Friday 22 March 2019

Editorial: 'Hospital project must carry on - with control on costs'

Mr Varadkar has argued that in the coming years, Irish people will learn to admire and love the planned centre of care for sick and injured children for a period far longer than the duration of any controversy over the excessive costs. Photo: PA
Mr Varadkar has argued that in the coming years, Irish people will learn to admire and love the planned centre of care for sick and injured children for a period far longer than the duration of any controversy over the excessive costs. Photo: PA
Editorial

Editorial

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has resorted to a version of the "Eiffel Tower argument" to make an apologia for the runaway cost projections on the planned children's hospital, arguing that all will end well.

Yes, 130 years ago plans for France's most iconic monument were universally castigated and derided. And all of these years later, it remains the world's most visited, paid tourist attraction, and it is a synonym for the "City of Lights".

Similarly, amid huge political controversy, Mr Varadkar has argued that in the coming years, Irish people will learn to admire and love the planned centre of care for sick and injured children for a period far longer than the duration of any controversy over the excessive costs. Cynics may say this would be a better argument if he did not have to face the electorate for two more decades.

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But there is a bigger point to be made. It is that the planned national children's hospital - Ireland's first in 60 years - has now been talked about and planned since the late-1990s. So, after 20 years of dithering, this project must now proceed. So, the Taoiseach does have some right on his side of the argument. But in conceding that point, we are far from allowing that there can be any kind of blank cheque for this vital project.

We can expect the Opposition parties to continue to pursue this issue. And we must discount their arguments a little to allow for efforts to gain party political advantage.

Yet we must acknowledge that the scale of the overrun - essentially a factor of three in about two years, taking things close to €2bn - has infuriated members of the general public. People rightly ask whether such a situation would have been allowed to develop on a privately funded building project.

It again leaves us with the appalling prospect that taxpayers' money is in reality "nobody's money". The farrago is compounded by suggestions that an independent probe into project costings will of itself cost up to half-a-million euro. This contention is also contested by the Taoiseach, but we must await fuller details and the report itself.

Few taxpayers will contest the need for such an investment and it is always valid to see a context on an investment which will happen gradually over a period of years. Many workers, who see their wages near enough halved each month by taxes, are, however, well entitled to ask questions about how such big public building projects are costed.

There are serious questions about value for money, cost supervision and realism in the estimating process.

But after years of dithering and delay, the worst of all worlds would be to reverse engines at this point. A way must be found to control costs and continue.

Irish Independent

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