Taoiseach says hospital will be built

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged that the new national children’s hospital will be built within the lifetime of the Government despite the shock decision of An Bord Pleanála to refuse planning permission for the project on the Mater site in Dublin.

The expectation in Government circles is that an effort will be made to proceed with a scaled-down version of the children’s hospital at the Mater site, but no decision will be made until two expert committees established in response to the decision have reported back.

One will report to Minister for Health James Reilly on the options for the hospital project, while the other will report to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan on the implications for the Coalition’s wider infrastructural programme.

The group reporting to Mr Hogan will focus on whether the planning process can be adapted to allow consultations with An Bord Pleanála while projects are being developed so that they do not fall at the final hurdle.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that the Government was absolutely committed to providing a national children’s hospital during its term of office.

Last night, Dr Reilly said the hospital would be built, either on the planned site at the Mater hospital or elsewhere. He indicated that the Mater location had not been ruled out for the €650 million hospital, one of the biggest medical infrastructural projects in the history of the State.

He signalled that the Government could look at a smaller facility than originally envisaged or that plans for a new maternity hospital or for research and education and training facilities – which were also earmarked for the Mater location – could be revised.

Dr Reilly said he expected that a group headed by the former HSE chairman Frank Dolphin set up to look at the implications of the decision would report back quickly with options. The membership of the group is to be announced next week.

Dr Reilly met architects who were involved in the project yesterday.

The Minister also said funding for the hospital, some of which was to come from the proceeds of a new licence for the national lottery, remained in place.

While he was disappointed with the ruling, it would “merely delay” the development of the new hospital. He said he did not want to see all the old arguments about the location of the new hospital being opened up again as a result of the decision.

“I will fix this. I will find a solution,” Dr Reilly insisted. He could not say for how long the project might be delayed. The hospital would be built as quick as humanly possible.

Meanwhile it has emerged that Department of Health officials told the Minister last March that it was expected that An Bord Pleanála would set conditions for the granting of planning permission for the hospital. They also warned that planning permission could be refused “but the fact that the local area plan and the City Development Plan both locate the national children’s hospital at the Mater campus could be expected to strengthen the case”.

Officials said that any “decision to move the location would result in considerable delay to the project”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said he did not know whether to react to the planning decision with “anger or despair”.

He said Fianna Fáil would back the Government if it wants to introduce emergency legislation to override the An Bord Pleanála decision.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin did not rule out supporting emergency legislation if that was the course adopted by the Government but said the priority was to improve the hospital facilities available for children. He said adequate resources needed to be put into the existing three children’s hospitals in Dublin.

Independent Senator John Crown said he was incandescent with rage over the Bord Pleanála decision which, he argued, was on aesthetic grounds. He said the proposed site was bordered on one side by a prison and by two hospitals on the other. He said it overlooked Dorset Street, and “with respect to Dorset Street, it is not the Champs-Élysée”.