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Presentation and Circulation of Further Revised Estimates 2019: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] That is part of the problem that has led us to the mess of the bigger issue of the hospital. There is too much public relations management and not enough scrutiny of detail, of the management of public money or of its importance. We all have a responsibility to scrutinise these matters.

Now that we are discussing expenditure, there a few issues we need to consider. It is not credible for the Government to appear in the Chamber week in, week out, while we appeal for often much smaller sums for this or that project. I sought €400,000 for a service, provided by the Cottage Home, for children suffering from emotional difficulties in Shankill to keep three people employed to serve 50 families. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, however, stated the Government just could not find €400,000. While she agreed that the service should not be cut, she stated she could not find the money. I asked whether there could be a Revised Estimate to find the €400,000 for a service that she knew should not be cut but she replied that she could not do that. Lo and behold, the Government can come up with a Revised Estimate for €65 million for next year and, apparently, it will affect nothing at all. We cannot find €400,000 but we can find €65 million and it will affect nothing.

Could the Minister for Finance honestly blame us for being a bit sceptical about that, given what has happened with the hospital? Could he blame us for finding it somewhat incredible? We then hear speeches and explanations from the Government in the past number of days and weeks using words such as "rescheduling" and "reprofiling". That is spin. The money must come from somewhere. If it does not, the Government must have a load of money hidden down the couch which it can pull out at any stage, or is it a matter of accounting tricks? The Government should tell us the truth. Is it playing around with accounting without consequences? What the Government is saying is not credible.

As for the bigger picture, before the committees get down to the line items, what will be the knock-on consequences for the next number of years? That is not being factored into what the Government tells us about the consequences of the overspend. For this year, it says the overspend will be €100 million, although we have not heard the details of what that will mean for the health sector and we have heard only general explanations of what it will mean for a whole number of Departments. Perhaps the details will become clearer at committees, but what will it mean for multi-annual commitments that will be necessary to deliver on a whole series of capital infrastructure projects that, by their nature, are multi-annual and long term? We do not know but there is not a shadow of a doubt that it will have consequences. Projects that would have received money either will not receive it or will be significantly delayed. If the Government manages the immediate crisis, however, perhaps it can deal with the problem further down the line. That is political management rather than just telling the truth about the consequences of this disastrous overspend. That is the problem.

One can trace the scandal all the way back to the public relations imperative to announce the project and have ribbons cut, which is doubtless what was happening. As a result, the Government does not keep its eyes on the detail. Fine Gael always speaks about financial prudence, fiscal management, responsible management of the public finances and so on, but the public relations imperative overrode the need for basic scrutiny.

Incidentally, I think the Minister is hardworking and I accept that much of the problem predates him. Circumstances have improved, not just because of Fine Gael but also because of pressure from the Opposition. We recently discussed billions of euros in tax expenditure. While it was largely due to pressure from the Opposition, I accept the Government has started to consider it. Every year, billions of euros are spent that nobody examines. Nobody has examined these decisions and they are taken on the nod. In the case of the hospital, the public relations political imperative overrode good governance.

Many questions remain unanswered. What happened to the €35 million that was invested in the design brief before the project was moved to the St. James's Hospital site? I was speaking to an architect who said the basic problem was that the brief was not tight enough. He could not understand how the €35 million that was invested in the brief, which outlines the main components of the project, just disappeared. Some €35 million of the €39 million that was invested in the brief was written off - poof, it was gone. We then heard the figure of €450 million and the contract was signed with BAM. Is it not just bad governance, a lack of scrutiny and a lack of focus on detail that allowed BAM to be awarded the contract? I would like to know which Ministers are responsible for overlooking these matters because there will be consequences for other capital projects. It is the business of Ministers if in the largest infrastructural project in the recent history of the State, or even in its entire history, there is a difference of €175 million between the lowest bidder and the next bidder, particularly when that lowest bidder has a history of significant overruns in this country, the Netherlands and Britain. I cannot believe that nobody knew about it, that nobody was concerned or that nobody examined all the line items and asked serious questions about how the gap could exist.

The Minister referred to the two-stage process. Deputy Bríd Smith tabled a parliamentary question asking why it was chosen and so on. In reply, we received a load of gobbledygook about competition and that the Government believed it would improve the tendering process by making it more competitive. Did the ideological mantra of competition, to which Fine Gael is committed, turn out to be more competitive? No, it turned out to be a disaster. It was nonsense, fake competition by bidders which had a history of underbidding. In the Minister's speech, he indicated that the Government would be more cautious about the two-stage process, that there would be external expert reviews, that there would be a premium for risks and so on. We need to have a serious discussion about what all that means and about what it will mean in practice to avoid these issues.

What about profit? The Minister might give a little information about the profits being made by BAM and the other contractors. I note that Mr. Tom Costello, who resigned-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I ask the Deputy not to mention companies or individuals who are not present.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett My point was only that he resigned. He was the guy in charge of the project board and he resigned. It is in the public domain and has been printed in the newspapers.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The person to whom the Deputy referred is not present.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett His name has been printed in all the newspapers and everyone has read it but I cannot use his name. The guy who resigned was previously working for Sisk in Poland, where there was a massive overrun of €200 million on a road project. He had to leave Sisk as a result but he then got the job for the national children's hospital. The Polish Government, however, had told the contractor which overran to get lost and carry the cost. Could we do that? I would like to know about that and why we cannot. Why can we not tell these contractors, whoever they are, to carry the can for some of this mess through profits that they might make?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan 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.


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