Monday 15 July 2019

Position of department head ‘not sustainable’, says Sinn Fein leader

Mary Lou McDonald said Robert Watt refused to appear before the Health Committee on Wednesday.

Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald

By Cate McCurry, Press Association

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has said the head of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s position is not sustainable amid rising costs for the new National Children’s Hospital.

The bill for the hospital, under construction at the St James’s site in Dublin, is expected to be at least 1.7 billion euro.

It spiralled from 983 million to 1.4 billion euro in less than two years.

Another 300 million euro is needed to cover extras such as the IT system.

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St James’s Hospital in Dublin (Julien Behal/PA)

Ms McDonald said the department’s secretary general Robert Watt refused to appear before the Health Committee on Wednesday to answer questions about the procurement process and cost overruns.

She told the Dail during leaders’ questions that she sees “no good reason” why he would not appear.

“The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, whose function it is to supervise procurement and public expenditure, has gone into hiding and its secretary general has refused to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee to account for their roles in this process.

Mr Watt needs to present himself to the Health Committee, I don't believe Mr Watt's position is sustainable Mary Lou McDonald

“I am questioning the efficacy and the effectiveness of the procurement procedures of the state.

“Mr Watt needs to present himself to the Health Committee, I don’t believe Mr Watt’s position is sustainable.”

She added that the projected overrun is a “fiasco” and an example of “gross incompetence”.

Ms McDonald said: “What is most worrying is that, despite the fact that this overrun is set to blow a hole in the capital budget for years to come, no one seems to be able to take responsibility for it.

“It is going to stop projects in the coming years from going ahead. There’s massive concern in communities across the state as to how the overspend will impact on them and commitments made to fund projects that are badly needed.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar denied projects will be cut or stopped, adding that some may be deferred.

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Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

He continued: “I really think we need to understand the value of this project as well as the cost. This is going to be a state-of-the-art children’s hospital, a revolution in health care for our children.

“Like any of these big, expensive projects, when it’s built everyone will be glad it’s built and will want to be associated with it.”

An investigation by PWC will examine the reasons behind the cost overruns.

“As soon as it is done that report will be furnished to government,” Mr Varadkar added.

Ms McDonald said: “I think you are dancing on the head of a pin by saying that matters are simply being deferred in respect of other spend.”

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