CONNOLLY Hospital in Blanchardstown, Dublin, is now the surprise frontrunner as the location for the new national children's hospital, the Irish Independent has learned.
It is understood the hospital is now favourite to win out over high-profile rival sites at the Mater and St James's.
Health Minister James Reilly is expected to bring the unexpected choice to Cabinet in the coming weeks, paving the way for work to begin on a planning application for the new children's hospital in Blanchardstown, north-west Dublin.
The hospital put forward its case to be the chosen location on a shoestring budget, unlike several other bidders which hired expensive consultants.
The children's hospital was originally earmarked to be built on the site of the Mater in north inner-city Dublin but planning permission was turned down in March on the grounds of scale and density.
A review group, chaired by businessman Frank Dolphin, was set up and reported to the Minister in June after examining the pros and cons of nearly 40 bids.
Sources close to the selection process have signalled that the Connolly site has forged ahead in the final shake-up, although intense lobbying is still under way from the Mater and St James's promoters.
Connolly hospital is believed to have several advantages over the other two favourites, including 50 acres of land on its own campus and another 89 acres in the adjoining National Sports campus, previously earmarked for the 'Bertie bowl'.
All of this land is state-owned and so would come cost free to the Department of Health.
It is understood that the overall plan for the hospital site envisages the potential to develop a separate medical technology and research centre, which would attract private investment and create jobs.
Connolly and Beaumont Hospital, which is also on the northside, have already been working on teaming up by sharing different specialties, giving children with cancer nearby access to treatments.
The site is near the M50/N3 as well as having a railway station nearby and bus access.
A key factor in its favour is the blessing it has received from Fingal County Council.
The Connolly bid envisaged that it could be built for less than €420m, including VAT, and be constructed by 2016.
Legislation allowing for the sale of the national lottery licence is expected to have to be published before the children's hospital proposal is brought to Cabinet.
It is planned that around €200m from the sale of the licence will be diverted to help fund the hospital.
The choice of Connolly would be politically advantageous for the minister whose constituency is in Dublin north.
The selection would also be a major cause for celebration by his party colleague, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, and Labour's minister for social protection, Joan Burton, both of whom are in the constituency of Dublin west, where the hospital is located.
The final decision will have to weigh up whether the government should abandon the Mater site given that around €35m has already been spent on preparation and planning since it was chosen in 2006.
It is expected that some of the work produced by this investment can be used to provide back up in any alternative location.