Friday 26 May 2017

Party is finally over at the DDDA

Authority hoping overhaul will restore confidence

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

EXPENSIVE flights, five-star hotels, top-notch restaurants and fine wines.

It was all in a day's work if you were a board member or a leading executive at the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

For years the DDDA saw nothing wrong with this and up until very recently it had been in a state of denial about its junketeering.

Why would anyone shout stop when the authority had managed to change the face of Dublin's docklands, and attract an estimated €7bn of public and private investment in the area since 1997?

Only last December, when the Irish Independent first tackled the DDDA over travel expenses, officials there were slow to accept that high travel costs had been an issue.

The official line from the DDDA was that the trips were necessary to help the authority study similar large-scale projects in action abroad.

That might have been the case, but it still didn't justify €3,000-plus flights and €580-a-night hotel stays.

Changed

Just three months on, that tune has changed significantly with an acknowledgment that the party is over and that a post-mortem is in full swing.

The authority, which is now under the no-nonsense chairmanship of Prof Niamh Brennan, wife of former justice minister Michael McDowell, says it is taking "radical action" to return itself to a sound financial position and restore its reputation.

The commercial state body has now banned expensive travel. After racking up accumulated losses of €213m, its budgets no longer provide for such trips.

Prof Brennan is faced with no small task in trying to restore public confidence in the DDDA and the travel issue may be the least of the authority's worries.

As has been seen before with FAS, profligate spending on foreign junkets can often be symptomatic of a wider malaise within an organisation.

High-profile legal disputes, including a spat involving developers Liam Carroll and Sean Dunne, have dogged the authority in recent years. Legal bills hit €5.5m in 2008 alone.

There is the prospect of further costly litigation this year and also a potentially massive bill if the architects of the original U2 tower plan win an arbitration case.

But the full extent of the troubles may not be revealed until corporate governance reports on planning and finance at the authority are published by Environment Minister John Gormley.

He has insisted he will publish the reports once they have been considered by the Attorney General.

Findings in relation to the disastrous Irish Glass Bottle site deal in 2006 are thought to be the biggest potential political hand grenade in the reports.

Endorsed

The DDDA's taking of a 26pc stake in the property was endorsed by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who was then Finance Minister, and the then environment minister, Dick Roche.

The €412m purchase was carried out in conjunction with developer Bernard McNamara and businessman Derek Quinlan and was primarily funded with a €293m loan from Anglo Irish Bank and AIB.

The site is now worth just €50m. That former board members Sean FitzPatrick and Lar Bradshaw helped approve the DDDA's involvement while their bank was part-funding the deal has raised many questions.

Irish Independent

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