Vote 10 — Office of Public Works.

Mr. S. Benton

(Chairman, Office of Public Works) called and examined.

Witnesses should be aware that they do not enjoy absolute privilege. Their attention and that of members is drawn to the fact that, as and from 2 August 1998, section 10 of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997 grants certain rights to persons identified in the course of the committee's proceedings. These rights include: the right to give evidence; the right to produce and send documents to the committee; the right to appear before the committee, either in person or through a representative; the right to make a written or oral submission; and the right to request the committee to direct the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and the right to cross-examine witnesses. For the most part, these rights may be exercised only with the consent of the committee. Persons invited before the committee are made aware of these rights and any person identified in the course of proceedings who is not present may have to be made aware of them and provided with a transcript of the relevant part of the committee's proceedings, if the committee considers it appropriate in the interests of justice.

Notwithstanding this provision in the legislation, I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are also reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 156 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government, or the merits of the objectives of such policy or policies.

There is some relevant correspondence, including that related to a temporary premises for a Department of Agriculture and Food district veterinary office at Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, with documentation dated 7 November 2006; and a second submission from the Rolestown-St. Margaret's action group on the acquisition of Thornton Hall.

Will Mr. Benton please introduce his officials?

Mr. Seán Benton

I am accompanied by Mr. Tony Smyth, director of engineering services; Ms Clare McGrath, commissioner with responsibility for projects; Mr. David Byers, commissioner with responsibility for property; and Mr. Joe Farrell, our accountant.

Will the representatives from the Department of Finance please introduce themselves?

Mr. David Denny

I am from the organisation, management and training division.

Mr. Dermot Quigley

My name is Dermot Quigley.

I ask Mr. Purcell to introduce Vote 10.

Mr. Purcell

You will see on page 66, at the end of the Appropriation Account, that I was in a position to give a clear audit certificate on the account. This basically means that no issue arose during the audit which in my opinion would merit a public accountability.

The net outturn on the Vote for 2005 was €393 million, which was €76 million less than the amount provided by Dáil Éireann in the Estimates. The main contributory factors were big underspends on two subheads. Subhead D, expenditure related to the purchase of sites and buildings came to only €20 million out of €31 million provided.

Subhead E, covering new works, alterations and additions, covers a fair proportion of the expenditure of the OPW through the Vote. Only €123 million was spent from a provision of nearly €180 million. The common element in this was the decentralisation programme, and we can see from the explanations of the causes of variations in the account that some anticipated purchases of sites in decentralisation locations did not proceed. The programme is now scheduled over a longer period than originally envisaged and this is reflected in note 15, which shows expenditure at €3.7 million out of an estimated provision of €40 million for decentralisation projects.

On the receipts side, the OPW realised €56.7 million in the year from the sale of State property, which was paid directly over to the Exchequer and does not impact on the Vote. It is merely noted. This was in addition to the €22.6 million in appropriations-in-aid, which were generated from OPW's own activities.

Thank you Mr. Purcell. Will Mr. Benton make his opening statement?

Mr. Benton

Thank you, Chairman. I am glad to have the opportunity to take the committee through the main activities of the office. This year we do not have a chapter in the report, but I would like to highlight a few areas nonetheless. I have circulated a statement to the committee and I do not propose to read it, but I would like to refer to a couple of highlights in it.

The first point relates to the scope of our activity. The gross outturn for our Vote amounted to €415.7 million. That does not really reflect the full range of activities in which we are involved. In addition to that figure, we manage about €100 million in capital expenditure for other Departments. We also manage the supplies to those Departments, which totals about €64 million and we give technical advice on the sports grants, which comes in at about €45 million. Therefore, the real figure on output is closer to €625 million, yet that would not cover our involvement as procurement specialists and technical advisors on the massive projects like the national conference centre, and to a lesser extent our involvement in the redevelopment of the stadium at Lansdowne Road and the Abbotstown sports campus.

The Comptroller and Auditor General mentioned that we generated about €57 million from the disposal of properties during 2005. Since decentralisation was announced, we have realised over €360 million, which has gone directly to the Exchequer as extra receipts. That does not take account of the properties that we have surrendered for affordable housing, which would have an indicative value in excess of €70 million, nor does it take account of the significant profits generated from the purchase of lands for the digital hub. Therefore, there is much activity on the disposal front. We will continue to identify properties which are surplus to State requirements and which have significant value. There are some major disposals planned for next year as well.

The other big project is decentralisation, providing the accommodation for staff who are moving out of Dublin. That programme is proceeding satisfactorily. To date, property acquisitions have been significantly advanced in 35 locations and I expect that we will have about 29 construction projects underway next year. We also have to manage to our own decentralisation as well as that of everyone else, which is a challenge. Our office is being moved to Trim and we are hopeful that the planning issues will be resolved and that we will start early next year on that project.

There are other major projects which we covered in 2005, but I would like to highlight the work undertaken to develop the State Laboratory, the agricultural laboratories and the Marine Institute. Those projects came to around €250 million and were all delivered on time, saving us money in the process. That reflects well on the controls and the project management that the office undertakes. Another growing area for the OPW is our responsibility on flood projects. We are making considerable progress on the implementation of the various recommendations in the review. Flood relief schemes in Clonmel, Mallow, Ennis and Fermoy have all passed the public exhibition stage and are now at detailed design stage, with construction to begin in Clonmel and Mallow in 2007.

I have covered the main points from my submission. I am happy to take questions on any of our activities.

May we publish your statement?

Mr. Benton

Yes.

Thank you. When the Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture was here last week, I asked if he would comment on the correspondence we have received about the DVO office in Drumshanbo, and he did so. Can you comment from the perspective of the OPW?

Mr. Benton

When it was signalled that this question might be raised, I took the opportunity to review our papers and I am quite satisfied that everything on that project is in order. We did a very thorough analysis of the different property options. It indicated that there was little or nothing in financial terms between the two properties on which we finally focused. We decided that it was essentially a matter for the Department itself, given its own operating requirements to suggest which of the two properties best suited its needs. I am happy with the way the project was managed and that everything is in order.

I will start with an issue that I raised with Mr. Benton before. In his report he mentions the fact that in many areas his staff members have reached a very high level of excellence and have achieved the ISO standard. Their achievements are comparable to private sector firms and that is a substantial plus for the public service in Ireland.

