Wednesday, 30 September 2015
Office of Public Works Properties
I thank the Cathaoirleach for accepting my commencement notice and welcome the Minister of State to the House. I understand that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Simon Harris, who has direct responsibility for this matter, is unavoidably absent due to Government commitments.
The buildings to which I refer are in the ownership of the OPW and are located in Corofin in County Clare. They are adjacent to the community hall in the town. The buildings have been derelict for many years. There is a very active community council in Corofin, as well as a very active Tidy Towns committee. The Comhaltas branch, with which my colleague Councillor Joe Arkins is involved, is also extremely active. The community has recently invested a significant sum in upgrading its community hall, which was officially opened on 11 September last. Many communities have lots of good people working in them, but Corofin in County Clare is exceptional in terms of sheer commitment, with locals involved in sports, theatre, the arts, Tidy Towns, community groups and so forth. A local community group has expressed an interest in taking over the derelict buildings which are in the ownership of the OPW. They are interested in either purchasing the properties at a nominal price or taking them over on a long-term lease for a nominal fee.They have sent numerous items of correspondence to the Office of Public Works offices in Trim, to which they have always received courteous replies. They have had numerous acknowledgements of their propositions, worded differently but essentially saying the same thing, namely, that there was no interest in doing anything.
I acknowledge that circumstances have now changed. Many Garda stations are vacant, and I salute the Minister for making vacant Garda stations available to members where it was deemed appropriate, which has worked very well. There are numerous examples of former Garda stations being used as spaces for citizens. I suggest that the policy would extend to the buildings adjacent to St. Patrick's Hall in Corofin and that the Government would enter into a partnership with the local community, which is tried and tested and has proven itself time and again in terms of its commitment and ability to get things done and finish the job. That type of partnership has worked well in many cases. I refer to sports capital grants and so on, which are examples of Government going into partnership with communities. Community halls throughout the country have received Leader funding amounting to millions of euro. That is an example of where Government has gone into partnership and supported local communities. What is the difference in providing buildings? These buildings are derelict and open to being vandalised. They are depreciating in value but could add immense social value to the children, young people and the community of Corofin.
I thank Senator Conway for raising this important issue. The Government is committed to reforming property asset management in the public sector to ensure value to the taxpayer. The Commissioners of Public Works manage a large and diverse portfolio of property assets, including historic properties, on behalf of the State.
The stated policy for surplus properties is to identify if other State bodies, including Departments and the wider public sector, have a use for the property. If no State requirement is identified, the Office of Public Works will consider disposing of the property on the open market to generate revenue for the Exchequer. If a decision is taken not to dispose of a particular property, the OPW will consider community involvement subject to the receipt of an appropriate business case, which is very important. This must indicate that the community or voluntary group has the means to insure, maintain and manage the property and that there is no cost to the Exchequer in the short, medium or long term. Where properties have been assigned, these have been generally to community councils that represent a broad range of community or voluntary organisations, with links to local SOLAS, community employment schemes and community work placement schemes, Tús.
Decisions taken by the OPW to license certain properties are based on the following principles: the benefit to the broader community in terms of local services, activities or employment-training opportunities to be achieved from the use of the property; savings to the State of maintenance, service and other costs; and ownership remaining with the State with a re-entry clause at a time to be decided by the OPW. When retaining properties, the OPW continues to explore uses for them through State bodies and local authorities, in addition to considering community use.
The Senator has referred to the question of the property at Corofin, in County Clare, being made available to the local community. The property is composed of two large-semi detached houses on a site of three acres in the centre of the village of Corofin. The internal area of the two buildings is in the region of 220 sq. m and is estimated to be 90 to 100 years old. The interior of the building is in poor condition. The roof, which is of slate construction, is in need of significant repair and the property requires a substantial investment to bring it up to modern standards. The property has been used as office accommodation for the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Senator Conway will be interested to hear that the property is surplus to requirements and has been assessed in line with the disposal policy I have outlined. No alternative State use has been identified and the property is now being prepared for disposal by public auction in the very near future. I hope the Senator will be satisfied with that answer as it outlines exactly what he wants to do with it.
When somebody goes to a bank manager for a loan, part of the criteria is their track record. The community in Corofin has a track record. I ask the Minister to revert to his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, and ask him if he could identify a senior official in the OPW who will liaise with the community in Corofin, which I hope will be in a position to acquire that property at a nominal cost but which would be a significant investment in terms of the social life, culture and youth of north Clare.
Senator Conway's demands are somewhat stronger than I would have anticipated. It is on the public market. In terms of it being for the benefit of the community, it will be sold by public auction. That is the proper way to do it to get value for it. If the community is interested in it and can come up with a proposal and a bid, I would say it will be given serious consideration.