Updated 34 minutes ago
THE CHAIRMAN OF the Office of Public Works has faced tough questioning from the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee over its performance in managing properties to be used by State bodies, in particular Miesian Plaza in Dublin’s south city centre.
Miesian Plaza in central Dublin was earmarked to become the new headquarters for the Departments of Health and Children and Youth Affairs in December 2016.
The building remained vacant 17 months later, at an initially estimated rental cost of €16 million.
Speaking earlier before the committee, Buckley said that he believed that, regardless of the amount of time the building had stood vacant, he believed the taxpayer may have saved as much as €5 million or €6 million due to the rate of rent negotiated at the time of signing being “significantly below market rate”.
The OPW has been accused by one of its former valuers of having a “cultural indifference to the waste of taxpayer’s money”. That same valuer made a disclosure to PAC urging it to investigate the OPW’s management of property in the State.
Regarding the issues surrounding the measurement of floor space at Miesian Plaza, Buckley said that the OPW had not ‘ignored’ advice from the Chief State Solicitors’s Office (CSSO) that the rent on the building might have to be recalibrated due to the floorspace being measured incorrectly.
“I wouldn’t use the word ignored,” he said, under questioning from Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien.
The issue was raised by several staff, questions were asked and answered but the implications of the change in the measurement process was not captured by that questioning process.
The testy committee meeting saw Buckley come in for sustained criticism from the Oireachtas members present, with Fianna Fáil’s Shane Cassells describing the loss to the State as “nothing but a scandal”.
Regardless, Buckley insisted that the deal for Miesian Plaza was a ‘good’ one.
“This is a very good deal, and I do stand over it. I do regret that it wasn’t possible to conclude the planning of the building, and that cost €4 million, not €11 million, I dispute that,” he said.
The C&AG in its report detailed that the business case expounded for Miesian Plaza being leased did not hold water, as there “was no evidence of detailed consideration of other options”, and no economic appraisal was carried out. Further, “the risks associated with the project were not set out”.
It said that the OPW’s reasons for not recalibrating the measurement of the building when it was brought to its attention that the floor space had been measured incorrectly were ‘not clear’.