Opinion Editorial

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Editorial: 'Preoccupation with PR will backfire for government'

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Niall Carson/PA


When nothing is at stake it's easy to see how waste on a grand scale can go unnoticed. Testament to this is the number of failures in political management in tandem with a total absence of parliamentary accountability.

The collective national gasp elicited by the revelations on the overspend on the National Children's Hospital suggests the public is no longer prepared to be the biggest loser.

A stock response when the Government gets it spectacularly wrong is to line up a dispensable fall-guy, or girl, to sate the clamour for redress or retribution.

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And so this week we saw Health Minister Simon Harris show his dexterity to pivot and parry, as the blows fell about his head for the many mis-steps that saw the project snowball from €650m to what could yet be €2.2bn.

If there was blame he would take a modicum of it; but there were other rogue actors out there, and he being the man with the tin star on his chest would hunt down any "potential criminal wrong doing". If a head is to go in a noose, it wasn't going to be his.

Besides there is broad consensus, Brexit is the only game in town; so there can be no move to bring the Government down.

This is true for now, but there will be a reckoning. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was equally eager to grab a chance to put as much daylight between himself and any blame for the blow-out. He expressed his: "Real concern that some companies are low-balling..."

Yesterday the builder of the hospital said it is willing to step down from the project. Its offer brought forth a swift response from the Government, with a spokesman insisting the Taoiseach wasn't referring to any specific company. Nonetheless, BAM took the trouble to spell out how recent commentary was based on "inaccurate information". For good measure, it also insisted it "did not benefit inappropriately" from the tender process.

If there is a way of saving taxpayers' money even at this stage, every option must be explored. The Government's preoccupation with PR has obscured its ability to clearly separate perception from reality. Thus, once a project survives its initial tyre kicking and given the hard sell; the public is supposed to embrace it with the equal fervour. When things do not stack up, the default response is to close doors and sit tight.

In short we are kept in the dark until a Teflon solution can be presented. Not this time.

Our children deserve better. What the public cares about is the swift delivery of a hospital as befits the needs of families at an affordable price. Selective scapegoating, or extended games of defend, deny, and deflect at which this Government has become so adept, will backfire.

Irish Independent

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