'I sincerely apologise to the House': Simon Harris on children's hospital

Latest: Simon Harris has addressed the Dáil and apologised for not answering a question on the children's hospital "more fully" when asked last September.

He said he was not in a position to give "commerically sensitive figures" but should have answered the question more fully.

He added that it was not his intention to mislead the House.

Minister Harris offered his "sincere apologies" and, in particular, to Deputy Barry Cowen who had tabled the question.

"As I said at the Health Committee last week, I should have answered it more fully as it would never be my intention to mislead Dáil Éireann," he said.

"I should have added further detail to inform that a process was ongoing to finalise costs and that updated costs would be known when that process concluded. I sincerely apologise to the house for not doing this, and I specifically apologise to Deputy Cowen, who tabled the question."

The Taoiseach says no projects will be cancelled in order to fund the new National Children's Hospital.

The cabinet has had to find €100 million out of the capital budget to meet the rising costs.

€27 million of that will come from delaying the upgrades on the Dublin to Derry A5 road.

€10 million will come from the budget for the National Forensic Science Lab while the Department of Education will bring forward a €10 million payment for a school on the site of the new hospital.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insists it is only a delay in providing the funds: "Whatever scaremongering may be happening around the country about projects being cancelled because of the children's hospital, I confirm that is not the case."

Calleary defends FF support of Simon Harris saying country needs 'stability' in face of Brexit

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary has said his party cannot support an Opposition motion against Health Minister Simon Harris over the children's hospital spend for the sake of the “stability of the country”.

Sinn Féin have called on Fianna Fáil TDs to break with their leadership and support a Dáil motion against Mr Harris.

A new state-run system to vet major projects and any overruns has been proposed by Fianna Fáil.

Ongoing projects, such as the national children's hospital, the Metro and broadband, would be assessed by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Early interventions by expertise already employed by the state would stop costs spiralling out of control, says the party, preventing future scandals such as the children's hospital overspend.

The Comptroller and Auditor General Bill, proposed by Mr Calleary, will be moved through the Dáil this week.

The plan also proposes tightening up procurement rules and in the long run setting up a national infrastructure commission to oversee projects.

Asked by the Irish Examiner about unhappiness in his party over maintaining support for the government and Mr Harris, Mr Calleary said:

There are a lot of people not happy with confidence and supply. But in the context of the challenge that faces the country in 45 days with Brexit and also we need to learn the lessons from the children's hospital.

"There is no sense in blowing this up now and not learning the lessons with €1.4bn.

“We are taking a sensible position, learn the lessons and continue as we committed to do last December to provide political stability at a time of challenge.

"It is not easy, this country at this time needs political stability. And we need to learn the lessons of the €400m overspend, that is the most important thing.”

Mary Lou McDonald calls Simon Harris a 'serial apologiser' in blistering attack

Update 1pm: Health Minister Simon Harris has been called a “serial apologiser” as he faces an Opposition Dáil motion of no confidence over his handling of the children's hospital construction costs.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said a motion will be moved against Mr Harris this week or next, as she also called on Fianna Fáil TDs to back her party's move.

Mr Harris will make a statement to the Dáil later today on what he knew and when about the hospital cost escalating from €987m to over €1.4bn.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he has full confidence in the minister.

But Ms McDonald launched a blistering attack on Mr Harris ahead of the Dáil resumption today.

The mishandling of the hospital bill showed the “lack of vigilance, competence and management" on his behalf, she said.

Furthermore, new records of meetings released from the National Paediatric Development Board (NPDB) today show that Mr Harris had a “hands off” approach to overseeing the hospital project, said Sinn Féin health spokesman Louise O'Reilly.

She said the new minutes showed a series of sub-committees running the project and Mr Harris reappointing officials in July 2018.

Ms McDonald has now called on Fianna Fáil TDs to back the no confidence motion and insisted it would not trigger a general election.

Such an election would be the call of the Taoiseach, she said.

Ms McDonald said M Harris was a “serial apologiser”, that he had kept hospital cost details to himself, from Cabinet and even from Fianna Fáil under the government support pact.

“Fianna Fáil need to do their job and come off the government benches,” she added.

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