Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 30 March 2021
Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach
Estimates for Public Services 2021
Vote 13 - Office of Public Works (Revised)
I ask those present to turn off their mobile phones. I ask speakers to identify themselves as they make a contribution. I welcome the Minister of State and his colleagues to this committee, which is dealing with Estimate for the Office of Public Works, OPW.
Members are reminded 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, either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members must be physically present for these meetings either in the meeting room, their offices or in the general precincts of Leinster House. Members who are not in Leinster House, or in their offices, are not allowed to contribute. The Minister of State and members are reminded that due to Covid-19 restrictions the meeting must conclude in two hours. If they are unhappy with that, they can come back again another day for another two hours. There is no problem. We will facilitate the Minister of State.
The Dáil ordered that the Revised Estimate for public services 2021 in respect of the following Vote be referred to this select committee for consideration: Vote 13 - Office of Public Works. The format for the meeting is that we will consider the Estimates and members will then have the opportunity to ask questions. I call the Minister of State to make his opening statement. If he wishes to shorten that statement he can, as the committee already has it.
It is no harm to remember Mr. Kevin Boxer Moran, a previous Minister of State who presented Estimates to the committee. He was an excellent Minister of State and we wish him well in whatever he is up to now. He was very good at visiting constituencies and delivering the various schemes under his remit.
I am pleased to be here with the members of the committee to present the 2021 Revised Estimate for the Office of Public Works. I am joined by my officials and, virtually, by the chairman of the OPW.
The 2021 Revised Estimate provides a gross allocation of €514.775 million to support the ongoing and widely respected work of the Office of Public Works in the provision of vital services to people in the areas of flood risk and estate management, including our much-valued heritage estate. Since being appointed to serve as Minister of State, I have been struck by the range of responsibilities and the diverse portfolio of services provided by the Office of Public Works. Today, I will give an indication of some of the funding priorities for the OPW in 2021.
The OPW will shortly publish its 2021 to 2024 statement of strategy. In it, the OPW has developed four themes with four principal objectives that outline the OPW's priorities for the next three years.
These themes will be reflected in the work programmes of staff at all levels of the organisation, providing direction and purpose.The OPW is committed to strengthening our client facing services; sustainability will be embedded into all OPW decision making; the OPW will continue to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change; and, through its people and processes, the OPW will further develop its organisational capability.
The Office of Public Works operates in a highly complex environment, providing a leadership role as an expert for a very diverse range of public services. It engages with a multiplicity of stakeholders, client organisations and customers across its heritage, flood management and estate portfolio remit. In this context, it is timely and appropriate to set out our vision of creating harmony between our built and natural environments.
In an overall context, the 2021 gross allocation represents a 2% increase on the 2020 allocation of €505.427 million. The staff right across the Office of Public Works has largely and successfully continued to implement the current strategy and programme of work during this most difficult of years. I am sure the Chairman and members will join me in paying tribute to the staff of the Office of Public Works, both indoor and outdoor, in what has been a very difficult year and a period of huge uncertainty. Within the heritage estate, many of the visitor sites have had to close for a period. However, our parks and outside areas have fulfilled a critical role in public society and have enjoyed an extraordinary increase in visitor numbers as the public has recognised the full value of these facilities over the past year.
The structure of Vote 13, the OPW Vote, remains unchanged in 2021. The two primary strategic programmes, flood risk management and estate management, are focused on two high-level goals. These are to minimise the extent of coastal and river flooding and its social, economic and environmental impacts and to deliver the management, design and sourcing services for the State property and heritage portfolios.
Under its flood risk management brief, the OPW continues to co-ordinate Ireland’s whole-of-government approach to flood risk. The OPW understands that flooding is a natural phenomenon, which can impose significant damage on people’s homes, businesses, and communities. I have seen the damage flooding can cause at first hand, as I am sure other members have. The cause, extent and impact of flooding are varied and complex and Ireland’s flooding problem cannot be fully eliminated, but it can be managed or mitigated to reduce its likelihood, severity and, ultimately, its impact. The OPW's core objective is to reduce, to the greatest extent possible, the level of flood risk for people across the country.
The OPW has undertaken assessments of the potential impacts of climate change, in line with the Flood Risk Management Climate Change Sectoral Adaptation Plan 2019-2024. All OPW flood relief schemes are now designed and built to take account of future climate change scenarios and can be adapted to manage that risk as needed. The OPW tripled the number of major flood relief schemes at design and construction stage by the end of 2020. Further investment in this area will continue in future years as schemes enter the construction phase. With approximately 300 communities at risk from flooding this investment will provide protection to thousands of homes and deliver extensive benefits to communities and businesses alike. An allocation of €127 million has being provided within the 2021 Revised Estimate to deliver this essential service.
The second major OPW programme, estate management, continues to fund the design, and extend and modernise, a significant number of properties within the State’s property portfolio. This includes Civil Service office accommodation for all Departments, An Garda Síochána and many of our State agencies. In all, the OPW manages in excess of 2,500 properties on behalf of the State, which includes some of Ireland’s most significant heritage properties, monuments, gardens and arboretum. This management role includes the curation and presentation of 30 major historical properties, as well as the State’s art collection, artefacts, plants and trees. This is work that makes a significant contribution to the health, enjoyment and well-being of the public and for which the OPW is widely recognised and is justifiably proud.
Having a modern, flexible, and energy efficient portfolio of office accommodation is now more important than ever to deliver work environments suitable for Civil Service employees to carry out their functions. The OPW is working with Departments to address these demands while also working to realise the benefits of blended working. The OPW is designing the workplace of the future for the Civil Service. It aims to deliver accommodation that allows more agile ways of working to meet our future needs. This work environment will be delivered within the 887,000 sq. m of office accommodation, currently managed by the Office of Public Works.
The issue of climate action is one of the highest priorities for the estate management within the OPW, where the design and provision of energy efficient buildings are required if we are to mitigate their carbon impact.
Essential programmes of work include upgrading the building fabric, eliminating the use of fossil fuel heating and increasing the energy efficiency of the OPW’s portfolio.
This will support the Government’s climate action targets. The OPW will be a major contributor to the delivery of Europe’s 2030 climate and energy objectives, including the public sector target of a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions and a 50% improvement in public sector energy efficiency. The OPW will be a key delivery agent for Project Ireland 2040 in this space.
I am pleased to be able to confirm the OPW will provide two new capital grants in 2021. The sum of €3 million has been included in the 2021 Revised Estimate, with Dublin Zoo getting €2 million and Fota Wildlife Park getting €1 million in 2021. It has been a challenging year for both Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park and this financial support is essential to allow them to recommence vital work on capital projects, including the construction of world-class habitats for some of the world’s most endangered species.
The OPW is a transformational contributor in the delivery of capital investment on behalf of Government. Its investment in heritage, both natural and cultural, plays a pivotal role in our tourism sector. Like many other business activities, this sector has been sorely affected by the current pandemic. In 2020, the OPW had the opportunity to engage new audiences and present our heritage sites to their best advantage when visitor charges were waived at the OPW-managed visitor sites. This was an incentive to maximise domestic tourism in late summer to encourage staycations for Irish citizens. I hope the OPW may be able to contribute to this effort again in 2021, especially across the widely dispersed regional network of heritage sites, where their economic role in attracting visitors is greatly valued.
I apologise for my voice; I do not know where it is gone. As the Chairman knows, it is unlike me. I miss it dearly, as I am sure he does.
A gross sum allocation of €387.412 million has being provided for estate management within the 2021 Revised Estimate. This is to ensure the OPW is well positioned to support the recovery of the tourism sector as well as the wider economy. It will allow us to maintain our efforts of contributing towards Europe’s 2030 climate and energy objectives.
