Friday 22 March 2019

Construction firm behind children's hospital gave Taoiseach two-hour ultimatum for apology

BAM executives are furious about a contribution made by Mr Varadkar to the Dáil last week

Vision: An artist’s impression of the new hospital
Vision: An artist’s impression of the new hospital
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Construction firm BAM gave the Taoiseach just over two hours to issue a prepared statement saying that it had made a "welcome and significant contribution to Ireland", the Irish Independent can reveal.

In its letter to Leo Varadkar last Thursday, the company charged with building the National Children's Hospital supplied the text of a public clarification that it wanted to be delivered by 6pm that day.

BAM chief Theo Cullinane said that if the Taoiseach didn't "personally address" the issue as a matter of urgency the company would "consider all our options".

Executives are furious about a contribution made by Mr Varadkar to the Dáil last week, in which he claimed that "companies have been low-balling" the State when bidding for major projects.

Mr Varadkar went on to say: "There are one or two contractors who, quite frankly, I would not like to see get a public contract again in this State."

While Mr Varadkar didn't name any specific company, the comments were made in the context of a debate over the spiralling costs of the National Children's Hospital.

No apology: Leo Varadkar declined to clarify his comments. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
No apology: Leo Varadkar declined to clarify his comments. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

They prompted Mr Cullinane to issue an "urgent" letter to Mr Varadkar last Thursday afternoon.

The remarkable correspondence has now been released to the Irish Independent on foot of repeated requests to the Taoiseach's office.

In it, Mr Cullinane claims it is "widely understood" that Mr Varadkar was referring to BAM in his commentary.

He states: "We have received extensive media enquiries for comment and the story has been reported in that regard. It has been seriously damaging to our reputation."

The CEO describes this as "an extremely delicate time" for the NCH process and says BAM is showing "considerable forbearance in managing a misunderstood process".

Mr Cullinane continues: "As you know, BAM is an international public company, which has made a huge contribution to Ireland over 60 years and particularly over the last 10 years, when we have invested approximately €2bn in PPP projects to deliver public infrastructure like schools, motorways and courthouses.

"We employ in excess of 2,500 people directly and indirectly, for whom this issue has serious implications," the letter says.

Mr Cullinane then requested that the Taoiseach "address this damage" with an immediate public clarification.

Costs of the new hospital have risen to more than 1.7 billion euro (Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Costs of the new hospital have risen to more than 1.7 billion euro (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

He asked for a statement to the effect that Mr Varadkar was "not referring to BAM in the Dáil yesterday and BAM has made and continues to make a welcome and significant contribution to Ireland, including in the context of the new children's hospital, where BAM is in full compliance with all its obligations".

The letter concludes by noting that BAM wants to continue its work on the hospital "but the confidence of all parties involved is a vital requirement for us as contractors".

Mr Cullinane adds: "Therefore, I am asking you to personally address as a matter of urgency the uncertainty thrown up by your comments by clarifying this matter publicly by 6pm today, failing which we will consider all our options."

Mr Varadkar chose not to make a statement as set out in the letter. BAM issued a press release on Friday, offering to stand down from the project.

The cost of the hospital on the grounds of St James's has jumped by €450m in recent months. Around €60m of this is associated with BAM.

Government sources last night indicated that Mr Varadkar had no plans to correct or clarify his comments in the way prescribed by BAM.

He has maintained that no individual was mentioned during his comments.

Irish Independent

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