€4m wasted on building that was not used
ALMOST €4million of taxpayers’ money was spent by justice chiefs on a building that was never used.
The offices on Wolfe Tone Street in central Dublin were supposed to have been used for a community-based project funded by the Probation Service.
But a dispute over planning rules for the property forced the Department of Justice to leave it lying empty for several years after more than €1million was paid for a fit-out and another €1million in rent.
The taxpayer had to foot the bill for another €1.8million to settle a potentially protracted and costly courtroom battle over the lease.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, the State’s spending watchdog, disclosed that his office had examined the spend in its 2011 report. In his annual report for last year the C&AG said: ‘Significant efforts had been made to find an alternative use for the property but to no avail. As part of the settlement, the lease on this premises has now been terminated and no further costs will be incurred in relation to this property.’
He said issues about the office’s suitability for the Probation Service only came to light after the lease was signed when it emerged there was no planning permission. The subsequent lawsuit was settled last year.
The issue was one of more than 20 reports on financial waste in the public service.
The C&AG’s report also looked back on a property deal linked to the Garda training college in Templemore. It said the State paid almost €2million more for farmland to expand the college than the guide price when the purchase was first advised.
Dromard farm about 6km from the centre was first up for auction in May 2005 valued at €2.5million. A private sale went through instead of it going under the hammer and 18 months later the Office of Public Works paid €4.3million when it came back on the market.
The report also examined the over-payment of between €100million and €120million a year in welfare benefits from 2013 to 2016. It said about half of it in 2013 was linked to fraud but by last year that had come down to 37%, about €41million.
The report also said there were 16,225 fraudulent social welfare over-payments in 2016 and 1,305 of them were worth more than €5,000. It also showed that 222 cases were considered by the Department of Social Protection’s for criminal proceedings.
In its examination of the corporation tax regime the C&AG found 13 of the top 100 companies with the highest taxable income had an effective rate of less than 1% in 2015.