Leinster House repair works estimated at €17 million

Survey shows sagging floors creating fire safety issue in parliament building

The cost of repair and refurbishment works to Leinster House will come in at €17 million, significantly above initial estimates for the work, the Public Accounts Committee has heard.

The PAC was told by the Houses of Oireachtas Service, which is giving evidence on its annual accounts, that the work represents good value for money.

The original budget for the work to the 273-year-old building was €8 million. A 2006 survey found that Leinster House was a fire hazard, with sagging floors creating a fire safety issue in the space between them and the ceiling below.

Secretary General of the Houses of Oireachtas Peter Finnegan told the committee the work undertaken was extensive. "Having been in Leinster House for the duration, having walked the site, been up on the roof, in the basement, there was an enormous amount of work involved in the site".

He said the project was a “labour of love” for the team involved, which saw up to 80 workers, including expert craftsmen, on site at any one time. “It is very good value for money. It was constructed in 1745, it’s coming up to the 275th anniversary. To spend €17 million, which has been the only major capital spend on restoration… it’s value for money”.

There will be a building there at the end of it for the people of Ireland. it's the people's parliament," he said.

Separately, Melissa English, chief legal advisor to the Houses of the Oireachtas, said she expected there should be no "chilling effect" on the work of committees arising from the Supreme Court in favour of Angela Kerins, which found that a previous PAC had acted unlawfully.

“There have been messages out there about this chilling effect on parliamentary committees which is absolutely incorrect,” she said. Ms English said that the Supreme Court had asked the Oireachtas to put in place procedures to remedy when a non-member felt they had been badly appreciated, and that once that was in place, the courts would give “a very wide margin of appreciation as to how you run your business.”

Once that system is in place… things will operate much more smoothly going forward,” she said.

The committee heard that the Oireachtas had spent €485,000 defending itself in recent cases against Denis O'Brien and Ms Kerins. The service was awarded its costs arising from Mr O'Brien's High Court case, but had to pay its own bill for the associated Supreme Court action.

The committee also heard that the service has put in place extra governance mechanisms over its incremental credit scheme following the discovery of an alleged fraud last year, which has been referred to and is under investigation by the gardaí.