independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Public will foot €8.4m bill for Docklands body's pension pot

An aerial view shows the Irish Glass Bottle site, bought by a group including the DDDA in 2006.

TAXPAYERS will have to fund the €8.4m pension pot for former employees of the disgraced Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) after it is finally wound down.

The DDDA is set to be dissolved next year after the Comptroller and Auditor General found serious shortcomings in the conduct of its planning and development functions.

But the Irish Independent has learned that the commercial semi-state body's two defined- benefit pension schemes were never funded.

It was intended that pension obligations would be met from accumulated reserves built up by the authority on the completion of the Docklands project.

However, its €412m deal for the Irish Glass Bottle (IGB) site has left the authority in a perilous financial position and it is currently selling off properties it owns in a bid just to break even.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform confirmed that the pension obligations of the authority will be taken on by the State.

No date has been set for the closure of the authority, but the Department of the Environment plans to see it closed in the first half of next year.

At its height, the DDDA employed over 40 people, but now just four staff remain.

Most of those who have left were redeployed to other state bodies or availed of a voluntary redundancy scheme.

When the DDDA is eventually dissolved, its powers and functions will be transferred to Dublin City Council.

The authority was set up in 1997 to take over the functions of the Custom House Docks Authority and regenerate the Docklands. Despite much good work, it became mired in controversy following the highly questionable purchase by Becbay, a consortium comprising the DDDA, developer Bernard McNamara and financier Derek Quinlan, of the IGB site in Ringsend in November 2006.

Anglo Irish Bank stepped in to part finance the €412m deal at the last minute after talks with another lender ended. Two Anglo directors, Lar Bradshaw and Sean FitzPatrick, also sat on the DDDA board.

The site was never developed and after the property market crashed its value plummeted to just €45m. The DDDA could not meet its interest repayments and Becbay was put into liquidation by NAMA.

The whole fiasco ended up costing the authority €55m.

CONTROVERSY

The controversy surrounding the body is set to rumble on into the new year, with former chief executive Paul Maloney, who was in charge when the IGB deal was done, and former chairperson Prof Niamh Brennan on course for a public showdown at the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Prof Brennan, a corporate governance expert, was appointed in 2009 to investigate the actions of the former board and executives and issued a number of damning reports.

Findings included that there was a loose culture of financial control and weaknesses in the planning functions of the authority, with key information deliberately withheld from the board.

A report also found Mr Maloney kept information on salary increases from the board and that the DDDA failed to get an independent professional valuation of the IGB site before bidding for it.

These points were all disputed by Mr Maloney, who was chief executive from 2005 to 2009, at the PAC last week.

In a statement to the Irish Independent Mr Maloney said he intended to be present to rebut Prof Brennan's statements when she gives her evidence at the PAC in the coming months.

He rejected as "unsubstantiated" Prof Brennan's findings against him.

Mr Maloney said he had been delegated by then-chairman Lar Bradshaw to handle staff pay, as long as the total salary expenditure was brought to the board's attention in annual audits and reports.

He described allegations on planning issues as "totally unfounded".

But Mr Maloney declined to comment on extravagant spending which occurred under his watch or the fact that he denied having a company credit card when asked about this by PAC chairman John McGuinness.

He said he would wait to receive copies of financial records held by the DDDA before commenting.

Documents released under Freedom of Information legislation show that there was a credit card in Mr Maloney's name with a €40,000 limit. During his time as chief executive, over €109,000 was spent on it.

Irish Independent

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