The State auditor has raised concerns about the management of a €259m land portfolio at the country’s key fishing ports.
A special report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, revealed there has been money lost and legal actions initiated because of the management of the land assets and services at the designated Fishery Harbour Centres.
The report looked at the ports in Killybegs, Castletownbere, Rossaveel, Dunmore East, Howth and Dingle. It pointed to a number of unsatisfactory deals including a €317,000 land sale that was agreed in 1993 and a 50% deposit paid but, 21 years later, the sale has not been closed.
In another case, a lease was agreed with a tenant in 2005 at a rent of €33,000 per annum but the contract was never signed. When the tenant was approached in 2012, €284,000 was due.
The report also looked at harbour dues and found proper charges were not being applied to certain foreign vessels who availed of a range of services in port. Instead they were only billed a flat €250 fee.
The auditor said if they were properly billed an additional €100,000 would have been raised.
In Dingle, a lower charge was imposed on passenger vessels and this resulted in lost income of €35,000.
There was also evidence there were shortcomings in how harbours were billing companies that used their services.
Two unidentified companies who ran passenger vessels were not billed €293,000 for services availed of up to 2008.
In relation to car parks Mr McCarthy’s report said €340,000 had been spent upgrading a car park in Rossaveel that was to be used to generate additional revenue. But there was no business plan available for the auditor to review.
The department told the auditor it had estimated the car park could raise €580,000 each year. But, because of technical problems and surprise competition, it raised just €11,000 between June 2012 and July 2013.
Particular problems in relation to debt collection were also identified, with €5m outstanding at the end of 2013. This was owed by more than 460 accounts. However, the 10 largest debtors accounted for 60% of the overall sum. One debtor owed €1.65m but had successfully challenged the matter in the High Court as it arose from a dispute over the classification of passenger vessels. There is a Supreme Court appeal in progress.
Separately, the Department of Agriculture said there was possible legal action over a lease with €51,000 of rent accrued but where the tenant believed there was a debenture in place. The Department said it had no record of such a commitment.
There were 54 properties rented out, but no lease agreements were in place.
Boundaries were not protected in all cases.
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