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Harris was informed that children's hospital would cost an additional €191m last August, official memo reveals

 

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Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris

An artist's impression of the National Children’s Hospital

An artist's impression of the National Children’s Hospital

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Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris was informed in an official memo that the National Children’s Hospital would cost an additional €191m in August last year, Independent.ie can reveal.

The memo, which was one of five sent to the minister over the last two years, also shows the construction firm which won the State contract for the project was separately seeking an additional €200m. It is understood the firm did not receive the full €200m.

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An artist's impression of the National Children’s Hospital

An artist's impression of the National Children’s Hospital

An artist's impression of the National Children’s Hospital

Fianna Fail has said details of the hospital overrun were not raised with them during Budget negotiations last year.

The soon to be released internal memo will also show Department of Health officials made several attempts since September last year to meet Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to discuss the cost overrun. It is understood a meeting was not arranged at this point.

It is understood the new documents will show he was first informed of a potential cost overrun in November 2017 when he was alerted to a need for an additional €61m.

On August 27, 2018, he was informed that the overrun had risen to €191m. This figure included the €61m raised the previous year.

Separately, the minister was told Bam, the construction firm building the hospital, had put in a claim for an additional €200m. Officials said they did not accept the claim from Bam.

Another memo sent in September again highlighted the €191m costs overrun. Officials also said the Bam claim for €200m was “deliberately” made to “frustrate” and “delay” the project.

The memo also states: “Given the volatility the board has decided it would be premature to produce a revised project costs update beyond that already briefed in August.”

The issue was again raised with the minister in memo from in October where officials said they needed more time to review costs.

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The final memo he received was on November 9 which shows the overrun costs had soared to €450m.

Health Minister Simon Harris insisted he informed the Taoiseach of the children’s hospital cost overrun at the “appropriate” time despite knowing of figures more than two months beforehand.

He said the “job of a Minister is not to be a messenger boy, getting a little bit of information and running and telling everyone” before he got the full information.

Mr Harris told RTE Prime Time that he did not tell the Dáil of the substantial increase when asked in September that he “was not in a position to tell the Dáil information that was still being negotiated commercially”.

“I told the Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the final and full figures were known on the 9th of November. Both of them have said they believe that was the appropriate way to act, when you actually get to the bottom of things,” Mr Harris said.

He added that the Government did not need to be made aware of this before the Budget.

“Capital budgets are set on a multi-annual basis. The capital budgets for our country for the four years were set in February 2018. So we were having budget negotiations about the day-to-day issues for huge current expenditure pressures in health as everyone knows. The capital budgets had already been agreed in February 2018 and Paschal Donohoe himself said it’s the job of a Minister to quantify a problem and then come to him and that’s exactly what I did,” he said.

Labour Party health spokesperson Alan Kelly said the new document raises serious questions for Fianna Fáil and the future of the 'Confidence and Supply' agreement.

“This massive overspend was known while this Government were in budgetary negotiations with Fianna Fáil,” Mr Kelly said.

“Furthermore, the €450m was known to the Taoiseach, Minister for Health and the Minister for Public Expenditure on November 9.

“Yet the Government or their officials never told Fianna Fáil. How can Fianna Fáil continue with confidence and supply when we now know they were misled about this massive overspend?”

Sinn Fein health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly has said Mr Harris's position is "no longer tenable". Ms O'Reilly's comments will ramp up pressure on Fianna Fail to make a decision on their support for the Health Minister.

“Minster Harris’ story is unravelling before our very eyes. The memo published this evening clearly shows that he was aware of a €391million overrun at the hospital as far back as August yet he did not inform the his cabinet colleagues until November 9," Ms O'Reilly said.

"This means that he was aware of a massive cost overrun at the hospital while he and his government were putting together the Budget for this year yet he never mentioned it till after the Budget was announced.

“Minister Harris’ position is completely untenable. The Taoiseach must remove him from his position.

“There is also an onus on Fianna Fáil to make a statement on this matter and they have to stop protecting Minister Harris. They hold the numbers on this. If Micheál Martin changes his position then we can move a motion of no confidence and the Minster will be gone as early as next week," she added.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said the memos raise serious questions for Mr Harris and called on the Government to publish all documents relating to the children's hospital.

“It is hard to see any serious attempt made to curtail the escalating costs. It would seem that instead of tackling them, the Minister withheld this information from both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, despite being in regular contact in the lead up to, and throughout, Budget talks," Mr Donnelly said.

“The statement issued tonight by Minister Harris looks like at attempt to avoid accountability and the pressing need to acknowledge error on his part. His remarks make matters worse.

“Fianna Fáil were not informed of any details related to this cost overrun during budget discussions or indeed during the review talks which took place regarding the Confidence and Supply arrangement.

“This omni-shambles falls completely and utterly at the Government’s door.

“The drip-feeding of important documents that we have seen up to this point is not good enough. In the best interest of the public and this vital project, all documents related to this National Children’s Hospital overspend must be immediately published,” he added.


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