Rae's plant-hire insight on hospital

Healy-Rae's know-how proves useful as Dáil debates children's hospital

Simon Brouder

Drawing on his family's often controversial involvement in machine hire for building sites, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae made an interesting contribution to last week's Oireachtas Health Committee debate on the spiralling cost of the National Children's Hospital.

"Like everybody else, I am very concerned about this unmitigated mess, with the cost of the hospital practically doubled," said Deputy Healy Rae.

"I am worried about a number of aspects. Who decided only five contractors were to be shortlisted? Who decided the procurement ground rules at the start of the tender process? That is an important question," Deputy Healy-Rae told the committee.

"When one contractor was awarded the phase A part of the work, was it the only contractor allowed to tender for the second stage? If that is the story, as I understand it, the contractor would be able to increase costs day after day because it is the only one there," the Kerry deputy asked.

Deputy Healy-Rae also raised concerns about the number of contractors that had been involved in the tendering process.

"Was it a mistake to confine the number of contractors to just five being allowed to tender? Five is a very small number and some of these contractors may be found not to be competing but rather working together. One may know the other would not have the capacity to do the job because it is busy elsewhere or other contracts have been secured. Does this compromise whoever is paying for this, which is the taxpayer in this case?" asked the Kilgarvan based Independent.

Department of Health Secretary General Jim Breslin defended the small number of firms involved in the process.

"There is a really limited number, not just in Ireland but in Europe, with the capability to deliver a project of this scale. I am not sure I agree with the Deputy on the point. If this was a small project and many builders would be capable of doing it, I might agree, but very few people have the scale to deliver something of this size," he said.

Deputy Healy-Rae also questioned whether the chosen site for the hospital - a matter that was contentious long before the decision was made - had contributed to the soaring cost of the project.

"Does the witness agree that if the hospital had been built on a greenfield site, there would have been much lower costs in extracting materials from the site and getting materials into the site? Many people, including me, believe that is where the exorbitant cost is. It arises because of the confined space in which the hospital is being built and the difficulty in getting materials in and out of the place," said Deputy Healy-Rae.

Health Minister Simon Harris disagreed with Deputy Healy-Rae's take on the situation regarding the location.

"The primary reasoning behind the location of the site must be the clinical outcomes for our children," he said.

"I also do not believe, for the purposes of these conversations about overruns, that it is a relevant point," said Minister Harris.