Belfast Telegraph

Questions marks raised over government’s claims on hospital’s overspend

Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary questioned whether it was ‘credible’ that ministers had not been confirmed.

A senior official in the Department of Health was made aware that the cost overruns at the National Children’s Hospital had spiralled to over 400 million euro in September last year, the Dail has been told.

Fianna Fail’s deputy leader Dara Calleary said it raised questions over the Government’s claim it only became aware of the overspend in November.

Mr Calleary said that a project management board meeting, chaired by the secretary general of the Department of Health Jim Breslin, was held in September 2018.

He said that the minutes of the meeting, seen by the Irish Times, shows that he was told of the cost overruns.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris said he became aware of spiralling cost in August last year, however was not given the figure until early November.

Speaking during leaders’ questions, Mr Calleary said: “Yet we are to to believe that information was not passed on to Minister Harris or Minister (Paschal) Donohoe despite it being in the possession of the secretary general in September ahead of this year’s budget.”

Independent minister Katherine Zappone (Niall Carson/PA)

He questioned whether it was “credible” that this information was floating around but not made available to ministers.

“We have had up until this, the Fine Gael backstop defence, absolute discipline,” he added.

“(The hospital) cannot continue to be delivered in the manner that it is, in the dripping of information out, in the undermining of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Independent Minister Katherine Zappone, who was speaking on behalf of the Government, said it was “credible” that information was not passed on.

“Yes, I believe what the ministers have said,” she added.

“I know there are outstanding questions and we need to get to the bottom of that and I know you want answers.

“As an independent member of this Government I want answers as well.

“It’s for that reason that PWC are being commissioned to review the escalation of the cost and it is being done at considerable expense, and I have reservations in relation to the expense as well but I feel that that is necessary.

“Ministers have answered the questions that they can at this point.

Handout artist impression of the proposed National Children’s Hospital (National Children’s Hospital/PA)

“I don’t think we will progress our understanding of how we ended up here by asking the same questions over and over and getting the same answers.”

Mr Calleary said that despite asking the questions, they haven’t got answers.

He also raised the knock-on effect on other capital projects in the health sector.

Ms Zappone said the Minister for Finance, Mr Donohoe, is to bring proposals to Government next week in relation to departmental reallocation.

“There’s going to be a process of an audit that will take place in terms of capital projects for 2019, that apart from national children’s hospital, are already delayed,” she added.

“There also needs to be a re-profiling of projects that would be delayed but only for a matter of weeks.”

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