However, I would like to ask about the role of the OPW in the acquisition and the development of schools. In new and developing areas in towns and cities across the country, there is an ongoing crisis in schools acquisition. In my own area of Dublin West, we had five crises last year when trying to get school places for this year. I note the Department of Education and Science uses the OPW's advice but it is also entering structures with the NTMA to bundle contracts as well as striking deals with local authorities, such as Fingal County Council. There are cases where 2,000 to 3,000 homes are built, for example, in Tyrellstown where 2,500 homes have been built and occupied, with a school site identified and reserved in the plans. However, the school is in a temporary location and subject to vandalism and access difficulties. I could provide five other such examples. Also, in the recent past, the Department has begun to cut the size of school sites in half — they used to be 3.5 to 5 acres. Most primary and secondary schools in Dublin West have over 1,000 pupils or are heading that way. What role, if any, does the OPW play in regard to the acquisition and development of educational facilities?

Mr. Benton

Our role is quite limited. We act as an agent for the Department when requested to acquire a site in a particular location. We have no role in overall planning or with regard to the structured approaches with local authorities and the NTMA, to which the Deputy referred. Where there is a need to acquire a site, the Department asks us to use our property expertise to try to acquire one.

In developing areas such as the west and north of Dublin, the Department seems to be abandoning the use of the OPW and its expertise in favour of diverse arrangements with developers. Is there a forum within the public service where issues such as these can be examined? It is an issue of acquiring facilities in a timely manner and at reasonable value for money. I find it frustrating that a need is identified in a plan seven years beforehand, and also identified in a local authority's plan, yet it does not happen until parents get the placards out. Does the Department of Education and Science use the advisory expertise of the OPW in any way?

Mr. Benton

We regularly discuss general problems with the Department. However, our role is exclusively one of sourcing sites in identified areas. It is usually the case that we are brought in where there is a particular problem.

How many sites is the OPW sourcing at present? How often has advice been sought from it?

Mr. Benton

We are sourcing close to 60 sites at present.

How many of those are in the fringe areas of north and west Dublin?

Mr. Benton

A breakdown of the sites is contained in my notes. I will come back to the Deputy in that regard.

With regard to the OPW's decentralisation programme, there was a media report that the Minister made a statement referring to difficulties regarding two specialist grades, namely, the specialist grades of Civil Service staff and the specialist grades in the different agencies. It was suggested that consideration would have to be given to these staff and that this was proving a difficult negotiating point.

An undertaking was given that staff movements in decentralisation would be voluntary and a procedure would be put in place in regard to staff who wished to stay in Dublin — a Dublin applications facility as opposed to a central applications facility. What is happening in the OPW with regard to the Dublin applications facility? How many OPW staff have indicated they wish to stay in Dublin and how many have indicated they wish to move? Of the specialists, what is the position with regard to their move to Trim?

For most of us, Trim does not sound particularly problematic given it is relatively near Dublin and one would drive against the traffic to get there. However, I understand there are problems.

Mr. Benton

The Deputy is correct that Trim is a very attractive location. In fact, there are far more applicants to join the OPW in Trim than there are posts available.

Are they from the rest of the Civil Service?

Mr. Benton

Yes. It is probably easier to consider this programme as involving two streams of staff. There are general civil servants and managers and there are specialists, such as architects, engineers and technicians. There is a significant turnover in staff in the general administrative grades. That is being managed systematically and we have already got in a number of the new staff who will ultimately be based in Trim. Given the planned way——

Mr. Benton said he has "got in" a number of new staff. If the person who is currently doing the job does not want to move from Dublin and has taken up the voluntary option, is the person who has come in, who will ultimately move to Trim, now working side by side with the person who has opted to stay in Dublin?

Mr. Benton

It works on a head to head transfer so there are no additional staff in the OPW. The staff who wish to remain in Dublin transfer, which is the opportunity they have. A number of those movements have already taken place. I am satisfied that, by the time we are due to move to Trim, we will have a sufficient cadre of experienced staff in place to make the move relatively painless in terms of the operation of the office.

A different set of circumstances pertains to the professional and technical staff. While a number have already signed up for Trim, the vast majority have at this stage opted to stay in a Dublin location. That is a problem.

Will Mr. Benton give us a figure in that regard?

Mr. Benton

I will work on the figures. I suspect some 10% or 15% of the professional and technical staff have opted to move. A number of professional and technical staff are already based outside Dublin in our various locations, so I do not include them.

There is a particular problem. All of the new recruits to the office commit to moving to Trim and, in that way, the numbers have been building up. The technical grades represented by IMPACT are involved in discussions centrally with the Department of Finance to try to resolve their outstanding issues with regard to the move. The Deputy referred to the Minister's meeting with the union, at which I was present. Some of the communications covered in the media following the meeting did not give the proper context or accurately reflect what was said. The Minister simply reiterated that it was a voluntary scheme and that those staff who wished to remain in Dublin would do so. IMPACT has issues around that because these staff are not easily absorbed into other Departments simply because the jobs are not available. That is an issue the Department of Finance is currently discussing with the union. I await the outcome of those discussions.

Can Mr. Benton confirm that it has been mooted that these staff might be allowed to work at home on a distance basis, and that, while their jobs and the Department might move to Trim, they would be allowed to work from home through a terminal link and visit Trim occasionally? Is it the case that this was up for discussion and is being considered?

Mr. Benton

There was a range of issues, of which that was one. We undertook to explore the possibility. Whether the move to Trim was happening, it is an issue I would like to explore. Where it suits the office and the individual, and saves the office on accommodation, there are many good reasons one would want to work that way.

With advances in technology, it may well be that increasing numbers of staff, particularly professional and technical staff, will be able to work that way in the future. No commitment was given, however, other than an agreement that it was an area that would be explored. I am keen that this should happen.

How many technical and professional staff are employed in St. Stephen's Green?

Mr. Benton

Close to 150 staff are employed on the architectural side and some 100 are employed in engineering. Many of the latter, however, are based outside Dublin.

There are some 200 technical staff in St. Stephen's Green.

Mr. Benton

Yes.

Has Mr. Benton any information on the likely future of the offices in St. Stephen's Green? Are there plans to sell them?

Mr. Benton

No, we have no intention of selling those offices. A policy decision has been made that important and historic buildings will be retained for State use, if possible. Moreover, those buildings that are in close proximity to Leinster House will be used to house Departments and Ministers.

They are beautiful offices. Does this mean the Minister of State will have an office in Trim and another in St. Stephen's Green?

Mr. Benton

It will not necessarily be the case that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, will have an office there, but some Minister and his or her Department will be housed in the buildings in St. Stephen's Green.

Will the OPW retain some type of aireacht in Dublin, either in St. Stephen's Green or elsewhere?

Mr. Benton

It was envisaged when the decentralisation scheme was announced that Ministers and a small complement of staff who were required to visit Leinster House regularly for whatever reason would have some type of facility, whether a hot desk arrangement or a small suite of offices to allow normal activities to continue in terms of servicing committees and so on.

