I do not think the Government should underestimate the level of public anger at the spectacular cost overrun in the development of the national children's hospital. We learned today from The Irish Times that senior officials from the HSE and the Department of Health discussed potential cost overruns almost a year before the date on which the Minister, Deputy Harris, says he was informed of rising costs, in August 2018. The bottom line is that we need to know where was the political oversight of this project. This is the Government's flagship capital project. It is the largest ever project in the history of the Department of Health and the HSE. Are we really being asked to believe that the Minister, Deputy Harris, was not kept informed that costs were rising dramatically? What information was flowing to the Minister in respect of this project between the autumn of 2017 and the autumn of 2018, when he acknowledges that he learned of the issue? If he did not know, why did he not ask? Why was he not insisting on regular updates from his own officials who were directly involved in the process?
We are told that the Minister became aware of the significance of the issue, if not the final figure, in late August 2018, yet this information was not passed to the Minister for Finance until 9 November 2018. This is a scenario that I just cannot get my head around. The Minister for Finance, namely, the person in charge of the purse strings of the State, as part of a collective Cabinet decision signed off in April 2017 on a project at a cost of €983 million. We are being led to believe that the next he heard of any change was in November 2018, over a year and a half later, when he was given the news that the direct build cost of this hospital had increased by €450 million, on top of the other costs involved, bringing the overall bill to €1.7 billion. This begs the obvious question as to what supervision did the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and his Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have over this massive capital project. In the meantime, a budget was being negotiated between September and mid-October. Expenditure allocations for 2019 were agreed and published on budget day. Allocations for current and capital spending were published without this massive overrun being factored in, despite at least one Cabinet Minister being aware of it. Throughout September and early October, there was intense engagement between officials from the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and directly between the two Ministers, Deputies Harris and Donohoe. Not only were they discussing the budget for the Department of Health for 2019, both current and capital; they were also discussing the massive overrun on the current side in the Department of Health in 2018 which, as we know, ended up at €655 million. I cannot envisage a scenario in any company in this country where a senior manager in charge of a capital project, on becoming aware of a massive overrun, would not inform the finance director of the company.
We need to know the consequences for other projects. This will go far beyond some projects being delayed by a few weeks or months. The €100 million that has to be found this year is only the beginning. Multiples of that will have to be found over the next four years. I ask the Minister to inform the House of those consequences and to tell us when we will know the facts. What is being done to reduce the cost of this project now? What does this say about the competence and capacity of the Government to deliver on other major capital projects, not least the national broadband plan, for which half a million homes and businesses are waiting?