Ministers’ anger at children's hospital funding overrun

Government ministers are highly annoyed at having to sacrifice money from their departments to fund the cost escalation at the National Children’s Hospital, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has confirmed.

Behind-the-scenes criticisms of Health Minister Simon Harris and of the handling of the cost overruns have emerged among ministers.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Donohoe confirmed that ministerial colleagues have made it known to him how unhappy they are with the situation, caused by the sharp rise in the budget for the hospital.

“I know this has been a source of [frustration]. I know lots of colleagues have strong views,” Mr Donohoe said.

When asked if the annoyance has been articulated to him, Mr Donohoe said: “Yes, it has been articulated to me and I have had lots of engagement with colleagues in relation to it, but if we are going to stand by our budget figures, and what I am not going to do is to pretend to the Oireachtas that there is money to be found some- where else or money to be printed to pay for overruns on projects in 2019.”

Mr Donohoe said that ministers who allow big projects to overrun “must play their part” in plugging the hole.

We set a budget for 2019; we set it on the basis of figures available to me then. And if projects, and particularly big projects, overspend, well then Government ministers who are managing those projects have to play their part in how we deal with the issue.

“I know this has been a source of... I know lots of colleagues have strong views on it but I am not going to be unravelling Budget 2019 in February 2019,” Mr Donohoe said.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has accused Mr Harris of not being on top of the Health brief.

Mr Martin said the recent scandals over the new National Children’s Hospital and CervicalCheck show that Mr Harris is “not up to the job” and said the Government took its eye off the ball when it came to the massive overruns on the project.

Mr Donohoe also played down the prospects of a general election this year, notwithstanding the delay to Brexit.

“I believe this Dáil will continue throughout this year and I’ll be presenting a fourth budget. I believe the timeline set out by the Taoiseach and he and Micheál Martin have talked about, about the Dáil continuing on until next year, I believe that is what will happen,” he said.

“I know lots of people will have differing views in relation to it, but the extension period that has been granted to the UK, they are going to need to try and reach an orderly resolution and I think this Dáil is going to continue,” he said.

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