Tuesday 23 May 2017

DDDA spent €13,000 on foreign jaunts for government officials

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

THE Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) brought the Government officials tasked with supervising its activities on five foreign trips at a cost of €13,000.

The representatives from the Department of the Environment were brought on "foreign research visits" to cities with docklands including Helsinki in Finland, St Petersburg in Russia and Bilbao and San Sebastian in Spain.

The full cost of the trips between 2002-2008, which also included visits to Glasgow, Amsterdam and London, were all paid for by the DDDA.

The only contribution made by the Department of the Environment was the payment of a small travel claim of €137.

Details of the foreign trips emerged after a consultants' review of the DDDA's planning decisions criticised the Department of the Environment's oversight of the agency.

It said there had been a "light touch" approach by the department in relation to the DDDA and called for the department to have a more "hands-on" strategic management role.

Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes questioned if the trips were relevant or just a "junket" for the department officials on the DDDA board during the period.

"It seems extraordinary at time when so much liability is owed to the State that this level of extravagance was going on," he said.

During this period, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Finance gave the DDDA the go-ahead to take part in the €426m purchase of the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend in Dublin in 2006 with builder Bernard McNamara and private investor Derek Quinlan.

However, the site is now worth just €50m due to the property crash. Fine Gael is continuing to question the role of Taoiseach Brian Cowen, whose approval as then Finance Minister was required for the DDDA to take part in the deal.

Mr Hayes questioned the role of the department's representatives on the DDDA board during the 2002-2008 period.

Questions

"Clearly no one was asking the hard questions, no one was intervening, no one wanted to know the scale of the liability. Had those questions been posed by the senior officials at the time, we may well not have the mess we currently have," he said.

The consultants, Declan Brassil and Company, have recommended that the department's representatives on the DDDA board should have written instructions to clearly define their role "and to ensure absolute clarity around reporting procedures between the board and the department.

They also said Environment Minister John Gormley should also consider the "skills mix" needed for the DDDA when appointing members to the board.

And they recommended that the department should seek more detailed information each year from the DDDA, including an agreed set of key indicators. The DDDA has said these are all matters for Mr Gormley.

The DDDA has written down the value of its 26pc share in the former Irish Glass Bottle site to nil and is financially crippled by having to meet a €5m-a-year interest bill on the loan taken out to purchase the site.

Mr Hayes said the final bill could be up to €500m for the taxpayer, if the DDDA was found to be fully liable.

"This whole debacle has shown the complete hands-off approach by officials when it comes to DDDA. Would we be in the mess today we're in, with somebody having to bail us out for €500m, if it weren't this arms-length approach by the department?" he said.

The Department of the Environment said its representatives on the board took part in the foreign trips to see at first hand "international best practice in docklands and harbour developments" and to meet with local officials and stakeholders.

Irish Independent

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