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'I sincerely apologise': Harris tells Dáil he should have given further detail on children's hospital costs

Harris is facing a motion of no confidence from Sinn Féin next week.

Updated Feb 12th 2019, 2:56 PM

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has told the Dáil he “sincerely apologises” for not adding further detail when asked about the costs of the construction of the National Children’s Hospital.

He was issuing the apology in the context of the huge overrun in spending at the hospital, after telling Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen last September that the spend on it was “in line with the expected expenditure profile”.

Pressure has been mounting on government, and in particular the health minister, in the last week over the skyrocketing costs of the National Children’s Hospital project.

In recent days there has been a focus on the health minister and his failure to tell the Taoiseach and Minister Donohoe of the estimated cost when he was informed in August. 

Harris is now facing a motion of no confidence from Sinn Féin next week.

He told the Dáil this afternoon that an inquiry is now under way and a report on that is due at the end of next month.

“Government will act swiftly on its recommendations,” he said. “We will not be found wanting when it comes to acting against any entity or any company if errors were made.”

Commenting specifically on Cowen’s question in September, Harris said: “At the time of answering, I was not in a position to give commercially sensitive figures but, as I said at the Health Committee last week, I should have answered it more fully as it would never be my intention to mislead this House.

I should have added further detail to inform that a process was ongoing to finalise costs and that updated costs would be known when that process concluded. I sincerely apologise for not doing this.

The minister added he took accountability very seriously and will ensure others are held to account for their actions. 

No confidence

Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it is not too late for Fianna Fáil TDs to throw their support behind he party’s motion of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris. 

Speaking to the media at Leinster House, McDonald denied that the passing of such a motion would spark a general election, stating that the only person who can trigger an election is Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

She said for the motion to succeed, Sinn Féin will need Fianna Fáil, and appealed to them to “actually do their job as  members of the opposition”. 

“We believe he [Simon Harris] needs to be held to account,” said McDonald, who added that Sinn Féin have spoken to other members of opposition about supporting the motion.

“There is considerable support for our no confidence motion,” she said. 

She added that there is “still time” for Fianna Fáil TDs to support the motion, “even if Micheál Martin won’t move” and is “asleep at the wheel”.

“I think there is scope for sensible and responsible people within Fianna Fáil, who like us believe in holding government to account, there is still time for them to move,” said McDonald. 

The Sinn Féin party leader said she could definitively say if any Fianna Fáilers would support the no confidence motion “at this stage”.

Speaking on RTE’s News at One, the threat of Brexit was given as the reason why Fianna Fáil will not support the motion of no confidence.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said his party is “not here to play games” stating that they are there to “do right by the people” with the massive threat of Brexit only a few weeks away.

He said Harris must come into the Dáil today, acknowledge his failings and apologise.

While questions have been raised about how the costs got so out of hand, and who knew what when, the focus this week will be on what capital health projects will be put on the backburner because of it. Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe is expected to reveal this afternoon what projects will be put on the back burner. 

With reporting from Sean Murray

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