The budget we approved last October included €7.3 billion of capital expenditure, as the Minister noted. The allocation for capital spending since then has shown a welcome return to investment in public infrastructure. For nearly a decade since 2008, the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments kept capital spending below the 2% depreciation rate, which was an utterly disgraceful policy.
The health capital envelope this year is €667 million out of a budget of €17 billion. The resumption of urgently needed spending on national infrastructure makes it even more critical that spending be closely invigilated and accounted for. The escalation in costs at the national children’s hospital is shocking and evidence of a systemic failure by the Ministers for Health and Public Expenditure and Reform. In 2013 the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, sold the National Lottery licence for €405 million which we thought would be the cost of the national children’s hospital. During the Taoiseach’s time as Minister for Health, the cost shot up to €890 million. By the autumn of 2017, construction and additional costs had escalated to €1.26 billion. If we are to believe the Minister for Health, by 28 August, the cost had ballooned to more than €1.7 billion.
A few weeks ago the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, informed me about the role of his Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform under the public spending code, the capital works management framework, the chief procurement officer and the Government contracts committee in closely invigilating capital projects. The Minister refused, however, to answer my questions about how and why the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board had sought and obtained a derogation from national procurement rules to permit a two-stage procurement process for the hospital project. He just would not deal with them. That disastrous decision was made in May 2014 and I understand it was reiterated in January 2016 because there was a January 2017 time limit. Given the projected size of the earlier estimates for the hospital project, was that decision approved by the then Cabinet, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the four person steering committee of the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and other Ministers in the 2011 to 2016 Government? That is what we would like to know.
The astonishing decision made by the Minister for Health not to inform his Cabinet colleagues clearly would be a resigning matter in most democracies, despite the vote earlier today. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, could not explain why his management board with its quarterly agenda item of high level risks had not picked up on the cost explosion for the national children’s hospital. I looked at the minutes of meetings of his management committee and it is unbelievable that he would not have known what was happening in August and September 2018. We have been following politics at Westminster closely in the past couple of years and there is no question that, if this was the Westminster Parliament, both Ministers, Deputies Harris and Donohoe, would have had to go. Unfortunately for them, they would have had to resign.
Constituents suspect that the Taoiseach and his colleagues intended to call a general election last November. The call was with the Taoiseach before Christmas and it was clearly the intention that the fact that spending was out of control on the children’s hospital project would not be revealed until after the general election. My constituents in Dublin Bay North are deeply concerned about further delays and the failure to progress major capital projects in the constituency. A few weeks ago Dublin City Council approved the long hoped for 20-bed cystic fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital, but now there are fears that there will be further delays. When we were both in opposition, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and I met the management and staff of Beaumont Hospital to discuss the urgently needed new modern emergency department at the hospital. After three years of sitting in the high chair at the Cabinet table, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been unable to get the project beyond design stage. Designers were to be appointed. There are other long promised primary care centre projects in the north fringe, in Belmayne, Clongriffin and Raheny, which are not happening. We heard the itemisation of current expenditure and about what had happened. The Parliamentary Budget Office has been very critical of health spending and accountability for it. The Further Revised Estimates represent a disgraceful failure by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe’s Department. Unfortunately, both Ministers should go.