Top envoy's residence revamped at cost of €4m to taxpayer
Department comes under fire after taxpayer hit with huge bill
The Department of Foreign Affairs is under fire after it has emerged that the taxpayer has forked out more than €4.4m to revamp the Ottawa residence of the Irish ambassador to Canada into a state-of-the-art 24,000sq ft "palace".
In the past two years, more than €15m of taxpayers' money has been lavished on the extravagant refurbishments of Irish ambassadors' residences across the globe.
More than €4m was spent revamping the Irish ambassador to Canada's residence in Ottawa, while a total of €7m went on restoring the ambassador to the Netherlands' house in the Hague and converting another property there into an embassy building.
Located in the affluent area of Rockcliffe, the ambassador's residence was given a 15-month make-over to create a 24,000sq ft, four-storey residence for Ambassador Declan Kelly.
It is more than twice the size of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's official residence.
The enormous spend on the Canadian residence has emerged following inquiries by Fine Gael, who supplied the Sunday Independent with the information.
Embassy staff in Ottawa did not return repeated calls requesting an interview with Ambassador Kelly and a tour of the residence, but a worker on the site showed the Sunday Independent blueprints of the project packed with every conceivable luxury and ornate columns rising to the roof.
The original house has now been wrapped in vast new wings, including a huge dining and living room with an upstairs featuring a 2,000sq ft suite and bathroom for the privacy of the ambassador and his wife Anne.
Blueprints for the revamped residence show what appear to be eight bedrooms in all and 10 washrooms, plus a pair of powder rooms, a jacuzzi and a sauna. Two staff bedrooms and an employee lounge are perched over the two-car garage toward the back of the residence.
There is also a wine cellar, hobby area, data room, recreation room, study, library, gymnasium with a green padded floor, two kitchens including a commercial-sized operation, a chef's office, art gallery and what appear to be five fireplaces, including an ornate stone-clad chimney piece in the living room.
The interior flooring is mostly ceramic tile or hard wood and features a 1,500sq ft dining room with a chandelier that the worker said cost €20,000. A less opulent chandelier hangs in the vaulted entrance. The worker said more than 150 'change orders' were requested during construction to relocate lighting and plumbing fixtures.
The original 1942 dwelling was described as a "classic fixer-upper", which had to be gutted down to bare walls with roof beams replaced before the construction workers begin the expansion a year ago in January. Several other houses and apartments have been refurbished at huge cost in recent years, including the refit of the New York apartment of the Irish ambassador to the United Nations. Some €829,000 was used to revamp the property on Manhattan's Upper East Side, but the €4.4m spent on the Canadian ambassador's residence in Ottawa is the largest single spend on a diplomat's house in recent years.
Local residents objected to the major refurbishment, including the cutting down of trees. The dispute was later resolved and during the major redevelopment Mr Kelly lived in temporary accommodation nearby.
Fine Gael's foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins described the refurbishment as "outrageous and insulting" to those bearing the brunt of the recession at home. "How can they justify these huge spends when they have cut special needs teachers and shut hospital wards. It is totally outrageous."
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin defended the costs saying that the Ottawa property was "a top-end residence" and the work involved a complete revamp and extensions.
"It also necessitated the addition of a number of security features that are extremely costly," he said.
He also insisted the work was commissioned before the current economic crisis took hold.
No new development work has been started in recent months. Mr Martin's department also sanctioned a spend of €7m on the revamp of the ambassador compound in the Hague in Holland. "The costs relate to both the conversion of a new building, formerly a house, into offices, and the refurbishment of the ambassador's residence," said the spokesman.
"The building that houses the new offices had to be totally gutted and rebuilt, including the addition of a new annex that will serve as a passport and consular area."
The department has also spent €1.4m refurbishing Villa Spada, the embassy to the Holy See in Rome, over the past five years.
Villa Spada, which dates from the 1630s and operates as both the embassy to the Holy See and the ambassador's residence, was recently valued at €25m.