Hospital ‘debacle’ not to blame for lower FG support, Varadkar says

Taoiseach notes consumer confidence drop when asked about poll ratings for him and party falling

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar does not believe the recent controversy surrounding the national children’s hospital overspend is responsible for a drop in his and Fine Gael’s standings in opinion polls. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar does not believe the recent controversy surrounding the national children’s hospital overspend is responsible for a drop in his and Fine Gael’s standings in opinion polls. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters.

 

Overspending on the national children’s hospital project has been “quite a debacle” and has not done the Government “any favours”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar, however, said he did not believe the recent controversy surrounding the hospital is responsible for a drop in Fine Gael’s standings in opinion polls or findings on people’s satisfaction with his performance.

The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll sees Fine Gael drop three points to 30 per cent and Mr Varadkar’s personal approval rating fall eight points to 43 per cent. However, Fine Gael and Mr Varadkar remain the most popular party and leader in the State.

When asked if the controversy over the soaring cost of the national children’s hospital was responsible for the decrease in support, the Taoiseach replied: “No, is the short answer”.

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

‘Good investment’

“I don’t think [the hospital] has done us any favours obviously because it has been quite a debacle,” Mr Varadkar said. “I do think though that when the children’s hospital is fully constructed and up and running nobody will doubt that it was a good investment and nobody will be sorry that we built it.

“I never read too much into any one poll but I am not going to pretend that I ignore them. I tend to take them in threes or fours. And what is evident is that over the course of the past six months support for my party, Fine Gael, which I suppose had been mid 30s is now low 30s. There may be lots of reasons for that. How do you deal with it? How do you improve that? You concentrate on the issues people care about: Brexit, the economy, jobs, putting money in people’s pockets, making progress in healthcare and housing. That is how I am going to respond.”

The Taoiseach said he could not know “for sure” what is behind the steady drop Fine Gael has seen but that there may be “lots of different reasons”.

Confidence

“One thing we have definitrely seen from the middle of July last year is a real fall off in consumer confidence. Consumer confidence in Ireland is now back to where it was in 2012,” Mr Varadkar said.

“Bear in mind 2012 was in the teeth of austerity and right after the financial crisis and that is happening despite the fact that there is almost full employment, rising incomes and rising living standards. Perhaps some of that is related to Brexit, concerns around Brexit. Perhaps it is related to other matters too.”

The Taoiseach said there were “definite issues” around the cost of living such as rent prices.

“What I am absolutely convinced of as a Government, involving Fine Gael and Independents, and as a party, the best way to recover your poll ratings is the concentrate on the people’s business, doing the stuff they want you do.”