Watchdog chief under fire for €250,000 spend on office revamp
THE chairman of the powerful Dail spending watchdog has been described as "irresponsible" after it emerged €250,000 was spent kitting out a new office for him when he was a junior minister.
Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman John McGuinness has been told he has "serious questions" to answer after the Irish Independent revealed the office costs.
More than €250,000 of taxpayers' money was spent kitting out an office for Mr McGuinness, a Fianna Fail TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, after he was made junior minster in the Department of Enterprise by Bertie Ahern in 2007.
At the same time, the senior civil servant in the same department saw more than €50,000 go towards a personal "shower room" in his office, including €2,300 on a "vanity unit".
"For most people in the country, €250,000 is the price of a house, not an office," said Fine Gael TD Damien English.
And he added: "Spending this amount of money on office facilities for a minister of state is a completely inappropriate use of taxpayers' monies and a further example of the practices that went on under Fianna Fail that led to the difficulties so many people are facing today."
Mr English, a TD for Meath West, is widely tipped to take the late Shane McEntee's job as junior agriculture minister.
Mr McGuinness says he had no part in the cost of the office, and space had to be made for him in the Kildare Street building because of Mr Ahern's decision to increase the number of junior ministers.
Documents released under Freedom of Information show that Mr McGuinness "was satisfied with the revised plans".
But the PAC chair says that he gave the go-ahead for an office to be built, without knowing the costs. He says that he came back after the summer recess in 2007 and the work had been completed.
The cost of the ministerial office included:
• €3,340 on two "black leather tub chairs" and a round table, with an additional €72 paid to swap the table because it was in the wrong colour.
• The "tub chairs" cost €1,111 each before VAT.
• €22,203 on 10 chairs with "hide upholstery", a "double pedestal cherry desk", a computer side desk and a boardroom table.
• The cherry desk itself cost €4,850; the computer side desk came in at €1,500, with the boardroom table costing €4,500 and the chairs €750 each.
Mr English claimed Mr McGuinness "was irresponsible in failing to oversee spending of taxpayers' money".
"If his claim is that he at no time asked any questions or sought any report on the money being spent on his office, does he think this is a proper exercise of ministerial responsibility and oversight? What other issues did he pay no attention to during his time in office?
"Either way, John McGuinness should have stopped these monies being spent on his office.
"Yet this is the man who is Micheal Martin's nominee to be chair of the Public Accounts Committee, responsible for overseeing prudent spending of taxpayers' money," Mr English added.
Mr McGuinness did not return calls.