Civil servant was obliged to pass on hospital concerns, says C&AG

Paul Quinn was chair of the finance subcommittee board of the national children’s hospital

Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the Public Accounts Committee that the senior civil servant was bound by a circular. File photograph: Frank Miller

Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the Public Accounts Committee that the senior civil servant was bound by a circular. File photograph: Frank Miller

 

A senior civil servant who sits on the board of the national children’s hospital was obliged to pass on concerns about the project to Government Ministers if he felt they were not being addressed, the Comptroller and Auditor General has said.

Paul Quinn, the Government’s chief procurement officer, sat on the hospital board and was also the chair of its finance subcommittee.

The Government is coming under pressure to get to grips with how the cost of the hospital rose from an estimated €800 million in 2014 to the current figure of €1.73 billion. The Government only became aware of the final figure last November, despite concerns being flagged months earlier by the hospital board.

Labour TD Alan Kelly told the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday that Mr Quinn “should have been reporting the ongoing issues with the cost overruns” to ministers or senior civil servants.

The Government has said that Mr Quinn was, along with other board members, appointed in a personal capacity and had a “fiduciary” responsibility to the board.

However the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, told the committee that the senior civil servant was bound by a circular which states that information should be presented to the minister where there are serious weaknesses in controls that have not been addressed, or where there is a risk of reputational damage to the body.

The hospital board flagged rising costs at the project seven times, it was revealed this week.

Correct the record

Meanwhile in the Dáil Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also been asked to correct the record of the Dáil over a statement he made last week in relation to the senior official.

“If somebody is on a board, his or her fiduciary and legal responsibilities are to that board and the correct line of accountability is from the chairman of that board to the line Minister, not individual board members acting on their own part,” Mr Varadkar had said.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall on Thursday asked that Mr Varadkar correct the record.

“We now know that this statement was not true. These constraints do not apply as the board in question is not a company. It is a development board. The Taoiseach needs to correct the record of the House as what he said was simply untrue and misleading.”

“Either the official did what he was supposed to do and alerted the Minister or he did not. If he did not adhere to the circular, that is a serious matter. If he did, it is important that we know exactly when he did inform the Minister,” Ms Shortall said in the Dáil.

‘Personal capacity’

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said, in response, that Mr Quinn was appointed to the board “in a personal capacity” and reappointed by the Minister for Health in 2018. He “had a duty to the board in the first instance, a responsibility to act collectively in decision-making and communication and an obligation to observe its confidentiality arrangements.”

“The point here is that he was on the board. He had a code of practice by which he was governed on that board. He was also accountable to the sponsoring department, which was the Department of Health. There was a line of communication between the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board and the Department of Health,” Mr Coveney said.