Public expenditure official not required to report on spiralling costs

Hospital board member Paul Quinn appointed in personal capacity, Harris says

Minister for Health  Simon Harris, Andrew Mc Dowell EIB vice-president, Werner Hoyer EIB president, Minister for Finance  Paschal Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  at the signing of documents for the loan for the  children’s hospital in 2017. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Simon Harris, Andrew Mc Dowell EIB vice-president, Werner Hoyer EIB president, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the signing of documents for the loan for the children’s hospital in 2017. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The senior Department of Public Expenditure official who was on the board planning the national children’s hospital was appointed in a personal capacity and was not required to report back to his department.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said it was his understanding that Paul Quinn, head of procurement at the department, was, along with other board members, appointed in a personal capacity.

He was also one of three board members who were appointed in the public interest.

Mr Quinn, who joined the Department of Public Expenditure in 2013 after working for Eircom, is responsible for reforming procurement across the public sector as part of the Government’s reform programme.

Last week, Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin said Mr Quinn was on the board “in an individual capacity given his procurement expertise, but he is not there representing his employer”.

Competent board

“Had we ignored the opportunity to put someone with that competency on the board, we could have been judged not to have a fully competent board. The decision was made to use his skills,” he told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien pointed out at the committee the escalating costs at the project were first brought to the attention of the board in June 2018, but the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive were not told until late August. The board was reappointed in July.

“The head of procurement in the Department of Public Expenditure was sitting on the board aware of these escalating costs. He is on the board to protect the public interest but there was a two-month delay from when the board first became aware of escalating costs to when the information was relayed to the Department of Health.”

Exchange of information

Asked whether Mr Quinn could report back to his department, Mr Breslin said, “the board procedure would come into play as to whether matters were confidential. The normal governance lines are that the exchange of information would happen via the executive or the chair.”

The committee heard the finance subcommittee, which was chaired by Mr Quinn, would have learned of the cost escalation before the board.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell told the committee she found it very disturbing that Mr Quinn knew about this. “Although Mr Breslin expects that communication would have been carried out through the normal governance structures, let us call a spade a spade: we know that is not how it works. He would have been talking to people. He works in the department. He must have mentioned it,” she said.

“I do not buy the idea that information did not get out. I am seriously concerned if the head of procurement knew about this and the Minister was not informed until August.”