Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has defended the Minister for Health and the Government for their actions in relation to revealing details of the escalating cost of the national children’s hospital.
She also told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that Fine Gael are “painstakingly and excruciatingly prudent and boring when it comes to the economy, we make sure that the money that we spend is absolutely value for the taxpayers’ money because we know how hard it is, we've been slow to give tax cuts, slow to reduce USC because we are so prudent which is why the economy is in state it is after eight years of recovery.”
Ms Doherty said that she thinks the Minister for Health is frustrated that information “is coming out at different times I don't mean that disingenuously, I think he's acted in a manner in which you'd expect a Minister to act.
“It was brought to his attention last August, but not on the scale or size that, or in the detail that he'd have liked or needed to bring to somebody else's attention, he asked for that, he was told at the time that it would take a number of months because commercially sensitive negotiations were going on.”
The earliest the exact data came back to him was on 9th November, she said and he briefed the relevant authorities on that day. “He brought a very detailed memo to Cabinet on 8th December, where we as a Government made a decision to proceed as we did.
Ms Doherty pointed out that if she brought up an issue at Cabinet ad did not know the “who, why, where, when ... if I didn't have the answers then I'd look like an ejit, in fairness to him, he acted accordingly, he made sure ...”
“He needed exact details with regard to the increase in construction costs, exactly how much the design fees were going to be, what the fire safety requirements were, how much the sprinklers was going to be, how much extra VAT was going to be charged, he needed all of those details.
“The only way he could get that was to allow those 10 weeks period to elapse between August and November, the contract teams were doing those commercially sensitive negotiations to find out exactly the figures so that he could bring them to the people who could make a decision on them.”
Ms Doherty acknowledged that it would have been helpful if the Minister for Health had given the Cabinet ‘a heads up’.
“But the first question that would have happened when he gave the heads up was how much? What impact would they have?”
She said that both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure had admitted that an early warning system would have been helpful.
Ms Doherty said she understood people’s frustration, “but we have to deal with facts, we did not have the facts, Simon didn't have the facts in August and when he had the facts in November he brought them to the relevant people and subsequently Cabinet for decision to make, it was our decision to make, whether to pause the project, scrap the project altogether, whether we re-tender for the project or whether we go ahead and deliver what is going to be a profound positive impact on the delivery of health care for our children.”
She was adamant that Mr Harris had accepted responsibility.
“There is political accountability. What we don't have is justification for the increase of costs, from €983million to the €1.43billion, we know what the topline levels are, €319m for construction cost increases, €1million for VAT, we know how much it is for the design team, for the sprinklers, but what we don't have is a justification.
“Nobody is shirking their responsibility. The Cabinet made a decision for the future ...
“The information was not made to the Minister or the HSE until November,
"The cost overrun is €450mm, it's enormous, what we need to do is find out exactly what those costs are, in details as to why they are in existence now, to find out if they are justifiable, and to find out how we can minimise the cost so we can deliver this state of the art facility that's going to have a profound impact on the delivery of services for our kids. That's what we want to do.”