The Irish Times view on the National Children’s Hospital: another chapter in the never-ending saga

With massive State investment planned over the next few years in a range of areas, it is vital that lessons are learned and applied in future big projects

The saga of the National Children’s Hospital has entered a new chapter. Hope that the main building work would be over by the Autumn – allowing it to take its first patients early next year – has been upended. Now the latest forecast is February 2025, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee has been told and with a six to nine month fit -out it will be after the next general election before the hospital opens its doors.

Perhaps not surprisingly, even the new target date looks uncertain and a detailed programme of how it will be achieved has still to be presented to the hospital board. Meanwhile, in the Dáil, Tánaiste Micheál Martin accused the contractors of delaying constructions for their own benefit, a charge strongly delayed by BAM.

Two key issues are raised by the long-running affair. The first is how to get the hospital completed and open as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. The second is how to ensure big projects are managed much better in future. Neither is straightforward.

The story of the hospital was undermined from the start by political indecision on its location, multiple changes in leadership of the responsible board and, according to a report by PWC, a vital failure to specify, cost and manage the project properly from the start. Now litigation seems inevitable in settling various disputes with the contractor and costs could rise further from the latest €2.24 billion estimate.

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The State has been left to " repent at leisure” for the initial mistakes in specifying the contract and the huge delays in building the hospital, for which Covid-19 closures were one unavoidable factor. Central to not repeating these mistakes is getting the initial specification and contract correct – accepting the lowest bid, for example, is irrelevant in a situation where costs then multiply. Meanwhile, once the contract is agreed, speed is of the essence in getting projects completed. The children’s hospital story is proof of the old saying that " time is money.”

With massive State investment planned over the next few years in a range of areas, it is vital that these lessons are learned.