Wednesday 19 December 2018

Lise Hand: St James of Reilly finally in good books

DESPITE the TV cameras, the photographers and the blizzard of questions, the Health Minister must've found the podium in the press centre of Government Buildings a most congenial spot altogether.

These days when James Reilly finds himself at the sharp end of media attention, he's been subjected to a red-hot grilling concerning issues such as primary care centres, personal financial and legal entanglements, rebellious junior ministers, budget overruns and Budget cuts.

But not this time -- with one bound folder, our hero was free.

For finally, after a protracted saga filled with setbacks, foot-dragging, expansive promises and extensive plans, there is white smoke: Habemus Hospital.

Or at least we finally, finally, have a location for the new National Children's Hospital. For James Reilly has able to announce a finale to the torturous drama which began with the publication of the McKinsey Report in February 2006 and almost ended last February with An Bord Pleanala refusing permission to the (last) government's chosen spot, the Mater site, on grounds of overdevelopment.

And it's the St James's campus which has seen off fierce competition from other locations including the original Mater hospital bid, and a proposal from Connolly hospital in Blanchardstown -- both of which locations were rumoured to be front-runners at various stages of the process.

At the press conference yesterday afternoon the minister -- so often a sinner of late -- was busily transmogrifying himself into St James of Reilly.

"This morning I proposed to the Cabinet that the new Children's Hospital should be situated on the site of St James's Hospital. That proposal has been accepted by Cabinet," he declared.

In fairness, selecting this site is a very big deal indeed. It's the biggest capital project which will be undertaken by this Government, and after the utter debacle of the Mater site being rejected, they have to get it right this time.

And so the minister was trying to tread the precarious tightrope of announcing a rare piece of genuinely welcome news, while draping it in caveats.

"I think today is a very great day," he declared, adding "but it's only the beginning of a process too that needs a hell of a lot more work and probably more unforeseen circumstances will come to thwart us along the way. But it's a prize that we all value highly above everything else."

It's a costly prize, coming with a price tag of €500m, and not a sod will be turned until the iceberg-festooned planning waters are navigated once more.

Already James Reilly has conceded that the original target date of 2016 is a dead duck.

But for once a pronouncement by the trouble-prone minister wasn't greeted by howls of indignation from the Opposition, who broadly, albeit cautiously, welcomed the decision.

Everyone just wants the damn thing to be built.

Inevitably this mammoth project will be thwarted by unforeseen circumstances. But they must be circumstances which are temporary and fixable.

Otherwise this jewel in the Coalition's crown will swiftly be tagged Jamesgate, amid accusations that this bungling government can't organise a co-located paediatric facility near a brewery.

Irish Independent

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