Council officials raise concerns about fresh delays for National Children's Hospital project
DUBLIN City Council officials have raised fears that the long-awaited National Children's Hospital could face fresh delays.
In correspondence seen by the Herald, senior city officials warned that the fire department of the council was not sufficiently staffed to sign off on a crucial period of construction for the hospital.
The controversial project, first announced a decade ago, has been beset with a series of delays, including the rejection of the Mater Hospital as the first proposed site.
Originally it was planned to take its first patients in 2011, but now it will be at least 2019 before it opens its doors at the new St James's Hospital site.
Now the Herald can reveal that the city's Chief Fire Officer Patrick Fleming has written to council bosses warning that an extra fire protection officer is needed to process at least 21 Fire Safety Applications for construction work at the site.
However, the council has confirmed that nobody has been hired to carry out the works since the short-term recruitment of a retired member of staff was approved by the head of finance Ms Kathy Quinn, in March.
The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) has insisted that the project timeline is on track for construction to begin in 2016.
Meanwhile, Dublin City Council (DCC) have said that "alternative arrangements" have been made to tackle the staffing issue, but declined to explain what these arrangements are.
To date, just two fire safety certs have been fully processed with a third due shortly, according to a spokeswoman for St James's Hospital.
The first of seven applications was made to DCC in May, the spokeswoman added,
The certificates are necessary for "decant works" to take place, which involves clearing the intended site of the children's hospital and moving services to other locations.
"The timing of the decant works are central for the overall National Children's Hospital Project," Mr Fleming wrote in a February 24 letter to Kathy Quinn seeking additional resources.
He told her that the Fire Prevention Section is "depleted at the moment" due to the retirement of two senior officers.
Mr Fleming proposed the hiring of recently retired senior executive fire prevention officer James Briscoe for three days a week for 18 weeks between March and July to help another officer complete the work.
Ms Quinn wrote to city chief executive Mr Owen Keegan on March 2 raising Mr Fleming's request and recommending that he approve the hiring of Mr Briscoe.
She told Mr Keegan that the project is "managed to a tight timeline, with any delays having consequent effects on the other project elements".
"Owing to the time-critical nature of the decant works at St James's Hospital, a Senior Fire Prevention resource is required now," she wrote.
She pointed out that there has already been delays "outside the control of Dublin Fire Brigade".
"Prior to these delays, DFB management intended to assign Mr James Briscoe ... to this strand of the project
"However, it is only now possible to commence these works," she told Mr Keegan, explaining why she was recommending hiring Mr Briscoe for the work.
"The other elements of the project are absorbing senior fire prevention resources in parallel," she said.
The letters were released to this newspaper under Freedom of Information laws.
Responding to the warnings in the letter, hospital bosses have insisted there are no anticipated delays with the delivery of the hospital.
"The decant programme at St James's Hospital is on track. There are no foreseen delays to the project at this time," St James's Hospital said in a statement.
The €650m project is the largest State investment in health infrastructure ever and as noted by Mr Fleming, one of the "biggest construction projects in Dublin in recent years".
Planning permission is due to be lodged with An Bord Pleanala within weeks, following a final consultation with stakeholders.
It is planned to build a facility seven storeys high at its tallest point, with 380 single in-patient rooms. A further 60 critical care beds are planned.
Designs unveiled earlier this year included a rooftop garden.
It is the second blueprint design for the much-anticipated hospital.
Original plans submitted to the planning authority for a building at the Mater Hospital were rejected due to its scale.
The failed bid cost taxpayers some €40m.