Dáil spending watchdog to investigate aquatic centre legal action

THE chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Bernard Allen, has revealed the long-running legal action concerning the National Aquatic Centre is to be investigated.

This comes in the wake of a Department of Sport admission of defeat in a seven-year legal battle to claim €10.5 million worth of VAT from the former operators of the centre, Dublin Waterworld Ltd (DWL).

Mr Allen said the matter would be investigated thoroughly by the PAC in the new year.

They would be requesting the department and its accounting officer to come before the committee, he added.

Speaking on Radio Kerry, the Fine Gael TD said correspondence the PAC had received raised many questions regarding the use of taxpayers’ money. “Hopefully, these questions will be answered. I can’t prejudge what the answers will be, but we will certainly be asking questions and hopefully will get answers.”

Dublin Waterworld director John Moriarty said the case was a “needless waste of taxpayers’ money”.

He said the High Court case had been brought against the advice of the Attorney General who advised in 2004 that DWL had no case to answer in relation to the VAT claims. Total costs of the proceedings are expected to be in the region of €4m.

The department lost its case in the Supreme Court, last May, and has decided not to refer the bill to a new arbitration hearing that was among the recommendations made by the court.

In a letter to the PAC, the secretary general of the Department of Sport Con Haugh said no further claim would be made on the VAT issue.

He said the National Sports Campus Development Authority (NSCDA) had taken the decision after studying the judgment. The money was now considered to have been lost.

Mr Haugh said the decision was taken after careful consideration of the implications of the judgment for the original arbitration process and following detailed consultation with NSCDA’s legal and tax advisers. “The consequence of this decision is that the DWL’s legal advisers have been informed that the liability to pay the outstanding VAT invoice has been extinguished.”

The Supreme Court ordered all of the legal process costs be paid by the state.

Before the initial 2005 High Court case, the Attorney General and the Comptroller and Auditor General & both told the department if it pursued the legal challenge it was likely to lose. In November 2004, the Attorney General’s advisory counsel, Christopher O’Toole, said the case of Campus Stadium Ireland, as the NSCDA was called then, failed the test used by Revenue to decide if VAT should be paid.

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