I understand Mr. Benton works in an advisory capacity to the Campus and Stadium Ireland Development at Abbotstown and is a member of the board of the company concerned.

Mr. Benton

Yes.

When the current tenants hand over the buildings and the national aquatic centre, who will undertake a full evaluation of the condition of the pool?

Mr. Benton

The intention is that the facility will be handed over at the end of the month. Campus and Stadium Ireland Development, CSID, which is the company of which I am a director, will use whatever technical resources are necessary to carry out a full health check on the pool. A contingency plan is in place and it is envisaged, in so far as possible, that there will no interruption in services to the public, including members of the various fitness clubs or occasional swimmers. There will be a detailed assessment of the overall condition of the building.

Magahy and Company handled the management services at the pool and the Abbotstown campus development at one stage. Does this company still supply services or has the OPW stepped in to take over this function?

Mr. Benton

The OPW stepped in some years back in the sense that I, as a director of the company, was released part time to bring the project to completion. The company now has its own chief executive officer and small numbers of support staff who are managing the process. They avail of technical advice from the OPW as necessary.

Does Magahy and Company still supply services?

Mr. Benton

I am not aware of it providing any services to the project.

The OPW recently launched a policy document on the future of the Phoenix Park. A public commitment was given by the OPW that there would be some level of public consultation. Although there was a report on the document in The Irish Times, that is not the same as a process of public consultation. I was given a commitment that there would be public meetings at several venues. I am interested to know whether that has been arranged.

Mr. Benton

There has been extensive consultation with all interested parties, including local representatives and community groups. An ongoing series of meetings was held in recent months and further meetings are planned.

I have several questions on the Vote. A note about the Battle of the Boyne site on page 64 indicates that in acquiring the site, the OPW acquired two companies. Did this relate to issues arising from stamp duty? In regard to the sale of OPW properties, including the former veterinary college, will Mr. Benton explain how stamp duty issues arising from those sales were handled? The OPW, as vendors, would not have been liable to stamp duty in those instances. I understand, however, that the Battle of the Boyne site was in a company format because of stamp duty issues for the vendors.

Mr. Benton

The Battle of the Boyne site was owned by a company of which the site was its only asset. The only way for us to acquire the asset was to buy the company. Only one company was involved. The other purchase we made from a private company was that of the buildings at Nos. 72 to 76 St. Stephen's Green, formerly the offices of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and in which we were tenants. It made good sense to buy this property and it turned out to be a shrewd investment which yielded considerable profits for the Exchequer. I am not an expert in this area but, as I understand it, there are tax advantages to the companies involved that I would not, however, attempt to explain.

When it comes to the decentralisation acquisition portfolio, I presume similar tax issues will arise for vendors. Has any guidance been obtained from the Revenue as to whether the OPW is facilitating what is probably a lucrative means of tax avoidance?

Mr. Benton

As far as I am aware, this has not arisen in regard to any of the decentralisation acquisitions. Many of our purchases have been from local authorities and, in some cases, we are using sites we already own. In all cases of private acquisitions, we have not been involved in purchases from companies.

What about the acquisition of licences to build? Was there not a problem with developers in this regard in respect of school sites?

Mr. Benton

It is not a problem that has arisen for us.

Note 11 refers to additional payments to staff of €8.5 million, indicating that some staff received €38,000 in additional remuneration. In what context were these payments made? Did they constitute 100% of individuals' salaries or only a fraction?

Mr. Benton

In this particular case, the payments constituted a very high percentage of the individuals' salaries. There were special circumstances for these payments but it is an issue about which we are concerned. It can happen, because of the nature and diversity of our work, that staff may be required to work high levels of overtime. We are conscious of the legislation on working hours, however, and we try to adhere to that as a matter of policy. However, with a staff of close to 2,500, some individuals can be required to work additional hours from time to time. In general we try to avoid this. In cases in which it constitutes a significant part of their salary or where it appears to be required on an ongoing basis, we make alternative arrangements. It is not something with which I would be happy.

I refer to Hawkins House and the Department of Health and Children. The Chairman probably has experience of Hawkins House, which is a fairly notorious building. Arrangements were made to sell it. In the context of decentralisation, I was surprised that when the proposed Department of Children was formed, it did not decentralise even though it was a new Department. It actually moved 100 m from the west side of St. Stephen's Green. It did not even move to the Dublin suburbs or the greater Dublin region, but decentralised to the far side of St. Stephen's Green from the Dáil. This seemed somewhat odd. What is the future of Hawkins House? As for the new Department of Children, I understood there was a general Government guideline agreed by all the parties to the effect that new agencies or bodies should decentralise, which has been successful in the past 15 years. However, an exception was made in this case. It was obliged to move one quarter of a mile.

Mr. Benton

In fairness, exceptions have been made in a number of cases. The general policy is that new agencies should be set up outside Dublin unless there are compelling reasons for locating them in that city. In this case, the decision was taken to locate it in Dublin.

What will happen to Hawkins House?

Mr. Benton

Deputy Burton is quite right to state we had plans to dispose of that property. However, given the movement that will be required following the decentralisation of various Departments, we now seek to house that Department in one of the buildings we will vacate. Hence, in the short term, we propose leaving it in Hawkins House. It did not make financial sense to relocate it for a short period pending the availability of another Department's buildings.

I wish to follow on from a couple of items mentioned by Deputy Burton. I did not quite understand what happened regarding the Veterinary College and whether it was transferred as land subject to 9% stamp duty or otherwise. What was the value of the property?

Mr. Benton

The property sold was marginally over two acres. It sold for €171 million and stamp duty did not apply.

Why was that?

Mr. Benton

It does not apply to Office of Public Works State property.

That is news to me.

Mr. Benton

It ensures that we get good prices——

It maximises the price.

Mr. Benton

——and the money returns to the Exchequer.

I understand.

On the question of the extra remuneration to which Deputy Burton referred, note 11 refers to a sum of €8.5 million. If I am not mistaken, the total remuneration in salaries comes to €33 million. Are additional salaries involved?

Mr. Benton

Yes. While salaries come in under various heads, the total salary and wages bill for the office is approximately €90 million.

That is all right. Otherwise, it would have seemed to be totally out of proportion.

Mr. Benton

Yes.

At times the committee is concerned about the question of good corporate governance in respect of both the Office of Public Works and all semi-State bodies. Can Mr. Benton describe the situation in regard to corporate governance at board level? Who is on the board? Is there separation between independent outsiders and the executives of the board? Where is the issue of strategic direction and objectives decided and what direction is given?

I notice Mr. Benton holds the chairmanship of the board. Has he considered the question of separating that role from the office of the chief executive officer or senior executive, to have the independence that good governance recommends at present?

