The refusal of the landlord of the Department of Health to discuss a €10m rental overpayment by video conference has been dismissed as “farcical” and “a joke” at an Oireachtas committee.
Remley Developments, the landlord of Miesian Plaza in Dublin, informed the Office of Public Works, the building’s tenant, in late March that while it wishes to “engage constructively” regarding the overpayment, its preference is to have “a further face to face meeting once this is permissible under Covid-19 restrictions”.
The OPW’s update on the matter was the latest in a two-year saga of correspondence between them and Remley after the €10m overpayment — which resulted from the building being measured incorrectly when the lease was first drawn up — was first revealed by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2018.
At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on Tuesday, Remley's refusal to conduct a virtual meeting was described as “quite frankly a farcical response” by Sinn Fein’s Imelda Munster.
“For months we’ve been hearing this — it seems they’re hoping we’ll lose interest. The response is a joke,” Ms Munster said.
Fine Gael’s Colm Burke said the landlord’s approach seemed to indicate “they’re hoping that the OPW will go away, that’s what it sounds like to me”.
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said that it is important that the matter be “resolved without going down the legal route”, while Sinn Fein’s Matt Carthy suggested that the issue “just gives an indication that the OPW is in a very weak negotiating position”.
Remley claimed recently that the measurement mistake, which the OPW had been informed of in advance of the lease being signed by the Chief State Solicitor’s Office (CSSO), and subsequent lease overpayment occurred because the OPW never requested that the figure be adjusted downwards.
The firm, owned by beef tycoon Larry Goodman, said at the beginning of April that it is “committed, in the interests of equity and fair dealings, to reaching a mutually acceptable resolution”.
Those present at PAC today agreed that the next meeting needs to happen “within an agreed period of time”, with chair Brian Stanley suggesting it be completed “in whatever form within a four-week period”.
The OPW has given eight separate written updates to the PAC since March 2019 as to the status of negotiations with Remley, most of which involved the relation of “constructive” discussions between the two. However, no physical meeting has taken place since before the beginning of the pandemic.
The 25-year lease deal at Miesian Plaza was agreed in 2016 at a value of €10.1m per year.
However, the building remained vacant for some 16 months after the lease was signed, a period in which rental and service costs totalling more than €15.8m were paid.