Children’s hospital: Simon Harris apologises for his answer on rising cost

‘I should have added further detail that the process was ongoing to finalise costs’

Minister for Health Simon Harris has apologised for not providing more information in his response to a Parliamentary Question about the cost overrun for the national children’s hospital in September last year. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has apologised “most sincerely” for not providing fuller information in reply to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Barry Cowen.

“As I said at the health committee last week, I should have answered the question more fully. It would never have been my intention to mislead Dáil Eireann,” the Minister said in the chamber on Tuesday afternoon.

Mr Harris said: “I should have added further detail that the process was ongoing to finalise costs and that the updated costs would be known when that process was completed.

Children's Hospital discussion in Dáil.
Children's Hospital discussion in Dáil.
A view of the construction site of the national children’s hospital.Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times
A view of the construction site of the national children’s hospital.Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

“I sincerely apologise to the House for not doing this and I specifically apologise to Deputy Cowen who tabled the question.

“I have always tried to approach my work in this House, and especially as health minister, in a collaborative way.”

He said: “I take the need for accountability very seriously. I account for my actions and my decisions and I will ensure that others are held to account for theirs as well.”

“But I hope we can find a way to unite around our common goal to complete this vital project which has been so long promised and will transform children’s health care.”

The cost over-run on the hospital, the cost of which could ultimately exceed €2 billion, and how the details of it emerged, have placed Mr Harris under severe political pressure.

Mr Harris will face a motion of no confidence from Sinn Féin later this month.

At the time of the final tender in 2017, the expected cost of the hospital was €636 million.

The apology followed a statement by Mr Harris on September 18th last year in response to a question from Mr Cowen that the budget for the hospital “was in line with the expected expenditure profile”.

However, Mr Harris had been told on August 27th there were significant additional costs of €191 million, plus a further €200 million which was being disputed.

Fianna Fáil is this week tabling a new Bill to give greater oversight on the spending of major projects.

The Comptroller and Auditor General Bill will mandate the C&AG to formally review projects that reach a certain spending level.

The Cabinet on Tuesday discussed how it will find €100 million from this year’s capital budget to cover part of the cost overruns for the hospital.

A number of infrastructure projects are likely to be delayed in order to meet the cost overrun. Futher cost savings will have to be found in Budget 2020 and subsequent budgets to cover the overrun.

Reports suggest the Department of Transport will be asked to contribute approximately €30 million of the shortfall, which will most likely result in a delay in the Dublin to Derry road upgrade, a project which is being part-funded with Northern Ireland.

It is understood six other departments will be asked to find savings averaging €3 million with the remainder coming from the Department of Health.