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Saturday 25 January 2020

€250,000 bill for McGuinness office revamp was normal, watchdog told

John McGuinness,TD, Chairman of the Dail Public Account Committee
John McGuinness,TD, Chairman of the Dail Public Account Committee
A sketch of the €250,000 revamped office for then junior minister John McGuinness at the Department of Enterprise on Kildare Street

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE cost of the office kitted out for the chairman of the Dail public spending watchdog was normal for "executive office accommodation", according to the head of the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard from OPW chairperson Clare McGrath as it investigated the €250,000 spent on the office for John McGuinness, the PAC chair, when he was a junior minister.

And in highly unusual scenes, Mr McGuinness vacated the chair of his committee while it probed the 2007 kit-out in the Department of Enterprise, but later resumed his post.

Labour TD Gerald Nash asked the Carlow-Kilkenny TD if he'd consider whether it was appropriate for the chair to remain in situ for this particular part of the meeting.

Mr McGuinness agreed, saying: "In dealing with this, I would prefer to vacate the chair."

The hearing came after Irish Independent revelations about the office, and Mr McGuinness stressed there was "no input by me whatsoever" into the cost.

He said he would leave "no stone unturned" in getting to the truth. But he admitted the spend was "a considerable amount of money".

Ms McGrath said the cost was in line with "the benchmark for executive accommodation" when it was built in 2007.

She admitted the same high standards might not be applied today.

She added the OPW was acting on a request from the department for new offices after Bertie Ahern increased the number of junior ministers.

'LAVISH'

Ms McGrath said a significant part of the cost could be put down to the building on Kildare Street being a protected building, and said it was "commensurate" with other ministerial offices.

Mr Nash also said the suite had a "very lavish and very comfortable bathroom facility" and he said it seemed "no expense was spared" when compared to a new office fit-out in 2007 for then Health Minister Mary Harney, which cost €70,000.

Ms McGrath said Ms Harney's office was part of a wider refurbishment in the Department of Health and was not a "straightforward comparison".

Mr Nash called the spending extraordinary and said it was more "akin to Wall Street than Kildare Street".

Mr McGuinness asked questions, and said he had no idea of its cost. He said he wouldn't have believed someone if they told him how much the office cost when he walked in its door.

He also said: "If I knew then what I know now, I would have added another chapter to my book." Ms McGrath said the OPW had "no contact with the minister in question".

He also asked Ms McGrath about the use of toilet roll in his office, after emails revealed he was only allowed use higher-end toilet roll and said it was because of the system installed.

She replied that there was standard toilet roll supply for government departments, with a centralised contract worth €2m.

Irish Independent

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