I have only referred to a small section of the work of the OPW, but it goes without saying that the scale and complexity of our responsibilities in the delivery of two infrastructural programmes has considerable impact across the country. This work impacts on communities throughout Ireland and it plays a vital role in protecting, promoting and sustaining our rural communities.
In tandem with these programmes the OPW is also a major source and contributor of expertise to other public bodies, working in partnership and collaborating with about 80 such bodies. This multifaceted role of the OPW means it carries within it a diverse range of skills and expertise. This positions it as the go-to organisation for Government, providing assistance and advice on major capital works.
I can say with confidence that I am looking forward to supporting the further progression of the work of the OPW through the allocated sums in the Revised Estimate. I would be happy to take any questions the Deputies may have. If there are specific questions I cannot answer today, they can be answered by the officials who are present with me or by the OPW chairman, Maurice Buckley, who is appearing remotely. Alternatively, we can come back by correspondence to the committee later if that is acceptable.
I have questions for the Minister of State on the OPW's plans for the River Lee and the River Bride in Blackpool on the north side of Cork city. Professor Phillip O'Kane from the department of civil engineering in UCC, speaking at the Irish National Hydrology Conference last year said that an effective tidal barrier for the Lee could be built at a cost of €70 million. What is the latest OPW estimate for the plans for the quay walls? I ask him to comment on Professor O'Kane's proposals.
The Deputy knows the views of the OPW and Cork City Council. As he knows better than anybody else, Cork city is capable of being flooded as much from rain as it is from the tide. Cork city recently came very close to being flooded from a rain event. In 2009 Cork city flooded from a rain event. The Deputy knows my views about how Cork city flooded in the past. I am sure he knows the views of many of the traders in Cork city. Cork city is the most vulnerable populated part of the country with regard to the possibility of it being flooded again. It is the area that gives me the greatest level of concern. More than 250,000 people live in Cork. The Deputy knows the city better than I do. I studied there and I lived there for a while. I witnessed the flooding. I have family living there. I want to see Cork city thrive. A tidal barrier will not solve the problem that happened in 2009, as the Deputy and I both know. A tidal barrier would be-----
I ask the Deputy to let me finish. A tidal barrier would have been totally and utterly useless in 2009. It would not have prevented what happened in 2009. Could the event that happened in 2009 happen again? It absolutely could happen again. The reality is the Office of Public Works and Cork City Council are trying to be honest with the people. The matter is subject to a judicial review and we cannot pre-empt what will happen by way of a judicial review.
As I have limited time, I will move to my second question. The Minister of State has spoken about flooding caused by rain in 2009, which is a key issue. There is no debate about that. However, there is a debate about the best and most cost-effective way of dealing with it. I again refer to Professor Phillip O'Kane of the department of civil engineering in UCC whose paper submitted to that conference last year stated, "When flood-protection has priority over hydropower, when floods are likely, a flood-attenuation of ~70% is possible, with complete protection of Cork during a repetition of the November 2009 river flood without the OPW scheme." Would the Minister of State care to comment on that?
The Deputy is conflating hydropower with a flood-relief scheme. I was not at the conference. Is the Deputy suggesting taking out the ESB generating station on the Lee? Is that the Deputy's suggestion to eliminating the flood risk in Cork city? Is he suggesting removing the ESB power-generating station on the Lee as a contributor to the flood relief scheme of Cork?
I respectfully suggest the Minister of State might familiarise himself more with the lines of argument here. This is a key argument that has been put forward, not just by the Save Cork City campaign but also by eminent and respected academics from UCC's department of civil engineering. Their argument is that given sufficient warning of weather events, the dam system the ESB already has in place upriver is more than sufficient to dam water for a very limited period of time or to release water in advance in such a way as to protect the city from upriver rain-driven flooding without the need for the OPW wall scheme. Rather than replying to the question now, I suggest the Minister of State might read the paper. I will ensure it is sent on to him and I will move on to my next question.
Before doing that, I might advise the Deputy that Cork City Council and Met Éireann actually do that. During the last severe weather event in Cork, an intervention by Cork City Council, the Office of Public Works and the ESB prevented an event similar to the one that happened in 2009.
Perhaps the Deputy might like to do what I do, which is to talk to the business people and the people in Cork who have had to wade through sewage, faeces, urine and sludge. He might want to ask them whether they want to wait for a barrier which may hypothetically work out in the sea but which will not protect them from rain flooding or whether they want to get on with the delivery of scheme which will work in the city centre. He should come back to me when he has done that.
-----Blackpool and the River Bride. In 2016, it was estimated that the proposed culverting of the River Bride in Blackpool would cost €12 million. Can the Minister of State inform us of the latest estimate for the cost of that culverting plan?
The OPW obviously carries out cost-benefit analyses on any such schemes. The original benefit was estimated at €18 million, which was greater than the estimated cost of €12 million. The current estimated cost is well over the €18 million mark. It may possibly be the first time in the history of the OPW that the proposed cost of a scheme is greater than the estimated benefit. Will the Minister of State comment on that? Is he aware of any other such case?
The total cost is €20.5 million. The initial cost was only marginally lower than that. The Deputy must remember that this scheme has been subjected to delays and we have to allow for building cost inflation during that time. We hope that this scheme will not be delayed further. As the Deputy knows, this is one of the oldest parts of Cork city. It is an urban village. The people in that village, this long-established part of Cork city, many of whom are elderly, are crying out for the scheme to be delivered. They hope it will not be delayed further. The funding is in place. We want to get on and deliver it. The money is in place and we just want to make sure the scheme is delivered.
My final question relates to the River Bride. I am not sure that the costs have gone up only marginally. The original costing was €12 million. An increase to €20.5 million is not quite a doubling but it is not far off it. In 2016, a cheaper alternative was identified. This alternative could potentially be very effective. Alternative upper catchment management is proposed which would see the storage of excess water. In 2016, this was costed at €11 million. Does the Minister of State have any notion as to the latest costing for this alternative? Is it significantly below the €20.5 million he has indicated in respect of the culverting scheme?
I do not have such a costing because this is the scheme for which we have planning permission. Deputy Barry knows better than I do that, having been granted planning permission for one scheme, we cannot put a hypothetical alternative scheme through the planning process or apportion costs to a scheme for which we do not have permission, particularly a scheme designed some seven years ago. If we were to do so, the people of the area might have to wait another seven years. We cannot delay this opportunity or deny these people a flood relief scheme for another seven to ten years. I hope that, as a representative for that part of the city, this is not something Deputy Barry would like to see happen.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis an Aire Stáit. I raise the issue of flooding in Galway. I know the Minister of State is very aware of the real-life impacts flooding has had on Galway city and county. I raise the issue of the long-awaited flood defences that are to be completed in the Spanish Arch and docks area of Galway city. Flooding in this area has a significant impact on businesses in the area as well as on many residences, especially along the Claddagh. In November, it was revealed that Galway City Council estimated that it would be towards the end of 2028 before works were concluded in this regard. I understand that the OPW was to commence a five-stage process. The first stage was to be an environmental impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis. The second and third stages involved the seeking of planning permission and progressing detailed designs. The fourth and five stages were to involve construction and completion. In the chief executive's report to Galway City Council, it was stated that the local authority did not anticipate construction commencing until the first quarter of 2025 and that it could take three years to complete.
