Department head accused of 'disrespect' over refusal to give evidence on children’s hospital

 Department head accused of 'disrespect' over refusal to give evidence on children’s hospital
Dr Michael Harty

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been accused of treating the Oireachtas Health Committee with “disrespect” by refusing to give evidence on the spiralling €1.4bn bill for the new national children’s hospital.

Chairman of the committee, Dr Michael Harty, said the department secretary general, Robert Watt, was asked to attend today's meeting and members were “quite disappointed” that the offer was declined.

“It is the feeling of the committee that the committee has been treated with disrespect in this regard,” said Dr Harty.

“The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform felt it was neither necessary nor appropriate to attend this meeting or to attend any other sectoral committee meetings.”

Dr Harty said the department had only been asked to attend a meeting of the committee on two occasions and both requests were declined. The department that was responsible for procurement had to be asked about the cost overrun and the negative knock-on effects.

It (the department) has to provide €50m extra capital funding in 2019 and it has to find €220m extra capital funding in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Therefore, we think it has a responsibility to explain how this will be provided to the committee.

Mr Watt has said it would have been "impractical" for him to answer questions from the Health Committee about cost overruns. He said officials from individual departments are responsible to relevant committees to discuss legislation, policy, governance and expenditure.

He said for him to appear at the health committee would "cut across these lines of accountability" and therefore be "impractical".

But he said his department does appear before the Public Accounts Committee on its examination of spending across all departments.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the Department of Health and the HSE.

The secretary general of the Department of Health, Jim Breslin, could not attend the Oireachtas hearing because of a prior commitment.

An independent review of the escalation in costs is due to report in March.

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