Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has labelled the Government’s mishandling of the children’s hospital costs crisis as a “debacle” amid fears it is causing the coalition’s public support to crumble.
Mr Varadkar made the admission as a senior civil servant was forced to answer growing questions over the runaway costs and amid Irish Examiner revelations he referred to a Dáil committee as “a mob” while waiting for a day of intense grillings.
Speaking as concerns were raised the project’s already ballooning costs may have to be renegotiated due to inflation, Mr Varadkar admitted the crisis has been a “debacle” for Government.
However, despite the scandal coinciding with a 3% Fine Gael drop to 30% and an 8% Taoiseach satisfaction ratings slump to 43% in the latest public opinion poll, he denied it and other health crises risk dragging the coalition out of power.
“No is the short answer. I don’t think it has done us any favours, because it has been quite a debacle.
“I do think though that when the children’s hospital is fully constructed and up and running, nobody will doubt that it was a good investment and nobody will be sorry we built it,” he said.
The Taoiseach’s comments came as Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt faced a day-long grilling over the children’s hospital crisis by the Dáil’s public accounts and finance committees.
Mr Watt and his officials, who Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry claimed had to be “dragged kicking and screaming” to attend, told the committees:
- The Government should no longer accept “guesstimates” for project costs in light of the hospital scandal
- Inflation could mean the existing contract costs may have to be renegotiated
- And that fees paid to firms advising Government on projects will be linked to clear performance standards in the future
However, Mr Watt in particular was heavily criticised over revelations he vetoed a decision for the State’s head of procurement Paul Quinn — who sat on the hospital board — to attend, and his description outside the PAC of the committee as “a mob”.
After Mr Watt was heard by theyesterday morning saying PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming “has to control the mob” while waiting outside the committee room, he was forced to apologise for remarks he claimed were a “colloquial expression” and which he did not recall.
However, he was rounded on by PAC members across the political spectrum, with Mr MacSharry saying the comment and the failure by Mr Watt to reference the children’s hospital in an 18-page opening statement was giving “two fingers” and a “Harvey Smith” to the financial transparency watchdog.