Two members of the Health Service Executive Board have reiterated their concerns over both the ownership, as well as the governance and control, at the proposed National Maternity Hospital at Saint Vincent's Hospital.

In a statement submitted to the Oireachtas Committee on Health, Professor Deirdre Madden and Dr Sarah McLoughlin say that in the interest of public trust and confidence in this new project there should be absolute clarity on the separation of church and State.

They say this would be best achieved if the State owned the land on which the hospital was built, in line with the recommendations of the Day Report in 2018.

They say the statement by the St Vincent's Holding Group, that they must retain ownership for the delivery of integrated of patient care, is "unsatisfactory and runs contrary to the argument that the location of the underlying freehold ownership has no bearing on the governance of the hospital".

Prof Madden and Dr McLoughlin say they have concerns that SVHG can appoint three directors to the new board of the NMH.

They stated: "Boards also influence the culture, values and ethics of the entity they govern and this gives rise to legitimate concerns for us about the potential influence of ethos."

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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told RTÉ News that the Fine Gael parliamentary party had a "really positive meeting" tonight with Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, as well as board members of the National Maternity Hospital on the proposed move to the St Vincent's site.

She said afterwards: "I fully support this proposal by Minister Donnelly - I always have. But I think what's really important is that time is used to ensure that the facts ... are out there, because I believe people have genuine concerns."

Ms McEntee added: "What I'm clear about is that there are absolutely no circumstances under which I as a legislator - but also as a young mother, a young woman - would agree to anything other than a world class National Maternity Hospital - one that provides absolute clinical and operational independence ... but also one that provides the services that the women of this country are legally entitled to."

She said these included services such as post-natal care, gender re-assignment, access to human reproduction, access to safe abortion, adding: "I am absolutely convinced, and I'm certainly re-assured with the discussion this evening that what is proposed by Minister Donnelly will do all of that."

McDonald calls for State ownership of hospital land

Earlier, the Sinn Féin leader called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to return to St Vincent's Hospital and "convince them" to transfer the land for the new hospital into State ownership.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mary Lou McDonald said there was "genuine" concern regarding the ownership of the lands resting with the St Vincent's Hospital Group, rather than the State.

Ms McDonald said it was "disappointing" the Taoiseach had described such views as a "red herring".

She described the proposed ownership structure as "convoluted and messy" and contended that it enabled the St Vincent's Hospital Group to use the value of the land as "leverage" for future financial transactions.

She said the leasing agreement for 299 years "does not amount to public ownership".

In reply, Mr Martin said that suggesting a 299-year lease does not equate to State ownership is "being dishonest", adding: "There is only so much nonsense that can be accommodated here."

He argued that honesty of approach was required and stated: "Ownership is not an issue."

The Taoiseach called on opposition parties to listen to senior midwives at the existing National Maternity Hospital who wish the project to proceed.

He said these are people working at the coal-face every day, and dealing with the unacceptable work conditions.

'Legitimate concerns over lease arrangement'

Mr Martin warned that the new hospital would not be built if opposition parties got their way.

However, during Leaders' Questions, the leader of the Labour Party said that there were legitimate concerns over the lease arrangement.

Ivana Bacik said that a freehold arrangement should be sought and if this means the Government should purchase the site, that should be done.

However, the Taoiseach said that if "people don't want to cede ownership, they don't want to cede ownership".

Mr Martin said that a CPO should not be sought either, as it would cost significantly more than the current arrangement, which is a "300-year lease at €10 a year".

He added that one would think that the Government has "some hidden covert agenda" to create a hospital that would "deny people access to the laws that many of us worked for and voted for".

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said that opinion polls show that people "don't trust" the proposed arrangement for the new hospital.

She said there would be a "major protest" about the plans this Saturday.

Ms Smith told the Taoiseach not to tell opposition politicians that they were "playing politics" with the issue.

In response, Mr Martin asked Ms Smith to trust the National Maternity Hospital's senior directors, clinicians and midwives who were in favour of the plan.

He pointed out that the full range of healthcare would be made available and this had been underpinned by legal documents published last week.

Additional reporting Tommy Meskill and David Murphy