As the Minister of State is aware, this is a significant capital project which serves an environmental purpose while also having the potential to save homes and lives in the event of a flooding emergency. We know that capital projects will be crucial. The likes of the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and even the International Monetary Fund all tell us that expanding capital investment will be key to economic recovery as the pandemic recedes. Will the Minister of State commit to re-examining the timeline in respect of the flood defences in Galway city with a view to bringing forward the start date?
I thank Deputy Mairéad Farrell. She is correct with regard to west Galway. There was an unprecedented event in Clifden in the Deputy's constituency during the summer. I take this opportunity to acknowledge, as I have done in the Dáil, the outdoor staff of Galway County Council, the sister local authority in Clifden, for the work they did. Galway City Council is at an advanced stage with the OPW. The scheme will cost approximately €10 million. Design consultants were appointed in November 2020, as the Deputy mentioned in her comment on the CEO's report. The scheme is currently programmed to go to planning in the first quarter of 2023 with a view to commencing in the first quarter of 2025.
The Deputy has heard my frustration in the Dáil with regard to these matters. These projects take too long to complete. The chairman of the OPW is on the call. We are really frustrated by the length of time these projects take. The Deputy can probably gauge from the previous contribution of another Deputy and the interaction I had with him that I am very frustrated by this, whether it relates to projects in small urban villages in city centres or large-scale schemes such as those in Galway, Cork or Limerick. We can sometimes get to the finishing line only for someone to make an objection or an application for a judicial review. I know the Spanish Arch area of Galway well. It is very exposed to the sea, as is the city. I know the large inflated worm that is in place works but it is not a permanent solution. A permanent solution is needed. The business people and residents of Galway need a permanent solution.
The OPW is committed. There is money available. All Deputies online and present need to be mindful that we do not have a worry about allocating money for capital spending. I say to Deputy Farrell, and to Galway City Council, that, if we can shave off time in advancing projects, we will gladly do so, but we have to be mindful of the fact that if our detractors make accusations later, we may end up in the High Court. We do not want that. We have to make sure that everything we do is double-checked and triple-checked because I do not want to be here in 12 or 18 months time hearing someone suggest that what we did to shave off time was wrong. I will definitely get a more comprehensive response for the Deputy with regard to the Galway city scheme. I have committed to Galway County Council that, when the pandemic is over, I will go back to Clifden. I will also visit Galway city and I will invite all Oireachtas Members from the area, including Deputy Mairéad Farrell, to a briefing with both the city and county councils on flood relief schemes for Clifden and Galway city.
I thank the Minister of State. That would be very good. We will do anything we can to expedite matters in order to keep those businesses and homes safe. I appreciate the Minister of State's offer of a briefing alongside Galway City Council. That would be great. I have two other questions on flood defences. The first relates to insurance companies.
Are there still issues with insurance companies insuring homes where the OPW has set in flood defences that meet the criteria of one-in-100-year events? Has the Minister of State had any engagement with insurance companies regarding this?
Regarding flood defences, the national development plan seeks to invest up to €940 million over its lifetime. It lists five examples of locations that have been earmarked for the delivery of further relief schemes to minimise the impacts of river and coastal flooding. As the Minister of State is aware, they are Limerick city and the surrounding area, Tralee, Dundalk, Carlingford and Drogheda. The review to renew process is ongoing. Will the Minister of State confirm that flood defences for Galway will be included in the key projects in that review?
I will take the last part first. Galway is included as part of our catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, study. I could get into a bigger discussion with the Deputy later about coastal erosion. Through the OPW, I am committed to holding a webinar with all Oireachtas Members regarding where it stands on coastal and river protection for flooding. I want to hear from Oireachtas Members in terms of policy, suggestions and amendments to the law.
Regarding insurance, last week I met officials from the Department of Finance and Insurance Ireland. It is not an issue that is the responsibility of the OPW but is it is one I feel aggrieved about, to be quite honest. We are spending a serious amount of money on permanent and demountable flood defences. In some areas we have no choice but to build demountable defences because we cannot build walls across bridges or a permanent fixture across a road where a flood is likely to occur. We have to install demountable defences to protect properties where we know there will be a serious flood. For the past number of years this has gone around the world like Methuselah's cat and nothing has been done about it, to be quite honest.
The meeting I had with officials from the Department of Finance and Insurance Ireland last week was part of an action plan I have developed over recent months with my officials in the OPW. As I have said, we are not the lead Department on this but we chair the interdepartmental working group on flooding. We got this as a hospital pass. I have made sure it is something the Department of Finance and Insurance Ireland have to take responsibility for.
Insurance companies will refer to variables. The variable they want to dodge in this instance is demountable defences, and they say they are not the responsibility of insurance companies. There are variables in an automobile. When motor cars, as they were called, were first put on roads there were a lot of variables. Cars are all mechanically propelled and are completely and utterly dependent on variables, yet they are all insurable.
Insurance Ireland and the Department of Finance will have to come to a satisfactory conclusion at some stage as to whether demountable defences, which are engineered and signed off on by the OPW and handed over to local authorities, are insurable. They have been proven to work, to hold back floods and to deal with one-in-100-year events or whatever. They have been shown to work in the recent past. They and the properties concerned are insurable.
This issue has been given to us. The Chair of this committee would do me and the people who cannot get insurance a great favour if the committee dealt with this issue. I have no problem coming before the committee again, as Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, to deal with this as a separate issue. It is something that needs to be addressed once and for all. As I have said, it has been given to the OPW as a virtual hospital pass. We would love to see it addressed. It is not fair to people who cannot get insurance.
I refer to the OPW's appropriation accounts for 2019 which were released in September 2020. I assume the accounts for 2020 will not be available until September of this year. These accounts deal with the pre-pandemic period.
My attention was drawn to page 20 where section A deals with flood risk management. I note that in 2018 pay increased by 12%, non-pay costs increased by almost 20% and spending on the purchase of plant machinery increased by 36%. The notes state that was partly due to the purchase of additional plant equipment to aid the construction of flood relief schemes as well as technical equipment. The spending on flood risk management projects in 2019 declined, although it was projected the OPW would need to increase spending from €54.6 million to €73.1 million in 2019. However, spending fell to €58.2 million.
The note in the document states delays arose because of a number of major projects, which is not the fault of the OPW. Cost management is the responsibility of the OPW. From what I can make out from the accounts dealing with flood risk management, non-pay and plant and machinery costs have increased but the work is declining. Will the Minister of State comment on that?
I presume the Deputy is referring to A3, the purchase of plant and machinery. The OPW is doing a lot of the work on flood risk management using direct labour. Some of the allocation is in plant and machinery that we replace and purchase for ourselves. One such example is Templemore, County Tipperary. Clonlara in County Clare will be a direct labour scheme. To be quite honest, as Minister of State I hope to see an awful lot more direct labour being used. The spending involves the replenishment of in-house land and machinery. It cannot be bought cheaply and, unfortunately, it has to be purchased regularly. That is what the spending relates to.
There has, rightly, been a lot of discussion about flooding. Those of us living in Dublin-Rathdown are extremely grateful to the OPW, working in partnership with the local authority, for the remediation works on the Slang and Dodder rivers. It made a huge difference to the local community.
I want to move to my hobby horse, namely, the post-Brexit situation and the need for continued capital investment. I would like to dig through a couple of things regarding the work the OPW has done, is doing and will do, in particular when it comes to our ports. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could go through and elaborate on the work that has been carried out in Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort, in particular.