Mr. Benton

Perhaps I should explain. One might view the Office of Public Works as one would any other Department. Although I am chairman, I am a civil servant who has been appointed by the top level appointments committee — which is made up of several departmental Secretaries General — in the same manner as any other Secretary General. While my legal status is that of commissioner, I have two other commissioners, namely, commissioners McGrath and Byers. The three commissioners, one of whom is chairman, constitute the board of the Office of Public Works.

However, for management purposes, we have a management advisory committee. In addition to the three commissioners, it includes the director of engineering services, the principal architect and the director of corporate services. Effectively, this constitutes the management, although legally the board consists of the three commissioners. It is not as one might think in terms of other bodies. I am a full-time civil servant appointed through the normal processes.

Yes. I will provide the context. According to the statement, the capital assets come to €2.6 billion. Last year, €400 million of current moneys were expended. The figure was probably greater if one includes other items mentioned by Mr. Benton for which he has responsibility. This is certainly larger than many of the publicly quoted companies on the Stock Exchange at present.

Recently, the Revenue Commissioners appeared before the committee and the question arose as to whether there should be an outsider on the board and whether there should be a chairman who was independent of the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, who is a commissioner at present. I was of the opinion that for appearances and for the benefit of large bodies such as Revenue and the Office of Public Works, there should be a greater input of highly competent able and capable directors, who would have an objective approach to the management and strategic development of such bodies. Does Mr. Benton share my views in this regard?

Mr. Benton

I must give the stock answer, namely, that this would be a matter for the Government. It would require legislative change and a policy decision by the Government to give effect to it. In that sense, I am precluded from commenting.

Very well. Does Mr. Benton believe it would be helpful to the Office of Public Works to have the help and assistance at board level of people who would add to the board's work?

Mr. Benton

Deputy Ardagh introduced the issue generally under the governance umbrella. We have an audit committee that is chaired by an independent person and also comprises a second independent person. In terms of governance requirements, this is in place.

Does the audit committee pertain to internal controls and accounting practices, or does it also examine risk management of all description?

Mr. Benton

All aspects, including risk management. It examines every aspect of the office.

At what level is the chairperson of the audit committee?

Mr. Benton

The level is at senior partner in an accountancy firm.

What about the second person?

Mr. Benton

The same is true for the second person. In respect of availing of general advice, due to the way we are structured and the issues in which we are involved, we draw on expertise and consultancies from time to time across a range of issues. We do not shut ourselves off from the wider world. It is through that kind of involvement that we keep ourselves up to speed on the latest developments, particularly in the areas of property, construction, flooding and procurement in general.

How long has Mr. Benton been primus inter pares between the three commissioners?

Mr. Benton

I have just completed four years.

We should look at this question broadly throughout the Civil Service. The three commissioners are working together all the time. While I am sure they are hugely competent and able — the results show this — from the perspective of good governance, there may be a need to re-examine that situation.

In respect of subheads D and E of the Vote, where there has been a shortfall in expenditure, what items were proposed and did not come to fruition?

Mr. Benton

The principal area in accounts, which I understand was mentioned by the Comptroller and Auditor General, is the underspending on the decentralisation programme. This relates to acquiring buildings and sites and, consequently, construction expenditure. There would have been an underspend in the general programme but only to the extent of normal carryover of construction-related projects where they do not fit neatly into any 12-month period. The principal and almost exclusive explanation is an underspend on the decentralisation programme for the reasons I have just mentioned. There would also have been some savings on some of the major projects, which would account for this.

In respect of universal access and given that the Disability Act is in place, from the perspective of the OPW's input, how are the various sectoral plans for which the OPW had a budget progressing in terms of achieving universal access?

Mr. Benton

I am glad Deputy Ardagh asked me this question because I am particularly interested in this area. My own background is in the health services, particularly rehabilitation and disability. Even before the recent legislation, we pursued a policy of making all our buildings more accessible to people with mobility problems. The nature of the work can be complicated. Making historic properties or national monuments accessible can be quite complex. Where a new building is involved, we obviously comply with the latest legislative requirements and such buildings are fully accessible. We concentrated on all public buildings with high usage and implemented major programmes for buildings like the Four Courts.

I do not pretend it is straightforward. The work does not tend to be hugely expensive but it can be complicated. The planning process can take an inordinate amount of time. This would have resulted in some underspending on that programme in 2005 but this has more than been compensated for in 2006.

How much will be spent in 2006 and 2007?

Mr. Benton

A figure significantly in excess of €5 million will be spent.

Mr. Benton does not have the figure.

Mr. Benton

It is somewhat in excess of €5 million but this is not the total picture. We incorporate access in all our new buildings and all refurbishment schemes.

I will move on to various ongoing OPW projects. Can Mr. Benton tell us about progress in respect of the National Conference Centre?

Mr. Benton

The National Conference Centre is a full public private partnership. It is a design, build, finance, operate and maintain project. We have moved into the final stages of the negotiations so the next stage we are aiming for is financial close.

When does Mr. Benton expect the conference centre to open for business?

Mr. Benton

I like to think we can close off on negotiations in the coming weeks. Planning permission is already in place and the PPP company is anxious to make a start as soon as possible. One is still looking at a construction and commissioning period of between two years to 28 months.

Are we talking about early 2009?

Mr. Benton

Yes.

What is the position in respect of the redevelopment of the site of Mountjoy Prison?

Mr. Benton

This is a very exciting project. We are looking at an entire urban regeneration project which will involve mixed uses — residential, commercial and retail. We have appointed consultants to produce a master plan for the area. We followed a process similar to that adopted by us at Westgate beside Heuston Station, a site we owned jointly with Eircom. I understand that at the time, the site was valued at approximately €22 million. We undertook a planning scheme for that site, secured planning permission and passed it on at a value of €94 million. We have done——

Has the OPW been tarred slightly for being such a successful developer?

Mr. Benton

The fact I receive no commission does not do anything one way or another. We have put together a very sensitive development. The reason we were anxious to control it was because it adjoined an important historic site, namely, the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. By putting the plan together, we ensured the nature of the adjoining development was very sensitive to the historic property.

Will something similar happen in Mountjoy? Will the OPW apply for planning permission so it will be sold afterwards complete with the planning permission in place?

Mr. Benton

Yes.

My final question concerns Lansdowne Road. Is it progressing well and when can we expect the first international rugby match to be played in the new stadium?

Mr. Benton

The Deputy may not be aware that the stadium received planning permission from Dublin City Council which is now the subject of an appeal. My understanding is that An Bord Pleanála will hold a public hearing on 11 December 2006. All going well, we should see a start on this project early in the new year.

