Children’s Hospital review ‘will not assign blame’

No-one involved in delivering the most expensive capital health project in the history of the State will be held personally responsible for the financial fiasco it has become, according to the terms of reference of an expert review.

While the PwC report will seek to establish the “sequence of events” that led to the cost of the National Children’s Hospital snow-balling to €1.7bn, with no guarantee it won’t reach €2bn, it will “stop short of determining culpability at the individual level”.

The decision not to apportion individual blame has provoked outrage among Opposition politicians.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said “nobody should be above scrutiny” in relation to the overspend.

She said she is keen to see “what exactly he [Health Minister Simon Harris] was doing to control spending”.

Asked why the report will not find individuals culpable, Mr Harris said: “It doesn’t say that. What it says is the point of the PwC review is not to assign individual liability.”

There will, however, be accountability, he said.

“There will be personnel changes of some people involved in the governance structure in relation to this,” said Mr Harris.

A department spokesman said:

The minister has powers under the Children’s Health Act to review the composition of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board and he will keep these matters under review.

Joint Oireachtas Health Committee chairman Michael Harty said the minister seemed to have modified his position since his appearance before the health committee last Tuesday, when he was asked if he had confidence in the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB).

The minister had indicated he would reserve judgment until the PwC report is published on March 22. Asked on RTÉ radio if Mr Harris should resign, Dr Harty said he is “not calling for resignations” but that he does expect people to take responsibility and that could, at the end of the day, mean resignations.

Dr Harty said he believes the NPHDB “and also the Department of Health” are accountable. The NPHDB has statutory responsibility for designing, building, and equipping the hospital.

Department of Health general secretary Jim Breslin chairs the main oversight body, the Children’s Hospital Project and Programme board.

Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly said a review that holds no-one responsible is “pointless”.

He said Mr Harris should ask Tom Costello, chair of the NPHDB, and John Pollock, project manager, “to step down with immediate affect”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said it was “hard to comprehend how the Government is promising accountability when their own terms of reference explicitly exclude PwC from identifying any”.

Sinn Féin TD and public accounts committee (PAC) member Jonathan O’Brien said the terms of reference were “totally unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else”.

Mr O’Brien has written to the PAC chair Seán Fleming, again asking that Robert Watt, secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, (DPER) appear before the PAC as soon as possible, given that DPER is responsible for managing public expenditure.

The PwC report will seek to establish what was known when and by whom, and the reporting of relevant information from the project team to the relevant oversight and governance bodies. It will assess the processes, controls, decision-making and oversight arrangements in relation to the planning and delivery of the project.

The report will comment on the major residual risks and the extent to which changes have been put in place by the NPHDB to address lessons learnt.

The minister and the NPHDB have already said they will be bound by its recommendations. The review will deal with the role and accountability “of the relevant key parties”, but will “stop short of determining culpability at the individual level”.

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