Figures released to me by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, last week show there has been a 150% increase in direct shipping from Ireland to our largest market, which is continental Europe. There has been a significant decline in goods being shipped to Great Britain or through the land bridge. I refer to the feasibility of our ports, including Rosslare, Dublin, Cork and Foynes, which is close to the Minister of State's part of the world, and others. I say this in the context of their ability to cater for new and larger shipping containers on existing routes and the expansion into new routes, and the potential of there being more routes across the Continent. This is vitally important to exporters of all hues in this country, be it people shipping pharmaceutical goods, importing plant machinery, as the Minister of State mentioned the OPW is doing, or exporting pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
With regard to those new routes and the improvements that are needed within the ports, that also includes approach roads to the ports. I can think of Rosslare Europort and the ability for lo-lo shipping to use train lines. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could deal with those areas.
It is worth noting that when Brexit kicked off, the Departments of Foreign affairs and the Taoiseach asked the OPW to take on responsibility for putting in place infrastructure at Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and, specifically and to a lesser degree, Dublin Airport. It did so within a very short time and under budget. It handed back the infrastructure to the relevant authorities. They are pieces of infrastructure worth seeing in terms of their scale, size and complexity and how they operate. A multiplicity of agencies are involved, including Revenue, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and other officials. It shows what the OPW can do when it is charged with doing something in an emergency situation, which is what the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform did in terms of looking at Brexit as an emergency. The OPW took on the difficulties involved and, to a degree, the planning situations that would be confronted were circumvented. The OPW was given a role, and turned around the project.
Ongoing work will be needed at Rosslare Europort. The OPW has purchased and developed a 17-acre site in close proximity to the port. A border control post at Dublin Airport has been completed and is operational. As of 31 December, approximately €62 million had been spent, with a further €29 million profiled for 2021. Since January 2019, the OPW has completed 28 individual projects across 24 sites at three locations.
The Deputy is right about other Brexit-related projects. There may be opportunities for other ports that are not already profiled, but that will have to be decided by the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Finance and by the Revenue Commissioners. If they deem it necessary, the OPW will carry out those projects. In recent years, we have shown that there is a blueprint for doing so and that there is no need for the State to look beyond State agencies. I am keen for the OPW to demonstrate that there is capacity within the State in terms of engineering profiling and that we as a State agency can do more in the delivery of large-scale infrastructural projects. Brexit proved that the State can often be confronted by various issues, not all of which are necessarily Brexit related, that we have the in-house capacity to handle. If opportunities at other airports or ports present themselves as the Brexit scenario unwinds, that will be a call for the Department of the Taoiseach to make in the first instance. To answer on behalf of the OPW, however, the OPW would be in a position to take on that job.
Rosslare Europort is a developing port. It has managed in recent months to get additional capacity into and out of Belgium and France. That is welcome. We are working with it and Wexford County Council, through the council's CEO, Mr. Tom Enright, and will continue doing so.
Gabhaim mo mhíle buíochas leis na haíonna agus leis an Aire Stáit. How many buildings that are managed by the OPW are empty? I do not mean Covid-related non-usage, but in general. When I undertook some research a number of years ago, I found that a large number of State buildings, owned by the people of this country, were lying idle in 2016. In my constituency, an ESB building that had been bought by the OPW lay idle in Enfield. I know of other buildings throughout the country. Will the Minister of State give us what information he has on this matter?
The Minister of State would have to agree that the State owning buildings yet allowing them to remain empty is scandalous. There is a hardly a county that does not have a community that does not have the community facilities it needs. In my constituency, we are battling away in Johnstown, Enfield, Longwood and many other places to try to get our hands on buildings for their communities to use. It costs the State to have an idle building. The Minister for Rural and Community Development launched a major plan yesterday concerning rural Ireland and community buildings. Can we put as much effort as possible into ensuring that we get these buildings back into use?
We are doing so. Since I assumed my role, that is one of the actions we have been taking. Our local authorities are not exactly jumping through hoops to take them on, though. We have been at pains to get local authorities to take over some of these buildings even though they are in towns and villages that have local authority waiting lists. Some of the buildings will require conservation architects and have difficulties associated with them. In many cases, the situation is not straightforward. Some of the buildings are in isolated locations, require a great deal of money or need communities to take them on with a liability. The Deputy knows as well as I do that, in many cases, if one takes on a listed building, one also takes on a liability. To get a community to take on such a building is a challenge. This is not for the want of trying by the OPW. We have asked the HSE, local authorities and every other State body to take on these buildings, but we are finding it difficult.
I appreciate that there are complexities with some of the buildings. However, some of them are in decent enough shape and are in towns that have no community facilities. The OPW is holding them, but there are major difficulties with the Department of Justice, the Department of Education or local authorities. For example, there are two old schools in Trim. One was handed over to the Department of Education and is lying idle. My question is really just about OPW buildings, but the issue of empty State buildings is a major one across all Departments. I urge the Government to make use of them as best it can.
How many acres does the OPW own that are lying fallow?
I will give an example. When Senator McDowell was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he bought Thornton Hall in north Dublin for a new prison. Thornton Hall is under potatoes at the moment even though it cost the country a large amount of money. The State owns a great deal of land that is not being used for the purposes it was purchased for at a significant cost to the State. I do not just mean the financial cost, but also the opportunity cost. The Government is not making use of that land to the benefit of the Irish people. I understand that dozens, if not hundreds, of acres at Thornton Hall are owned by the State but are under potatoes during a housing crisis. Does the Minister of State know of other lands that were bought by the State for a particular purpose but are not being used for that purpose?
No. The lands that we own are park lands. If the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the Department of Education owns lands, they are not owned by the OPW. Most of the lands that are in the custody of the OPW, such as monuments and the lands around them, are actually owned by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. We are just their custodians.
Is the Minister of State including the buildings on Moore Street in the figure of 76? That battlefield site was the birthplace of the Irish Republic. It was the last stand of the Volunteers in 1916, whom many of us will celebrate on Easter Monday. Those buildings lie on a street that was synonymous with the vibrancy of the Dublin markets years ago. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but Moore Street is an open toilet now. It is a derelict location that, according to the people who work there, is a dangerous place at night. It is frozen in its dereliction because there has been a battle over the past ten or 15 years with a number of large property owners. None of their property objectives have come to fruition. As a result, everything there has been stalled. However, the buildings owned by the OPW on Moore Street could easily be developed now into a wonderful national museum and heritage site of great interest to, enjoyed by and educational for the people of Ireland and tourists from abroad.
Moore Street itself could become a vibrant public market to compete with the public markets of major European capital cities.
The Office of Public Works does not own those buildings. Those buildings are owned by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. The Office of Public Works, because it does not own buildings as I explained earlier, manages, supports and operate the buildings once they come into the charge of the Minister. We manage the operation, conservation and the restoration of them when the Minister instructs us to. When that time comes, everybody accepts the Office of Public Works conserves our national monuments to the highest possible standard. If one looks at all of the monuments associated with 1916, the decade of centenary from 1913 to 1913, and anything that the OPW has had any role in during the decade of centenary or anything associated with it even back as far as Daniel O'Connell and Derrynane and all the monuments associated with Irish freedom where the OPW has its footprint, one will find that we will maintain it to the highest possible standard.
When it comes to Moore Street and the restoration associated with it, the OPW is part of the discussion around it. No doubt when it comes to that, and OPW will be part of it, it will be maintained to the highest possible standard.
I thank the Minister of State for coming before the committee. I thank him particularly for, and note, the flood relief works that have been undertaken so far and are still in the pipeline - no pun intended. In Kildare, I note the works in the Morell River, which were delayed due to court proceedings, are up and running now. How are they progressing? I note much development work has been curtailed by the Covid.