What is the length of time for build?

Mr. Benton

I need to check this, but I think it is 28 months so it should be completed by the end of 2009.

I thank Mr. Benton.

The Chairman will forgive me for being parochial in my first few questions. Deputy Burton raised the issue of school sites. Cork is doing very well with new schools and refurbishment projects. However, at a time when we are getting excellent results, there is one glaring case which stands out. It concerns a site for a school in Ballygarvan. I have already tabled parliamentary questions to three Ministers for Education and Science. That will give an idea of how long this is running. According to an e-mail I received following a board of management meeting last night, there was a unanimous view that the Department of Education and Science will step in and take over the project to acquire the land because the situation is approaching crisis point.

The school is running out of space in its temporary accommodation to house its current total of 212 pupils and between 250 and 300 pupils next September. The board also points out that in the context of value for money, the rental of temporary accommodation in the next three years will cost €86,000 per annum, never mind the cost of buying temporary classrooms last year. The board believes that the OPW is delaying the purchase and placing considerable pressure on the Department.

The situation is complicated because three pieces of land are involved, one of which is owned by the church, one owned by the local authority and one that is privately owned. One or two years ago, I asked about the feasibility of a CPO. In a time of significant progress, this case sticks out like a sore thumb. The saga has gone on and on. The local authority gave permission for 400 or 500 houses, making the village almost five times larger overnight, but the OPW cannot find a site.

What can be done? There is an air of desperation and I have tried every avenue. For example, I wrote to Mr. Benton and raised the matter with Ministers. Is it too late to consider a CPO? The church and local authority are on board. We are panicked by the suggestion that because of an adjoining development, which has been refused and appealed to An Bord Pleanála and is being held over us as a threat, nothing will happen. In the Minister's reply, she stated that the site is under examination, but that there may be a delay depending on other planning matters being resolved. When will this sanctioned school be built?

Mr. Benton

I am not aware that the OPW is delaying it. My information suggests that we are awaiting the submission of draft contracts. I will inquire into the issue and communicate with the Deputy. I am aware of the complexity of the site and that a number of people are involved. I received a note regarding the matter because I anticipated that the Deputy would raise it.

I appreciate that. If I may be parochial, although the issue is of national interest, today's Irish Examiner contains a report on the possibility of the former Kilworth Army camp being used as the site for a large prison. I do not know how accurate the report is. While I agree with the shift from Spike Island, would building a large prison at Kilworth result in abandoning the construction of an expensive bridge from the mainland to Spike Island? I will appeal on the island’s behalf because it is one of the country’s most historical sites, possibly matching Kilmainham Jail. The bridge could be a significant asset to Cork, but I do not want to go to war with the Tánaiste because I would probably lose in this case.

Is the move to the Kilworth site a possibility, would the bridge be scrapped due to its then being superfluous and, as national monuments were mentioned, does the OPW have any concepts in mind to make Spike Island a major tourism attraction in that context?

Mr. Benton

I do not want to be evasive, but this is a matter for the Tánaiste and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. As I did not read the Irish Examiner and am unaware of the speculation in respect of Kilworth, I cannot speculate on the value of a bridge. Like the Deputy, I will watch this space with interest.

My third issue relates to decentralisation. In reading the report, everyone has presumed that all of the decentralisation is from Dublin. New laboratories for the Department of Agriculture and Food have been built, but three sections of the laboratories located on the Model Farm Road in Cork city, which has a small population of 114,000, are being decentralised to Macroom. What is the rationale? Locally, we are surprised and anxious thanks to the decision. People do not mind moving out of Dublin because it has 1 million people, but our city is little bigger than a town.

Mr. Benton

That is a policy decision taken by the Minister for Agriculture and Food that we must facilitate and implement. We do not second guess policy.

Is decentralisation going ahead?

Mr. Benton

Yes.

Mr. Smyth, who created the national flood hazard map, has done a considerable amount of work in respect of the flooding issue, but to what degree have the warnings of global warming been factored in? People have different ideas about what is happening.

The flood map was drawn up on an historical basis, with wetlands being included and so on. Consequently, it is obvious that there are 30 or 40 wetlands, two of which — Fermoy and Mallow — are being addressed. Rising water levels are being blamed for flooding in areas that do not have histories of such.

Mr. Benton

It is a considerable issue that is factored into all of our studies. The impact of warming on flood frequency or magnitude is uncertain, but we are monitoring all of the scientific advice and making allowance in scheme designs and other aspects, including wall foundations, embankment bases and culverts, for any level increases. We are not on top of the issue, but we are staying close to the best advice and scientific instruction available.

Will people be pre-warned? I do not want scare tactics, but will we advise local planners with limited knowledge of certain issues of the potential dangers?

Mr. Benton

We provide that service currently, but it is more sophisticated than previously. We will make the information gained from our flood hazard mapping available to local authorities. When they seek to develop particular areas, they will be able to check the risks of flooding. We published a public website through which one can check one's house to determine whether it is prone to flooding. This is part of the overall approach to flood prevention.

If someone objects to a development, can he or she state that the OPW has advised of a future danger? If he or she applies to An Bord Pleanála, will that advice be a factor?

Mr. Benton

It will be a matter for the planning authority in the first instance or, if people wish to pursue the matter further, An Bord Pleanála. We will give the information.

I would be more concerned with objectors among the public. If I want to object tomorrow morning, will the OPW's information be accepted by An Bord Pleanála?

Mr. Benton

It is factual information.

We have considered fixed price contracts in the context of roads and other building projects. Do these contracts apply to the project or to architects and other professionals?

Mr. Benton

It is a fixed price for everybody. I am pleased with our record in managing costs, which we have done successfully over the past ten years. There is no doubt the fixed price contract brings greater certainty to prices for professionals involved and the construction costs.

We try to avoid the situation where members of the professions were receiving 15% of the total cost of the project. Is that being done?

Mr. Benton

For some time we have been engaged in fee bidding between qualified professional groups.

I welcome the witnesses. What they have said is positive. The witnesses have anticipated questions from other Deputies. Can they anticipate what I will ask?

Mr. Benton

I know the Deputy is pleased with efficiency, speed and progress made in Templemore. I assumed I will receive plaudits from him.

That will come a bit later. My understanding is there is agreement between the Garda Commissioner and the OPW on Garda houses in Templemore. The only matter to be resolved is financial resources that will result. The OPW has agreed that it will not hold on to this money and that the money will be used to upgrade facilities in Templemore.

