The Office of Public Works has admitted that it may not be possible to recoup a €10m overpayment of rent relating to the headquarters of the Department of Health at Miesian Plaza in Dublin.
Ahead of its meeting with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) tomorrow, Wednesday, Maurice Buckley, commissioner of the OPW which manages many of the State's property assets, acknowledged that recouping the money “may not be achievable, at least in the short term”.
Details of the overpayment, which resulted from an incorrect measurement process being used to establish the chargeable floor space in the building, first emerged following a review of certain OPW-managed properties by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2017.
In the wake of a highly adversarial meeting of the previous iteration of PAC and the OPW in October of that year, Mr Buckley undertook to revisit the issue of overpayment with the landlord of the building, beef baron Larry Goodman’s Remley Developments.
Five separate updates were received at the committee from the OPW regarding those discussions, most of which suggested an ongoing dialogue between both parties.
However, it has now emerged that the landlord has not engaged with the OPW since January 2020.
“After the most recent meeting, the landlord requested some time to consider the matters discussed and undertook to revert to the OPW,” the office said in correspondence with PAC.
“However, the OPW will have an ongoing relationship with the landlord over the course of the 25-year lease and will continue to press for a satisfactory resolution,” it said.
The development at Miesian Plaza on Dublin’s southside was first leased by the OPW to play host to a number of Government departments in December 2016.
However, it stood empty for 18 months at a cost to the taxpayer of just under €16 million.
The C&AG meanwhile said that the OPW’s reasons for not reducing the rental payment with its landlord, once it realised the wrong measurement standard had been used, were “not clear”.
At a recent meeting of the PAC, secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform – itself based at Miesian Plaza – Robert Watt insisted that sanctions existed for public servants who made grave errors like that which led to the rental overpayment on the building.
At that meeting, Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry had stated that the OPW had “cost the State €10m” with regard to the miscalculation.
“We’re not talking learning curve mistakes here. It was a basic mistake, and we’re on the hook for it,” Mr MacSharry said.