I will mention the great houses throughout the country that fall within the responsibility, and those that are in the charge, of the Office of Public Works in respect of which I have put down numerous questions over the years and will continue to so do. A number of buildings that strike the eye as one travels along any of our major routes stand out in the sense that they seem to be in a rundown state and look to be in danger of collapse. What can be done about them? Some of them are in private ownership. Others are in public ownership. There is, for instance, in my constituency, Carbery Castle, which is not too far down the road from Johnstown which my colleague in Meath mentioned a few minutes ago. It is an eye-catching building with much history attached to it. It has not been mooted yet but there has been a local evaluation done of it. My question would be, to what extent could the Minister of State envisage embarking on a restoration programme.
Similarly, in relation to Rathcoffey Castle in private ownership, I am not certain whether it is available for restoration but there is that in my immediate area. There is also a very historical building in Taghadoe Round Tower and Abbey. A long time built, dating from the 8th century, it is in need of remedial works in the sense of sealing the building from rain damage, etc. An examination was done a couple of years ago as to what might be done by OPW in the future. I ask the Minister of State if it might be possible to progress that in relation to that particular building.
There are a number of other public buildings that I have made reference to in the past as well, including Castletown House, in Celbridge, which is also in my constituency. I do not normally do a constituency tour of these buildings but occasionally it is no harm to do a little bit of twirl around the constituency to see how things are going on. I await the Minister of State's response.
First of all, the Morell flood management scheme, as the Deputy quite rightly says, was at a standstill because of a judicial review but construction got going again and continued during Covid. It is a direct labour scheme by the Office of Public Works. It is something, as I said earlier, I would like to see more of. It is a substantial scheme costing €10 million. It will protect many properties in that part of County Kildare. It is a very important scheme involving 7.5 km of embankments. It is quite a complex scheme involving the realigning of two streams and 11 culverts. It is hoped, all going well with no further delays, that it will be completed in the third quarter of 2024.
On the heritage side, I will begin with the last one Deputy Durkan mentioned. Castletown House is a hugely important and significant part of our tourism offering, not only in County Kildare but in the eastern side of the country. It is historically significant. There is potential for a great deal more by the OPW and Fáilte Ireland. It is something that I have already spoken to the commissioner about to see, with Kildare County Council, whether there is potential to do more post-Covid to drive more tourism into that part of County Kildare. After Covid, something that I want to see, if we can sit down with Kildare County Council and Fáilte Ireland, is whether there is more that can be done there. I visited there years ago on a school tour. I visited there as Minister of State with responsibility for tourism. It was regarded as Ireland's largest house when it was built by the then speaker of the Irish Parliament. There is more that can be done for it.
I am not sure if I have the pronunciation right where Deputy Durkan referred to Taghadoe Round Tower. There are no plans at present to undertake any works here. The OPW is aware of structural issues here. I might be able to get the Deputy a more comprehensive note on it afterwards.
I do not have any good news for Deputy Durkan for buildings that we do not have custody of that are national monuments other than to say that the Minister who has responsibility for it is the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and there are grants available from that Department. We have responsibility for the limited number of monuments that we present. Kildare County Council will be able to help as well through the Rural Regeneration Fund that is presentable there through Leader. That might be an option for the Deputy to pursue.
The Office of Public Works is doing work with local authorities in terms of the presentation of our monuments as a whole. In how we can present all of our monuments in terms of a tourism package, we are not doing enough. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for tourism, I am aware this is something we are not doing enough of with the local authorities. Our Commissioner, Mr. John McMahon, and I have spoken about this to see how we will do more of it. I met the County and City Management Association recently. Particularly now with staycationing, it is obvious that we do not do enough of it. It is glaringly obvious we have not done enough of it over the past number of years. We have all of these fantastic monuments around the country and we do not even have road signs to them. The basics have not been done properly. I have charged the county and city managers with trying to do even something as basic as the road signage with Transport Infrastructure Ireland. It is something that I can meet Deputy Durkan on, separately, outside of this meeting about, if that is what he would like.
There is also Maynooth Castle, the Geraldine Castle in Maynooth, which has been the beneficiary of funding from central Government in the past. Centrally located and steeped in history, it is in reasonably good condition but needs to remain that way. I would say in conclusion that it is hugely important to ensure that the buildings do not fall into disrepair in the sense that they are national monuments, they can be retained at relatively little cost and it should be done where possible.
We need to be proactive about it. I would encourage the relevant Department to investigate each of the sites involved, of which there many not only those in my constituency but throughout the country. Tourists will take great interest in this, as will schools, colleges and students. Students need to know about their history, in particular their local history, and about the significance of it as it relates to them and they need to take ownership of it. Some of the buildings, sadly, suffered harsh treatment at the foundation of the State, but they are still buildings of considerable importance. We need to protect and preserve them for future generations.
On the numbers, Maynooth Castle gets approximately 22,000 visitors per annum. There is an issue there regarding toilet facilities. Twenty-two thousand is a lot visitors. It is clear that number can be increased. As I said, the issue there is as basic as the provision of toilet facilities. Kildare County Council is one of the most well-off local authorities in the country in the sense that it has one of the largest rates bases. Maynooth is one of the largest towns in the county. It has the potential for a great deal of tourism in terms of the ecclesiastical college and university. I am sure the CEO of Kildare County Council, given that he has the deepest pockets of any local authority manager in the country, could find it within his budget to provide toilet facilities at Maynooth Castle. I am sure that through engagement of the CEO with the OPW locally money could be found for the provision of toilet facilities for the up to 22,000 visitors mentioned. The only way that number of visitors can go is upwards. I am sure the Deputy will be able to facilitate a meeting between the CEO of Kildare County Council and OPW staff locally and that the council will be able to find the money for the toilet facilities.
Regarding the figures provided by the Minister of State, in 2019 there were 98 vacant properties, but that number has since decreased to 76. At that time, the OPW spend on security was approximately €340,000. I presume the spend has also reduced. I would welcome the details in that regard. Most of the properties, as mentioned by the Minister of State, are Garda stations closed by the Government in 2012 and 2013. The Minister of State also spoke about the challenges facing community groups and so on taking them on, which I can understand because I have been involved in efforts to acquire some of the buildings. What is the policy in this area? Where a community group or a school wants to utilise a former Garda station which the State has no intention of reopening, is the facility transferred into the ownership of a State body for use by the community group and so on. What is the process?
If there is a State body locally that wants to take possession of the building, it needs to demonstrate that it can manage it. We do not want buildings taken over and ending up in a quasi-derelict state. The buildings can be taken over by a State agency for local use. For example, an unused Garda station on the main street of a town could be transferred to a local authority and taken into the local housing stock. That is the optimum use. If that is not a realisable prospect, the building can be brought into use by the HSE or another State body for use locally for the provision of community or State services. That is the preferred option. Where none of that is possible, if a community group can demonstrate that with the support of LEADER it can provide a local service such as a crèche, community centre or other local amenity, it will be offered a 25, 50 or 99-year lease. This has happened in my constituency and I am sure it has happened in the Deputy's constituency as well. We do not want to burden the local community with a facility that ends up being a millstone around its neck. Where we have entered into discussions with community groups around this process, many of them have backed on the basis that it is too much hassle for them. Our ambition is to dispose of these buildings.
There are plans for the school adjacent to it, which has a serious car parking problem. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with the Minister of State.
On the Garda, will the deadline of 2022 for the move from Harcourt Street be met or is the State likely to face significant penalties from Hibernia Reit?
The deadline will be met. We have given a commitment to meet it. We have a plan, with the Garda Commissioner, to move to a new facility, which is on track. The building programme delivered by the OPW is set by the Garda Commissioner and it is reflective of the policing plan he sets out. It changes and it moves. It is malleable depending on what the Garda Commissioner sets out.
