Tánaiste defends Fine Gael’s financial management reputation

Simon Coveney says financing of national children’s hospital and rural broadband rollout are separate issues

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: Fine Gael is a prudent party. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: Fine Gael is a prudent party. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Simon Coveney has defended Fine Gael’s image as a party of prudent financial management despite predicted budget overruns for the national children’s hospital and the rural broadband rollout.

The Tánaiste said projected overruns in the cost of the national children’s hospital, which has risen from an original estimate of €450 million to over €1.4 billion, was a very different issue to the rollout of rural broadband – which is estimated to cost €3 billion

“They are two very different projects – we have no made political decisions around the national broadband plan without knowing the full cost whereas the national children’s hospital was different,” said Mr Coveney, speaking at a Rural Opportunity event in Castletownroche in north Cork

“There were decisions made to move ahead with that [the hospital] where the cost estimates were wrong. The State and people working for the State on a contract basis got that wrong. We have learned lessons from that, and we have put systems in place to make sure it does not happen again.

“Before making decisions on big capital infrastructure projects now, there does need to be certainty and clarity on the full cost. That is why the National Broadband Plan is very different to the national children’s hospital,” Mr Coveney said.

“Because we have approved politically last week the preferred bidder knowing fully what the cost implications may be – it will be somewhere between €2bn and €3bn we will spend here depending on what happens and how the market develops, potential clawbacks and so on.”

Mr Coveney said the Government has been very open and transparent about the rollout of rural broadband and there had been “a very active and challenging debate” within Government to ensure that people were satisfied with the proposal.

He acknowledged it was a very significant investment by the State but pointed out the Department of Public Expenditure was there to robustly test “big decisions like this” and that it was only after such a process that the Government had decide to proceed with the proposal.

“We recognise as a political party that rural Ireland cannot and will not be left behind when it comes to essential high speed broadband infrastructure, and that is what this project is about,” he said.

Fine Gael is a prudent party – we have repeatedly shown that when others have through policy mistakes destroyed an economy, we have been asked by the people and put into Government to fix a broken economy and make it sustainable again, and we have done that over the last eight years,” the Tánaiste said.

“We are also a party that is big thinking. We are a party that is planning 20 years ahead. There has never been a plan like Project 2040 before in Ireland in its level of ambition. We are looking to fundamentally reshape Ireland over the next two decades, away from the dominance of Dublin and the east coast.”