Like everybody else, I am glad the nuns have finally handed over the site but there was an angle to the story that I feel has been unreported. The ownership of land conveys real wealth and with that wealth comes big money and value. It can be sold, rented and as importantly, it can be used as collateral to raise cash, lots and lots of cash.
In this case the site is worth a fortune, situated where it is. It's a huge acreage and it lies in the heart of Dublin 4, the most expensive address in the country. It must be worth hundreds of millions on the open market. So I'll bet you're glad that the Religious Sisters of Charity handed it over to the State, aren't you?
But they didn't hand it over to the State and that's what's bothering me. They handed it over to the St Vincent's Healthcare Group. The company is a not for profit, voluntary group of hospitals and has charitable status. This, ahem, charity has just been given an asset worth hundreds of millions, free, gratis and for nothing. They have tax-free status so they can just register the property on their assets registry. The hospital is in receipt of over €200m annually from the HSE, (the taxpayer) and the Government is looking to take some of it's €2.8 billion annual health budget and put it towards building the National Maternity Hospital on the site.
This St Vincent's Healthcare Group has not been without some controversy in the past and you can read about some of their more recent, ahem, problems here and here. But this free multi-million euro asset will mop the furrowed brows of the directors of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group. The borrowing potential on it alone on it can ensure massive pensions for all concerned. There'll be money for generous expenses, overseas conference trips and all manner of goodies such as company cars, which are now happily affordable thanks to the nuns. Not only that but the citizens of Ireland will be forking over to enhance their new asset. They are in clover!
I cannot be sure so I can only speculate here but it wouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility that a deal was cut with the Church on this one. They were behind in their agreed payments to the redress scheme for victims of clerical child sex abuse and the State appeared too embarrassed to ask them for the money. So, did somebody senior sit down with them and say, "If you hand over the site we'll knock it off the bill you owe." Like I say, I'm only speculating. But if that happened, then why didn't the State get the asset? Why was it handed over to a private concern? And why has the taxpayer still got to pay the victims of abuse?
If the above is what played out then it seems reasonable to think the nuns assumed that they would be handing over this valuable asset to the State. After all, they had no debt to the St Vincent's Healthcare Group and no reason whatsoever to even consider giving it to them. Therefore on that score then our Government must have instructed the Sisters to do what they did. I can think of no other plausible reason for it, can you?
Am I the only one who thinks this is peculiar?