Sunday 24 March 2019

Editorial: 'Children's hospital cost overrun a symptom of boom'

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe struggles to explain the contradiction of having an official from his department on the hospital development board, yet also complaining that information on the escalating cost should have been provided to the Government earlier.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe struggles to explain the contradiction of having an official from his department on the hospital development board, yet also complaining that information on the escalating cost should have been provided to the Government earlier.
Editorial

Editorial

Simon Harris had his trademark furrowed brow at the ready for the RTÉ 'Six One News' last night. The Health Minister frequently deploys the facial expression to show he is concerned. Very concerned.

He's not concerned enough to resign or anything of that nature, of course.

The latest matters of concern for the minister are the escalating cost of the National Children's Hospital - pick a number anywhere between €1.4bn and €2bn for the final bill - and the ongoing nurses strike, which occurs again today.

The extent of the overrun supposedly only began to become apparent in August and was confirmed in November. At that stage, the options available to the Government were to pause the project, re-tender for the building, or proceed as planned.

They chose the latter and they were right to do so. But they lacked the bottle to explain to the public what was going on.

"On my watch, this project is underway," Harris proclaimed, expecting a pat on the head.

Now there's a blame game going on around who knew what when and melodramatic calls for resignations and inquiries.

Leinster House loves this sort of process story. The public begin to lose interest when the detail of the terms of reference of a probe are parsed and analysed in the corridors of power.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe struggles to explain the contradiction of having an official from his department on the hospital development board, yet also complaining that information on the escalating cost should have been provided to the Government earlier.

Donohoe only learned of the scale of the increase in November. The official's responsibility was to the board itself as he was a member of a separate governance structure, he explains.

The minister appears to believe the public will be relieved that the corporate governance guidelines around the responsibilities of a board member were adhered to. Talk about missing the point.

"Yes, things should have been done differently," the minister solemnly declared.

Yes, you can sing that, Paschal.

Donohoe enjoys something of a charmed existence as a Minister for Finance in the middle of a boom he had little to do with creating.

He likes to preach about the need to keep the books balanced. He's right, but it would help his cause when he's turning down spending demands if he could show his department was watching the cents too.

And the taxes keep on rolling in. Vat jumped to a record €2.7bn last month on the back of pre-Christmas sales. The sales tax accounted for more than half the €5.4bn in tax for January.

The spend and tax patterns are not unconnected. It's a symptom of a boom that projects go over budget when there is more cash sloshing around.

The largesse being displayed by the Government on the children's hospital simply wouldn't happen during a recession.

The children's hospital must proceed as planned.

Value for money lessons will follow.

Irish Independent

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