Varadkar accused of being 'all talk and no action' in tackling firms at centre of building scandals

Varadkar accused of being 'all talk and no action' in tackling firms at centre of building scandals
Leo Varadkar.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of being "all talk and no action" when it comes to tackling firms at the centre of building scandals after a company being sued by the State won a new contract to build a multi-million euro hospital unit.

Fianna Fáil's public expenditure spokesman, Barry Cowen says the children's hospital price surge and unrelated school and Health problems show that the Government is making "empty promises" on reforms.

On Monday, it emerged that Western Building Systems - based at Coalisland in County Tyrone - won the right to build a new €14m 60-bed unit at University Hospital Limerick.

The contract was awarded in May despite the Department of Education commencing legal action against the firm last October over serious fire safety and structural concerns surrounding the majority of 42 Celtic Tiger era schools it built for the State.

The situation follows revelations earlier this year that the planned €650m children's hospital price could reach €2bn due to spiralling costs and disputed claims that contractors made initial bids far below real costs.

Speaking in the Dáil in February, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was concerned about the actions of some firms and that "there are one or two contractors who, quite frankly, I would not like to see get a public contract again in this State".

While Mr Varadkar was quickly forced into a u-turn when it was noted that EU and Irish law means that a company cannot be barred from bidding for a public contract unless it has been struck off, the Government said it would launch a series of reforms into the sector.

However, responding to the latest University Hospital Limerick revelations surrounding Western Building Systems, Mr Cowen said the fact that concerns still exist means the Taoiseach has been "all talk and no action".

Barry Cowen
Barry Cowen

"The Taoiseach himself is on record as having said there needs to be a change in the tendering process and that contractors' past performance needs to be taken into account. Is the Government happy to reward bad behaviour or do the Departments just not speak to one another?" Mr Cowen asked.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Health Minister Simon Harris acknowledged concerns surrounding the contract for the new University Hospital Limerick unit but said he cannot intervene as this would breach Irish and EU tendering law.

The HSE has confirmed to the Irish Examiner that Western Building Systems is not currently in possession of any other health service construction contracts.

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