Sunday 16 December 2018

Gilmore is right to keep watchful eye

The new National Children's Hospital was originally due to begin construction on the Mater site in Dublin in 2010 and to admit its first patients in 2016. But a series of delays, chiefly due to controversy over the site, culminated early this year with the decision of An Bord Pleanala to refuse permission to build the new facility in the location originally chosen.

The Government responded to this decision with what, by the usual standards of Irish politics and bureaucracy, must count as commendable speed. In March it set up a group chaired by Dr Frank Dolphin to consider the merits of various locations. The group received more than 30 offers of sites. It reported back in June.

So far, so good. But as Halloween approaches, the Government still has not chosen a site. The issue has not yet reached the Cabinet.

Some of this further delay may be due to the emergence of unlikely contenders for the honour, such as Belcamp in the North Dublin backyard of Health Minister James Reilly.

Now, however, one learns on the one hand that the process has informally reached the short-list stage, and on the other that a third Government member, in addition to Dr Reilly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, has taken a hand.

This is Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, who has every right to take an interest in the project since he, along with Dr Reilly and Mr Kenny, will make the final decision.

He has involved himself to the extent of appointing advisers to investigate the most promising locations. Of these, the outstanding contenders are St James's Hospital, James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, the Coombe and the Mater.

In a government whose component parties enjoy relaxed and comfortable relations, this move might hardly appear worthy of notice.

But relations between Fine Gael and Labour, and especially between Dr Reilly and Labour, have been under strain lately in the wake of the breach between the Health Minister and his former junior minister Roisin Shortall.

Will Dr Reilly resent the Tanaiste's decision to carry out his own inquiries, or will he put the interests of the Government as a whole ahead of any "territorial imperative"?

Better still, he should take on board an interest far greater than any concerns about amity between Fine Gael and Labour. Health professionals are unanimous on the need for a new children's hospital. Almost the entire country supports them. The Health Minister himself has said, "Let's do it right. Let's do it quickly."

One need add only four more words: Let's do it now.

Irish Independent

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