Minister blames 17-month delay in department’s move on Office of Public Works

Simon Harris says OPW ‘solely responsible’ for accommodation and procurement

The Department of Health’s new headquarters lay empty for 17 months at a cost to the State of €15.8 million, a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General has found.

The Department of Health’s new headquarters lay empty for 17 months at a cost to the State of €15.8 million, a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General has found.

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has defended his department after a report found its new headquarters lay empty for 17 months at a cost to the State of €15.8 million.

He also appeared to lay the blame at the door of the Office of Public Works, which he said is “solely responsible” for the provision of accommodation for Government departments.

The Department of Health moved into its new offices on Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, “at the earliest opportunity” once the accommodation was ready, Mr Harris said.

He was responding to a report from Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy, which said the move to the building, which is owned by Larry Goodman, was delayed in part because of protracted disagreements over its internal layout.

Mr Harris said four government departments which would be using the building - the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, part of the Department of Finance, and part of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and his department.

The OPW had sole responsibility for procurement, the entering into tenders and leases, and the provision of state accommodation, he said.

“I think it is very frustrating that such a large sum of money was spent on a building when it was empty but obviously the OPW has responsibility for tendering and procurement and what I would expect is that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) would examine this chapter of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report.”

The report said Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform, had agreed on a floor plan by March 2017 but that the departments of Health and Children were involved with the OPW in extensive negotiation over the fit out of the premises.

One of the issues that arose had to do with the plan for open plan accommodation for assistant principal officers, who were used to having their own offices in Hawkins House, the building they were moving from.

Asked about this Mr Harris said there is always concern when an organisation was moving from one office to another and you had to make sure that you had adequate accommodation for staff.

He told The Irish Times he “looked forward” to the OPW answering questions before the PAC as the accounting officers for the money involved, and he was sure they would do that.

He welcomed the fact that matters such as this were subjected to scrutiny but certainly neither his department nor he as minister had any role in the legal contracts and tendering process and that was as it should be.

The OPW has said the leasing of the building is the largest such deal it has secured in recent years and was achieved at “an extremely competitive rent” of €49.85 per square foot.

The fit out of any large scale commercial building is a complex process and a period of nine to 10 months would not be unusual for a building of the size of the Miesian Plaza.

However, it said, there was no doubt but that the move presented “significant challenges” for both the departments of Health and Children, as well as the OPW.