Memos which show hospital officials considered gag order on costs is "not policy of Government" - Minister

Model of planned Children's Hospital

The decision by children's hospital officials to consider gagging those involved in the project from talking about cost overruns last August is "not a policy of Government", a senior minister has admitted.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed the position amid ongoing concern over the discussion, revealed in the latest tranche of children's hospital meeting memos.

According to the latest files, released on Monday night, key hospital board officials talked about asking colleagues to sign confidentiality agreements last August over the surging hospital costs and its main contractor, BAM.

The meeting memos show that on August 30 last year, just three days after Health Minister Simon Harris says he was informed of the scale of the overruns, a specialist finance sub-committee within the hospital board met to discuss the situation.

In a memo which despite almost a month of public controversy was only released after further health and public accounts committee demands, the now former chair of the national paediatric hospital development board Tom Costello said all discussions in internal meetings "are highly commercially sensitive".

The memo notes Mr Costello subsequently "asked all parties in the room to sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure that no issues in relation to BAM and the budget are discussed outside of the people that need to know" - a situation all board members present agreed on.

Asked about the latest children's hospital scandal revelations during a media briefing at Government Buildings, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said policies "vary by tendering process".

However, he added it is his "experience" projects have "not made extensive use of non-disclosure arrangements" in the past and that it's "not a process or policy the Government has".

"It does vary by tendering process. In my experience it has been open from most tendering processes, it has not made extensive use of non-disclosure arrangements, but I know of some projects that are very large with a high level of commercial sensitivity those running the process have found it appropriate.

"But it's not a process or policy the Government has, that's a decision made by those running the tendering process," Mr Donohoe said.

The latest revelations are likely to lead to further questions over the level of transparency surrounding the children's hospital costs crisis and how much officials and ministers knew about the situation last autumn.

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