It would be a “mistake” to estimate the ultimate price of the national children’s hospital, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Wednesday as he came under pressure from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald over ballooning construction costs.
“I have no intention of giving a ballpark figure because it would disadvantage the taxpayer and the State” to announce to the contractor “the level at which you want to go to”.
Raising the issue during leaders’ questions in the Dáil, Ms McDonald highlighted a report in The Irish Times that the Government is braced for potentially significant increases in the budget for the building of the hospital, which has been underway since 2016.
It also reported that the HSE and the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board has been told final costs need to be “bottomed out” and that the Government will have to approve additional costs.
Ms McDonald said costs had almost doubled from the original estimate of €987 million to some €1.7 billion currently.
The Dublin Central TD said “there are some 900 claims from the developers of the hospital to the tune of nearly €500 million euros which have not yet been resolved.
“This whole saga has been an exercise of kicking the can down the road and God only knows where his will end up”.
She said nearly three decades since the idea of the children’s hospital was first proposed up to €1.1 billion has already been spent.
The Sinn Féin leader added “we have a Government, a Taoiseach and a Minister for Health who have no notion actually what the final bill will be. That’s not accountability for taxpayers money, and it’s certainly not a way to do business.”
She also said that “despite all of this investment, the children of Ireland still don’t have their hospital”. When originally planned the hospital was “supposed to be opened by 2014. Then it was August 2022. And now we’re told that it might open in mid-2024.”
Hitting out at the Taoiseach, Ms McDonald said “there’s rightly been a focus on your ability to build houses but clearly you’re not good at building hospitals either. When will you get to grips with this debacle? What will the final costs be and when will it be finished?” she asked.
The Taoiseach told her that “the children’s hospital has been ongoing for some considerable length of time and well in advance of the formation of this Government”.
It was “one of the most important projects” overseen by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB)
Mr Martin stressed that “it is a commercial contract and the developer has submitted a whole range of claims, many of which have not been substantiated and a mediation process is ongoing”.
An arbitration process had been put in place. “So the developer may very well submit the claim or the contractor is entitled to submit claims, but equally the NPHDB, the hospital development board. is entitled to defend those claims that is considered inappropriate.”
He added: “You’ve asked me to give an estimate of the ultimate cost, that would be a mistake.”
He acknowledged there were issues with the cost of building materials which would impact on old construction projects.
Mr Martin said “I’m not going to prejudice enforcement of that existing contract by getting into a decision about cost, hypothetical or otherwise, at this particular time”.
Ms McDonald told him that “100,000 children on hospital waiting lists. And children wait and they wait and the costs of the hospital go up and up and the delay goes on and on.”
The Taoiseach said however that a clinic through the children’s hospital had opened at Connolly hospital and since November 2021 there had been over 25,000 emergency attendees, 11,000 urgent care attendances and 13,000 outpatients
“And within one year of the opening” there had been a 65 per cent reduction in general paediatric waiting lists.