Mr. Benton

Deputy Smith knows more than I do on this matter. We have not yet received an approach from the Garda authorities in respect of disposing of these properties. The OPW does not act unilaterally in such matters. If Garda authorities have no need for accommodation in that area, we have no interest in retaining it. Normally, the proceeds are put into our Appropriations-in-aid and submitted to the Department of Finance.

There is a letter in circulation from the OPW indicating that it has no objection to the disposal of these resources and that it is a matter for the Department of Finance how to use the money. Does Mr. Denny have any comments?

Mr. Denny

No, I do not. It is a matter for Mr. Quigley.

Mr. Quigley

We are not aware of any approach made.

What if one was made? We need to speed up the process because the houses are going into disrepair, the OPW has no interest in them, the Garda authorities have no use for them and they are spoiling the development of the area. One of the reasons it is held up is that the OPW has agreed not to retain the moneys but the Department of Finance must decide if the Garda Commissioner can retain the moneys. Does Mr. Quigley accept that the Department of Finance could agree to this if such a request was made?

Mr. Quigley

If a request was made the Department would examine the case on its merits.

I compliment the OPW, especially Commissioner Clare McGrath, who has speeded up the provision of facilities for the increased intake of Garda recruits. The development was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. The college is still under pressure. Recently, a farm was purchased in Dromard, Clonmore. Can the witnesses provide details on the purchase? The OPW had many options and this seems to be the sensible choice. What were the considerations for this site?

Mr. Benton

The Garda authorities and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform had particular requirements. It was decided to acquire a site near Templemore. The Templemore site is large but is restricted because of developments. The Department was anxious to acquire a substantial plot of land for training requirements. The farm and house were sold at auction. We can plan for the immediate needs of the Garda Síochána and the site has the potential to address requirements in the medium and long term.

There are many servicesthat Garda authorities cannot manage in Templemore. A site such as this is necessary. It is a considerable bank of land, some 250 acres. The entire development will not proceed immediately. There will be a firing range and facilities for motorbike and driver training. These could be set up quickly but the rest of the land must be managed in the interim. What is the OPW’s policy on this?

Mr. Benton

In similar cases, where we have acquired substantial land banks and have not required all of it in the short term, we have let the land.

At Gortataggart, Thurles, a site has been acquired for decentralisation. How far are plans advanced? The earlier report indicated that new build projects were planned for the new year.

Mr. Benton

I will check on the details but the brief is being finalised at present. The Department is keen to make progress on the project as quickly as possible. It is a priority project and we expect to be on site in the course of the new year.

There is a long tradition in my home area of families providing for winter fires by cutting turf near Derrymore, five km from Roscrea and in Fadden, near Birr. The consultative process in dealing with such people lacks understanding of the long tradition. A number of families have approached me because they felt they were treated shabbily. It has not been my experience with the OPW but it seems as if the families do not count and the tradition must be left aside. These people have done this all their lives and are now quite elderly. They are entitled to consideration in future policy. We have wildlife habitats, an environment to protect and traditions. People who have done this all their lives still regard it by far and away the cheapest way to provide firing. I am sure my colleagues will agree, especially for old age pensioners and people on very limited means.

Mr. Benton

I am not at all familiar with this issue. I suspect it is the responsibility of the parks and wildlife service, which is still at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It did not transfer to us. I have no knowledge of that case. I will inquire whether any of our land is involved. I doubt it very much. I suspect it involves the parks and wildlife service.

I thank Mr. Benton.

While the Deputy asked his questions, it struck me that 250 acres of land in the Golden Vale for €4.5 million was good value in contrast with 150 acres of land in north Dublin for €29 million.

I know the Chairman has good knowledge of the Golden Vale but it does not extend that far.

Is it bad land?

I have no further comment to make.

Does Mr. Benton have any comment on the relative values of agricultural land in Tipperary and north Dublin?

Mr. Benton

I am pleased we obtained good value at auction in Tipperary. The other issue regarding north Dublin continues to be travailed. I am also aware of land prices in north Dublin for unzoned land which went for significantly more than what was paid in that case.

In his opening statement, Mr. Benton referred to flood relief in Clonmel, which is an ongoing issue. He hopes construction of the scheme will begin in 2007. I welcome this as it will be a great relief to people affected by flooding in Clonmel through the years.

I would like clarification on a number of issues. The project is based on erecting barriers on top of walls when flood warnings are issued. I have seen the barriers. It seems a major job to erect them when the signal is received that a flood is on its way. Who are the people responsible for it and has agreement been reached with them? Will Mr. Benton outline in detail the entire situation?

Mr. Benton

It is important to reflect on our experiences in Kilkenny and other flood schemes. We are also aware of emerging solutions in other parts of Europe. Demountable defences are seen as the most appropriate, cost effective and environmentally friendly solution. They are least risky because they do not involve the river bed. An agreement was reached whereby the local authority would avail of the local Civil Defence to put the defences in place when the system was activated.

Mr. Benton states there is agreement. Will the local authority or the Office of Public Works carry the cost?

Mr. Benton

The steering committee on the project, which involves the local authorities, has agreed it.

There is agreement.

Mr. Benton

There is agreement that they will manage——

My understanding is, and press reports seem to indicate, that there is not agreement. Will Mr. Benton assure me before we——

Mr. Benton

I assure the Deputy that the steering committee has agreed it and that comprises representatives of the local authority.

Who will carry the cost and pay the labour?

Mr. Benton

The local authority is part of it.

It is the local authority.

Mr. Benton

In so far as costs accrue.

And that is agreed.

Mr. Benton

Yes.

Issues were raised with a local hotel, the Minella Hotel, where the Nallen family was up in arms. Was agreement reached and is the family happy regarding those issues? It was reported the family felt it would have to close the hotel. I visited it to see how the basement and kitchens would be subject to flooding if the project continued as proposed. Has the issue been resolved to the satisfaction of the Nallen family?

Mr. Benton

I will come back to the Deputy on that matter. I am not familiar with the detail of each individual property which has a concern. I will check it out.

This specific issue involves a large employer in the locality.

Mr. Benton

I will check it immediately.

I appreciate that. A major issue was raised and I welcome what was done.

What is the position regarding decentralisation to Tipperary town? When is it proposed to build? Is the site fully purchased and has the sale gone through? When is it intended to be on site?

Mr. Benton

I will check those details in the notes which I have on Tipperary. I understand some people are already there.

One office is there. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will move a total of 170 people and that is the move about which I wish to inquire.

Mr. Benton

The project will be completed before the end of 2008.

Is that the project involving 160 people? This has two aspects. Has the purchase of the site from the Convent of Mercy been completed? Is that the project on which Mr. Benton answered?

Mr. Benton

I believe it is.

They are to be on site in——

Mr. Benton

It is to be completed by the end of 2008.

