Tuesday 24 April 2018

€30m spent sprucing up embassies 'wasteful'

Martin defends cost of makeover work on official residences abroad

DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter Exclusive

FOREIGN Affairs minister Micheal Martin is under fire amid revelations that €30m of taxpayers' money has been spent on "sprucing up" foreign embassies and residences of Irish ambassadors.

Mr Martin is under pressure to defend the significant spend for diplomats at a time when the country's finances are in dire crisis.

Included in this huge spend were a controversial €7m kit-out of the embassy and ambassador's residence in the Hague and the €4.4m spend on turning the ambassador's residence in Ottawa, Canada, into a 24,000sq ft "palace", as revealed by the Sunday Independent earlier this year.

Fine Gael yesterday condemned the huge spend, saying it was "wasteful, shocking and unjustifiable" and demanded that Mr Martin ensured that all major spending were reviewed.

Mr Martin's department defended the spend of €7m on the revamp of the ambassadorial compound at 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 a 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 €30m spend relates to upgrade works carried out on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs since 2007 on embassies and official residences.

It has emerged that during 2009, even after major spending cuts had been introduced, the Government spent almost €1m on renovating the chancery in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, €1.1m on a chancery in Brussels and €4.4m on the residence in Ottawa.

Located in the affluent area of Rockcliffe, the ambassador's residence was given a 15-month makeover 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 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 towards 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.

A spokesman for Mr 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 that the work had been commissioned before the economic crisis took hold.

Fine Gael's Foreign Affairs spokesman Sean Barrett said the level of expenditure on foreign palaces was shocking.

"The amount of money being spent on sprucing up buildings is incredible and we have to ask the question, is such extravagance permissible in 2010?

"We have to look at the whole diplomatic service and examine is it fit for purpose. We should look at using these buildings as Ireland houses to help businesses and exports abroad," he said.

Official figures obtained by this newspaper reveal that Ireland has also spent a further €10.5m merely to run two separate embassies in Rome, including one for the Vatican that cost more than €3m.

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.

There is no possibility of combining the two embassies in Rome because the Vatican will not accept the accreditation of an ambassador who is also the ambassador to the Italian Republic.

Sunday Independent

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