Inquiry into acquisition of government offices site in Wexford

OPW examining files over the transfer of properties after 15-year row over title deeds

Revenue Commissioners office on Anne Street, Wexford

Revenue Commissioners office on Anne Street, Wexford

 

Two State bodies are investigating alleged irregularities into how a site that now houses offices of the Revenue Commissioners and Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was developed.

The Chief State Solicitor’s Office has been called in 15 years after problems first emerged with title deeds on properties adjoining the site on Anne Street, Wexford, and almost 20 years after the office construction was completed.

The Office of Public Works (OPW), which has responsibility for the State’s property portfolio, is also examining files over the transfer of properties for the site.

Local businessman Martin Power said he first became aware there was an issue after he bought a property adjacent to the site and a problem emerged with his title deeds when he went to take out a bank loan.

Eight other property owners and businesses subsequently discovered difficulties with their title deeds. The group of owners claim their property interests have been affected by how the site was put together.

A row with Wexford Borough Council and subsequently Wexford County Council festered until the controversy became public in the Dáil in January 2016, when then Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins called for a commission of investigation into irregularities involving public bodies and taxpayers’ money.

Mr Higgins said there were “serious unanswered questions and anomalies surrounding the assembling of this site”.

Two sites

It emerged in the Dáil that the OPW acquired two sites in the 1990s from Wexford Borough Council.

The old County Hotel, was purchased through an agreement with the council, on May 22nd, 1995, for £145,000.

The other site, known as Murphy’s yard, was acquired from the council in 1997 in exchange for an OPW site on King Street in Wexford.

The Dáil was told the OPW was not a party to the assembly of these sites, which were acquired directly from the borough council.

The row was referred back to Wexford County Council, which in October 2016 produced a report.

Mr Martin and the other property owners challenged the accuracy of the report and claimed it was factually incorrect and demanded it be amended.

Contacted for a response, a spokesman said Wexford County Council had “recently been provided with further documentation which relates to this issue”.

“We have forwarded this documentation to our legal advisers for assessment and advice in the context of the report on this matter which the council completed in 2016.”

Raised at meetings

The matter has been raised at meetings of the county council and again in the Dáil by Solidarity TD Mick Barry, who called for OPW files to be released.

Councillors were informed of the involvement of the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and the OPW at their September meeting.

A spokesman for the OPW said “the title issues in this case are complex and require significant examination”.

“Since the examination process began, it has been established that a number of queries raised in relation to the acquisition were a matter for Wexford Borough Council.

“The Office of Public Works and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office are continuing to review the files on a number of other queries raised and an update can be provided once that review is complete.”

The Chief State Solicitor’s Office said it does not comment on any client cases.