Decentralisation is impossible, say departments

FINANCE MINISTER Charlie McCreevy’s radical decentralisation plan can not be completed within his three-year time frame.

Reliable sources in several Government departments told the Irish Examiner yesterday it would be impossible for eight Government departments and the Office of Public Work (OPW) to move to 53 towns in rural Ireland by January 2007.

“I would be stunned to see it happen ,” said one well-placed senior official with expertise in the area.

“Land will have to identified and acquired, there will be a need to apply for planning permission, buildings need to be constructed.

“If we have started building in three years time, it will be a major achievement. A more realistic time-frame is eight years.”

The OPW yesterday confirmed that it spends in excess of 100 million per annum in leasing departmental buildings in Dublin, and that the leases were typically for 20 years.

However, the OPW spokesperson said the cost of the programme might not be prohibitively high.

She said some of the leases were nearing their end and would not be renewed. In addition, civil servants in Government departments remaining in Dublin could transfer to some of the vacated buildings. In a minority of cases, she said, leases with some years to run may have to be bought out.

The OPW, the agency entrusted with managing property on behalf of the State, pointed out that several of the Departments owned their own buildings. They include the Gandon-designed Customs House, being vacated by the Department of the Environment; three Georgian buildings on St Stephens Green; the modern Agriculture House on Kildare Street; as well as an office block on Harcourt Road. As ministers paraded their successes in bringing Government departments to their constituencies yesterday, the opposition accused rural members of the Cabinet making nonsense of the National Spatial Strategy.

Only a third of the 10,300 civil servants being transferred will be based in NSS hub or gateway locations. Green Party leader Trevor Sargent said that only one out of the nine towns selected for departmental headquarters had been identified as a hub town.

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