The State is paying more than €115 million in annual rent for office buildings and other premises throughout the country, according to new information disclosed by the Office of Public Works (OPW).
The biggest bills are in Dublin where 29 leases of offices and premises each have annual rents of more than €1 million. The single most expensive lease is for Miesian Plaza on Lower Baggot Street where the Department of Health is located, costing the State €8.25 million in annual rent.
Other multimillion rentals in the capital include the Distillers Building in Dublin 7, which has an annual bill of €7.217 million; Garda offices at Harcourt Square at €6 million annually: four office spaces on Bishop’s Square in Dublin 2 which together cost over €6.5 million in rent each year; number 1 George’s Quay which costs €2.37 million; and office space at Spencer Dock costing €2.636 million.
The only premises outside Dublin with an annual rental bill of over €1 million is the Revenue office in Fairgreen, Galway which costs €1.131 million. The most expensive rental in Limerick is for offices which cost €900,000 annually, while in Cork, Abbey Court House is the most expensive at €650,000.
Over a third of all the rental premises are in Dublin. Outside the city centre, the only two premises with annual rental bills exceeding €1 million are the one in Tallaght and the Belfield Office Park at University College Dublin. In other counties, rents are a fraction of the prices of the big urban areas. The only exception is the social welfare office in Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim which is listed as costing €600,000 annually.
The information is contained in a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett.
In his reply, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan said its role is to provide accommodation for all government departments. He acknowledged that the rent bill to the State could be higher, as some State bodies “have entered into an agreement directly with a landlord”.
Mr O’Donovan said €15 million of the rental expenditure has been recouped leaving an annual bill of a little over €100 million. He said there are 341 leases on 285 buildings, while the State owns a further 256 buildings which means that slightly over half of the property portfolios managed by the OPW is leased rather than owned.
Mr Boyd-Barrett said the reason he had put in the question was that he suspected the State was spending “a hell of a lot of public money on leasing buildings”. He said he was shocked at the rent bills for some premises, especially in the Dublin area.
“This confirms my suspicion. I was aware of the Department of Health offices [in Miesian Plaza]. My point is that essentially all that money is going into private hands. The main question in my head is why do we not own these buildings outright. We are paying huge amounts of money on an annual basis to commercial private landlords. Surely it would be better value if these buildings are owned publicly,” he added.
He said he was doubly concerned because it was obvious that at least some of these buildings were underutilised with people still working from home — though the Covid pandemic had now passed. “There should be a serious audit of the usage of these buildings. With so many people working from home, does it mean we are wasting huge amounts of public money on buildings that we are not even using?”
He said the response also raises issues about blended working: “The Civil Service as a whole now needs to examine its attitude and approach to the workplace. Traditional, total reliance on building-based work locations/solutions into the future now needs to be actively questioned.”
While a strategy and framework on blended working has been published, it has yet to be implemented.