Children’s hospital board discussed confidentiality agreement

Agreement was to cover issues relating to finance, building and main contractor Bam

Tom Costello, who has since resigned as the chair of the National Paediatric Hospital’s Development board. Photograph: Ray Lohan for The Irish Times

Tom Costello, who has since resigned as the chair of the National Paediatric Hospital’s Development board. Photograph: Ray Lohan for The Irish Times

 

A confidentially agreement was proposed by the former head of the national children’s hospital board in relation to aspects of the financing and building of the hospital, new documents have revealed.

The documents, seen by The Irish Times, reveal how key decision-makers in the hospital’s board discussed signing the confidentiality agreement in August of last year in relation to what was happening with Bam, the main contractor, and the hospital’s budget.

The cost of the project has risen from an estimated € 800 million in 2014, to €983 million in 2017, to €1.43 billion now. Equipping the building and providing IT pushes this bill up to €1.73 billion; this does not include the cost of family accommodation, a research centre, excess construction inflation and any other changes to clinical standards.

A specialist group of the children’s hospital board met on August 30th, three days after Minister for Health Simon Harris was told of potentially serious overruns in the project.

‘Commercially sensitive’

Tom Costello, who has since resigned as the chair of the board, “noted that all discussions in this meeting are highly commercially sensitive and asked all parties in the room to sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure that no issues in relation to Bam and the budget are discussed outside of the people that need to know”.

“All meeting attendees agreed to this.”

Included in the list of attendees was Paul Quinn, who is the Government’s chief procurement officer. At the meeting Mr Quinn said “we need to be able to stand over the project from a public procurement perspective”.

The Comptroller and Auditor General confirmed last week that Mr Quinn had an obligation to report concerns to the relevant line Minister if he was worried they were not being addressed through the normal channels.

Separately, an invitation has been issued to Bam to come before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to discuss its side of the children’s hospital saga.

PAC chairman Sean Fleming told The Irish Times he wrote to Bam on Monday morning asking the company if it would come before the committee to discuss its role in the controversy.

Private companies

While PAC has no power to compel private companies to attend, it is not unusual for such entities to appear before the committee. Last week several telecoms companies attended a session on the National Broadband Plan.

There has been renewed focus on the decision to award the project on the basis of a two-step process

“I believe it would be beneficial if Bam were to agree to attend the PAC to give us all a greater understanding of the issues involved from their point of view,” he said. “There has been a lot of debate in the Dáil in relation to the National Children’s Hospital and obviously we have only heard from the State/public service side on this issue to date.”

He stressed that it was strictly a matter for Bam as to whether it appeared or not.

There has been renewed focus on the decision to award the project on the basis of a two-step process where the exact design and quantities needed would not be known until above-ground construction began.

At a meeting last August, the joint finance and construction sub-committee members were given a presentation by the hospital’s design team. Afterwards, Tom Costello said there was a need to “stand back at this stage and consider what is the right thing to do” and “demonstrate [that] it is still right to go forward with this budget”.

Bam last week offered to step back from the project if the board asked them to do so

He also noted that there was an “unreal demand from companies, particularly major tech companies, for space in Dublin city centre, and demand for building may continue at this rate for the next two to three years. This results in very strained construction resources, leading to higher costs.”

Overall board

It was agreed that a confidential report would be given to the overall board, which would discuss the best and worst-case scenarios.

In another meeting on September 20th, Mr Costello told the sub-committee that a “review of the Bam project team is particularly important, as to date this has been an issue on phase A. Collaboration is essential to successfully deliver the overall project.”

Bam last week offered to step back from the project if the board asked them to do so, and also asked the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to clarify that he was not referring to them when he spoke in the Dáil about the “low-balling” of construction tenders whereby companies submit an artificially low bid to recoup costs later. A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said he was not referring to any particular project.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said the new documents show that the Government was “out of touch” with the project.