Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
The people of this country are in fury with the overrun in the children's hospital. It is nothing short of a national scandal, above any other in this country. Time and again the same mistakes are being made by this Government and the previous Government, and there is little evidence that the Government has learnt any lessons from previous projects that have run over budget. I refer, for example, to the Luas, the early days of the roads programme, the maternity and children's hospitals and the likely final cost of the national broadband plan, which all resulted in overruns. I have to question whether the Government values the hard-earned money taxpayers hand over to the State.
We are heading into a major period of investment under the Government's Rebuilding Ireland plan, and I am worried that the Government will be reckless with the taxpayers' money. It is vital that taxpayers receive value for money. There is no question that the children's hospital is needed, but I must question how the hospital is now being costed at €1.7 billion, and there are fears that the final bill could reach €2 billion or more.
To top it off, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is still insisting that the hospital remains value for money. That is not value for money. That is how the people in rural Ireland feel. They fear they will be robbed millions of euro of rural development funds that are there for rural Ireland to make up the cost overruns of the children's hospital. I, along with my Rural Independent Group colleagues, call on the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, to clarify what rural projects will be scaled back or delayed when his Department is asked to slash its budget for the Government to make up the massive shortfall in funding that has emerged following the enormous cost overruns at the national children's hospital. The Government is talking about making a saving of €50 million from the Department of Health to make up the €100 million gap. I cannot imagine how it will be able to reduce spending in the health sector by €50 million because, as it is, we have very long waiting lists across all departments within the HSE, including terribly long waiting lists for children and adolescents.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I have chartered 24 buses across the Border to Belfast for cataract procedures. If these people had been left on the Government's HSE waiting list they would have gone blind. What will happen when this Government cuts another €50 million from the health budget? I shudder to think. Here we stand with a huge hole in the ground and a Government that is refusing to admit it was wrong. It is digging its heels in on this project and refusing to listen to the people. Coming from west Cork myself, I am horrified for rural families. It is difficult to travel hundreds of miles with a sick child and then have to face the challenge of accessing a site at St. James's Hospital. These families have been betrayed by the State.
The Rural Independent Group is the only group of Deputies that can take the moral high ground here. Two and a half years ago we said this would go over budget, and it did. We said helicopters would not be able to land there, and they are not. We said that it would be difficult to get cars in and out of that site, and it will be difficult or nearly impossible. I look sadly at the Cork event centre, another major mess with evident overspend. There is no control here. This is the worst political disaster this country has ever seen.