May I have further information on the work done by the OPW on flooding? I know work has been done on the flood maps. A parallel process involving a number of river catchment surveys is being carried out throughout the country. This seems to indicate we do not have as much information as we need. A major survey was done around the Lee catchment. To what extent does Mr. Benton feel the OPW is properly informed on flood risk? How much more information do we need to acquire? Is there a cost to acquiring that information?

Mr. Benton

The Deputy is probably aware that a major flood review was carried out a few years ago. Arising from that review, various recommendations were made to clarify roles and responsibilities of the various public bodies involved up to then. The OPW was given a major role in flood risk areas and since then we have built up our expertise.

The study Deputy Boyle referred to is the first full catchment flood risk assessment and management study. My colleague, Mr. Smyth, the director of engineering services, will briefly outline what the study involves. To answer the question, much more work must be done in this area. This is the first study and we are building up expertise. We were given this responsibility only recently. We made significant progress but we must continue to develop.

Mr. Tony Smyth

The objectives of the study are to examine the entire catchment of the Lee and find out what areas are at risk from flooding. The flood maps pick up historical flood events. We want to look at the areas which are subject to various levels of flood risk and, we hope, influence the planning process in the long term so that development is kept away from those risks. It is called the catchment flood risk management process and I think Deputy Boyle was at the launch. We will study catchments around the country, the River Lee being the first because of the vulnerability of Cork city. We have engaged Halcrow as a consultant not just to look at the River Lee catchment but to consider what the process of catchment flood risk management planning should be in the rest of the country.

I presume the OPW will repeat this exercise throughout the country. What moneys have been put aside for the exercise?

Mr. Smyth

The River Lee will cost approximately €800,000 but we have not earmarked a figure for the rest of the country.Part of the process involves learning about the flood risk process. We are carrying out a small exercise in Tullamore on an in-house basis and will consider others on a pilot basis.

Mr. Benton

I think we have probably put aside approximately €2 million next year for this work.

I will move on to another area. The delegates have not answered the question of where our new super-prison in Cork will be situated. Has the Office of Public Works had any input into the proposals for locating it on Haulbowline Island, on the former Irish ISPAT steel site? It has been suggested by a Minister of the Government that development is taking place in that location. Will State buildings be constructed there?

Mr. Benton

We have no involvement in that.

The acquisition of the site is not an issue in which the OPW is involved.

Mr. Benton

No.

Is the OPW involved in Trim Castle or is it out of the loop? Is a review of OPW processes taking place and have lessons been learned from the episode?

Mr. Benton

Is the Deputy asking about Trim Castle or the development adjacent to it?

The development adjacent to it.

Mr. Benton

It does not involve our office at all.

Was a review carried out by the OPW into the money handed over to Trim Town Council?

Mr. Benton

No, because it was not our responsibility.

The €50,000 handed over certainly was.

Mr. Benton

It was probably the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the time.

It was reported as being given directly by the OPW.

Mr. Benton

I will check it out. Responsibility may have returned to us eventually but my information is that we were not directly involved. However, I will come back to the Deputy with a response on the matter.

I would appreciate that. It seems uncertain and is not in accordance with——

The money was returned to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government anyway.

Given that the money came from the OPW in the first place, were reviews undertaken or new policy positions adopted?

Mr. Benton

I am not aware that it came through the Office of Public Works. It may well be that the heritage and national monuments services were involved before they transferred to the Office of Public Works but the OPW itself has not been involved.

I have an article in front of me that states the OPW provided a sum of €50,000 to Trim Town Council.

Mr. David Byers

We experience confusion over this issue all the time. Dúchas was sometimes referred to as OPW because when it was transferred, it retained a lot of our branding. Now it is returning to the OPW, the branding remains. This happened before Dúchas, or the heritage service as it is now, returned to the OPW and I am fairly sure the money was returned directly to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government by the council.

Can Mr. Byers obtain clarification on that?

Mr. Byers

We will check it but this happens from time to time. We are not the park service and only look after certain places. It is a bit confusing.

We have had much discussion during this and previous meetings with officials from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources regarding the flood relief scheme in Kilkenny, which Mr. Benton mentioned in his opening address. It is only fair, especially given the discussion on the Lacken weir, that I extend my thanks to the OPW for its co-operation with anglers and other local interest groups on issues relating to the weir, which has now been substantially dealt with. The outcome of the work needs to be seen by people to understand the O'Sullivan report and the positive effects it has had on the river, both visually and for salmon and other fish in the river. I imagine the rock pass is the first such construction in the country.

I thank Mr. Benton for his co-operation with a scheme that has been successfully completed. That work includes not only the Lacken weir but the entire Kilkenny scheme. We have been discussing flood relief schemes but without the Lacken weir, Kilkenny would have been seriously flooded. In spite of all the debate and some cross words, Mr. Benton's contribution, through his officials locally, has been very positive and the anglers thanked him publicly at a function held in Kilkenny.

Despite much debate on the money spent on the scheme, it now looks very well, but smaller issues remain to be resolved such as landscaping and the fencing of two areas with which Mr. Benton is familiar and on which residents of John's Quay are working. Can he encourage his officials to move quickly to bring these matters to a close because much can be learnt for the benefit of other schemes?

At the beginning of the project we encouraged the OPW to put together a video of the scheme as it progressed or to take photographs as it developed. I hope it did that because I walked the area recently and it is hugely different now from when the scheme began. It might be a good idea for the OPW to put on a photographic display for Members of the House or the general public to see what was achieved.

I again express my thanks to the OPW and to the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who was central to the debate. When a satisfactory conclusion is arrived at it is only right to thank publicly those responsible — Mr. Benton and his officials.

Mr. Benton

I thank the Deputy for those kind remarks. I agree that the scheme is, apart from being successful, visually attractive. We all learned a lot from the Lacken weir solution, not just from a technical point of view but from the consultation that took place with local interests. Apart from its functionality, aesthetically it adds immensely to the experience of walking along the river bank.

I take the Deputy's point about outstanding landscaping issues, which are very much in the nature of snagging and completing. It is important, however, that the product is not tarnished in any way by failure to address minor, inexpensive works which are part and parcel of the contracts that are in place, and that work is being done. We took the Deputy's advice and made a video including the Lacken weir solution, which we will make available.

Does the video contain enough material for a public display or for display in the Houses of the Oireachtas? It was an incredible undertaking and while we all learned from it, the difference between the before and after photographs is striking.

Mr. Benton

I would certainly be happy to exhibit the material if members of this committee or Members of the House are interested. However, a local exhibition would be beneficial as part of the communication process in which we have engaged.

Perhaps in county hall or the tower.

Mr. Benton

Yes.

