Dáil debates

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


2:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

Between 2011 and 2015, we were fighting for our survival as a country. Every major project was checked and scrutinised to control costs and deliver value for the people's money. This Fine Gael Government seems to have adopted a Celtic Tiger attitude towards overspending. Just ten months after telling us that the cost of the national children's hospital on the St. James's site was to be €938 million, Fine Gael is now telling us that the final cost could be €1.73 billion or more, nearly double the previous cost. As the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has said, we are at the point of no return. There is a vast crater in St. James's, and having dug themselves into this hole, the Government seems to have no choice but to keep digging to try to find a way out.

However, the Government's story does not stand up. We have been told that the civil servant appointed to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board was there in a personal capacity. That is not true. The Department of Finance Circular 12/2010 sets out in detail that civil servants appointed to non-commercial boards must inform if a matter of serious concern arises. It is a requirement for civil servants on boards to ensure that their concerns are first raised at the board, noted in the minutes and actions agreed. The circular is crystal clear:

The Minister must be notified without delay where: (i) There are serious weakness in controls that have not been addressed despite being drawn to the attention of the board or the Chairman;

(ii) There is a significant strategic or reputational risk to the body that is not being addressed.

A Government circular overrides any confidentiality imposed by a board itself. How is it possible that this did not occur in one of the State's largest developments?How is it plausible that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was unaware of cost overruns until November last, as he has asserted? The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has said that he was aware of some of the costs as early as last August. Did it really take another three months for the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to be informed? Either he did not know what was going on and did nothing or else he did not know what was going on until November. It is unimaginable that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was kept in complete ignorance of public expenditure.

Surely as the Minister overseeing public spending, he would have received monthly, if not weekly, updates on the progress of a project of this scale and significance. Why apparently did it take three months for the Minister for Health to inform the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform about major cost overruns in the flagship programme of the Department of Health? How did the Government present a budget to this House at the end of last year that is already €100 million short in its capital programme?


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