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Beacon lays out plan for 3,600 jobs

SOME €748m in investment and the creation of up to 3,600 jobs over the next two years in Dublin, Limerick and Cork -- that's what the incoming government will be offered by the chief executive of the Beacon Medical Group, Michael Cullen, as soon it takes office.

The same offer was made to the outgoing administration, too, but to no avail.

Bureaucracy, local political considerations and the refusal of Ireland's biggest health insurer, the VHI, to cover private patients in co-located hospitals have all combined to stall the construction by Mr Cullen of state-of-the-art private facilities on the grounds of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, the Midwest Regional Hospital in Limerick and Cork University Hospital.

The Beacon chief says he is hopeful he will get the necessary political support from a new minister for health to break ground on all three projects by this summer -- despite the official opposition to the policy of co-location by Fine Gael and the Labour party .

"All I want to do is get on the case and start building. Whatever uncertainties or dislikes they [the government] have, we'll deal with it," Mr Cullen said last week about his ambitious plans for co-located facilities in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

"There are political differences of opinion, but we are here with planning permission ready to go. A bank -- if we can demonstrate a certainty of revenue stream -- has the money to give us.

"Each hospital would employ in construction and in operation roughly 500 people directly and then supporting a further 700 to 800 indirectly between the supply of services. That's about 3,600 people in all."

The Beacon Medical Group has spent €30m on design, planning and legal fees.

Mr Cullen said he came up against a formidable foe in the form of Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin. "Annoyingly, Micheal Martin objected to it while he was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. And he objected to it using Enterprise, Trade and Employment letterhead [stationery]. I went in and met him. I said: 'I don't understand this. Your constituency is where this hospital is. You were previously the Minister for Health and you are currently Minister for Employment.'

"He said he thought it should be in a different location. I said: 'But you were a member of the Cabinet who picked the location as part of government policy.'

"He told me he thought I should look elsewhere. He said his constituents were anxious about it but not to worry much about that. He told me I was crediting him with too much influence."

Asked how he intends to address the concerns of the next government in regard to his company's plans for co-location, Mr Cullen insists the model can be adjusted sufficiently to deal with any of the concerns Fine Gael or Labour might have.

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And the Beacon chief says he is amenable to Fine Gael's proposals for universal health insurance, although he concedes that it would be a difficult system to implement. Mr Cullen believes that it can only work properly if there is sufficient bed capacity.

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