I will not go into the history of this scandalous situation of Hibernia Reit owning this property, which the State owned a number of years ago through NAMA, as I have been through it with the Minister of State's predecessors. It is a crazy situation. When does An Garda Síochána expect to vacate its headquarters in Harcourt Street?
The key issue is the move to the €86 million unit in Military Road, which we understand is not large enough to accommodate Garda headquarters because the decision some years ago was based on the then numbers and the numbers have expanded. Can the Minister of State enlighten the committee on that matter?
As I said earlier, the OPW will design and deliver on the basis of what is laid out by the Garda Commissioner in the policing plan. That includes contingencies. We have planned contingencies and we will deliver them if, and when, they are needed. Our priority is to ensure that Military Road is delivered on time and on budget. If we require contingencies to vacate, they will be fulfilled.
I am trying to decipher what the Minister of State is saying. Is he saying that the contingencies are in the event that Military Road is not completed on time? Can he give a date for when it is expected Military Road will be completed and Garda headquarters will transfer to that facility?
No. We may not have to acquire additional sites; we may have to have contingencies for a short time.
That may require us to have people in transition for a short period of time, but that has yet to be determined. Not everybody will be able to move on day one but we cannot give that date yet.
I commissioned this review on foot of the Black Lives Matter protests and the protests that happened in Bristol in particular. I met the chairman of the commission, Maurice Buckley, and I asked him that given the significance of the role the OPW has as custodians for buildings, particularly public buildings, we would carry out an investigation and an initial scoping exercise into all of the public buildings that we have responsibility for to see if we have any monuments, portraits or anything of that nature that portrayed, celebrated or had anything to do with slavery or the slave trade. I have got an initial report back. It is a scoping report for want of a better description. I have asked for a further report to be carried out on this because the initial report has identified a number of sites where there are no monuments per sebut where there are connections, either through families or potential-----
At the time of the late 1700s and the early 1800s when Georgian Dublin was being built, all of Dublin had families who were Anglo-Irish for the most part and who derived their incomes from the agricultural sector. Some of them might have had connections to connections to slavery so I want to be sure that we can stand over anything that will be in the report. It is an initial report and I will publish it. Anything we have we will publish.
We will come back to that. I want to ask the Minister of State some brief questions on my county of Donegal and one question on the overall Estimates in terms of the capital expenditure. On the Donegal town CFRAM report, the Minister of State acknowledged that the project is not in the first phase of projects and that the OPW and Donegal County Council were working closely to ensure it commences as early as possible in the current programme of investment. Is there any update or has there been any movement on that work in Donegal town?
The Minister of State also said that six projects in Donegal were selected to be progressed as part of the first phase of the implementation, in addition to projects that were already progressed for Raphoe. He said that consultants were appointed for the projects in Lifford, Burnfoot and Castlefinn and that the county council is in the process of designing the Ballybofey-Stranorlar, Buncrana-Luddan and Ramelton projects in a bundled format. Have the design consultants for Ballybofey-Stranorlar, Buncrana-Luddan and Ramelton been selected? If not, what is the status of the procurement process and when is it likely to occur? People are eager that there is progress in this. I have two other questions then following that.
Consultants have been appointed for the Ballybofey-Stranorlar project and a start-up meeting has been held with the OPW and Donegal County Council. They have appointed consultants for the bundle and that is a start. Some €157,500 was approved in 2018, which the Deputy has details for, but the total budget for Ballybofey-Stranorlar is €1.92 million and the total number of properties is 59. We are only going through tranche 1 of the CFRAM and Donegal town is in tranche 2, as the Deputy knows. This is a slow process. The Deputy is right that we will get to Donegal town and it will be in tranche 2. In Lifford, the consultants are at design stage and the public exhibition stage will be early next year. There is a cross-Border element to this project, as the Deputy knows. The river is the Border.
The Chair mentioned the Minister of State's predecessor, Kevin Boxer Moran, who was excellent at coming out and visiting rural communities. I am sure the Minister of State will do the same post Covid. He was also excellent in finding ways to try to resolve some of the issues in some of the projects. One of those projects was the Clady River in Gaoth Dobhair. There was a major issue there where the bridge was swept away. That caused major problems because it was not an OPW or county council bridge. Basically, three families were left stranded and they had to resolve the issue themselves. I live close to this area. There has been heavy rain in Gaoth Dobhair in recent days and that river is at road level again. There is always an issue with that road and the adjoining houses. My understanding is that Donegal County Council and the OPW have never progressed an application for funding for upstream flood mitigation. It needs to be done. I know the problem is probably at Donegal County Council's level but I ask the Minister of State's officials to reach out to Donegal County Council to try to resolve some of the issues upstream where debris is being caught in that bridge and is basically causing a barrier for the river flowing. I encourage the Minister of State to look at that.
I know the bridge because a good friend of mine, the Deputy's former múinteoir bunscoile, is former Deputy Dinny McGinley. I have crossed over that bridge many a time and I know the bridge and the river. The Deputy is right about the county councils. I have appealed to them, as my predecessor did, in relation to minor works applications for local authorities. I have met the county managers. One of the things we are doing is revising the cost benefit analyses for all flood mitigation measures. I have asked the Chairman and my officials about the cost-benefit analysis metrics that can be attached to local authorities applying for money to carry out works. It cannot all just be about economic metrics. Local authorities do not have a bean at the moment so if moneys are available from the OPW, whether it is for bank mitigations or for bridges, we should try to help and the cost-benefit analysis metrics should be revised. I will caution on one matter, however. A bridge being blocked by a bush or a tree is my definition and the Deputy's definition of a flood. It is another Deputy's definition of a habitat and that is a big problem.
I know. If we look at the outturn in the context of what was projected when we dealt with the Estimates, as we are supposed to do, we can see that this has not been good in recent years. Four major schemes were supposed to be delivered in 2019, but only two were delivered. The following year five schemes were promised, but only one was delivered. If one looks at the number of major flood relief schemes, in 2019 six were supposed to be delivered but only two were delivered. The following year, four major flood relief schemes were promised but only one was delivered. On flood embankments, 132 km were promised in 2019 but only 95 km were delivered. We have targets before us which are bigger than any other year but if the same trend is followed, the OPW will deliver about a quarter of what the targets are.
That takes me to the following point. If we look at what the OPW has been asking for in terms of capital expenditure, we can see that for 2021 the capital allocation for flood risk management is €88 million and that for 2020 it was also €88 million. In 2019, Maurice Buckley, the chairperson of the OPW, wrote to the then Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, and provided a submission for the ten-year investment programme. Mr. Buckley clearly outlined that the OPW's needs were that €103 million, €112 million and €114 million were required in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.
That was not to do super jobs but to continue to provide existing services and implement the flood protection schemes in 30 areas of the CFRAM proposal. When the Government announced its capital plan, it did not deliver on those figures but on €80 million, €90 million and €100 million over a three-year period, from 2018 to 2020, inclusive; what was delivered on the ground was worse than that, at €73 million, €88 million and €88 million.
We can talk about the projects, Cork and Donegal and all the rest but unless the pot of money is allocated to those, there are problems. Donegal town goes into phase 2 and others. Over and over again, the OPW says that it needs much more money than what is being delivered. Even what is being ring-fenced in the capital plan is not being delivered by the OPW on the ground.
I know that any Minister wants the biggest pot they can get but we need to be very loud to ensure that this is rectified and what is required on the ground is delivered. These conversations are quite circular because the money is not there.
