A MASSIVE new €1.2bn medical hub with a national children's hospital and a relocated Beaumont Hospital at its core is being seriously considered by Health Minister James Reilly.
The Irish Independent has learned the project -- mooted for a greenfield site near Dublin Airport -- is being promoted as a solution to the children's hospital headache and as a wider stimulus measure.
The site, around the Belcamp area at the end of the M50, is being floated as a strong possibility as part of a larger health, business and education campus.
Sources in Irish Rail also confirmed they had been tentatively approached by people from "Reilly's end" about connecting the proposed Dublin Airport DART spur to the new campus.
Dr Reilly is also understood to have discussed the idea with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton.
However, it has not yet formally gone to Cabinet and it is unclear if Labour ministers are aware of the scale and ambition of the plan.
It is also understood management at Beaumont Hospital are unaware of the plan to date, and that it is highly conditional on a number of factors coming together for it to work.
The development, as envisaged, would be between 400 and 500 acres in size, and may also include pharmaceutical and IT companies and third-level institutions, with the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland mentioned by sources.
The plan is also understood to have been discussed with US and Arab investors, as well as Chinese officials during February's visit to Ireland by Vice President Xi Jinping.
It is envisaged these funding sources -- with possible input from a government-backed stimulus plan -- would provide the money, which would then be paid back over a set period of around 20 years.
At that stage, ownership of the hospitals would transfer back to the State. Sources put the rough estimate cost at around €1.2bn, and the cost of paying for the €300m rail link would also be met by investors.
Sources in the Department of Health said a greenfield site has many attractions, such as lower cost and the ability to build quicker.
The new national children's hospital has been thrown into limbo since An Bord Pleanala shot down plans for a high-rise hospital on the Mater Hospital site. A revised Mater plan has been announced, but sources described this as "not politically popular".
It is also understood the Government wants to avoid a protracted planning process, which is seen as a greater risk if a city-centre location, such as the Mater, St James's or the Coombe, is chosen.
And, politically, there would be a massive boost for the Coalition if Mr Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Dr Reilly could cut the ribbon on a new children's hospital by the next general election, which is due in 2016.
The new campus would be in Dublin North-East, just outside Dr Reilly's Dublin North constituency. The Belcamp lands in question are owned by a mixture of NAMA, the IDA and private owners.
An Irish Rail source also said the organisation had been approached a few weeks ago about the rail spur, which would run from Clongriffin to the airport.
"It was a kind of 'what if' approach," the source said.
The move could anger Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who is cool on the spur idea. But it comes after Mr Varadkar himself last week stepped into the children's hospital affair. The Dublin West TD offered lands in the Abbotstown Sports Campus -- which is in his Dublin West constituency -- for the project.
The Belcamp site would stretch along the road between the M50 and Clare Hall, bookended by two existing hotels, Bewley's Dublin Airport and the Hilton Dublin Airport Hotel.
Housing a new Beaumont, a children's hospital and a maternity hospital on the one campus also fits the bill for tri-location, which is seen as being in the best interests of patients.
At the moment, a review group led by former HSE chairman Frank Dolphin is examining submissions on where to build the new children's hospital.
The group is due to present a report to Dr Reilly in the middle of this month, although this is now not expected to happen until after the EU fiscal treaty referendum on May 31.