PAC to probe €290k spend on chairman’s office

The Dáil’s public spending watchdog is to launch an investigation into how €290,000 was spent on furnishing the office of its own chairman in 2007 when he was a junior minister.

Members of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee yesterday agreed to examine the background into the lavish spending on the refurbishment of the office of PAC chairman, John McGuinness, when the Kilkenny TD was a junior minister in the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment during the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition.

The investigation follows revelations by the Irish Independent about the €290,000 spent by the Office of Public Works in fitting out Mr McGuinness’s Kildare St office, including specifications that only luxury toilet roll could be used in an en-suite bathroom.

More than €50,000 was spent on a private shower for a senior civil servant in the department, Seán Gorman, including a sum of €2,300 on a “vanity unit”.

Mr McGuinness raised the issue at yesterday’s PAC meeting having previously issued a statement that stressed that he had no involvement in the design or expenditure on the refurbishment of his office.

“I have nothing to hide in relation to this and I want it investigated,” he told the PAC yesterday.

“If I’d known it was going to cost that much money I would have stopped it.”

He pointed out he had not sought any particular furniture or equipment for the office.

The Fianna Fáil TD said he was greatly concerned about the expenditure when he first saw media reports on the issue.

He said he had asked both the Comptroller & Auditor General and the Standards in Public Office Commission to examine the background to such expenditure but they had replied that they had no role in the matter.

Members of the PAC ratified Mr McGuinness’s recommendation to seek all documentation on the refurbishment of his office from the OPW and the Department of Enterprise.

The C&AG, Seamus McCarthy, said it was not open to him to reopen an audit on the OPW’s accounts from 1987 under existing legislation.

Mr McCarthy said he could conduct a value-for- money report on the issue but he believed such a measure would not represent the best use of the C&AG’s resources, given the amount involved and time since the works.

Members of the PAC also agreed that the inquiry should extend into the cost of office refurbishments of other ministers and senior civil servants.

Representatives of the OPW and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation are expected to appear before the PAC in the near future to answer questions about the controversy.

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