Tuesday 28 February 2012

Fiasco grows as children suffer

The decision by An Bord Pleanala to refuse planning permission for the proposed National Children's Hospital at the Mater, hopefully marks the final act of what can only be described as a fiasco. With €35m having already been squandered on the project, virtually no one -- politicians, the Department of Health, the HSE, medical professionals and others involved -- emerges from this sorry affair with their reputations enhanced.

Ever since the original decision to locate the new National Children's Hospital on the Mater site was announced in June 2006, the project had been dogged by controversy. The suspicion, whether justified or not, that the decision in favour of the location was at least partially motivated by political considerations -- the Mater was located in former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's constituency -- has lingered like a particularly unpleasant odour.

What is certainly true is that these suspicions poisoned debate on the issue of where the National Children's Hospital should be located. However, even if political considerations played no part in the decision, there were still enormous problems with the Mater site. Located to the north of Dublin city centre it was not readily accessible to people living outside the M50 or even to those living south of the Liffey. Not surprisingly, the notion of a "National" Children's Hospital that wasn't readily accessible to over 90pc of the country's population struck many people as absurd.

Access wasn't the only problem. With the proposed National Children's Hospital at the Mater having to be constructed on a tight, inner-city site, the architects and engineers had no option but to design a tall building -- a very tall building. The result would have been an edifice more than 550ft long and 240ft high. Such a gargantuan structure would have towered over Dublin's northside.

So why, if the problems with the Mater site were so apparent, did no one shout stop? One man did. In 2007 Philip Lynch, the former chief executive of food company IAWS and one of the most successful businessmen of his generation, was appointed as chairman of the development board charged with overseeing the €650m National Children's Hospital project. When, in October 2010, Mr Lynch informed then Health Minister Mary Harney of his doubts about the suitability of the Mater site he was forced to resign.

Unfortunately, Mr Lynch's warnings went unheeded until yesterday's Bord Pleanala decision. Instead of seeking to blame An Bord Pleanala, Health Minister James Reilly and his Cabinet colleagues should instead grasp the opportunity to revisit what was a flawed decision in the first place. Now that they have got a second chance the Government must get it right. The children of Ireland deserve no less.

Read the article @ The Irish Independent


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