By Cate McCurry, PA
The Government has been accused of writing a blank cheque for the new children’s hospital, as spiralling costs were blamed on “ministerial incompetence”.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty accused the Government of taking a hands off approach to the new hospital after the Department of Health said it did not have a working estimate of the final cost.
The Donegal TD blamed the cost over-run, which has spiralled to at least €1.7 billion, on the two-stage procurement process, which was intended to avoid a significant jump in costs.
Eamon Ryan told the Dáil he could not give the final cost of the hospital, saying it was a live project.
“There has been serious and significant cost increases and changed contractual arrangements right through this process,” the Minister for Transport said.
“We’ve a wider issue of significant costs in inflation in the construction sector.
“We also have a significant problem, we all recognise this, in the planning and development, and costing and delivery of major public construction projects in this country.
“And the Children’s Hospital is, I’m afraid to say, an incredibly critical example of that.”
Mr Ryan said the lengthy planning and construction processes were one of the “critical factors” in the surge in costs and overruns.
He added: “The main project has been bedevilled by significant delays.
“I think part of the lessons we’ve to learn from that, is that this two-phased contract process, where the broad outline was agreed, but then further contractual difficulties rose right through the process – we should learn lessons from that.”
He also pointed to difficulties with the pandemic, the availability of workers and the construction sector closing down and reopening because of Covid-19.
“We have a wider problem of skill shortages in our economy which is also putting up construction prices, particularly in the construction sector,” he added.
“None of those are going to be resolved immediately.”
It emerged yesterday that the main contractor for the project has lodged 900 claims over the project.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health heard that there is a moratorium on dealing with all new and current claims.
Mr Doherty said: “I believe that the Cabinet ministers have taken a hands-off approach in relation to this.
“I believe that you don’t know what the estimate costs are. Maybe you don’t want to know.
“Where I do agree with you, is the root cause of this as the two stage procurement process, a process that Leo Varadkar as minister for health signed off on.
“The cause of this is ministerial incompetence.”
A PWC report found that lack of budgeting and “weaknesses” in the initial planning led to a significant rise in costs.
“That’s why we have a situation where Leo Varadkar promised that this project would be built by 2020, and that the all in cost, including contingency and inflation, would be 650 million,” Mr Doherty added.
“We know have figures of €1.7 billion, we have 900 outstanding claims and seriously, as leader of your party, as a senior member in cabinet can you not even tell the Dáil, what the total quantum of those claims are?
“Are we supposed to allow you to continue to write a blank cheque in relation to this project?”