By Cate McCurry, PA
The Taoiseach has refused to confirm whether the Government is expecting a surge in the cost of the new National Children’s Hospital, saying it would be a “mistake” and “foolhardy” to estimate the final price.
Micheál Martin claimed it would not be “advantageous to the taxpayer” to give an ultimate cost of the project because of outstanding legal claims.
It was reported on Wednesday that the HSE and the board overseeing the project have been told to bring the end costs to the Government, and that ministers are preparing for the final price.
Mr Martin came under pressure from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald to disclose the costs, which she said could rise above €2 billion.
Representatives from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) recently told an Oireachtas committee that the estimated cost will be more than the €1.43 billion approved by the Government in 2018.
There are also some 900 outstanding claims from the developers of the hospital, at a cost of around €500 million.
Ms McDonald said that 10 years after it was supposed to open, the country is still waiting with “real uncertainty” ahead of the expected 2024 opening date.
“It’s reported that the Department of Health seems to believe that there will be additional funding required from Government and that the Government is bracing itself for a sharp increase in costs that will push the final bill for the hospital beyond two billion euros,” she said.
“Years after planning was granted, nearly three decades since the idea of the Children’s Hospital was first proposed and after 1.1 billion already spent, the Government still doesn’t know what the final cost will be or when that hospital will be completed.
“We have 100,000 children on hospital waiting lists. This includes children waiting for ENT treatment, for dermatology care, and for those children waiting in agony for scoliosis surgery.
“We know the delivery of the National Children’s Hospital would provide the capacity needed to get these kids off waiting lists into theatre for their life-changing operations, but still they wait, and they wait and the cost of the Children’s Hospital goes up and up and the delay goes on and on.”
Ms McDonald said the Government and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly need to “get their acts together”.
“We need clarity, we need answers,” she added.
However, Mr Martin said it would be “very foolhardy and wrong” to put a figure into the public domain while the project is ongoing and the claims are being contested.
He said it is a commercial contract and that the developer has “submitted a whole range of claims”, many of which have not been substantiated.
“The developer may very well submit the claim or the contractor is entitled to submit claims, but equally the Hospital Development Board is entitled to defend those claims that it considers inappropriate,” he added.
“That’s in line with revisions of the public works contracts. You’ve asked me to give an estimate of the ultimate cost. That would be a mistake because if you’re interested in cost you don’t announce to the contractor the level at which you want to go to.
“That is the wrong approach to take now. So the point we have taken, and I’m very clear in this in Government, we have said let’s get the hospital complete, let’s have a parallel process where claims are made and respective costs, they’re defended by the Hospital Development Board.
“In many ways, I take the view that I’m not going into the ballpark figures, no intention of it because to do that we only I think disadvantage the taxpayer and disadvantage the state.
“1.43 billion has been drawn down to date, and it’s a live contract, and I’m not going to prejudice enforcement of that existing contract by getting into precision about cost, hypothetical or otherwise at this particular time.
“I don’t think that would be advantageous to the taxpayer.”
Ms McDonald said: “It is wholly disadvantageous and unacceptable that the Government has set out on this project with a totally open-ended contract, playing advantage at every turn to the developer, such that we have spent 1.1 billion of the taxpayers’ money.”