A new £250 million (€295 million) "state-of-the-art" children's hospital is to be built on the site of the Royal Hospital in Belfast, the North's Minister for Finance Simon Hamilton announced in the Northern Assembly today.
Mr Hamilton gave details of the hospital project as part of an allocation of £250 million that is being shared between various Northern Executive departments, much of which came from funds freed up by the suspension of the A5 road development.
Under the 2006 St Andrew's Agreement, the Irish Government and the Northern Executive were to each spend £400 million on the A5 road from the Border at Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, to Derry city but that work was hugely scaled down after Dublin "deferred" its share of the funding due to the economic downturn in the South.
In the reallocation, Mr Hamilton today announced £52 million is to go to the Department of Health, £15.5 million of which will be used to get the hospital development under way. It is estimated that the hospital will be completed by 2021.
The 107-bed Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children was upgraded about 15 years ago, but much of the building remains in poor condition, as the DUP Minister acknowledged today. He said he was "shocked" by what he saw on a recent visit.
“Dedicated health professionals going beyond the call of duty to treat some extremely ill children, but doing so in surroundings that I’m ashamed to say are far from fit for purpose,” he said.
"Therefore, I am immensely pleased that this allocation enables the department to begin construction on a new children's hospital at the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast - a new, state of the art, regional hospital to care for sick children from all over Northern Ireland, " he added.
If the project is completed, with work possibly starting next year, Mr Hamilton and his DUP Minister for Health colleague, Edwin Poots, will have succeeded where other British direct rule and Executive Ministers have failed in the past. Proposals for the hospital go back to the early 1990s, when Northern Ireland Office Minister Baroness Denton was in charge of health.
Mr Hamilton also announced funding for a number of road works around Northern Ireland. These included an additional £30 million for the continuing upgrade of the A8 Belfast to Larne route and £13.6 million towards the A31 Magherafelt bypass.
The additional monies also will be used to replace the ferries sailing between Strangford and Portaferry in Co Down and servicing Rathlin island off the north Antrim coast.
“The allocations I have announced today will leave a lasting economic impact on Northern Ireland, boost our economy as the recovery gathers momentum and provide assistance for vulnerable people in our society,” said Mr Hamilton.
“I am determined to play my part in supporting economic recovery across Northern Ireland and I strongly believe that the allocations announced today will do just that,” he added.