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Saturday 23 March 2019

PAC committee to recall board of National Children's Hospital for further questioning about €450m overspend

Construction of the new National Children’s Hospital taking place in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Construction of the new National Children’s Hospital taking place in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Robin Schiller

Robin Schiller

The Public Accounts Committee are to call board members of the National Children's Hospital and Department of Health officials for further questioning in relation issues with the hospital including the €450m overspend.

The PAC has previously quizzed officials over the hospital overspend, but the committee has expressed concerns over the relevance of that meeting due to new information in the public domain since then.

Department of Health officials and the Government's chief procurement officer are also expected to be called to attend with PAC committee members raising concerns over potentially wider issues with how major contracts are awarded.

Labour TD Alan Kelly told the committee that the hospital's board would have to return given the volume of new information in the public domain saying that answers previously given "no longer are the totality of what we need to know and certainly we need to go back there again".

Mr Kelly said that there are wider issues that need to be investigated "form a process point of view" over potential wider issues on how major contracts are being awarded.

He called on the head of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), Robert Watt, to attend the PAC meeting as well as Paul Quinn, the Government’s chief procurement officer, the individuals over spending in DPER, the hospital board and senior officials within the Department of Health "who did all the work on this".

The proposal to call in the various groups and Department officials for questioning was agreed by the Committee. The National Children's Hospital is at the centre of controversy over construction costs that have escalated by €450m.

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane said any previous discussions before the PAC relating to the National Children's Hospital were "insignificant" due to the large amount of new information made public since that committee meeting.

"At some point there will be a report on the initial hearing we had with the Department and the board, and I can't sign off on that as I don't think we were able to do our job. Whatever discussions we had are insignificant and we have to have that meeting again. I can't sign off on a periodic report that deals with the National Children Hospital," Mr Cullinane said.

He added that they should set a session aside for "the board to come back in with the Secretary General of the Department so we can put the questions that we should have been able to put to them the last time...if anything as an example as what happens when they don't give us the information they should give us".

The Dáil’s spending watchdog previously heard that a civil servant on the board overseeing the building of the National Children’s Hospital had a responsibility to tell minister Paschal Donohoe if there were serious concerns over the project.

The Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said in a previous PAC meeting that civil servants on boards like the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board do have an obligation to raise issues with ministers.

He said this is the case under a 2010 government circular that applies to civil servants on the boards of non-commercial State bodies.

He also said Mr Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were “totally inaccurate” to say that the official was on the board in a personal capacity.

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