Sunday 23 November 2014

Spending watchdog's office cost €250,000

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

Published 02/04/2013 | 05:00

MORE than €250,000 of taxpayers' money was spent kitting out a new office for the chairman of the powerful Dail spending watchdog when he was a junior minister.

And at the same time, the senior civil servant in his department saw more than €50,000 go towards a shower room in his office, including €2,300 on a "vanity unit".

The money was spent on the office of Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness, current chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) who was then junior minister in the Department of Jobs. The work included the shower room for the head civil servant in the department, secretary general Sean Gorman.

Mr McGuinness was appointed as a junior minister in the department by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2007.

The cost of the 2007 work, revealed in documents released to the Irish Independent under Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation, included:

• €3,340 on two black leather chairs and a round table, with an additional €72 paid to swap the table because it was in the wrong colour.

• The so-called "tub chairs" cost €1,111 each before VAT.

• €22,203 on 10 chairs with "hide upholstery", a "double pedestal cherry desk", a computer side desk and a boardroom table.

• The cherry desk itself cost €4,850; the computer side-desk cost €1,500, with the boardroom costing €4,500 and the chairs €750 each.

• €2,300 on a "vanity unit" which is described as "walnut with honed granite top" for the secretary general's shower room.

A year later, then Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, who was the senior minister in the department, also had her bathroom refurbished at a cost of €44,527.

Splendour

Mr McGuinness says he had no part in the costs at his office, and room had to be made for him in the Kildare Street building because of Mr Ahern's decision to appoint an additional junior minister.

Mr Ahern increased the number of junior ministers to 20 after the 2007 election.

Mr McGuinness also said he was not aware of the price of the work done, insisting it was the first he heard of it.

He said he was appointed with Conor Lenihan and Michael Ahern as junior ministers in the department, and sanctioned the establishment of an office for him.

The documents show Mr McGuinness's private secretary, Eamonn McCormack emailed department officials, saying: "Minister McGuinness only got into me late this afternoon.

He is satisfied with the revised plans which you sent on to me and has given his approval."

However, the PAC chairman insists he had no input into the costs or the choice of the furniture and came back after the summer recess in 2007 to find the office completed.

"We had nothing to do with the cost of it," the Carlow-Kilkenny TD said. "I didn't order anything and I didn't ask for any splendour.

"Nor did I request any furniture or 'spec' any furniture. I want to be clear: I had nothing to do with the cost of it."

Mr McGuinness lost his position when former Taoiseach Brian Cowen reduced the number of junior ministers from 20 to 15 in April 2009.

The OPW contract to upgrade Mr McGuinness's office also included €57,900 spent on Mr Gorman's office, with the shower costing €51,000.

Irish Independent

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