Govt wasted €2m on unused refugee centre

The Government wasted €2m on a refugee centre in Cork which never housed a single asylum seeker, it emerged today.

The Government wasted €2m on a refugee centre in Cork which never housed a single asylum seeker, it emerged today.

The state paid €3.5m for Lynch’s Lodge Hotel, Macroom in 2001, but it never opened its doors to refugees and was sold for a knock-down price of €2.3m at the end of last year.

Jim O’Keefe, Fine Gael justice spokesman, said it was an extraordinary waste of taxpayers’ money and showed the cavalier attitude of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat Government.

“Only this Government would be able to lose money on a valuable property during a period of unprecedented property growth in which prices have more than doubled,” Mr O’Keefe said.

“If we cannot trust this Government with something as simple as an integration centre, how can we trust it to fight crime, run the health service, and resource the education system?”

The Fine Gael TD claimed officials at the Office of Public Works bought Lynch’s Lodge for €3.5m in October 2000 on behalf of the Department of Justice with a view to turning it into an integration centre for asylum seekers.

But they failed to consult local authorities about the scheme and planning permission was refused.

Mr O’Keefe revealed some 800,000 euro had been spent on security for the failed scheme and €17,500 on disposing of the property resulting in a total loss of €2.07m.

An OPW spokesman said Lynch’s was bought as a going concern in 2000 at the peak of refugee applications but after sitting idle for five years it could only be sold as a vacant building.

“Once we bought it we were subjected to legal proceedings by local residents who took out an injunction stopping us using it. The matter was only resolved last April,” the spokesman said.

By that stage, he added, refugee applications had fallen from a high of 11,000 in 2001 to 4,000 in 2005 and Lynch’s became surplus to requirements.

“The Refugee Integration Board said they no longer required that property and because it was surplus to requirements we put it on the market. That was the market price through public tender competition and we accepted the highest tender,” the spokesman said.

Mr O’Keefe added: “Justice Minister Michael McDowell, who paid six times the value for Thornton Hall in Co. Dublin last year to build the new Mountjoy prison, has further explaining to do in relation to his latest waste of taxpayers’ money.”

But the OPW spokesman compared the deal to the sale of two acres of land in Ballsbridge – the former home of the UCD veterinary college – which earned €171m for Government coffers.

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