Children’s hospital row: Minister to outline capital plan changes caused by overruns

Concerns raised at Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting at overspend on the new hospital

February 6th, 2019: Minister for Health Simon Harris TD has told the Oireachtas health committee that he remained unaware of the scale of emerging cost overruns on the national children’s hospital for almost a year. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe told a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night that he took overall responsibility for the use of public money.

He was responding to concerns about the escalating cost of the new national children’s hospital which has led to intense political pressure on Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Mr Donohoe said he would bring a memo next week on procurement and on allocations for the Government’s capital plan which has had to be amended to take account of cost overruns in the hospital project.

He told his party colleagues that he took overall responsibility for the use of public money and said he was working closely with Mr Harris on the issue.

Concerns were raised at the meeting about the hospital costs by TDs Kate O’Connell and Fergus O’Dowd and former minister for health Senator James Reilly, among others.

‘Reasonable’ cost

Earlier, Mr Harris told the Oireachtas health committee the €1.4 billion price tag for the hospital was a “reasonable” one.

Asked whether the project represented value for money, he said the option of continuing with the project, as opposed to retendering it, represented the best value for taxpayers.

Mr Harris told the committee he remained unaware of the scale of emerging cost overruns on the hospital project for almost a year.

Asked by Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly whether he had been made aware by those involved with the project of ongoing cost issues between September 2017 and August 2018, Mr Harris said he had not.

Senior Department of Health and Health Service Executive officials repeatedly discussed potential overruns in the project at planning meetings during this time, according to confidential steering group minutes revealed by The Irish Times on Wednesday.

Mr Donnelly pointed out that the Minister, in answering a Dáil question in mid-September 2018, had said the project was within budget and cited a cost of €987 million.

Mr Donnelly said the costs were escalating “to the tune of several hundred millions of euro” at this time. He suggested the Minister’s answer was misleading.

Mr Harris said it was not, but he wished now with hindsight he had added a sentence saying that a process was then in place to “crystallise” the guaranteed maximum price of the project.

He said he rejected the suggestion that he knew at that point the extra cost was “several hundreds of millions of euro”.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the time lines presented by Mr Harris and contained in the steering group minutes did not match up.

No-confidence motion

Mr Doherty told The Irish Times his party would not yet table a motion of no confidence in Mr Harris, but that if Fianna Fáil indicated they would be supportive then a motion would be tabled. He added: “The Taoiseach should remove him from his position.”

Meanwhile, former master of the Coombe Women and Children’s Hospital Chris Fitzpatrick has asked for a “formal risk assessment” of the new hospital to take place “as a matter of utmost urgency”.

Mr Fitzpatrick has written to the Public Accounts Committee and asked to appear in relation to concerns he has over the future of the project.

“Given the uncertainty that the country faces at present, I strongly believe that a formal risk assessment must be undertaken now, and as a matter of the utmost urgency, in relation to the sustainability of the current development,” he said in a letter to the committee.

“It is simply not acceptable to say that we have passed the point of no return without scrutinising the risks – rapidly, diligently and with the involvement of appropriate and independent expertise.”