Surging cost of children's hospital will see €100m cut from other government plans

Surging cost of children's hospital will see €100m cut from other government plans

The surging cost of the national children's hospital will see €100m cut from other government plans this year - with half of the sum coming from the Department of Health.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted the runaway €1.7bn budget's immediate impact as it emerged three Dáil committees are now insisting the Department of Public Expenditure's secretary general Robert Watt is forced to give answers on the overspend.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil the reality is "about €100m worth of capital expenditure" will be the subject of "re-profiling" this year.

Answering questions from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Varadkar said the national children's hospital budget overrun means between 1% and 2% of the planned capital projects fund will have to be paused this year.

However, despite saying "half of that" will come from the Department of Health, he said "it is not true to say any project will be stopped or cut or cancelled" - claiming they will just be "deferred".

"It [the national children's hospital overrun] requires a re-profiling of about €100m worth of capital expenditure this year out of a total capital budget of €7bn.

It requires a re-profiling of the budget of somewhere between 1% and 2%, half of that coming from the Department of Health and the other half coming from other departments.

"It is not true to say any project will be stopped or cut or cancelled. Some may well be deferred," he said.

Ms McDonald lashed out at the Taoiseach over the revelation, saying the surging national children's hospital cost "is at best a fiasco and at worst an example of gross incompetence".

She said "what is most worrying is that, despite the fact this overrun is set to blow a hole in the capital budget for years to come, no one seems willing to take responsibility for it", and ridiculed Mr Varadkar's claim capital projects rather than services will be affected.

The Irish Examiner confirmed that three Dáil committees are now insisting Mr Watt answer questions in public over the growing scandal.

After Mr Watt sparked anger by refusing to attend yesterday's health committee, the Dáil budgetary oversight committee wrote to the senior official insisting he attend a meeting with it in early February.

Noting his previous refusal to meet the budgetary committee in December and Mr Watt's claim he could not meet the health committee as he is answerable to the budgetary committee, the latter's chair and Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said he would be happy to oblige.

Separately, Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O'Brien will formally ask the Public Accounts Committee at its meeting tomorrow morning to order Mr Watt to attend next week on the same issue.

A number of PAC members, including Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Labour health spokesperson Alan Kelly, have previously said they want Mr Watt to answer questions on the overrun.

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