The Dáil’s spending watchdog has found that a new €86.6 million headquarters for An Garda Síochana is no longer fit for purpose as it won’t be big enough to fit all personnel from the Garda units that were due to move there.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today published a report on a number of issues it identified with projects undertaken by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and it accused the agency of "poor management" of the Garda development.
The committee examined the construction of a Garda complex at Military Road, Dublin 8 which is due to be completed in the third quarter of 2022.
The report says that the estimated cost is €86.6 million, a €6.6 million increase on the original estimate.
It is due to replace the current Garda accommodation at Harcourt Square which is being leased from a commercial landlord.
During its investigation into the project the PAC requested information from the OPW on the selection process for the Military Road site and whether potential future increases in Garda personnel informed the decision.
The PAC notes that a Policing Authority report published in 2019 shows the Garda Commissioner stated that the development at Military Road will not be sufficient to accommodate all units currently based in Harcourt Square.
The OPW told the PAC that in 2016 there were 850 to 890 members of Garda personnel based in Harcourt Square and that the Military Road complex will be sufficient to accommodate the same number of staff upon completion.
However, the PAC report says that the OPW also explained that recent increases in Garda personnel, combined with changes to Garda operations, has resulted in other locations being required to house some of the units currently based in Harcourt Square.
The OPW informed the Committee that these units will be based in other premises currently occupied by An Garda Síochána.
However, they also explained that contingency plans using State owned and leased premises are in development to accommodate anticipated further increases in Garda personnel and operations
The PAC report says that developing a premises based on 2016 staff numbers and operational needs “does not represent best practice”.
It added that this “is compounded by the fact that as early as 2018 the OPW and An Garda Síochána were aware that An Garda Síochána’s staff numbers had increased and that the organisation had undergone organisational change.”
The PAC report says: “the failure to review the Military Road development in 2018 based on these factors represents poor management and has resulted in a major capital project no longer being fit for purpose.”
There have been delays in construction due to Covid-19 and the PAC previously quizzed the OPW on whether it will be completed on time, and if a contingency plan exists to manage such delays.
The OPW told the committee it expects the site to be completed on time but said there is a contingency plan to use a number of existing Garda buildings to accommodate staff if the development is delayed.
The PAC report says that “due to the on-going pandemic the Committee is of the opinion that further delays are highly likely.”
The PAC recommends that the OPW develops a detailed contingency plan to accommodate the staff in Harcourt Square if the Military Road development is not completed on time.
It also says the OPW should “keep all of its projects in the planning stages under review to ensure that any changes, such as staff increases or operational change, are incorporated into the plans and that construction does not commence until all parties are satisfied that the project will meet the needs of the client Department, both at the time and into the future.”
The PAC says that “this will help ensure that public funds expended on capital projects provide long-term value-for-money for the State and the taxpayer.
“Failure to proactively manage capital projects in this way can result in additional expenditure,” it warns.
The report also looks at vacant Garda property after the closure of 139 stations between 2012 and 2013.
Thirty-six of the stations were disposed of between 2014 and 2016 but this process was halted for two years due to two Garda reviews related to the vacant properties.
Plans to sell stations resumed in 2019 and the OPW said last month that there were 49 vacant Garda properties that were either being prepared for disposal or under consideration for community or County Council use.
The PAC report says nine of the properties identified were vacant prior to 2012 and says that given that these have been vacant for up to a decade “the OPW has not been pro-active enough in maximising the potential of the State’s assets.”
The PAC report says there are "on-going issues" with the lease of Miesian Plaza, the headquarters of the Department of Health and also accommodates other State agencies
The OPW’s mis-measurement of the floor space for the building is expected to result in an over-payment of €10 million during the lifetime of the lease.
In October 2018 the OPW stated that it was negotiating with the owner of the premises in an attempt to have the floor space measurements upon which the lease is based recalibrated and last November it confirmed the negotiations were still ongoing.
The PAC report says the committee “remains concerned that the OPW will not succeed in preventing taxpayers being exposed for an additional €10 million that is a direct result of a fundamental error by OPW.
“The Committee is also unsatisfied that after two years of negotiations with the landlord that no substantial developments have taken place.”
The PAC recommends that the OPW “takes all necessary steps to prevent the forecasted loss of approximately €10 million and that the OPW ensures it has appropriately qualified staff to manage its property transactions on behalf of the State.”
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said there was a “a lack of future proofing” for the Garda complex project in terms of the number of people to be accommodated there and also the tight nature of the site which she argued is difficult to access from congested roads.
She said: “That is a significant failing”.
She said there are questions to be asked about the choice of such a restricted site for the development while suggesting the fact that it was State-owned was a factor in that.
Ms Murphy also said there is concern the site may not be finished on time and the State will incur a “double cost” in moving gardaí from Harcourt Square to temporary premises and then on to Military Road.
PAC Cathaoirleach Brian Stanley said the committee will be monitoring future costs related to the project - including contingency plans for accommodating Gardaí in leased premises - questioning if it will lead to “collateral damage to the public purse”.