Stephen Donnelly says ‘nobody right now’ knows final cost of national children’s hospital

Minister for Health accuses Sinn Féin of ‘playing politics’, saying providing estimated cost could open State to further claims

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has accused Sinn Féin of “playing politics” with the development of the national children’s hospital.

Mr Donnelly said the party may be “inadvertently being used as pawns to justify some of the delays and some of the overspend” in relation to the hospital.

The hospital was priced at just under €700 million in 2015. So far the costs have risen to more than twice that and the final bill may be more than €2 billion. Delays caused by Covid-19 and rampant inflation following the Russian invasion of Ukraine have contributed to further costs.

In the Dáil this week Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty accused the Government of losing control of the costs of the project. His party colleague and health spokesman David Cullinane said he doubted if even the revised deadline of 2024 for opening could be met.

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Speaking after opening a primary care centre in Ballyboden, Co Dublin on Friday, Mr Donnelly accused Sinn Féin of “playing politics” with the fate of the hospital.

He said all parties understand that there are many disputes between the board of the hospital, which is overseeing the project on behalf of the State, and the main contractor BAM.

When asked how much the final cost of the hospital will be, Mr Donnelly responded: “I hear Sinn Féin keep asking the question. They fully understand the answer being given. I heard Pearse Doherty claiming in the Dáil during the week that young people were emigrating because of the cost of the children’s hospital.

“This is just politics. This is just Sinn Féin trying to make a story out of something that they have fully understood since 2018 or 2019.”

He said “nobody right now” knows how much the final cost will be as BAM and the board are locked into a series of claims costing hundreds of millions of euro which are currently the subject of dispute resolution mechanisms and could go to court. Thus far just 2 per cent of claims by BAM have been upheld.

He declined to state how much the hospital will ultimately cost. To do so, he maintained, could open the State to further claims.

“It would be very unhelpful for me or the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste to say ‘well we believe the final agreement what might be in the following area’. That will immediately empower certain parties to bid for more money.

“The board is doing their job, they are disputing the full amount of money. There will be a final amount of money of course. We have to let the dispute mechanism and potentially the courts do the job.

“There is nobody who can accurately say right now what those decisions are going to be in terms of adjudication and whether either side will escalate that to the courts.”

He also accused Sinn Féin and its supporters of contributing to the “toxic” atmosphere that politicians of all parties face today.

He was asked about comments made this week by Green Party TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh who complained about the constant harassment of politicians entering Leinster House through the Kildare Street entrance.

“There is a general concern not just in Ireland but across western democracies. We have seen murder in the UK. There is a general sense there is a level of hostility towards elected representatives that hasn’t been seen in a very long time,” he said.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times