Fianna Fáil says Simon Harris must say Dáil was misled

Spokeswoman for Minister indicates he will apologise this week

Simon Harris told Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen that capital expenditure on the project was ‘in line with the expected expenditure profile’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Simon Harris told Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen that capital expenditure on the project was ‘in line with the expected expenditure profile’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Government will this week clash with Fianna Fáil over an apology Minister for Health Simon Harris is due to make over cost escalations at the national children’s hospital.

On September 18th last year, Mr Harris told Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen that capital expenditure on the project was “in line with the expected expenditure profile”.

He 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 has called on the Minister to correct the record of the Dáil and to say he misled the Dáil.

However, a spokeswoman for Mr Harris has indicated he will apologise this week for not providing additional information at the time.

“The Minister made it clear at the Oireachtas Health Committee that whilst he couldn’t have provided figures that were commercially sensitive and far from definitive in a PQ [parliamentary question] more than two months before final figures were known, he wishes he had inserted some initial information – specifically referencing the fact that there was a process under way to finalise pricing for Phase B.

“So whilst the PQ was answered factually correctly, the Minister will be happy to apologise for not providing such context.”

Ministers Helen McEntee and Michael D’Arcy both said on Sunday Mr Harris did not mislead the Dáil.

Party’s concerns

Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman, Stephen Donnelly, said an apology without an admission that the Dáil was misled would not be enough to address his party’s concerns.

“What it sounds like is he is going to say what he has already said. The question is not so much will it be enough for us, the question is did he mislead the Dáil?

“He was asked directly if the children’s hospital was still on budget, when he knew it was hundreds of millions over budget, while he didn’t know [the] exact amount. He responded that it was on budget, and that is factually incorrect.

“As far as I and Fianna Fáil are concerned, he misled the Dáil. That matters because had the Dáil been told that the project was running over budget, we would immediately have focused on ways to reduce the cost.”

One Fine Gael backbencher, speaking on the basis of anonymity, said it was “only right” Mr Harris apologise for the delay in communicating information to the Minister for Finance and the Dáil about cost overruns. However, the TD said it was unfair to claim Mr Harris wilfully misled the Dáil.

He did not believe the Minister should resign.

Another Government backbencher, who also declined to be named, said Mr Harris should stay in his role. “What advantage is there to him going?” It would not help the system or the hospital, he said.

“It all really depends on what Fianna Fáil do. They want a fulsome apology but that’s a big ask. If they don’t accept what he says, does that mean they want him gone? If they do, then it will come to the Taoiseach and he has two options – either change Minister or go for an election.” The Government could survive a ministerial change but “it’s to nobody’s advantage”.

A Fianna Fáil backbencher said there was “real anger about what people perceive as public money being used just like confetti, but they want the hospital built”.

He added: “I’m not in favour of bringing the Government down at a very critical time. They are very vulnerable and we don’t know what’s going to come out next. British Tories would love a bit of turmoil in Ireland but the feeling on the ground here is that people don’t want an election called right now.”