Stephen Donnelly casts doubt on National Children’s Hospital completion date

Minister for Health also suggested ‘supplementary budget’ could be needed by the health service this year

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has expressed doubt over whether construction of the National Children’s Hospital will be finished by a previously-touted completion date later this year.

At a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee on Wednesday, Mr Donnelly said it was “really hard to say” if he was confident of the hospital’s completion later this year. The latest programme of works provided by BAM, the project’s main contractor, listed a completion date in Q4 of 2024, Mr Donnelly said.

He suggested that the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB), the body overseeing the construction of the hospital, was sceptical of completion dates put forward by the contractor due to continuous delays.

“I would be amazed if the board would say they would be fully confident of any timetable that the contractor has given them, because every single timetable the contractor has given them has proven not to be the case,” he said.


“The board will speak for itself, but certainly, based on my conversations with the board, they have accepted the programme of works, they are now working to that programme, but I would be astonished if the board would say that they are confident.”

David Cullinane, Sinn Féin spokesperson on health, said that more accountability was required. “Every single date that’s given is missed, every target that’s set is missed. At some point, the State has to say, ‘Enough is enough’.”

Separately, Mr Donnelly described a low uptake in medical cards since an extension of the free GP care scheme last year as “very surprising”, and admitted that some of the scheme’s criteria “might require some changes” to improve accessibility.

In 2023, the medical card scheme was extended to included children aged six and seven, and to some adults on a means-tested basis. But, Mr Cullinane pointed out during the committee meeting, there has been a low uptake since the scheme’s extension.

“People don’t understand who exactly is covered. It talks about a family median income – we need to break it down more, in terms of the income thresholds.

“That’s what people understand – it’s far too vague,” Mr Cullinane said.

Mr Donnelly agreed with Mr Cullinane, admitting that the eligibility criteria may be “too complicated”.

“It might require some further very clear communications, it might require some changes to the criteria to make sure that it’s all very easy for people,” he said.

Mr Donnelly also told the committee that it was “entirely possible” that a “substantial” supplementary budget would be required by the health service later this year due to inflation and demand. Mr Donnelly previously flagged the possibility after the announcement of last year’s budget.

“I’ve clearly stated, right from the off, from the day after the budget, that there is a material risk of a substantial supplementary budget being required,” he said.

“The red line is services, we don’t cut services. We protect and we grow services for patients. And then the question is, how do you do that within the funding available?”

Mr Cullinane contended that it was a “certainty” that a supplementary budget would be required. “We’ll see who’s right, come September and October,” he said.

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Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher is an Irish Times journalist