Tuesday 22 August 2017

Bank rejects call to donate historic building

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

The Bank of Ireland governor has flatly rejected a proposal by government minister Sean Haughey to hand over its historic former headquarters as a 'thank you' to the Irish people for the multi-billion bank bail-out.

Sean Haughey, who grew up in his father's historic Gandon mansion in Kinsealy, Co Dublin, has suggested that the 'old' Bank of Ireland in College Green, Dublin, and other historic buildings owned by the banks, should be handed over to the State. But he got a firm 'no' from bank governor Pat Molloy to the proposal. He said it would be inappropriate "at this time".

"Bank of Ireland should be encouraged to pass ownership of these buildings to the State at no cost, or possibly for a nominal amount for contract purposes," said the Fianna Fail Minister of State.

And he entered the controversial debate about the future of the Abbey Theatre -- saying that the College Green building, which once was home to Grattan's Parliament of Ireland, could be a new home for the theatre if the GPO was found unsuitable.

He has suggested that a State body, such as the one founded by his father which turned the derelict Temple Bar into a vibrant part of the city "would be appropriate" to hold such assets.

"Given the economic and banking crisis, I would strongly suggest that the time is opportune to negotiate with the Bank of Ireland for the transfer of the building to State ownership, given the bank's undoubted indebtedness, both moral and financial, to the Irish taxpayer," said Mr Haughey.

So far, Bank of Ireland has been given a €3bn bail-out by the Irish taxpayers and it is understood it will require at least the same again to stay in business.

Still used as a bank branch, the College Green building dates from 1729 when it was built under the supervision of Edward Lovett Pearce. It remained as a parliament building until the Act of Union in 1800 and was the headquarters of Bank of Ireland from 1803 until the 1970s when the bank moved its hq to Baggot Street.

"The unique nature, excellent workmanship and central location of the building make it a landmark in the city for all Dubliners and the transfer of ownership to the State would be widely welcomed," said Mr Haughey last week.

He put the suggestion to Taoiseach Brian Cowen and also wrote to Mr Molloy. But, he said, "the governor has indicated his opposition to the proposal 'at the present time'".

The Bank of Ireland complex consists of the landmark building on College Green but also contains a number of historic buildings in Foster Place. The bank also has other buildings in the area, including ones on Fleet Street, which could be included in the gift.

"It could be a landmark site for State activities" says Mr Haughey. "The donation of these historic buildings would, I believe be viewed as a magnanimous gesture by the banks, particularly at this time when the State has been so generous to them."

Sunday Independent

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