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Monday 18 December 2017

€400,000 book-fee historian tells of 'harrowing' time

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

A historian who has so far been paid €367,870 to write a book on the Office of Public Works (OPW) is to receive a further €39,000 despite failing to deliver the manuscript eight years after it was commissioned.

Dr Desmond McCabe last night broke his silence to defend the much-maligned project -- describing as "harrowing" the attention it has received.

Dr McCabe was contracted by the OPW in 2002 to write a history of the organisation within two years at a cost of €76,000.

But eight years on, the text has still to be delivered and Dr McCabe's wage bill and other expenses have cost taxpayers €367,870, with a further €39,000 to be paid to him next year.

The case has been held up as a striking example of public sector waste since it was revealed in a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General last September.

Dr McCabe finally broke his silence on the furore last night, telling the Irish Independent: "The last couple of months have been harrowing for myself and my family.

Dr McCabe said much more work had been involved than was initially anticipated and he denied that the whole project was "ill-conceived".

He added that a volume of research relating to the "meaning and evolution of St Stephen's Green" would be ready for publication "in a couple of months".

Dr McCabe's comments came as records obtained by the Irish Independent under freedom of information rules show how the project has been beset by delays from the start.


Although the OPW has also defended the project in recent public statements, internal correspondence reveals a somewhat different picture, with sharp exchanges between senior OPW officials and Dr McCabe over the delays.

When the initial deadline of January 2004 passed, it was agreed to extend Dr McCabe's contract by two more years, paying him €39,234 a year. But the new deadline of January 2006 was also missed.

In May 2005, Dr McCabe wrote to Vincent Campbell, the OPW's director of corporate services, advising him he would need a further year and a half to complete the book. Dr McCabe wrote that the "sheer scale" of the project was the "fundamental reason for the slippage".

Mr Campbell replied that the project was not "open-ended" and the necessity of completing the manuscript was "critical and urgent". However, a time extension was agreed, bringing the deadline to September 2007.

But in January 2007, Dr McCabe told the OPW he could not meet the new deadline. In response, Mr Campbell accused Dr McCabe of misleading the OPW at various stages that the target date would be met.

Dr McCabe denied the accusation and said he intended to have the text ready by the end of the year. But again, the deadline was put back, this time to September 2009. This also passed without work being completed.

At a meeting in February this year Dr McCabe said it "would be impossible to complete the writing by the end of 2011". Mr Campbell said this was "unacceptable".

In a statement, the OPW said the book would be published by the end of 2011.

Irish Independent

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