New terms of reference for probe into hospital cost overruns will aim to make individuals accountable

Update - 6.08pm:The new terms of reference for the investigation into the overruns at the National Children's Hospital will aim to find accountability from key parties, Newstalk have reported.

It comes after the initial investigation was told not to find individuals culpable, as revealed on the radio station.

New terms of reference have been issued saying the review should be done by March 29 if the investigation can gain access to appropriate personnel and documents.

By Juno McEnroe

Update: 5.05pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "struggled" to believe the inflated costs for the children's hospital last November as he defended Health Minister Simon Harris taking over three months to raise concerns.

Mr Varadkar also outlined how corporate rules did not trump government orders and the chair of a board planning the hospital had a “fiduciary responsibility” to inform a minister about project costs.

Debate around the €1.7bn planned hospital during Leaders in the Dáil saw Opposition leaders question claims nobody in Government knew the inflated costs involved until late last year.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin asked how the project cost had almost doubled.

A 2010 government circular unearthed by Labour, he said, proved officials on the hospital board were not just there in a so-called 'personal capacity' but were obliged to raise serious issues with ministers.

“The minister must be notified,” insisted Mr Howlin.

Such government circulars “overrided” any confidentiality at board level, he argued.

Mr Howlin zoned in on why it had taken Mr Harris three months, from August to November last, to specifically raise alarm bells over the project with Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe.

“It is unimaginable that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was kept in complete ignorance of public expenditure,” he said.

Mr Varadkar replied, initially outlining the merits of the project, insisting that any delay to the new hospital now would just add to the costs.

Mr Harris had done the correct thing, he said, seeking out “facts and figures” before informing him and Mr Donohoe in November.

Mr Varadkar also added: “When I found out about it in November, around the same time as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I responded in the same way as other people in this House.

"First, disbelief, struggling to believe how the prices had gone up again.”

Alan Kelly: Simon Harris and Paschal Donohoe in firing line over children's hospital over-run

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Update 2.35pm:Health Minister Simon Harris and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's positions "are in serious trouble" if it emerges they knew about the scale of the children's hospital budget over-run earlier than claimed.

Labour health spokesperson Alan Kelly issued the warning to the two senior Government ministers this morning, despite stopping short of demanding a no-confidence vote until all details of what happened are released.

Speaking to reporters at Leinster House, Mr Kelly said the Government's claim that a senior Department of Public Expenditure official did not inform either Mr Donohoe or Mr Harris of the scale of the over-runs before October "beggars belief".

And answering a direct question beside Labour leader Brendan Howlin on whether the opposition party will seek their removal if it emerges ministers knew about what was happening but kept quiet, Mr Kelly confirmed this is an option.

"Certainly if we find out there was a change in the timelines, I think both of their positions are in serious trouble. Particularly if we find out there was in information in either of their departments that contradict the timelines.

The issue is the state of his [Mr Donohoe's] department, the competency of him, and whether the department is actually functioning on behalf of the taxpayer. Either way it's bad news.

"It's a matter for Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris to come out now and line out chronologically who knew what when. It's black and white, the responsibilities. Either civil servant didn't adhere to this or else the timelines don't add up," Mr Kelly said.

Mr Kelly also insisted Paul Quinn, the Department of Public Expenditure official who was a public representative on the children's hospital board, and the secretary general of the Department Robert Watt appear at a Dáil committee as soon as possible to clarify when the crisis was first uncovered.

Noting a circular from 2010 obtained by Mr Kelly which states any department official must inform their line minister of issues such as the children's hospital over-run, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said there are serious questions to answer.

"The current Fine Gael Government has set their stall on fiscal responsibility, but the capital plan shows that reputation is in ruins.

"The idea the flagship project could go completely off the rails without the knowledge of the line minister is just beyond any sense of reality and beyond credibility," Mr Howlin said.

At a separate press briefing, Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly was similarly critical, saying the Government must clarify what happened immediately.

However, asked if she is seeking resignations or a no-confidence motion, Ms O'Reilly said getting answers "needs to be our first port of call" and that "we need to take it one step at a time".

Earlier: Barry Cowen: 'Not credible' that ministers unaware of rising children's hospital bill

By Juno McEnroe

Update 11.58am: Ministers' claims that they were unaware of escalating costs for the national's children's hospital are "not credible", a senior Fianna Fáil figure has argued.

The main Opposition party has also confirmed that, while it does not have confidence in the government over the debacle, that any move to remove Health Minister Simon Harris would "trigger a general election".

Mounting criticism over the runaway costs for the St James' Hospital Site hospital continues as the minister is set to face questions in the Dáil later this afternoon on the scandal.

Proposed revised terms for a PwC review of the hospital costs and project are also awaited, including a change to allow the probe determine accountability.

Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen lashed the government over the excessive spend today, noting the final bill for the hospital, which could reach €2bn, was some four times higher than initial estimates.

“Fine Gael can't claim to be a party of prudence and financial management and not be accountable,” declared the party's public expenditure spokesman.

He said claims by Mr Harris and his counterpart, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, that they were unaware prior to last November of details of the rising bill were “not credible”.

This was especially so with a department official and a HSE figure sitting on the hospital oversight board, it was added.

Those officials were not dipping into their “personal wallets” when deciding the costs, he said, but the the public's money.

Health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said any expression of no confidence against Simon Harris would “trigger a general election”.

The PwC review needed to get to the bottom of the overspend, Fianna Fail said.

More on this topic

BAM seeks €12m extra costs for hospital work

Review conflict of interest - Children’s hospital cost overrun

Paul Quinn tells PAC he would have been in breach of the law if he told Minister of hospital overspend

HSE accused of 'making eejits' of Public Accounts Committee over children's hospital

More in this Section

Bus Éireann passenger numbers at 10 year high, carrying more than 83 million in 2018

McDonald claims Government are out of touch on housing and homelessness

Government 'sleepwalking' toward unsafe cannabis legislation, warn doctors

Couple in Holles Street termination case call for inquest


Chelsea Flower Show feeling Brexit sting

Scientists say you really, really shouldn’t use homemade sunscreen from a recipe on Pinterest

Spoilers: Game of Thrones finale problematic in both plot and execution

The Earth's magnetic north pole is shifting rapidly – so what will happen to the northern lights?

More From The Irish Examiner