There are two points. The Deputy is right on one point. I need a bigger pipe. I need more projects going through at initiation stage and being animated at the start. I refer to places like Donegal, Gaoth Dobhair, Crossmolina, Enniscorthy, Adare and Limerick. More projects must be animated at a much earlier stage so that if something gets blocked, there is something there to pick up the slack. However, there is another problem. If four projects fall out of the courts at the same time, like Bandon, Douglas and a whole clatter of them in the same year, and I do not have money to meet them, I have a bigger problem. If I do not have the €119 million that I am asking for - I am only plucking a figure from the sky - and they all fall out of the courts at the same time, or there are judicial reviews, objections or delays, I will have a problem if they are all ready and waiting to start, but I have not asked for the funds and the Oireachtas has not voted for it for me. A great part of my problem is that I am at the mercy of objectors. I do not know if a scheme mentioned earlier by another Deputy will end up in judicial review - it may not. If it does not, happily I have money to fund it and it can start immediately. I do not know if a scheme that is currently in judicial review in Cork will come out of that in June, in which case it can start and I have funds to allocate to it. I am a victim of a planning system that is completely and utterly unfit to deliver massive infrastructural projects. The Chairman might say that a Minister of State is criticising the Government - absolutely. I have a planning process that is completely unfit to deliver major flood infrastructure to the State. As a result, I am here asking for money that I do not know if I can spend, but I need in the event that the planning process is able to deliver to me. That is my biggest problem. I need a bigger pipe at the start to shove through more so that if one gets stuck I can pull something else out at the end.
I thank the Minister of State for his attendance and for his time recently to meet to talk about nature-based solutions, such as soft engineering projects upstream that can work with nature to alleviate the downstream flooding that we see in many towns and villages. It is apt, following the last exchange, that we look at the financial aspects of that. It is my belief that investing in changes in land use, working with agriculture and different landowners upstream and engaging in nature-based, soft engineering solutions can have many benefits, including societal, environmental, tourism and employment benefits. This can also reduce the need for concrete walls to be put downstream where one is dealing with the end of the pipe solution. It is a combination. That could also be an opportunity to reduce the conflicts the Minister of State spoke of around planning and to talk about what some people see as a conflict with the environment. It is all part of the one hydrological cycle. Nature-based solutions have to become a bigger part of our flood defences and flood mechanisms. Regardless of how much concrete can be poured, how quickly it can be poured and how high one can pour it, nature has a lot more resources than we do at an engineering level downstream. I thank the Minister of State for his time on that. I know he has an understanding of that issue, which I hope to pursue further with him. We spoke about the massive-scale Avoca catchment project in County Wicklow. We need to look at this on scale because flooding in our towns and villages emanates countrywide in all parts of the country. We need to look at it on a catchment-based level.
I have two questions, both relating to flood defences in County Wicklow. The Arklow flood defence scheme is about to go to planning stage. There are ongoing maintenance costs associated with the River Dargle flood defence scheme in Bray, which was completed a couple of years ago.
On Arklow, when one builds a flood defence, the physical objective is to place a barrier between the people and their property, and the river. It is also really important that people can maintain a connection with the river. Over generations, people in a town or village develop a close connection and affinity with their river for its recreation and amenity value, even by sitting there to look at it. Often when we pour high concrete walls, we block off that connection. As part of the design of the Arklow scheme, it has been requested that glass panelling be installed that would permit views of the river to be maintained down along the South Quay. It is important to the people who live in that part of the town, having grown up there over the generations, to be able to see the river, to walk by the river, to have visual access and to enjoy the natural amenity. I appreciate that there are many engineering constraints in designing a flood scheme and that it is complex and difficult, but I ask that some mechanism be incorporated into the Arklow design to maintain people's visual link to the river while protecting the properties. The people of Arklow appreciate that the project is going ahead.
My second question is on the cost of maintenance. I understand that the large flood defence scheme on the River Dargle in Bray cost €46 million. As part of the scheme, there is a need for ongoing maintenance. Siltation and debris traps, etc., have to be cleared. Does the cost of that fall fully to the local authority or does the OPW have an ongoing role in meeting the cost of maintaining flood defences over a certain period of time, for example as part of a design-build-maintain approach?
The Deputy is correct when he says that nature-based solutions will have to play a role. No matter how hard we try, we cannot keep back the sea or every river everywhere. Rivers will break their banks and flood and we will not be able to keep back everything everywhere. When I met the Deputy, we spoke about OPW mapping to local authorities as part of the development of local area plans and county development plans. It will be critical. I met the environmental pillar as part of my bilateral engagement recently. Upstream catchments are important in the OPW's development of flood relief schemes if we are to ensure we capture and have full knowledge of where the water is coming from. They will have to play a major part in the future design of our flood mitigation measures, and people will expect that. In terms of how the Department will be measured on climate change over the coming years, I have insisted in our strategy that our flood relief schemes must involve a combination of measures. Hard concrete alone is not something that people will accept anymore.
There will have to be a combination of measures, and soft engineering as much as hard engineering is something I would expect to see into the future in terms of design.
We spoke about the Arklow issue briefly on a tele-call the day we met. It is fully designed and has, as members will know, gone to An Bord Pleanála, but there is nothing to stop people from putting in submissions. Submissions will probably be submitted by councillors. I am not pre-empting what An Bord Pleanála decides, but if it were to come back and say as part of its final deliberation that a submission from a public representative was worthwhile and further vistas were to be improved, that is something that the Office of Public Works would take on board with Wicklow County Council.
The Office of Public Works, by the way, is never above criticism. Public consultation, public engagement, An Bord Pleanála hearings and local authority engagement always improve a flood relief scheme and the final package, and that has been very evident in any of the flood relief schemes that have been built. The OPW would be the first to say public consultation has always delivered a good final output. Therefore, it might be helpful if the Deputy or some of the local authority members made an oral submission. That might circumvent it because, at the moment, we cannot make a change because the project has gone into the planning process, but if An Bord Pleanála made the decision, that would be something.
On Bray and silting and things like that, there is an ongoing relationship between OPW and local authorities. This is something the OPW will have to formalise as we work out CFRAMs - a more structured and formalised relationship. We spoke about it at the meeting I held with the city and county managers. Memorandums of understanding and service level agreements will have to be put in place between us and the local authorities as we formally hand over flood relief schemes. We pay for management and maintenance but the councils inspect the work. I will supply the Deputy with a written reply specifically on the Bray project.
On the overall contextualised work, we will need a memorandum of understanding between ourselves and the County and City Management Association because the workload will become too big for us to be doing on an ad hoc, one-by-one basis. We will require proper service level agreements and memorandums of understanding between ourselves and the association.
I thank the Minister of State for his attendance. First, I will comment on the work the OPW does on flooding and flood protection. In my constituency the OPW has done a very effective job on the Dodder over the years and I know that work continues.
The only question I have is on Dublin Zoo. I was pleased to hear the Minister of State say that capital grants amounting to €3 million will be provided in the form of €2 million for Dublin Zoo and €1 million for Fota Wildlife Park. Is he concerned about the future of Dublin Zoo? Does he think it is safe in light of the very difficult times it is going through at present?
I am very concerned and that is why I decided to engage with the zoo, along with Mr. Maurice Buckley, the chairman of the OPW. There is scope for a longer term relationship between us and Dublin Zoo rather than a once-off relationship. There should be a longer term strategic relationship between the Government, Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park through the vehicle of the Office of Public Works. We are doing this at the moment on a capital basis, but there should be a longer term relationship.
