Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Office of Public Works
65. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if an update will be provided on the overpayment of rent at the Miesian Plaza; the contacts which his officials have had with the landlord over the past six months; and when he expects to recoup this overpayment. [56170/21]
I again raise the matter of the significant overpayment of rent on the Miesian Plaza offices on Baggot Street which house the Departments of Health and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. I raised the matter with the Minister in April and June. What progress has been made in recouping the substantial amount of money that is owed to the Irish taxpayer?
The rent being paid by the Commissioners of Public Works in respect of the offices at Block 1, Miesian Plaza, is in accordance with the terms of the lease. However, the Office of Public Works, OPW, has previously acknowledged in reply to parliamentary questions that an issue arose on which they should have engaged with the landlord and sought to recalibrate the rental rate as a result of the new measurement standard, international property management standard 3, IPMS 3, introduced in early 2016. This should not have happened and the Commissioners of Public Works regret that this error arose.
Since the issue was identified, the OPW has continued to engage with the landlord with respect to the measurement standard applied. In recent months, further discussions have taken place between the OPW and the landlord, including meetings on 3 June, 24 August and 23 September. At these meetings, there was constructive discussion around possible solutions towards resolution of the measurement issue. The Deputy will appreciate that the matters under consideration involve complex commercial property transactions and discussions are at a sensitive stage. While progress has been made, discussions are ongoing and the OPW anticipates a further meeting with the landlord will be held within the next two weeks.
Both the OPW and the landlord are committed to continuing this process with a view to establishing if a solution that is acceptable to both parties can be reached.
It is estimated that the loss to the taxpayer is approximately €344,000 per year which, over the lifetime of the lease, would come to approximately €10 million. It is not a small matter, it is a significant matter. The Minister of State has said to me on two previous occasions, in April and June, that the OPW very much regrets that errors were made so there is no question but that errors were made. That regret is not enough. Concrete steps must be taken to recoup the outstanding moneys owed and to put the rent on a proper footing.
The landlord is Mr. Larry Goodman, trading as Remley Developments. Does the landlord accept that an error was made and that the measurements that were taken by the OPW need to be corrected?
The Deputy will appreciate that I am not getting involved in a commercial negotiation on the floor of the Dáil. The Deputy has served as a Minister in the Government so she will know it would not be appropriate for me to do that. I have said in my reply today and in previous replies that the Deputy is correct that the OPW regrets that the issue arose in the first place. The OPW never attempted at any stage to conceal it and admitted from the very start that an error was made. The Deputy is correct that the impact to date is in the region of €1.4 million. We are hoping that over the next fortnight, there will be a further meeting. I told the Deputy when the matter was most recently raised with me in the Dáil that face-to-face meetings between the landlord and the OPW were due. Since then, three meetings have taken place and another will take place. We hope to be in a situation whereby we can move forward in a collaborative way but the Deputy will appreciate, as I said in an earlier part of my reply, that it is complex and commercially sensitive. I hope we will be able to resolve this matter and when we do, I will be able to provide further updates to the Dáil.
I am sure the Minister of State appreciates the fact that this issue was examined by the Committee of Public Accounts. It was also highlighted by Cianan Brennan of the Irish Examiner. I raised the matter with the Minister of State in April and again in June. It would seem that no substantive progress is being made, apart from the general aspirations that the Minister of State reiterated in his reply. I only received his reply at 5 p.m., even though this was a priority question to be taken tonight.
Since I spoke to the Minister of State about this issue in June, there have been two meetings and he has said there is another coming up in two weeks' time. Will the Minister of State undertake to provide me with details of the outcome of that meeting in two weeks' time? Will he ensure that clear instructions are given to officials in his Department to bring this matter to a conclusion so we can get to a point where there is an acceptance by the landlord and that the taxpayers will get back the money they are owed?
Excuse me, I am replying to the Deputy. I cannot do what she has asked. Three meetings were held on 3 June, 24 August and 23 September. Another will take place and if subsequent meetings have to take place, the OPW will do that in a constructive fashion. We will do that on the basis that we want to get resolution to this matter. While this has been investigated by the Committee of Public Accounts, I wish to put on the record that the OPW has engaged not only with the Committee of Public Accounts but also with others on this matter. We have at all stages co-operated to try to make sure that measures have been put in place to ensure that events such as this do not happen in the future.
I appreciate the Deputy's level of concern. As Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, I am also concerned. Nobody has a monopoly of concern over this matter. I am a former member of the Committee of Public Accounts. I hope to have resolution but I cannot guarantee anything to the House and I want to be clear about that. I will revert to the House as soon as I have an update.