Government must ‘come clean’ on children’s hospital delays and costs

Martin says project ‘dogged in secrecy’ as €15m needed to defend contractors’ claims

The builder of the project, BAM, has questioned the ‘validity’ of an instruction by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board  to proceed with the second phase of the build. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The builder of the project, BAM, has questioned the ‘validity’ of an instruction by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board to proceed with the second phase of the build. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has called on the Government to “come clean” on emerging delays and budget concerns at the new children’s hospital.

According to documents seen by The Irish Times, the builder of the project, BAM, has questioned the “validity” of an instruction by the board to proceed with the second phase of the build. The creation of a specific communications plan to deal with the issue was discussed.

The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB), which oversees the construction of the project, said it would need €15 million to defend itself against the high level of ongoing claims being made by contractors.

Top officials were told in October that the board overseeing the project was trying to find “realistic construction timelines” after a new programme was given by the builders BAM, which the board believes is “not in line with what is in the contract”.

Mr Martin said the project has been “dogged in secrecy along the way”.

“It is a defining illustration of this Government’s hands-off approach to major projects. They were more interested in the photo than they were in getting it done on time and within budget.”

He said the Government needs to “come clean” because “we all need to know what we are facing into here”.

‘Political football’

Minister for Health Simon Harris said the issue was being used as a “political football”.

“Let’s first remember we are building the children’s hospital, no other Government has bothered to do this. They play politics with it. Yes, there are lessons to learn in relation to the national children’s hospital.”

He also said the board is “robustly fighting claims” and that “parts of the project will run behind and parts will run ahead”.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the board of the hospital is doing “all they can to manage the costs”.

Minutes of the Government and HSE oversight group also reveal that because of an “exceptional level of claims” for additional costs being made by contractors, the project’s construction contingency fund is “now not sufficient for a project of this scale and complexity”.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the new information was “bitterly disappointing, but hardly surprising”.

“Answers are needed. Change is needed too.”

Satellite centre

On the issue of delays, the minutes show that BAM has reported delays of 88 days at a Tallaght satellite centre which was scheduled to open later this year. A 131-day delay for the facade of the main hospital building and a 58-day delay for the structural frame of the hospital were also notified to senior officials. The “potential cost implications” were to be advised later.

A spokeswoman for the NPHDB said BAM had “provided a number of different draft timelines for construction”.

“They are still being reviewed, and there is currently no change to the programme schedule. Any delivery outside of the timelines agreed under the contract could potentially be a matter for dispute resolution, and as such we are not in a position to comment at this time.”

While the board did inform meetings of the Oireachtas Health Committee and Public Accounts Committee that the main contractor was behind schedule, specific details are set out in the documents for the first time.