The HSE’s estates section initially refused to sanction the rental of a former guest house in Cork city during the pandemic by Cork/Kerry mental health services due to the transaction not representing value for money.
Since April 2020, the HSE has spent €43,400 per month renting and cleaning a facility at Garnish House in the city which has played host to residents vacated from another HSE-owned facility at Millfield House due to Covid-19.
Roughly €1.25m has been spent on Garnish House to date, a facility valued for purchase at €1.6m by the HSE, also in 2020.
Earlier this year, the HSE confirmed that it had considered purchasing Garnish at the time of its rental but had declined to do so due to the “excessive estimated refurbishment costs” required — in excess of €2.4m.
However, new documents released under freedom of information to Cork councillor Liam Quaide and Green TD Neasa Hourigan show that the HSE’s national estates section expressed heightened scepticism regarding the deal and initially refused to sanction it.
A mail from the HSE’s then assistant national director for estates, Mark Kane, in April 2020 to HSE property manager, Kevin O’Connor, decried the “hybrid nature” of the deal the Cork/Kerry section was seeking.
“I don’t have time to determine how we ended up in this situation, but we have an application that is neither a hotel-type licence nor a lease agreement... and serves neither,” he said.
“This hybrid approach will not be approved nationally and it doesn’t appear value for money,” he added.
At the time the initial deal was posited, at a cost of €67 per room for 21 rooms per night, Garnish House was closed due to the ongoing pandemic.
After the HSE managers were asked to request a “keener rate” in order to close the deal, they responded by messaging the guesthouse’s owner saying “in order to get this offer over the line, I have been asked can you provide a keener rate”, a request which the guesthouse owner refused.
A final deal was eventually struck two days later at a rate of €63.75 per room per night.
A replacement venue for Garnish House at Glenwood House in Carrigaline was initially purchased by the HSE for €750,000 in January 2021. However, that building has never been put into formal use after the HSE waited more than 16 months to apply for retention planning permission for it.
In February 2021, the HSE requested a six-week extension to the Garnish deal as an “interim measure” in the anticipation it would be the final such agreement made before the premises was vacated in favour of Glenwood House.
Garnish House is still being rented at present. It is now not expected to be vacated before the first quarter of 2023.
In response to queries on this matter, a HSE spokesperson said that the Garnish rental had been part of the “unprecedented preparations” for Covid-19, and that its rental had “allowed us to keep residents in several mental health services safe”.
Commenting, Mr Quaide said that much of the expense attributable to Garnish “could have been avoided if planning retention was pursued for Glenwood House earlier, as advised, and if Millfield House was either sold or renovated”.