FF would collapse Government over children’s hospital but for Brexit
Party denies it is propping up Government: ‘we don’t think they are doing a good job’
A view of the construction site of The National Children’s Hospital. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Public Expenditure, Barry Cowen (left), health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly (centre) and disability spokesperson, Margaret Murphy speaking to media on Tuesday. Photograph: Collins
The cost of the project could top € 2 billion.
Mr Cowen said his party was not necessarily looking for the resignation of the Minister for Health Simon Harris over the controversy, because they want to first “explore all methods to find out exactly who was at fault” for the overspend.
Revelations of an increase in the cost of building the hospital from €987 million last year to €1.4 billion now have sparked a growing political controversy. When other costs are added, the project is expected to cost €1.73 billion and possibly more. PWC has been tasked with identifying the “underlying root causes” that led to the escalation. On Sunday, the chairman of the hospital’s development board, Tom Costello, announced he was stepping down from his position following the controversy over the escalating cost of the project.
The party’s health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said “you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Ireland who has confidence in this Government when it comes to healthcare, be it on the nurses’ strike, the midwives’ strike, the psychiatric nurses’ strike, CervicalCheck, the longest waiting lists anywhere in Europe, a massive shortage of doctors, 161 consultants who aren’t actually on the specialist register, the National Children’s Hospital.”
Fianna Fáil were asked by reporters why the party continued to support the Government under the confidence and supply arrangement.
“We are not propping them up, we don’t support them, we don’t think they are doing a good job,” Mr Donnelly said.
“They would be gone if it wasn’t for Brexit,” Mr Cowen added.
Labour TD Alan Kelly said his party was moving towards the opinion that the crisis around the National Children’s Hospital may now outweigh the importance of the Government surviving because of Brexit.
“This idea of ‘don’t hit me with the Brexit baby in my arms,’ that can only stretch so far. This is a serious political crisis for this Government.
“These are massive overruns. The bottom line is when does the equation of confidence and supply versus Brexit, when does that tilt over?
“We need more information directly from the Department of Public Expenditure, but others inside Leinster House have to look at that equation as well because the competency of this government is certainly a huge question.”
Reputation ‘in ruins’
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the Government’s reputation was “in ruins”.
“The current Fine Gael Government has built their reputation and set their stall on being prudent with the public finances and what has happened in terms of their biggest capital plan shows that that reputation is in ruins.”
Mr Howlin and Mr Kelly have raised concerns around why a senior official, who is the Government’s head of procurement, and who chaired the finance subcommittee of the board of the project, did not flag concerns about the rising cost.
“It is beyond belief that the line Minister would know last August that there was a problem, that he would not have any detail for months after that and that the Department of Public Expenditure would actually have somebody on the board but didn’t tell the Minister.”
Mr Kelly said the timeline set out by the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Health in relation to who knew what and who did what “don’t add up”.
Mr Kelly said the positions of the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and Mr Harris could be in peril.
“If we find out that it was a change in the timelines, I think both their positions are in serious trouble particularly if we find out there was information in either of their departments that contradicts the timelines.
“But I think Pascal Donohoe has a serious issue one way or the other and the issue is the competency of him and whether his department is actually functioning on behalf of the taxpayer. Either way either way, it’s bad news,” Mr Kelly said.