independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Luxury toilet paper only in minister's €250k office

John McGuinness: watchdog chairman

THE chairman of the powerful Dail public spending watchdog was only allowed to use luxury toilet rolls in the bathroom of his €250,000 office when he was a junior minister.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show staff were advised to use only higher grade roll because of the toilet system installed in the office made for John McGuinness in 2007.

More than €250,000 of taxpayers' money was spent kitting out an office for Mr McGuinness, the current chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), when he was appointed a junior minister in the Department of Enterprise by Bertie Ahern.

An email says "lower grade toilet tissues (the old Oifig an tSolathair variety comes to mind) should be avoided".

Instead, plusher toilet rolls like "Kittensoft, Inversoft, Andrex" were given the thumbs-up.

The email exchanges between civil servants and a firm of architects in documentation released to the Irish Independent show staff queried what type of toilet roll could be used in Mr McGuinness's en suite bathroom.

An email from the department to architects O Briain Beary asked: "Can you confirm in writing what toilet tissue is appropriate to use with the Saniflo system in Minister McGuinness's bathroom?"

The reply said: "Please note SanIrish Ltd, Saniflo's Irish reps, have confirmed this morning that any type of degradable toilet tissue (Kittensoft, Inversoft, Andrex, etc) can be used.

"The main restriction is on the use of 'wipes' (ie baby wipes, Kandoo toilet training wipes, make-up removal wipes, etc)

"Also multi-ply facial tissues and hankies such as Kleenex should not be disposed of in the toilet."

"SanIrish also recommend that lower grade toilet tissues (the old Oifig and tSolathair variety comes to mind) should be avoided."

At the same time as the office work was being done, the senior civil servant in the same department, Sean Gorman, saw more than €50,000 go towards a personal "shower room" in his office, including €2,300 on a "vanity unit".

Another email regarding the bathrooms says: "I have also asked Noel to fit doorsteps to both the secretary general's and the minister's en suite as a priority."

On the furniture, another email says: "Further to my phone call to Paul Plunkett, he is going to ask Thomas Montgomery to call into you to discuss exactly what type of arm adjustments the minister would prefer for his chair."

Mr McGuinness has been described as "irresponsible" by Fine Gael over the office spend, but the Fianna Fail TD for Carlow-Kilkenny insists he had no part in the cost of the office.

Space

He said space had to be made for him in the Kildare Street building because of Mr Ahern's decision to increase the number of junior ministers.

The documents show Mr McGuinness "was satisfied with the revised plans".

But in a statement, he said: "A new office was needed for me and additional civil servants, and I saw a general floor plan put forward by the OPW.

"I did not dictate the specifications, the furniture or fittings.

"At no time did I see any costs nor was I asked to approve the details," he said.

"I presumed, as would be normal procedure, that department officials would oversee the costs of such projects, ensuring that they are within budget and adhering to all value-for- money guidelines."

Fine Gael Dublin North TD Alan Farrell called on Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to say if whether or not he had confidence in Mr McGuinness as PAC chairman.

"If John McGuinness, as Minister of State in the Department of Enterprise, failed to ask any questions, seek any report or exercise any ministerial oversight over a major refurbishing job on his own office costing €250,000, then we can only imagine what else he failed to pay any attention to while in ministerial office.

"This lack of regard for state funding calls into question his suitability for the role of chair of the Public Accounts Committee."

Irish Independent

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