€1 million Agri Hq in doubt

THE Government appears to have finally confirmed that there will be no u-turn on the Department of Agriulture move, but it may abandon a plan to build a new hq in Portlaoise which has already cost more than €1 million.

THE Government appears to have finally confirmed that there will be no u-turn on the Department of Agriulture move, but it may abandon a plan to build a new hq in Portlaoise which has already cost more than €1 million.

While the huge rent bill for decentralisation in Laois continues to rise, it has yet to be decided where the 500 Agriculture staff will end up working. The staff are working at ten buildings in seven locations around Portlaoise, but it emerged last week that the plan to build a new Hq that could accomodate almost 1,000 civil servants may be dropped.

The Department of Public Expenditure and reform reported last week that a final recommendation is due to be made shortly on how best to accommodate the 480 staff. Of these, 317 moved here as part of decentralisation. Almost 600 were due to move here under Charile McCreevy’s plan. Last week’s report that there has been a “fairly good demand” from civil servants to be transferred to Portlaoise.

The report said that the Department is “extremely anxious” to reduce the number of leases and has been working on a plan with the OPW. Three possible outcomes are being considered: a new building, extend the existing offices on the Abbeyleix Road or continue renting a smaller number of offices. The final decision will take into account “currently financial restraints”

If a new building is not built it would see a lot of public money wasted. More than €1m was paid for a site for a Department HQ at the IDA park in Portlaoise. More money was spent designing the project which was due to be developed as part of a public private partnership project. Planning permission is in place.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also announced last week that the move of part of the the Equality Tribunal to Laois would be cancelled. Some 5 staff were based in Portlaoise but were due to move to Portarlington.

The Director of the Tribunal reported that the Portlaoise unit was “no longer viable” and advised that the staff would move back to Dublin.

The Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley called for action.

“I acknowledge that the current Government inherited this decentralisation shambles from the previous one. Nevertheless this Government must ensure that staff that relocated to facilitate the haphazard decentralisation scheme of Fianna Fáil and the PDs are put in permanent positions in Birr and Portlaoise.

“The Department of Finance and the OPW also need to source suitable permanent accommodation for the departments already located in Laois and Offaly. We currently have the scandalous situation where civil servants are working in unsuitable private rented accommodation dispersed over numerous locations. Millions of euros have been paid out on these over the past 8 years.”

The Government confirmed last week that the Office of the Data Protection commissioner would remain in Portarlington and advance party of eight civil servants attached to the National Council for Curriculum Assessment will also remain although not it its current offices.