Prison Service 'exposed the taxpayer to risk'
THE Irish Prison Service exposed the taxpayer to the risk of being sued by construction companies after potentially breaching EU tendering guidelines.
It allowed a company which had already been awarded a €2.37m prison-building contract to carry out other contracts worth almost €97m -- without putting them out to public tender.
The findings were made in a report yesterday by the Dail's Public Accounts Committee, whose chairman, Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, said: "There is no excuse for this lack of conformity to procedures," he said.
The IPS was described as the "worst offender" by the committee in its report on failures in the public service to tender for the purchase of goods and services worth €16bn every year.
Fianna Fail TD Darragh O'Brien said that if savings of just 10pc were made with better tendering procedures, it would save €1.6bn per year.
The IPS gave a €2.37m "framework" contract to Glenbeigh Construction in 2004 to build more accommodation at Loughan House open prison in Cavan. It then used an "extend the scope" clause in the same contract to give 73 more contracts to the company over a three-year period.
But the committee said the IPS had not properly advertised the work.
"The handling of this contract has exposed the taxpayer to potential and unnecessary risk of claims from other construction companies, who could claim they were denied a fair shot at the work," it said.
The committee's report criticised the IPS for relying "too heavily" on Dublin-based quantity-surveying firm Keogh McConnell Spence (KMCS) to advise it on the contract.
The IPS subsequently gave 22 contracts worth €3m in total to KMCS for managing the prison-construction projects -- without going to tender.
The Irish Prison Service said it was satisfied it had complied with Irish and EU procurement law .
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern was unrepentant last night on the breach of tendering protocol by the IPS.
"I would compliment my officials because without them we wouldn't have had the rapid increase in prison spaces and prison cells. Nineteen hundred prison spaces have been put in place since I became a minister a number of years ago," he told the Irish Independent last night.