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Opulent Phoenix Park lodge is set to become 'Fortress Cowen'

RECENTLY refurbished at a cost of €600,000 to the taxpayer, this is the Steward's Lodge at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park, which Taoiseach Brian Cowen will shortly make his official Dublin residence.

Were it for sale on the open market -- even in the present climate -- the luxurious house would still command an asking price in the millions due to its unrivalled location and historic associations with the former Guinness family estate.

The lodge was purchased by the State along with Farmleigh House in 1999 for €29m.

Sitting on impeccably landscaped grounds less than 100 metres from Farmleigh House itself, the views from the lodge's windows include the estate's boathouse and lake, as well as the walled garden and glasshouses which are maintained by the OPW.

While the Taoiseach's new Dublin residence is relatively accessible to the public at present via the gravel pathway from Farmleigh House, it is highly likely that this access will be restricted shortly.

A wooden guard booth outside the house's gates, steel security fencing and wall-mounted CCTV cameras are already in evidence at the property.

Mr Cowen's decision to make use of the Steward's Lodge will mark the first time a Taoiseach has availed of the benefit of an official residence.

Garda concerns for his security are understood to have ruled out the possibility of Mr Cowen using either of the two apartments he already personally owns in Dublin city centre.

Previous holders of the Taoiseach's office were already living in Dublin at the time they came to power. These included Eamon de Valera, Sean Lemass, Bertie Ahern and Liam Cosgrave.Longford native Albert Reynolds used his own private residence in Ballsbridge during his term.

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