Saturday 19 January 2019

Public 'misled' over need to demolish health headquarters

Senior civil servants say unpublished report shows building can be repaired

Staff row: Hawkins House
Staff row: Hawkins House
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Senior civil servants have claimed the Government "misled the public" over plans to demolish the Department of Health's headquarters ahead of a major Dublin city centre redevelopment project.

A union representing senior health officials wrote to the department's secretary general, Jim Breslin, two weeks ago claiming there was a "lack of transparency" around the proposal to move staff from Hawkins House before razing the building.

The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS) said a previously unpublished safety report commissioned by the Office of Public Works (OPW) contradicts a claim that the department's headquarters is unsafe for workers.

The report, seen by the Sunday Independent, suggests the building could be renovated and redeveloped while staff remained in place. However, civil servants are being moved to the former Bank of Ireland headquarters on Baggot Street in Dublin after it was agreed to demolish Hawkins House.

There has been resistance among senior staff over the move due to concerns about lack of parking and the open-plan design of their new office.

In the letter to Mr Breslin, AHCPS general secretary Ciaran Rohan said staff were told they had to leave Hawkins House because the building was in "such a state of disrepair" it was unsafe to remain in the premises beyond the winter of last year.

However, Mr Rohan said the OPW safety report, drafted two years ago, shows the building is "far from being in perilous state of repair". He said the report shows concerns about the structure of the department's headquarters, once voted Dublin's ugliest building, were nowhere as serious as suggested.

"The report clearly states the rehabilitation work could be carried out with the tenants in situ and therefore with little disruption to the work of the department," he said.

"The association has legitimate concerns regarding the move and its possible impact on the work of the department. I am writing to state the association's concern at the lack of transparency about the reasons around the move and the fact that our members, the staff in general and the public appear to have been misled as to the reasons for the proposed move," he added.

An Bord Pleanala recently granted planning permission for the demolition and redevelopment of Hawkins House and the adjoining Apollo House as part of a €50m redevelopment project.

The Department of Health said it would respond to the AHCPS in the coming days. "However, there is no question that the department misled either its staff or the public in relation to this matter.

"The department has at all times acted on the basis of the best available advice from the professional staff in OPW in relation to the future of Hawkins House and the broader issues around the department's longer-term accommodation needs. Hawkins House, having been built over 50 years ago, is approaching the end of its useful life."

Sunday Independent

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