Members of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, including chairman Fred Barry, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in December in order to provide TDs with an update on cost controls for the project.
With the overall price of the project still unclear and constantly rising in estimations, Barry told the PAC that the cost would rise by €50 million as a result of inflation alone if current rates of 7 per cent remain.
The estimated cost of the project has risen from €800 million in 2014, to €983 million in 2017 and again to €1.43 billion in 2019. That figure rises to €1.79 billion when costs associated with equipping the building and IT are factored in. These estimates do not include the costs of family accommodation, a research centre, possible excess construction inflation or any other possible changes to clinical standards.
When asked by Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster if it was true to say that nobody actually has any real idea of what the final cost would be, Barry answered that the matter is “not a yes or no” question. “The contractor will make claims, we will resist them,” he explained. “It would be a surprise if some of those claims don’t stick before the job is over. It’s true we can’t say exactly where it [the price] is going to end up.”
Munster responded: “I think from that response, it is fair to say that the €1.7 billion is aspirational rather than reality.” Munster further pressed Barry on why the minutes of meetings of the board where construction inflation had been discussed were redacted and on the board’s experience in building hospitals. “I have built no hospitals on a greenfield basis,” Barry responded.
When asked by Munster if this lack of experience would allow “contractors to play you [the board] for fools”, Barry responded: “I accept that there may be others much better than me at the job. But I was asked to do it, so I’m not really here to interview for the job.”
The board was also pressed on an expenditure of €285,000 up to October 2019 on public relations services, which were “extraordinary” according to the independent TD Catherine Connolly. “On a PR company, I think it is totally unacceptable, I think it is an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money,” the TD said. “There is something seriously wrong if you are resorting to a PR company.”
When asked by the Labour TD Alan Kelly about the resignation of Paul Quinn, the Government’s Chief Procurement Officer who resigned from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in August 2019, Barry replied: “I don’t want to say anything in the context of offering a critique, good or bad, of an individual who has left.”
Quinn, whose job it is to ensure that government is getting value for money in its investments and infrastructure projects, exited the board as costs were revealed to be spiralling once again. His resignation was not the first of the project, with original board Chairman Tom Costello and Project Director Joe Pollock having also tendered resignations