Children’s hospital depends on Lotto windfall: Minister
THE future of the National Children's Hospital depends on a jackpot windfall from new National Lottery operators, the Government confirmed today as it announced a range of capital programme cutbacks.
Several massive projects - drawn up during previous administrations - have been shelved, including the Metro North, Dart Underground and M2/A5 motorway from Dublin to Derry.
The controversial Thornton Hall super-prison in north Dublin and DIT's proposed Grangegorman campus have also been mothballed.
The long-awaited hospital project, which has been mired in controversy, will only get the go-ahead if a deal can be struck on an upfront payment for the lotto licence.
The existing agreement comes to an end next month and the Government is banking on getting the bulk of the €650m needed from whoever takes over the franchise.
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin would not be drawn on the "commercially sensitive" negotiations but said he was "absolutely confident" he could get the money required.
"Put simply, in the absence of this innovative approach we would probably not be able to meet the full funding requirement of the National Children's Hospital," he said.
The multimillion-euro package, which would allow the two-year construction to start in 2013, forms a key part of his plan to spend €17bn in major public projects over the next four years.
But Mr Howlin said they would press ahead with:
- The link-up of Dublin's Luas red and green lines and extension to Cabra;
- Replacement of the Central Mental Hospital;
- Completion of the cancer centres of excellence;
- The building of 40 new schools by 2017 and the extension of another 180.
While the Strategic Investment Fund will also provide up to €1bn spending, the Government signalled it was flinging its doors open to outside investors willing to get involved in public-private partnerships.
But Mr Howlin admitted it was difficult to drum up interest given the state of the international economy.
The Government cannot afford to do everything it would like to do and has been forced into prioritising public spending towards health, schools and jobs projects, he said.
He claimed the spending was in line with European norms and would allow the country to work towards cutting its deficit while also allowing the economy to grow.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the spending plan was based on what the country could afford.
But he denied that major transport projects, such as Metro North and the Dublin/Derry motorway, were being abandoned.
"They are being deferred until the economic situation allows them to proceed," he said.
Mr Kenny said the Government was seeking early discussions with authorities in Northern Ireland about a new timetable and implementation plan for the Dublin/Derry motorway.
Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming said the spending cuts will result in 9,000 job losses.
He claimed the €750m cutback was too excessive and smaller reductions are affordable.
Mr Fleming said the economy is "on projection" for this year.
"We need jobs to grow ourselves back to a position of economic growth," he added.
Peadar Toibin, Sinn Fein TD, warned Ireland will lose its competitiveness in attracting investment.
"Over the next 10 to 15 years what we're seeing is a debt for competitiveness swap," he said.
"Investment would actually create a competitive environment to do business both in the mid-east region and also the north-west region where we see a lot of infrastructure projects being cut.
"Those competitive projects will be lost.
"As a result, it will be more difficult to do business in these areas and more difficult to entice businesses to those areas."