: “Whether to roll back women’s health care by 20 years and abandon the patients and women of Holles Street? or that the progress of the past two decades in a 21st century hospital on Ireland’s leading hospital campus would mean so much more to women’s health care.”

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