Covid has brought into sharp focus the fact the zoo is essentially a charitable trust. I am not certain whether that can continue in its current guise into the future. Obviously it can answer for its own financial situation. There is an opportunity, however, The OPW has a neighbourly relationship with the zoo in the sense we operate the Phoenix Park. We have opened the door in terms of dialogue and a financial relationship, so there is a possibility of doing something far more strategic and long-term.
I urge the Minister of State to do that as it would be a very positive development if there were a closer relationship between the zoo and the Office of Public Works. The zoo is a fantastic facility not just for all of the people of Dublin but for the people of the country, as indeed is Fota Wildlife Park. It is important we preserve the zoo and I commend the Minister of State and the Government on stepping in with some capital to help both places get through this difficult time.
I do not have an update for you, Chairman, other than the property remains vacant and is now subject to legal proceedings. Papers were served in the High Court in 2016 so the matter is sub judiceat the moment and I am precluded from saying any more.
That is fine. Is there any way of reaching out to those taking the court case to see if matters can be resolved so the building does not deteriorate in any way or deteriorate further? That is the line I was pressing through the previous Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran. Sometimes these cases get out of hand and are resolved better by intervention, if it can and I am not saying it can be. I am just asking.
Local authorities apply for funding for flood relief schemes, approval is granted and the relief schemes are carried out. As is sometimes the case with these schemes, when they are finished and done and a number of years have passed, parts of the scheme either weaken or there is another issue, for instance, water comes down even further. Are local authorities precluded from re-applying?
No, they are not. This is an issue that goes back to previous comments made by Deputies, and Deputy Matthews mentioned Bray, for instance. This is an issue that will require a body of work to make sure that, in doing a section of work in Kilkenny, for example, it is ensured there is ongoing maintenance, supervision and a service level agreement or a memorandum of understanding in order that what the money was spent on at the start is properly maintained and overseen and the damage and maintenance are looked after. It is something I have already spoken to the commissioners about.
No. It is open to local authorities to apply for a second scheme if it is deemed necessary. I have just found out that the Office of Public Works sold MacCurtain Street in Cork and the property has been disposed of.
On the completed scheme in Kilkenny city, which I praised the OPW for and I gave the agency enough trouble on it when the matter was before the Committee of Public Accounts, I often look back on the video of that project being completed. It is a must-watch video for anyone in the engineering world or anyone who wants to see how the project worked out. There have been small issues afterwards and the Minister of State mentioned some of them earlier. I wrote recently to the Minister of State about a mill stream just off the scheme at Green's Bridge. I understood that, normally, in the past, the OPW cleared it. Then there are the weirs.
Who is responsible for the cleaning of weirs?
Unless it is part of the Arterial Drainage Act and it is in the Schedule to that Act, it will be the local authority. If it is part of the Act and of the scheme, it is the OPW. Kilkenny County Council is probably responsible for it.
There is another issue. If it is close to a scheme and it is not covered by the Arterial Drainage Act, like large swathes of the Chairman's county because it was free-draining, good land in the 1940s and it was not deemed at the time that any additional-----
Yes, but it has brought throngs of people to places such as Kilkenny Castle. It is an amenity we are all delighted to have and we now realise the value of it. Before the pandemic, I walked there frequently during the week and now I walk there even more regularly. It is being used. Is this an opportunity to examine how these facilities are now being used and to put in either walkways or cycleways to assist the numbers now in the park? I am sure other parks are probably the same, such as Jenkinstown Park in County Kilkenny. It would be good to have it in such a way that it would encourage not just tourists but also local people to enjoy it.
As the Chairman will probably know, we have a particular problem in the Phoenix Park, where there are capacity problems. There are throngs of people on some days and we are getting complaints about social distancing and other problems, which leads to its own difficulties. There is a challenge for OPW-associated parks in the main. We want people to come in and use them during Covid and to enjoy them, but it is leading to issues with social distancing and one-way traffic issues. The commissioners and park attendants are mindful to see how we will manage this going forward. If our national monuments reopen, which I hope they will, we will have to manage this. As well as that, we are conscious that if there is a reopening, we want to give something back to people staycationing with regard to charging admission to such amenities, as we did last year. If we do that, that too will lead to capacity problems, so the volume of people at Kilkenny Castle this year will increase dramatically on last year, which will lead to its own issues.
I am encouraging the OPW to take an example such as Kilkenny Castle and examine the issues, and then to devise ways in which to deal with those issues. I compliment the staff in the park because given the numbers who use it, there are very few issues. For the few issues that do exist, the individual who might be on duty in the castle park does an excellent job. There is a new emphasis now on outdoor activities and I think that will remain with us after Covid. Therefore, we should examine the structure of walks and whether we will accommodate bicycle routes. Dog-fouling and so on has become a big issue on walks throughout the country.
We will certainly do that and take the Chairman's suggestion on board. We might even pilot an initiative in that regard. We have to pay tribute to the people who use the facilities. In fairness, our patrons are very respectful to monuments and other patrons.
I have to mention our flood defences, into whose design we are incorporating amenities. We are considering flood defences in an entirely different light as a result of Covid. We are incorporating walkways and cycleways and bearing in mind that in the future, our flood defences will need to be more than just a barrier between us and a river. They have to be a walkway, a cycleway and an amenity for people in the area. Even in the case of existing barriers, we will incorporate new designs so that towns such as Kilkenny and Clonmel that have pre-existing flood defences will be much more than just a flood defence in future.
There is a heading relating to other programmes and projects. That is a very broad heading. It is like in accounting if there is a heading called "Miscellaneous", which is usually the one worth examining. This heading relates to €9.2 million in 2020 and €7 million in 2021. What are other programmes and projects? The subhead is B6. The Minister of State might just revert to us with a note on it.
There were certain criticisms in the report. What has happened as a result of the report? I have read extracts from the report and recent proceedings of the Committee of Public Accounts, where a person was giving evidence. It is something on which we should perhaps have a meeting to discuss the outcomes. Does the Minister of State have any comment on it now?
Broadly, I have no difficulty with the report. It is timely in light of the national development plan. We in the Office of Public Works are on a journey of renewal and I want to modernise the office. Any critique that is available and helps that modernisation effort is timely and welcome.
To return to the Chairman's question about heading B6, it relates to matters such as mechanical and electrical fabric upgrade programming, boiler replacement and the fourth quarter dome repairs, which, as the Chairman can imagine, is a €4 million programme. I will get the committee a copy of the out-turns for that heading. Some of the programmes are fairly substantial.
What it refers to is the refurbishment and fit-out of office accommodation. It includes cultural institutions, the building programmes for the Garda and Garda cell upgrades. The expenditure on Leinster House is a big one at almost €4 million. It also includes mechanical and electrical work. Deep retrofits were carried out in some cases. There was a boiler replacement programme. There is a €4 million programme for the Four Courts, the largest aspect of which is the dome replacement, costing €3.5 million. The sum of €9.7 million was allocated to cultural institutions in 2020 with an outturn of €15.5 million. The Garda building programme cost €10.5 million.
The biggest part of the work in the Four Courts is the dome, which has crumbled as a result of the restoration that was done after the Civil War and has to be done again. If you pass it, Chairman, you can see it is being reconstructed at the moment.
We are running out of time so I will come back to the Minister of State on some of the other questions. I have a matter to attend to before we come to a conclusion. Was the Ernst & Young report published or was it an in-house report?
If I were looking at the report, I would probably look at the properties - Thornton Hall, Fairgreen in Galway, Merrion Square, the Mullingar site and Batty Langley Lodge. It is estimated that €31.35 million may have been overspent on those projects.