Saturday 24 February 2018

Historian paid €340,000, but no book yet in sight

Ciaran Byrne

A HISTORIAN has been paid at least €340,000 to write an official history of the Office of Public Works (OPW) -- but eight years after it was due to be published, there is still no book and no final cost for the project.

The budget for what was supposed to be a two-year contract starting in 2000 had been pegged at €76,000.

But two years later the OPW's management advisory committee agreed to pay author Desmond McCabe another €78,000 to finish the book, commissioned by the then OPW chairman Sean Bent, by 2004.

Yesterday, it emerged that just two chapters of the book have been delivered, at a cost to the taxpayer of €341,078 -- so far.

The Comptroller & Auditor General ( C&AG) said the OPW was unable to say how much the project would finally cost.

In an extraordinary defence of the escalating sums, OPW officials told the C&AG the book -- when finished -- would be a "classic work of Irish governmental and administrative history".

"The accounting officer has stated that, while the history originally envisaged has not yet been completed, the work done on OPW archives has been worthwhile and would otherwise have required the hiring of professional archivists," said the C&AG.

"Her view is that the commission has been handled in an effective, efficient and economic manner."

The OPW is run by junior Minister of State Martin Mansergh, who is overseeing the decentralisation of the department to Trim, Co Meath.


The sum paid out by his department so far dwarves the kind of money successful authors could expect to earn from an advance to write a commercially successful work.

Mr McCabe has worked at the Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester and on the Irish Famine Project at Trinity College Dublin.

He also worked on the 'Dictionary of Irish Biography' published by the Royal Irish Academy. Most of his published work has been on the social history of 19th-Century Ireland.

The Irish Independent was unable to contact him last night.

The OPW last night said there was still no publication date for the book and no final bill for the project "as it is still a work in progress".

When asked why the two previous deadlines had been missed, a spokesman said: "The writing of the history of the Office of Public Works since 1831 is an enormous task on account of the diverse nature of the office and its multiple fields of operation.

"The OPW has been fortunate to secure the services of a distinguished historian who has had to sort and catalogue the entire OPW archives from scratch, a massive task in itself, before he could even begin to assess these documents as historical records.

"The author is on target to produce not just one book but also a multi-volume history of the OPW, which will be widely consulted."

The OPW added that Mr McCabe's work so far had provided its staff with extremely valuable archival material.

Irish Independent

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