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Varadkar: 'Scandalous' that the Government and agents 'got it so wrong' on cost of children's hospital

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted that it is “scandalous” that the Government and its agents “got it so wrong” in terms of the cost of the national children’s hospital.

“Our agents made some big mistakes on the cost,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

He said that over-runs were something that had been seen in the past under previous governments – on projects such as the Luas, the Dart and that Fine Gael had been very critical at the time. But Fine Gael cannot take credit for its successes – full employment and economic recovery – if they don’t take responsibility for their mistakes.

Mr Varadkar said he had not been entirely surprised that the cost of the children’s hospital had risen, but he had been “disbelieving” at the amount. His response had been that they should go back to the contractor and reduce the cost.

“We’ll keep working on this to reduce the cost, but we won’t reduce the spec.”

He said there had been cases in the past, such as Tallaght hospital, where projects had been downgraded to save costs but had ended up costing more in the long run.

On the issue of religious symbols and the role of religious bodies in public health care, Mr Varadkar said that publicly funded institutions have to respect the public and their diverse beliefs.

“Removing the crib was totally over the top,” he added referring to the decision in December 2017 by Beaumont Hospital to move its crib from the foyer to the chapel.

The Taoiseach said he believes in the separation of church and state, but not in banishing religion to private spaces.

“I’d have a crib, I’d have a menorah and something for Eid too. Lots of parish schools recognise that they have children from other traditions.”

When asked about the national broadband plan, Mr Varadkar said that the Government will not make the same mistake it had made with the children’s hospital. “We need to make sure we are making the right decision before we sign any contract for broadband.

“Before we sign on the dotted line we will consider the cost, deliverability and potential alternatives.”

A huge amount of progress has been made, he said. The objective is to make a recommendation by Easter and “shovels should be in the ground” later in the year.