The Tánaiste and Minister for Health has said she understands that the Health Service Executive will decide tomorrow to suspend the implementation of their controversial computer payroll system pending a complete evaluation.

Speaking in an Opposition private member's debate tonight Mary Harney condemned what she called the extraordinary and excessive amount of money paid to outside consultants in the preparation of the PPARS system.

Ms Harney also blamed the debacle on what she called the 'jumble of waste and incoherence' that the system of 11 health boards had produced.  

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a letter written last June by the boss of St James's Hospital in Dublin warned that the P-PARS payroll system was such a disaster, it threatened the hospital's basic functioning.

The letter, written by John O'Brien, and sent to the Health Service Executive, also warned that the hospital was finding it difficult to assure external auditors as to the integrity of the system regarding fiduciary matters.

Earlier, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, told the Dáil that he accepted that the introduction of the system had not been handled well, but that they should continue to try to get it right. 

Mr Ahern also said he believed that the people involved in the project had overused consultants. He was challenged on the issue by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Pat Rabbitte.

Mr Kenny said this system, which the Government was supposed to oversee, was patently not working. 

The Labour leader claimed that no minister in the Government ever takes responsibility for anything.

It is now estimated the cost of completing the P-PARS project will be €166 million.

On RTÉ Radio this afternoon, Tom Geraghty of the Public Service Executive Union questioned why consultants were paid to do work that civil servants could have done.

Misspending 'small': Dempsey

Speaking earlier on RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland programme, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey, said that in a €41 billion budget, the level of misspent money relating to P-PARS is relatively very, very small.

However, Mr Dempsey added no money should be misspent and every euro should be accounted for.

Also on the programme, Bernard Durkan of Fine Gael said that whoever was responsible for the overspending on the P-PARS system should be fired.

Mr Durkan said that some means should be found to penalise defaulters of tenders and other contracts.

Finance officials' concerns

It has emerged that officials in the Department of Finance expressed concern during the summer about P-PARS.

The concerns are detailed in a memo that was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mr Kenny. 

The memo was written by a senior computer expert from the Department of Finance, who subsequently sent it on to the Department of Health.

The memo followed a meeting in June between officials from the two departments and from the Health Service Executive. 

In that memo concerns are raised about the cost of P-PARS, with a question mark over the nature and cost of services provided by the project consultants, Deloitte and Touche.

Last year alone Deloitte and Touche received €13.5 million in consultancy fees.

The memo also raised the question of who was responsible for the project - and the Department of Finance expert asked for urgent assurances that the projected costs were necessary to deliver the project.