Wednesday 21 February 2018

OPW calls halt to its €400,000 history project

Shane Phelan

WORK on a hugely over-budget and much-delayed official history of the Office of Public Works (OPW) has been suspended after the author could not guarantee when it would be completed.

Records obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that historian Dr Desmond McCabe raised doubts that he could finish the project by the year's end.

This is understood to have been the final straw for the OPW which had hoped the book would take two years to write and cost the body €76,000 when it was commissioned in 2002.

But, nine years later, with costs at around €400,000, and still no end in sight, the OPW has decided to suspend the project pending a spending review.

Sources said there was "deep disappointment" within the OPW that the work wasn't completed a long time ago.

The OPW has been under pressure to end the project since it was highlighted by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) last September.

Many commentators held it up as a striking example of public sector waste, after details of the missed deadlines and huge budget overruns emerged.

Records obtained by the Irish Independent show Dr McCabe was paid almost €368,000 in fees and expenses for his project work until last November.

He was due to be paid a further €39,000 this year.

The OPW said payments are no longer being made to him.

It is unclear whether the proposed history of the OPW will ever be published.

However, a volume written by Dr McCabe dealing with the history of St Stephen's Green has been completed and is due to be published in two months.

Dr McCabe, who is based in the North, did not respond to queries last night.

Speaking on the furore previously, he said: "Most commentators to date appear to have taken a negative view of important work and have found fault where there is none.

"I have worked extremely hard, full-time on long hours, on primary research for a relatively modest annual payment.

Deadline

"The scale and value of the research will begin to become apparent with the publication of the St Stephen's Green volume."

The OPW agreed a completion date of 2004 and when work was not completed by then, Dr McCabe was given until 2006 to complete the book.

However, 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 and received a revised deadline.

But in January 2007 Dr McCabe told the OPW he could not meet the new deadline.

Yet another deadline -- this time for September 2009 -- was then set. This also went unmet.

Irish Independent

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