€6m back rent needed for idle health centre

THE Health Service Executive (HSE) will have to fork out over €6 million in back rent for a health centre which has lain idle for more than two-and-a-half years.

Yesterday, the HSE announced the Ballymun Health Centre will finally open in March, although its construction to fit-out-stage was completed in September 2003.

The costly delay in occupying the building stemmed from an argument between the Department of Health and the former Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) over how the project was commissioned. It is understood the former Northern Area Health Board (NAHB) made an agreement in principle with the owners of the building, Ballymun Regeneration Ltd, to become anchor tenants, without having secured Government funding to fit it out.

Once the new centre was ready, €9m was needed to fit it out, but the money was not available. In June 2004, a NAHB spokesman claimed they "at all times made it clear to Ballymun Regeneration Ltd that the board's participation was subject to approval and funding."

However, earlier that year, the then Health Minister Micheál Martin said the development was pursued without the approval of his department.

The upshot was the building has remained idle in one of Dublin's most underprivileged areas, adding to pressures on local A&E units, until now.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the HSE said agreement had been reached with Ballymun Regeneration Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dublin City Council, which will allow the €56m centre fitted out at an additional cost of €12m to open in March.

The agreement involves the HSE making payments to Ballymun Regeneration Ltd from January of this year, and covering the period the building was not occupied, but considered ready for fit-out, which was September 2003. The sum owed is over 6m.

Fine Gael health spokesperson Dr Liam Twomey said: "We had examples of waste all over the health service in 2005.

"We're only a week into 2006 and already we see the Government starting out with the same sort of cavalier attitude. Who will take responsibility for this €6m waste? You can be sure it won't be a Government minister."

Ballymun's new primary care centre will provide a range of health and personal social services for Ballymun and surrounding area, a population of 30,000.

The facility will house 200 health and social care workers.

Mental Health Services will also be catered for and addiction services provided along with community welfare services and home help.

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