Harney refuses to comment on exit of board chairman

 

MINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney has refused to comment on the reasons behind the resignation of Philip Lynch as chairman of the board established to plan, design and build the new national children’s hospital.

While it is understood Mr Lynch resigned last week over concerns about a gap in funding for the project, as well as fresh anxieties about the controversial decision to locate the hospital on the campus of Dublin’s Mater hospital, Ms Harney said yesterday it “wouldn’t be helpful” to speculate on the reasons for his departure.

“My only responsibility is to see that children’s hospital built as quickly as possible,” she said.

“What the parents of sick children say to me is ‘get on with it, make it happen’,” she added, pointing out that neither Temple Street nor Crumlin hospitals were fit for purpose.

Businessman John Gallagher has been appointed as the new chairman of the national paediatric hospital development board by Ms Harney, and the board will outline today the progress made to date on planning the new hospital, due to be built by late 2014.

Planning permission will have to be obtained first, however. The hospital’s development board is about to enter consultations with An Bord Pleanála before submitting a planning application. Under new legislation it can make the planning application directly to An Bord Pleanála.

Asked if she had requested Mr Lynch to resign or if he had resigned of his own accord after he raised concerns with her about several elements of the planned new hospital – into which all three existing children’s hospitals would be merged – Ms Harney told reporters in Dublin: “I’m not going to comment on that. As I said, all I want say today is that I want to see that hospital built as quickly as possible so that the very sick children of this country can have access to the best possible hospital that this country can provide. And I don’t think at this stage it’s helpful to be speculating or to be commenting.”

Latest estimates put the cost of building the new hospital at €650 million, but the Government has only promised €450 million for the project. It is understood Mr Lynch resigned amid concerns about how the gap in funding would be made up. While there were suggestions it might come from lottery funding or philanthropic donations, the uncertainty over funding was a significant concern for Mr Lynch.

Ms Harney said yesterday she believed the development board would be able to make up the balance of funding for the project from philanthropic donations and other means, despite the recession, adding that some people had suggested very generous donations two or three years ago.

“I believe those commitments still stand. It may be somewhat more difficult, but nonetheless . . . we remain optimistic and determined to ensure that that hospital is built by 2014,” she said.

A number of parties are understood to have approached Mr Lynch, chief executive of investment company One51, recently, pointing out the hospital could be built for significantly less on a different site. It is understood he raised this with Ms Harney but was told the debate on the location of the new hospital was closed.

There has been much opposition to the siting of the new hospital on the Mater campus. The New Children’s Hospital Alliance, a group of professionals, parents and others concerned by the decision to locate the hospital on the Mater hospital site, has called on Mr Lynch to make a public statement on his resignation. Mr Lynch has not commented on his decision to date.