Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that some capital projects may be deferred due to the cost overrun at the National Children's Hospital.

He was responding in the Dáil to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who described the cost overun "at best a fiasco and, at worst, gross incompetence on behalf of the Government".

She asked Mr Varadkar what other projects would be cut due to the cost of the Children's Hospital.

He said the overrun would require reprofiling of "about 100 million euro worth of capital expenditure this year". Half of this will come from the Department of Health, with the other half coming from other departments.

Mr Varadkar said there were consequences to overruns in expenditure, but it was not true to say that any projects would be "stopped".

The Taoiseach was also asked by Mrs McDonald about the position of the Secretary General at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, as a result of the overrun.

Mr Watt drew criticism from committee members over the weekend for declining to attend its hearings on the issue.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Watt regularly accounts to committees, such as finance and public accounts.

He pointed out the accounting officer for the Department of Health and the project in question is Jim Breslin, who will make himself available to account for any health expenditure to the health committee.

Mr Watt has said it would have been "impractical" for him to answer questions at today's health committee meeting about the cost overruns.

He wrote to committee chairman Michael Harty yesterday to offer to meet him to discuss his reasons for not attending.

In his letter to Mr Harty, he said officials from individual departments are responsible to relevant committees to discuss legislation, policy, governance and expenditure.

He said for him to appear at the health committee would "cut across these lines of accountability" and therefore be "impractical".

But he said his department does appear before the Public Accounts Committee on its examination of spending across all departments.

That committee will begin its hearings on the children's hospital overspend next week.

The Labour leader has called for a bespoke Dáil committee to be established to hold an inquiry into the cost overrun for the hospital.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Brendan Howlin said: "Most people are aghast that a project that was set to cost €650m is set to cost three times that."

He said a formal inquiry was needed in the Dáil with powers to compel people to answer questions and produce documents.


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Meanwhile, the Department of Health has described the increase in the cost of the new children's hospital project as "very significant and disturbing".

Assistant Secretary Colm Desmond told the Health Committee that the Government decided to proceed with the project in the face of the higher costs, because of the importance of the project for children's healthcare.

Mr Desmond said that, at the same time, an independent review of the cost has been commissioned and is under way.

He said the Health Service Executive is developing its Capital Plan for 2019, which will determine projects that can progress this year, having regard to the available capital funding and the children's hospital overrun.

Mr Desmond said the increased costs for the completion of the new hospital will "see the timing of non-contracted capital commitments managed within the available health capital allocations".

He said that €150m had been included in the draft HSE capital profiles for the children's hospital project this year.

Mr Desmond added that based on the guaranteed maximum price, an additional €100m is required to fund the new hospital this year and the Government decided that €50m of this will be provided from the health capital allocation.

He said the balance for this year will have to be met by reductions in the capital allocations for all departments.

Additional reporting Mary Regan & Peter Farrell