Children's hospital board and dept officials to answer more questions on overspend - PAC

The board of the National Children’s Hospital and top Department of Health officials have been recalled to answer further questions on a €450m overspend

The officials join a growing list of people the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) now wants to grill about the spending controversy at the hospital.

Members of the committee, including Labour’s Alan Kelly, say the situation has changed significantly since the PAC first probed officials on the overrun given the volume of new information that has since been released.

This was echoed by Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane:

"We actually had a false meeting where we had the accounting officer and the board in but we didn't have the information that we now have."

Meanwhile, a row over which committee secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt should attend to answer questions on the spiralling hospital costs rumbled on yesterday with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe intervening.

Mr Watt has agreed to appear before the PAC over more general oversight of all capital projects but including the children's hospital on March 7.

But he has yet to confirm a date for attendance at three other committees and yesterday the Finance Committee threatened to refuse to deal with Government business until the official confirms his attendance.

Appearing at the Finance Committee, Mr Donohoe said he has been invited to answer questions at a number of committees in the past which "makes it very very difficult for me to do the work that I am meant to do" and noted that Mr Watt is now dealing with the same problem.

In his letter on Wednesday, Mr Watt said he would be "happy" to attend if the Finance Committee could get confirmation from the other committees that it is "the most appropriate" place to appear.

Finance Committee chairman, John McGuinness, accused Mr Watt of "playing games" and said it is "unacceptable" that the secretary general is putting the onus on the four committee chairs to pick which group he should appear before.

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty said: "We are either a serious committee or we are not. The only other people who have refused to come before us are the vulture funds and we have lambasted the fact that they have refused to come before us."

Mr Donohoe said he is willing to engage with the committee to solve the issue and ensure accountability is delivered after it was suggested that he make a phone call to the secretary general. But he added: "I am not going to give a commitment to say I'll sort all this in 10 minutes because there is an issue regarding the number of different committees that Mr Watt has been invited to."

The meeting finally went ahead and the estimates process was examined after the Minister gave a commitment to resolve the issue.

Over the weekend PAC chairman, Sean Fleming, suggested that he would facilitate an amalgamated super meeting with members of the other committees joining in for Mr Watt’s appearance. But he ruled this out yesterday stating that he would not be pursuing this option.

Mr Cullinane said the chairman’s initial offer had been a “mistake” and suggested there is a “bit of jockeying for position” on the part of other committees.

Mr Fleming said he doesn't want to get into "political argy bargy" with other committees adding that "they can deal with Mr Watt themselves in due course".

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