Belfast Telegraph

Justice chiefs spent almost 4m euro on building that was never used, report says

Almost four million euro of taxpayers' money was spent by justice chiefs on a building that was never used.

The offices on Wolfe Tone Street in central Dublin were supposed to have been used for a community-based project funded by the Probation Service.

But a dispute over planning rules for the property forced the Department of Justice to leave it lying empty for several years after more than one million euro was paid for a fit-out and another one million euro in rent.

The taxpayer had to foot the bill for another 1.8 million euro paid to settle a potentially protracted and costly courtroom battle over the lease.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, the state's spending watchdog, disclosed that his office had examined the spend in its 2011 report.

In his annual report for last year the C&AG said: "Significant efforts had been made to find an alternative use for the property but to no avail.

"As part of the settlement, the lease on this premises has now been terminated and no further costs will be incurred in relation to this property."

The C&AG said issues about the office's suitability for the Probation Service only came to light after the lease was signed when it emerged there was no planning permission.

The subsequent lawsuit was settled last year.

The issue was one of more than 20 reports on financial waste in the public service.

The C&AG's report examined the over-payment of between 100 and 120 million euro in welfare benefits from 2013 to 2016.

It said about half of it in 2013 was linked to fraud but by last year that had come down to 37%, about 41 million euro.

The report also said there were 16,225 fraudulent social welfare over-payments in 2016 and 1,305 of them were worth more than 5,000 euro.

It also showed that 222 cases were considered by the Department of Social Protection's Central Prosecution Unit for criminal proceedings.

In its examination of the corporation tax regime - much-maligned internationally - the C&AG found 13 of the top 100 companies with the highest taxable income had an effective rate of less than 1% in 2015.

It said these companies had either used a double taxation relief to offset Irish corporation tax or R&D tax credit, or of both systems, to reduce their bills.

Elsewhere, the C&AG looked back on a property deal linked to the Garda training college in Templemore dating back to the tail end of the property boom.

It said the State paid almost two million euro more for farmland to expand the college than the guide price when the purchase was first advised.

Dromard farm, including a Georgian-period home, outhouses and woods on 252 acres about 6km from the centre was first up for auction in May 2005 valued at 2.5 million euro.

A private sale went through instead of it going under the hammer and 18 months later the Office of Public Works paid 4.3 million euro when it came back on the market.

At the time property consultants had said it was worth 5.45 million euro.

Also at Templemore, the C&AG noted that the Garda College Sportsfield Company Limited, which was run by senior managers in Templemore, leased out a 37-acre nine-hole course next to the college to a local club for 12,600 euro a year.

The Garda is owed 88,000 euro in backdated rent for the land, the report said.

A report into grants paid to health agencies raised concern over the non-compliance with public sector pay policies.

The report also found governance issues arising from non-compliance with procurement rules and regulations and the absence of internal audit functions.

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