Thursday, 17 February 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Durkan: I welcome the Minister to the House. This matter refers to a parliamentary question and the reply to it in respect of a case I dealt with before. The person concerned is a constituent of mine who has had a dispute with the Office of Public Works. I dealt with the case briefly in the past but that was five or six years ago and I expected it would have been resolved by now. The Minister is fair minded, as I would expect, but I am a little apprehensive about the manner and method used to deal with my constituent in this situation. I was not happy when I examined the file previously and am still not happy.
I was particularly unhappy with the reply I received to Parliamentary Question No. 346 on 26 January. I asked the Minister for Finance, the progress, if any, in respect of a dispute regarding lands at Ballybride Road, Shankill, County Dublin, in view of the fact that this dispute has been ongoing for several years and asked him to make a statement on the matter. He replied that settlement terms had been put to the other party in the dispute but they had not responded.
I then received correspondence from the constituent in question which stated that, further to my letter of the 24th and our subsequent telephone conversation on the lands at Ballybride Road, Shankill, County Dublin, the Office of Public Works had made no settlement terms to him.
The dispute relates to a deposit paid to the Commissioner of Public Works in 1994 by the prospective purchaser of the lands in question. The prospective purchaser failed to complete the purchase and his deposit was forfeited in accordance with the terms of the contract which he signed. An offer of settlement was communicated by the Chief State Solicitor on behalf of the Commissioner of Public Works in March 1999 to solicitors acting for the proposed purchaser. The terms of the offer are confidential to the parties.
I am as far ahead as I was to start with. I do not want to have to seek information under the Freedom of Information Act but I will go down that route if necessary. I am a great believer in fair play and am not accusing the Office of Public Works of being unfair but I am a little concerned when a large amorphous body is dealing with an individual. It very often will have the upper hand and will use it unwittingly to the detriment of the rights of the other side. Will the Minister of State check the file to ascertain if he is happy with the position? When I checked it I was not happy about it. I can get all the information I want if I submit an FOI query on it, although it might take 30 to 40 days to get the information. I would do that willingly, but it should not be necessary. As Members of this House, we should be able to resolve a matter as simple as this one.
I am annoyed the reply to my parliamentary question was not accurate. The Minister of State will have to take up that with his Department. The reply should have been accurate and straightforward. A reply to a subsequent parliamentary question elucidates further on the matter. My constituent is not aware of the terms referred to.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): I apologise for being a minute or two late. Deputy Durkan has raised an important matter and I appreciate the way he has dealt with it in the House.
The two parliamentary questions to which the Deputy referred relate to lands at Ballybride Road, Shankill, County Dublin. Parliamentary Question No. 346 of 26 January 2000 sought information on a dispute in relation to the lands. The reply stated that an offer of settlement had been made to the other party in the dispute and that a response had not been received thereto.
Parliamentary Question No. 345 of 8 February 2000 sought details of the settlement terms referred to in that reply, indicating that the party involved was unaware of any such offer. The reply to this question outlined briefly the background to the dispute in respect of which the settlement offer had been made. The reply explained that the offer had been made by the Chief State Solicitor's office to the solicitors acting for the other party in March 1999.
I agree with the Deputy that if the first reply  had contained specific information as to who had made the offer, there would not have been a need for the Deputy to table a second parliamentary question. However, I am satisfied the latter reply merely expands on and is not in conflict with the initial reply. I accept the veracity of the Deputy's point in that regard.
It is not appropriate for me to deal with judicial matters. As this matter is the subject of legal proceedings, I am reluctant to say anything more about it at this stage. I do not like to have to resort to dealing with matters such as this in a legal framework. I would prefer if both parties, the Office of Public Works and the individual involved, could have settled the matter but that did not prove possible.
I am assured the Chief State Solicitor's office, which acts on behalf of many Departments in legal matters and in this case acted on behalf of the Office of Public Works, made an offer, which it thought would have been accepted and which I think would have resolved the matter with the other party. We have not had a response from the individual's solicitors to the Chief State Solicitor's office on that point. It would be extremely helpful if there was some communication on that position.
I assure the Deputy it is not the ambition of the Office of Public Works to use its power in a way that would be unfair to an individual in respect of any matter. My Department must be conscious of legal binding positions in dealing with this matter. An offer was made through the Chief State Solicitors' office to which there was not a reply. If there was a reply or some indication on the basis of that offer, with willingness on both sides, we may be able to reach a satisfactory solution in this matter.
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