'It would never be my intention to mislead this House': Harris apology over hospital cost

It took Health Minister Simon Harris less than four minutes to explain himself.

The National Children's Hospital is badly needed and will transform the delivery of children's healthcare in Ireland Mr Harris said in prefacing his apology for not being fully forthright in keeping the Dáil up to date on the cost of the project.

Many in the opposition placed hands on chins, knowing that regardless of what Mr Harris said they would not have a chance to respond.

It had been decided that the Health Minister would make a statement on the spiralling cost of the children's hospital which has engulfed the Government in controversy.

"It is true that the costs of this project have increased significantly and taxpayers want to be assured that their investment is being managed correctly," Mr Harris told the Dáil.

Then turning to a parliamentary question he answered in September he said:

"At the time of answering, I was not in a position to give commercially sensitive figures."

Sinn Féin's deputy Dáil leader Pearse Doherty could take no more and got to his feet in protest.

A bewildered looking Health Minister glanced at Mr Doherty who at this stage was furious at what he was hearing. But Mr Harris quickly pivoted toward the Ceann Comhairle silently asking for his assistance before his eyes darted up to the pack of journalists seated in the Dáil press gallery.

When the interjection from the Sinn Féin benches subsided, Mr Harris calmly continued.

"As I said at the Health Committee last week, I should have answered it more fully as it would never be my intention to mislead this House.

"I should have added further detail to inform that a process was ongoing to finalise costs and that updated costs would be known when that process concluded. I apologise for not doing this

.

I have always tried to approach my work in this House, and especially as Health Minister, in a collaborative way. I want to acknowledge the constructive contribution of colleagues on many issues, including this one.

Mr Harris stressed that he takes the need for accountability very seriously and would be "happy to work together with members on all sides in the service of that aim" before sitting back down in his seat.

Opposition TDs lined up to insist that time be found to question Mr Harris. Mr Doherty again voiced criticism of the minister's "feeble" apology.

After some back and forth, the Taoiseach intervened: "I am sure the Business Committee can discuss the matter but the Minister, Deputy Harris, has no problem answering questions. He likes to answer questions."

The Health Minister will be doing a lot of what he likes this week as it was eventually agreed by the Business Committee that he be brought back into the Dáil tomorrow. This time questions will be allowed.

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