Agencies quizzed over cost overruns in planned €1.5bn national children's hospital

Agencies quizzed over cost overruns in planned €1.5bn national children's hospital

Government spending agencies have been quizzed about the massive cost overruns in the planned build for the national children's hospital as pressure mounts to explain the €1.5bn project spend.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has put a series of questions to the Government procurement office as well as the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) as outrage continues over the overspend.

A senior civil servant is also facing growing calls to appear before TDs and answer why the proposed hospital spend has shot up from €800m four years ago to almost €1.5bn now. Planning was granted for the build in 2016 but the first children will not go through the doors at the St James's Hospital site until 2023.

Investigations into the project are mounting up - with the PAC now taking the lead in asking questions of departments and agencies. The PAC will hear from the board of national children's hospital and the HSE as well as Department of Health secretary general, Jim Breslin, on Thursday week.

PAC chairman, Sean Fleming, confirmed the attendance of the officials to the Irish Examiner. But he also confirmed that the committee is seeking answers elsewhere on the huge hospital build bill: “We have written to the Government procurement office as well as the national development finance agency, which is part of the NTMA and advises Government. Depending on their replies, we may invite them in."

Elsewhere, controversy has arisen over attempts by the Committee on Health to quiz the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure, Robert Watt, about the Government spend.

While Mr Watt oversees the paying of bills for projects across government, department chiefs are usually accountable to specific committees in their area. Mr Watt has been criticised by a minister and Opposition TDs for so far declining to appear before the health committee. He told the committee last week he did not think his attendance was required as it is “a matter for the Department of Health”.

But committee chairman and Clare TD Michael Harty questioned the response yesterday. Speaking to RTÉ, the Independent TD said: “Because with his responsibility is value for money, also the procurement contracts and also to manage procurement platforms and e-tenders. The central issue is, and everybody wants to know, is this project value for money? If not, where has it fallen down.”

Inflated costs for construction of the new national children's hospital have been blamed on increased building prices as well as the omission of certain works from the original build plan.

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