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'Theoretically, things could cost anything': Children's hospital chairman says costs could increase more

The Public Accounts Committee met in the Oireachtas today.

Image: Eamonn Farrell

THE CHAIRMAN OF the Board of the National Children’s Hospital has said that the cost of the construction of the hospital could increase further. 

“The exact or precise final cost will depend on how events unfold,” chairman Fred Barry told the Public Accounts Committee today. 

The current predicted cost of the overall project is €1.73 billion, up on the initial estimate of €650 million.

Barry said that if inflation stayed at 7%, the cost of the hospital could run over by between €2 million and €2.9 million euros this year, bringing the total overrun of the project to around €50 million. 

During an at-times tense committee meeting, hospital board staff and Department of Health officials were questioned by TDs and senators.

Questioned by Galway TD Catherine Connolly on whether the hospital could cost as much as €2 billion, Barry did not provide specifics. 

“Theoretically, things could cost anything,” Barry said, referencing “residual risks” of building the hospital.  

However, he said it was “highly improbable” that the hospital could cost €2 billion.

Eilish Hardiman, the chief executive of the hospital group Children’s Health Ireland, confirmed that there would be 474 beds in the new hospital.

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster asked whether the board was at a disadvantage because of a lack of specialised experience in this area. 

Munster said she didn’t see any board member that had led a hospital project of this scale before, saying that contractors could “play [them] for fools” because of a lack of specialised experience. 

Barry responded that he was “gobsmacked” at this, adding that he was experienced in the management of large and complex projects. 

“You can be gobsmacked but we’re talking about public money… it’s not for the first time that the board was appointed with a lack of experience,” said Munster. 

Munster repeatedly asked Barry if he had an estimation of the final cost of the hospital. 

“To say that we can’t have any possible sense of what the cost will be is not really a real, proper reflection. The contractor can put in endless claims, there is no restriction on the amount a contractor can actually come looking for,” said Barry. 

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said anyone who backed out of the project now would be doing a “disservice to the children of Ireland”. She added that she doesn’t see it as a “poisoned chalice”. 

With additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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