Is Resignation the Answer, or Does it Just Pose More Questions?
I got into a spat on Twitter over the weekend with a public policy analyst over the new National Childrens Hospital. We got off on the wrong foot, and having apologised for my contribution to that, I invited her to come on The Opinion Line on Corks 96FM and add her voice to the debate on the horrendous cost overrun. As is her right, she politely declined, and that’s OK too. However, the interaction, and a little reading of her Twitter feed tells me her central point bears some examination. It concerned the resignation of Mr. Tom Costello, the chairman of the board of the hospital project. The argument made was that this will solve nothing, will answer no questions, and is merely a case of a sacrificial lamb being found to satisfy the media and other interests, in other words for political reasons.
On reflection, there’s something to that, I think.
The NCH project is, on the face of it, an unmitigated and expensive disaster before a brick is laid. Presently, all that exists, is effectively a hole in the ground. The price has trebled, and we honestly can’t even be sure it won’t quadruple. The hospital will eventually cost over four million Euro per bed. That’s treble the cost of the new Alder Hey Hospital in the UK. Treble the cost. Before a brick is laid.
As an ordinary Joe, as a taxpayer, I just cannot get my head around that.
Last year, we did a bit of refurbishment at Coogan Towers. We remodelled our kitchen and dining room into a single big space. We’re thrilled with it. We managed the budget & liaised with all the contractors ourselves. Kept a spreadsheet and kept careful accounts. In the end we went over budget by about nine percent. I had predicted 7%, but I don’t think nine was a bad overshoot. Now, imagine if it had gone over budget by more than two hundred percent. My foreman, who was my works manager and reported to me almost daily would have had some serious questions to answer. As the one who hired him, I’d almost certainly be in the divorce court as well!
To get the answers though, I wonder if I’d be better served by keeping him on side and working through it with him.
I don’t think that chucking him under the 220 bus, which passes my front door, would best serve my investigation into what went wrong. This is the essential point being made by the Public Policy expert with whom I initially clashed on Twitter. Mr Costello has gone. He has left the field of play, to use a sporting analogy. He’s been in his position for six years. You have to ask yourself who is being best served by his departure, and deep in my gut, I can see credence in the view that its not the taxpayer.
The taxpayer deserves to know how his or her hard earned money was spent. Mr Costello was the chairman of the board that is going to be spending it. Surely he can make a better contribution to any investigations from within? It begs another question, of course, and it’s this, What agenda is served by his resignation?
Politically, Minister Simon Harris is served by this. It makes him look like he’s doing something about the spiralling cost. He’s not. Tom Costellos resignation won’t save a red cent. The members of the Public Accounts Committee will take political credit for unseating him. It’ll look good when they go canvassing for votes, but it won’t save a button. It won’t answer the fundamental questions at the heart of this. It’s a deflection, in fact.
I’ve also heard it suggested that he may have been quietly asked to step aside, to go into the shadows and disappear for a while, only to be rewarded later when we’ve all forgotten about it. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I’m too long watching Irish politics to rule it out or dismiss it. My Twitter friend, the Public Policy expert thinks I’m deluded. We’ll agree to differ on that one.
The National Childrens Hospital has been a hot topic on The Opinion Line for a long time now. I make no apology for saying that I take the side of the campaigners who argue passionately (and with authority, like the great Dr. Fin Breathnach) that it’s in the wrong place and that the design is all wrong. Dr. Breathnach was one of the first to predict on air over two years ago that the cost would skyrocket. He and others told us so.
I heard an opinion voiced on a radio show at the weekend that maybe its not to late to revisit the “Connolly” option. The hole in the ground at St. James’s can always be used for something else. I wholeheartedly agree with that but I sadly predict it doesn’t have a snowballs chance in Hell of happening. Official Ireland wanted the NCH in James’s, and Official Ireland tends to get what it wants.
If that’s how things must be, so be it.. but as a hard pressed taxpayer I am entitled to know why it’s costing an arm, a leg and a handful of vital organs to make it happen. Tom Costello has taken a lot of that information with him as he leaves the field.
As they used to say in Latin .. “Cui Bono?”.. “who benefits?”..