I wish to inquire about the suggested move of Ordnance Survey Ireland, OSI, to Dungarvan and put the importance of the relocation of Departments to this area in context. Mr. Benton is probably aware that in the past 18 months the Waterford Crystal plant there closed with the loss of approximately 400 jobs. My interest in the involvement of the Office of Public Works in Dungarvan increased when I had a chance conversation with the owner of the site bought, apparently, for Ordnance Survey Ireland. For two years a large sign erected on the site said it had been acquired by the OPW, however the owner said this was not the case and that his solicitors were constantly trying to contact the OPW to finalise the deal. Why misrepresent the fact that the site had been acquired?

Mr. Benton

The legal formalities in completing the acquisition process can take some time and we operate through the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. There may be issues in this regard that I should pursue but we tend to announce we have acquired a site when a price is agreed and contracts exchanged and if there is a difficulty in this case I will return to the Deputy on the matter.

I publicised the issue, some customary back and forth occurred between local politicians, some Government officials were embarrassed and the deal was finally done. There are some matters I still do not understand, however. Initially it was announced that 300 people would move to Dungarvan but this figure was quickly lowered to 199 and I discovered last week, through my question in the Dáil, that 49 are willing to move. Of those, the majority are administrative staff and there have been denials and counter denials for two years on the subject of OSI moving to Dungarvan. I took what I thought was the most logical step and met the top officials representing Ordnance Survey Ireland in June. They made it clear that OSI could not relocate because the technical staff would not do so and that, at best, it might move to Dungarvan with the next generation of technical staff.

That the head of a Government agency insists it will not relocate after an announcement is made stating that it will renders the matter fraudulent. I would like to know what the OPW is building in Dungarvan and for whom. It is not being built for Ordnance Survey Ireland because those running the agency insist it will not move.

This is extremely important for Dungarvan as 400 jobs have been lost there in the past 18 months. The issue is a fraud, though I do not necessarily think Mr. Benton is responsible. I want to get to the bottom of this because I do not believe that this organisation has the intention or capability to move.

Mr. Benton

I wish to clarify the subject of the site acquisition for the benefit of the committee. I was lead to believe by the Deputy's opening remarks that there was an outstanding issue but the deal in this case is complete and the money paid. We find it makes sense to acquire properties when we can because, if one waits until construction is ready to start, the availability of a site can present a problem.

Regarding the relocation of OSI to Dungarvan, decentralisation is Government policy and that agency was not part of the first phase — it is to move as part of a later phase. I cannot comment further on Government policy.

I will not pursue my inquiries as I did not expect Mr. Benton to give me an answer and I do not think he is responsible for this farce.

I mentioned to Mr. Benton on his last visit here the exclusion of flood relief on the Waterford to Tramore road from funds allocated. The road flooded again last week and the problem will continue indefinitely unless something is done with that extraordinarily busy road. I appeal again to Mr. Benton to examine the issue.

Mr. Benton

The point I made to the Deputy at the time was that we are only prepared to invest money in flood relief work if the benefits outweigh the costs involved. We have studied the case of the Tramore Road and it does not meet this criterion. Unless we have omitted certain factors from our cost benefit analysis it does not represent value for money.

I understand the OPW was involved in assessing sites for two schools in Limerick, the Gaelcoláiste secondary school and the Gaelscoil Sairseal primary school.

Mr. Benton

I missed the name of the first school mentioned.

The gaelcoláiste is an Irish language secondary school now functioning as an administrative unit that will admit students next September in a temporary building.

Mr. Benton

I will check that as we do not usually get involved in the area of secondary schools.

The OPW was involved in assessing a particular site in that case.

Mr. Benton

The other gaelscoil has presented something of a saga with various sites considered and not acquired for different reasons. The local authority suggested two sites, one of which it owns and is not suitable. The other is in private ownership and we have arranged a meeting with the owner to be held next week, so hopefully the matter will progress.

Mr. Benton is referring to Gaelscoil Sairseal but is there information on the gaelcoláiste?

Mr. Benton

I do not have any information to hand but I will investigate the matter.

What of Lynch's Hotel in Macroom which was acquired several years ago for €3.5 million and sold for €2.3 million?

Mr. Benton

We discussed this matter previously. We purchased the property as a going concern and, for reasons beyond our control, it was not brought into usage. When it was put back on the market it did not achieve the price we originally paid. This happened in one or two cases but it is important to consider this programme in its entirety and I am satisfied that, despite the circumstances in which properties were acquired, there was no loss overall to the State.

Is the OPW still involved in Garda barracks? What, for example, is the position on Henry Street Garda station in Limerick? I received a long and carefully drafted reply from the Department of Justice and Law Reform but it did not clarify whether an alternative site was to be sought or not.

Mr. Benton

We were looking at the potential for redevelopment on that site and the extent to which the existing building could be developed to accommodate Garda requirements. That exercise is not complete and I will come back to the committee on the matter. The preference was to remain at the original site if possible.

Ms Clare McGrath

I confirm what Mr. Benton has said. In looking at the existing site on Henry Street, the operational requirements as regards the type of Garda station have changed. We are revisiting the original brief that was submitted for that site. We must also look at undertaking a development on that site which might add additional floors. To do so, we would potentially have to decant operations from the existing station for the duration of the contract. There is obviously a value for money question arising from that. Temporarily fitting out a Garda station, including cells, is no easy job.

The issue of an alternative site is still in play.

Ms McGrath

Yes.

Mr. Purcell

I return to something Deputy Ardagh said about corporate governance in the State sector. I think he suggested the corporate governance model in the private sector could be transferred willy-nilly to a Civil Service environment. That is not really on. The corporate governance model for the public sector has been outlined in the Mullarkey report. Its recommendations cover issues like risk management. It has been implemented by practically all Departments and offices. As the accounting officer suggested, outside of the traditional titles like chairman and commissioner, it is very much like a Department with persons serving at secretary general and assistant secretary general levels. That is a little confusing, and it is not entirely on all fours with the Revenue Commissioners. The OPW has a Minister of State, as distinct from a board, who has a say in these matters.

I am glad to hear that the OPW attempts to maximise the potential value of land before disposing of it. I recall suggesting some years ago that a particular Department might do such a thing. However, I was told the State should not get involved in land speculation. Thankfully, we have moved on from that.

Vote 10 may be noted. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The witnesses withdrew.

Our next meeting is on Thursday, 30 November 2006 and the agenda is as follows: 2005 Appropriation Accounts and Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Vote 28 — Foreign Affairs; and Vote 29 — international co-operation, chapter 8.1, overseas development aid.

The committee adjourned at 1.55 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Thursday, 30 November 2006.