Officials knew of spiralling hospital costs in September but no reason to discuss before Budget, says Minister

The Finance Minister has suggested there was no reason to ask about the cost of the National Children's Hospital ahead of the Budget.

Paschal Donohoe has claimed he only discussed overruns in current expenditure in Health ahead of October's Budget and there was no talk around the spiralling cost of the National Children's Hospital.

It comes as it was revealed that both the secretary general and assistant secretary general of the Department of Health were told of a €391m overrun at a meeting about the children's hospital last September.

Separately Children's Minister Katherine Zappone told the Dáil she believes the account given by Mr Harris and Mr Donohoe on when they were informed but said she "wants answers".

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary said it was "interesting" that Ms Zappone, an Independent Minister, had been asked to take leaders in the Dáil for the first time today just as the latest revelations around the children's hospital were emerging adding: "Fine Gael Ministers have gone missing today".

Under questioning in the Dáil later in the day, Mr Donohoe said he "didn't deal" with capital expenditure projects such as the children's hospital in pre-Budget talks as in all his "experience in engaging in this issue in previous years all of the supplementaries focused on current expenditure"

He said: "It is true to say that the majority of our discussions would be focused on current expenditure because current expenditure is where the services are delivered.

"If the matter in relation to the National Children's Hospital had come up in the way it clearly has now, as I have said, the thing I would be asking Minister Harris to do is to quantify the costs which he has outlined he and his Department were doing."

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on public expenditure Barry Cowen said he finds it "amazing" that Mr Donohoe would not have asked for an update on the hospital in the context of the Budget.

You say you were made aware of the extent of this overrun on November 19, we are led to believe that the board discussed seismic overruns in June and in September with the Secretary General of Department of Health for example when a figure of €391m was relayed to committee.

However, Mr Cowen said it would appear the Minister's representative on the board "didn't remind the chair of the board to contact the line Ministers as is their duty".

Mr Cowen pointed to the fact that Mr Donohoe was "well aware of the overrun on the current side in relation to the Department of Health, so much so that you were looking at a supplementary budget to the tune of €600m".

He suggested that when Mr Donohoe became aware of rising costs on the current side, he should have asked similar questions on the capital spend.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O'Brien said: "There are serious questions to be answered and to be honest I don't think we are getting the answers."

He said the figure of €390m became known in September "yet nobody seems to have told either yourself or the Minister for Health what the figure was until post-Budget".

Mr O'Brien said this amounted that "serious breakdown of communications" between ministers and their senior officials.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will ask the head of the Department of Public Expenditure as well as one of its top officials to answer questions about the spiralling costs for the national children's hospital.

PAC chairman Sean Fleming said the committee would frame questions for department secretary general Robert Watt in a general way about spending so he would be required to appear before TDs.

Mr Watt has already declined to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee on the scandal.

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