National Children’s Hospital timeline

News that half operating theatres in NCH may need remediation work after main contractor BAM was told to stop works there latest twist in a saga stretching back 30 years


A single tertiary children’s hospital for Dublin is first proposed by the Royal College of Physicians.


A review is initiated of tertiary paediatric hospital services by then Minister for Health Mary Harney. The HSE chief executive of the day, Prof Brendan Drumm, says the new facility should be in the city centre or close to the site of the Mater hospital.



A report by consultancy firm McKinsey recommends merging the three existing children’s hospitals into a single facility. A HSE taskforce picks the Mater campus as the site, in the face of objections by interest groups.


Mary Harney establishes the oversight body for developing the hospital – the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. In 2010 and 2011, its first two chairs, Philip Lynch and John Gallagher resign. A planning application is submitted for the Mater site by new Minister for Health, James Reilly.


An Bord Pleanála refuses permission, leading to the write-off of €35 million in development costs. Reilly establishes the Dolphin Group to review the issue, which recommends St James’s Hospital as the new site – there is criticism that the site is too small, with poor traffic access. A new planning application is lodged in 2015, with an estimated price of €650 million and completion date of 2020. Planning permission is granted in 2016.


Serious concerns begin to emerge about the costs of the project, after the Government approve a construction budget of €983 million in April. By August, the NPHDB is told costs have risen up by €200 million; in November, they climbe by €450 million. The Government decides to proceed despite the increased price. The Irish Times reveals the cost of construction is now €1.43 billion with overall costs heading to €1.73 billion.


Separate investigations begin into the cost overrun by the Oireachtas health and Public Accounts Committee. Consultants PwC are engaged to review the issue while Tom Costello becomes the third chair of the NPHDB to resign. PwC find the cost could rise about €1.7 billion with little scope to reduce spending. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the report makes for “grim reading”, finding that the escalation relates to an underestimation of the cost of building it, the cost of delays, higher building standards and the effect of VAT. Retendering is not a feasible option, it finds. Funds are redirected from spending on other policies to cover cost overruns. The Government promises reforms in how the State spends money on “mega projects”.


Construction is paused and resumed as the country slides in and out of Covid lockdowns. The deeply acrimonious relationship between the NPHDB and BAM continues, with contractor rejecting claims it had underperformed in its contract, then suing the hospital’s development board in a €20 million costs dispute. Details emerge of over half a billion in claims for additional costs, with BAM submitting almost 1,000 claims for additional payment. Fred Barry, the chair of the NPHDB, steps down in 2021. A spate of arson attacks are made on the site, while the Department of Health warned that hyperinflation in the construction market would push costs ever-higher.

The Government refuses to put a final cost on the project, but braces itself for more increases, while the date of delivery and commencement of services remains elastic – with the Oireachtas told substantial completion is estimated by the end of March 2024. However, it will take some months before the building is fully operation, meaning children won’t be treated on site until the end of that year at the earliest. Part of the facade of the building is replaced after it was found to contain substandard insulation.


The NPHDB tells BAM its plan for the completion of the hospital is not compliant with the terms of the contract. The most recent programme received (albeit not accepted as being compliant) stated that substantial completion would be done by March 2024, but the NPHDB said BAM is behind on the programme. The board has told BAM it intends to withhold 15 per cent of payments due to the dispute.

May-June 2023

BAM is told to stop work on the ceilings of 11 of the 22 operating theatres in the NCH. Correspondence from architects acting on behalf of the NPHDB suggests that remediation work, understood to relate to the layout of the air circulation system, may be needed (although the board says no decision has been taken yet). Sinn Féin claims the new issue could add many months and tens of millions of euro to the project.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times