Latest: Taoiseach admits national children's hospital may cost more than €1.433bn

Latest: Taoiseach admits national children's hospital may cost more than €1.433bn

Update 4.56pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted the new national children's hospital may cost even more than its latest €1.433bn predicted price amid growing concern over the runaway budget involved.

Mr Varadkar said "it is possible" the spending crisis may get even worse as he confirmed officials from the group overseeing the project will be made available for any public accounts committee or health committee grillings.

Speaking during the latest Dáil leaders questions debate, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin lashed out over the growing cost of the vital new hospital.

Quoting from today's Irish Examiner which reported Mr Varadkar believes other projects could be under threat because of the runaway costs, Mr Martin said "in the space of six weeks" the budget has ballooned by more than €400m.

Latest: Taoiseach admits national children's hospital may cost more than €1.433bn

"On September 27, with great gusto, the [Health] Minister [Simon Harris] said 'we are making a massive €1bn investment in children's health. Today is December 18. The cost of the hospital has increased by approximately €400m in the space of six weeks.

"Did anybody tell the Minister on or around September that the figure he gave to the House could be €400m out... It is extraordinary that in the space of six weeks the estimated cost has gone from less than €1bn to more than €1.433bn," Mr Martin said.

In response, Mr Varadkar stressed the need to press ahead with the project, but admitted costs could rise even further.

While not directly clarifying if the Government was aware of the issue in September, the Taoiseach said €400m rise is due to a €319m increase in construction costs, a €50m VAT rise and the remainder involving "planning design teams, risk contingency and ensuring the hospital was properly equipped".

Asked if the €1.433bn cost is the absolute limit or if the expense could grow even higher, Mr Varadkar added "it is possible" as "it may be the upper limit but it is based on certain contingencies".

Mr Varadkar separately confirmed members of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board which overseas the new children's hospital project will be made available to speak with the public accounts committee and the health committee over the costs controversy.

In a statement, Labour health spokesperson and PAC deputy leader Alan Kelly focussed additional attention on Simon Harris, saying the Health Minister is the person who must attend:

"Minister Harris needs to come before the health committee or the PAC to account for how a project which he described as being delivered 'on budget and on time' in 2017 is now running over-budget by up to €450m in 2018.

“Budgets are there for a reason and there are other major projects underway at the moment.

"The national maternity hospital, the 96 bed unit in University Hospital Limerick, the provision of expert diagnostic equipment, primary care centres, IT upgrades, step down beds just to name a few.

"Will these projects suffer now or even happen at all? Minister Harris needs to be clear with the public on the progress of project which are publicly funded," Mr Kelly warned.

Earlier: Cost of new children's hospital expected to reach €1.4bn

Update 11.57am: There are fears the rising cost of the new national children's hospital could mean other major infrastructure projects are delayed or scrapped.

The project is now expected to cost €1.4bn which is more than the initial estimate of €1bn.

Ministers will discuss the issue at today's cabinet meeting.

The Health Minister is also expected to give the go-ahead for initial building works at the site of the new National Maternity Hospital.

The Irish Times reports Simon Harris has received assurances the Sisters of Charity will have no role, the state will be guaranteed ownership and that a public interest director will be appointed.

Siptu construction sector representatives have expressed concerns that the National Children’s Hospital could need additional money to complete the project.

"In light of the possible estimated costs running into €1.4bn we are calling on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to confirm that any additional costs or overspend is not down to the workers," said Siptu's John Regan

"What is needed is more vigilance in the procurement process to ensure taxpayers are protected and that vital projects like the National Children’s Hospital are on budget."

They also voiced their disappointment that the notion of possible knock-on negative implications to other construction projects has been floated by the Government.

"While costs have increased, construction workers’ terms and conditions have certainly not been a contributing factor to this reported overspend," said Siptu Construction Sector Chairman, Eddie Gunnery.

"In fact, at best, most construction workers are only receiving the legal minimum payments negotiated under a Sectoral Employment Order."

Digital Desk

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