Overpayment of rent for Department of Health office has cost €1.4m

Dáil hears claim ‘no substantive progress’ made but meeting with landlord planned

No “substantive progress” has been made in resolving the issue of overpayment of rent for offices housing the Departments of Health and of Children, it has been claimed in the Dáil.

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall made the claim on Tuesday as Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan acknowledged that the overpayment has cost the taxpayer €1.4 million to date.

The Minister said however that there were “complex commercial property transactions” involved and “discussions are at a sensitive stage” and a further meeting with the landlord is due within the next fortnight.

A mis-measurement in 2016 by the Office of Public Works (OPW) of the floor space of Miesian Plaza on Dublin’s Baggot Street means a loss to the taxpayer of €344,000 a year and Ms Shortall said over the lifetime of the least it will come to about €10 million, “a very significant matter”.

The OPW began discussions in 2018 with the owner in an attempt to recalibrate the floor space measurements that the lease is based on.

A Public Accounts Committee report in May expressed concern that the OPW would not succeed in preventing the taxpayer being exposed to an additional €10 million in rent as a direct result of a “fundamental error by the OPW”.

Committee members claimed the issue had gone on for far too long.

Mr O’Donovan said there had been three meetings on the matter on 3rd June, 24th August and 23rd September “at which there were constructive discussions around positive resolution of the measurement issue”.

Ms Shortall said that on two occasions, in April and again in June when she raised the issue, the Minister said the OPW regretted the error.

“Regretting is not enough, concrete steps have to be taken to recoup the outstanding monies and put the rent on a proper footing.”

She asked if the landlord, businessman Larry Goodman, trading as Remley Developments, accepted "that an error was made and that the measurements taken by OPW need to be corrected".

Mr O’Donovan said he was not going to get into negotiations on the floor of the Dáil adding that the OPW never attempted to conceal the error and admitted it from the start.

Ms Shortall, who said “no substantive progress has been made apart from general aspiration”, called on the Minister to give “clear instructions to OPW officials to bring this matter to a conclusion” and to get to a point “that there is an acceptance by the landlord and that taxpayer will get that refund”.

But the Minister reiterated that he could not negotiate on the floor of the Dáil. Pointing to the next meeting within a fortnight he said that if subsequent meetings are required “the OPW will do that in a constructive fashion”.

He acknowledged the level of concern but said “nobody has a monopoly on concern”.

He added that the OPW has engaged with and co-operated with others “to try to make sure that events like this don’t happen in the future”.

Mr O’Donovan hoped to have a resolution although “I can’t guarantee anything” but he would inform the House as soon as he had any positive outcome.