Concern over fund body for children’s hospital

The national children’s hospital will be delayed beyond 2016 — and now legal uncertainty surrounds the charity established to raise millions for the project.

Concern over fund body for children’s hospital

Health Minister James Reilly has confirmed that the hospital, the location for which is set to be announced today, will not be completed by the 2016 deadline.

Separately, the Irish Examiner has learned that there are legal doubts surrounding the body established to raise millions for the project.

A letter seen by this paper reveals that the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board was advised it had acted outside its powers by setting up the Children’s Hospital of Ireland Foundation Ltd.

This was a charitable subsidiary established to raise philanthropic funding.

In a letter to the Department of Health last July the board’s interim chief executive, Jim Farragher, said it was their adviser’s view that the 2007 legislation which set up the board “does not contain the requisite powers and functions” to set up a charitable company.

This was three years after the foundation was registered as a charity.

The possibility of liquidating the company was raised “pending a solution” that would clear the way for the foundation to fundraise.

If a new company did have to be set up, Mr Farragher warned it “takes considerable time to establish [this] charitable status”.

The uncertainty about the ability of the foundation to fundraise is against an expectation that philanthropic funding will meet 17% (€110m) of the estimated €650m cost of building the new hospital.

Last night a spokesperson for the board attempted to play down what looked like another embarrassing glitch in the long-running saga behind the proposed new children’s hospital.

He claimed there was “nothing fundamentally illegal” about the manner in which the foundation was set up and that they had received alternative legal advice that a letter from the department giving explicit approval to the board to manage the foundation would suffice.

The letter has not yet materialised. A department spokesperson said the issue would be addressed in the days after the location of the new hospital is announced.

Mr Reilly will bring his recommendation for the site of the hospital to Cabinet for approval today. The decision is expected after the Cabinet meeting.

However, when asked yesterday if the long overdue facility would be built by 2016, Mr Reilly replied: “That was the original intention before we ran into the planning issues at the Mater site. So I don’t think that’s achievable anymore.”

Asked if that meant it could be 2017, 2018 or even later before the hospital would open, he said: “I suppose it’s like when you come home late some times, you’d say ‘ish’.”

The Mater had originally been earmarked as the site for the new hospital but the proposal failed to win planning permission.

It is expected that Mr Reilly will today propose that the hospital be built instead on a site at St James’s that will link to the Coombe Hospital.

The New Crumlin Hospital Group — which speaks on behalf of parents with seriously ill children in need of hospital care — said he feared the latest timetable may not be met.

Louis Roden, chair of the group, told the Irish Examiner that in his view there have only ever been two site options on the table — the Mater and St James’s, both of which offer teaching facility services for medics.

Mr Roden said he did not mind which option was chosen. However, he hit out at the “flippant” comments from Mr Reilly, which he said were “disgraceful” in light of ongoing delays.

“They are such flippant comments, such disgraceful comments when parents are sleeping on the floor [of other hospitals] because there is no room for them to be with their children.

“This [the plans] moves at such a slow pace, we’ve been lobbying for 10 years and we’re no further on.

“The Mater was chosen before An Bord Pleanála turned it down. Those same issues which affected that site are still there for St James’s,” he said.

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