Children’s hospital a ‘never-ending cycle of rising costs’ – SF

Doherty accuses Government of ‘hands-off approach’ to price, lack of completion date

 National Children’s Hospital under construction in January this year. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

National Children’s Hospital under construction in January this year. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Government has been accused of taking a “very hands-off approach” to dealing with the spiralling costs of the new National Children’s Hospital.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the Government did not know what the estimated costs are and maybe did not want to know.

He claimed there was a complete “vacuum of transparency and accountability” around the development of the hospital in the wake of the meeting on Wednesday of the Oireachtas Committee on Health where the Department of Health and the hospital’s development board did not provide an update on costs or an opening date.

It emerged that there are 900 outstanding claims with the main contractor BAM over costings, of which nine have been settled at a cost of €2.5 million by arbitration and a further six will go to the High Court.

Mr Doherty said the number of claims had increased from 600 and “most have been parked for later settlement, which is just kicking the can down the road.

“It is a never-ending cycle of more claims and more claims, rising costs and no completion dates in sight.”

Raising the issue in the Dáil he said the Government expected a “blank cheque” from the Oireachtas and the taxpayer to the hospital’s builders.

Criticising the lack of accountability he said that eight months ago an update on costs was promised after it emerged that the price had risen from €650 million to €1.7 billion.

A finish date of 2020 is now vaguely put at “the second half of 2024” by the development board which oversees the project.

‘Hands-off’

The Government seems to be ignoring its responsibilities in delivering this vital project at a fair price

“The Cabinet is taking a very hands-off approach. You don’t know the cost and maybe you don’t want to know,” he told Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who was standing in at leaders’ questions for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Demanding to know what the expected final cost now was Mr Doherty said that when he was minister for health Mr Varadkar promised a €650million price-tag and a completion date in 2020.

The Donegal TD claimed “Ministerial incompetence” was responsible when the Tánaiste, as minister for health, signed off in the early planning and estimation of costs on a two-stage procurement process. He also criticised his successor in the role, Simon Harris.

Mr Doherty said a PwC report found that it was not inflation or other issues that were responsible but “the lack of budgeting and failures in crucial planning at the early stages”.

Mr Ryan said it was not possible to give a current estimated figure. He said if he tried to give a figure, he would be guilty of making false promises, of which Mr Doherty was accusing others.

Mr Ryan, who is Minister for Transport and for Environment acknowledged that “there is a problem with the planning, development, costing and delivery of major public construction projects. I am afraid to say that the children’s hospital is a critical example of that.”

He said there was significant construction cost inflation, but the “long time it has taken to get through planning to construction is one of the most critical factors in the overrun”.

The Minister stressed however that the project would be completed and would be a world-class facility.

But he said “we must try to learn from these problems and overcome delays, especially in relation to the planning process”.