National Paediatric Hospital: 20 years on, it is time to build it

Another instance reflecting an inability to provide major public infrastructure projects within a reasonable time-frame

The procurement of major public projects in this State has been fraught with difficulties, whether they involved Luas, the Dublin Port Tunnel, the Poolbeg incinerator or, more significantly, the National Paediatric Hospital. It was first proposed in 1993 and remains to be delivered over 20 years later. In large measure, this unconscionable delay of a much-needed facility has arisen because of continuing disagreement about the choice of site for the €650 million scheme. Medical politics have also played a role, with consultants and hospital administrators jockeying for position to such an extent that the original objective has been clouded by opportunism and worse, with sick children as the long-term losers.

The Fianna Fáil-PD coalition decided that the new children's hospital should be shoe-horned into the Mater site on Dublin's Eccles Street, even though the amount of land available there was grossly deficient. That is why the proposed building ended up being so colossal in scale, extending 160 metres in length and 16 storeys high. Yet the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health went along with this incredible hulk, apparently without questioning its impropriety in urban design terms. It took An Bord Pleanála to say "no", on the grounds that the scale, mass and bulk of the proposed development would have a detrimental impact on Dublin's skyline.

Following yet another review, the present Government decided that the project should go to St James’s Hospital instead. The available site, at 12 acres, is significantly larger than what was on offer at the Mater, so the scale of what’s now being proposed by architects BDP and O’Connell Mahon is significantly lower, in deference to nearby residents. But there are still concerns about access to this relatively tight part of Dublin, with Jonathan Irwin, of the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation passionately arguing that the hospital should go to a site off the M50 instead. And although the St James’s site is well-served by Luas, the traffic impacts will be among the issues that will need to be carefully considered by An Bord Pleanála.