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Ex-chairman warns of 'serious funds risk' to children's hospital

The former chairman of the board overseeing the new national children's hospital broke his silence last night to warn the project is at "serious risk" due to a lack of funds.

Philip Lynch, who dramatically resigned from the development board responsible for the new €650m hospital to be built on the Mater Hospital site in Dublin, revealed for the first time the concerns that led him to step down.

He cited the substantial funding gap, which leaves the board with €110m to be raised from charitable donations and also the "planning and design challenges for the Mater site".

Mr Lynch also expressed concern about the lack of clarity on governance proposals for the new hospital -- a clear reference to potentially fraught areas such as what kind of board it will have as different hospitals unite with various religious traditions, ethical codes and funding links.

He also questioned the development of the urgent care centre linked to the hospital which is to be built at Tallaght Hospital, and the effectiveness of communication with stakeholders such as doctors and patient groups.

"It is my opinion that if the above issues are not addressed, the successful delivery of the new hospital, wherever it is located, is at serious risk," he warned.

Mr Lynch, who was chairman for three years, recalled a recent crunch meeting with Health Minister Mary Harney. Some of his claims were disputed by Ms Harney last night.

"My decision to resign was my own," said Mr Lynch. But the minister said last night that she had asked him to resign.

Mr Lynch said: "In my letter of resignation, I stated there were fundamental differences between the minister and myself on the need for open and informed discussion at board level, at all times, on a range of issues relating to the hospital."

He said the minister also raised the fact that he met with members of the Children's Medical and Research Foundation, Ireland's largest children's charity, to hear their concerns.

He said he believed they should be given an opportunity to articulate their concerns.

"I informed the minister that, on the basis of the significant and fundamental differences, the appropriate course of action was to resign."

The revelation was seized on by the New Children's Hospital Alliance last night, which opposes the Mater site. Retired paediatrician Dr Roisin Healy said: "The project must be paused in light of these concerns."

But Ms Harney said the plan, which aims to see the hospital open in 2015, will not be changed. The mandate of the board and its chairman is to build the hospital at the Mater, she said.

When "requesting" Mr Lynch's resignation, she made it clear that it was not in the remit of the development board to revisit the government decision taken on the location of the new hospital, she added.

"It was made quite clear to Mr Lynch that the project to build the new hospital will proceed fully as planned to deliver the best possible complex care for children.

"The work of the taskforce established in 2006 to advise on the optimum location of the proposed new paediatric hospital, concluded that the Mater hospital site was the best adult hospital site for the paediatric hospital. RKW subsequently determined that the site at the Mater would accommodate the hospital."

Commenting on his claim that she took exception to him meeting the members of the foundation she added: "I have made it clear to Mr Lynch that contrary to his view, I regarded it as one of the requirements of his role as chairman to meet and develop good relations with all stakeholders."

Irish Independent