Thursday, 18 February 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
1. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the cost involved in acquiring a permanent site for the proposed decentralisation of his Department to County Mayo; his views on the fact that this move has now been postponed until 2011 at the earliest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8487/10]
Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív): As the Deputy will be aware, my Department’s headquarters are scheduled to decentralise to Charlestown, County Mayo, under the decentralisation programme. To date, 100 staff have moved to temporary accommodation in Tubbercurry, County Sligo.
The Deputy will also be aware from replies to previous questions that issues relating to property, accommodation and costs arising are a matter for the Office of Public Works. On the Deputy’s specific query regarding the cost involved in acquiring a permanent site for my Department in County Mayo, the Office of Public Works has advised me that an amount of €390,000 has been paid to date for a six acre site adjacent to Knock Airport. Additional associated ancillary costs amounted to €23,000. With regard to a site in Charlestown deemed by the Office of Public Works as suitable for the headquarters of my Department, I have been advised that no costs have been incurred to date as a contract for sale has not been completed.
The Deputy will also be aware that, in light of budgetary constraints and affordability issues, the Minister for Finance has decided to defer proceeding with permanent accommodation in Charlestown at this time. This location, along with four other deferred projects, will be considered as part of an overall review of the decentralisation programme in 2011. Clearly, the decision to defer the project has caused some disappointment, especially for the people of Charlestown and many staff in my Department who are housed at present in interim accommodation in Tubbercurry. Officials in my Department are liaising with the Department of Finance on practical issues arising from this decision.
I reiterate my commitment to decentralisation, which is an important and positive policy put forward by Government. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to seek to advance the decentralisation agenda and liaise with the Department of Finance on the relocation of my Department to Charlestown, County Mayo.
Deputy Michael Ring: Deputy McGinley and I are having great difficulty tabling questions to the Minister. This week, a number of our priority questions were again ruled out of order. This makes life difficult for Deputies who prepare for a discussion on their questions only to be informed on the day before Question Time that their questions are not in order. Some of the questions ruled out of order relate to the Minister’s role. For example, one of my questions asked whether the Minister had discussed rural transport with a ministerial colleague. Surely this question should be answered in the Chamber. Deputy McGinley asked a question about masses in the Gaeltacht being said in Irish. The Minister is all over the television, frequently appearing on TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta, yet he will not discuss questions in the House.
On the decentralisation of the Department to County Mayo, people in Claremorris, Charlestown and Knock are disappointed by recent developments. While I accept that planning objections were lodged, with political will a building could have been completed. More than €1 million has been spent on decentralisation to the county. This figure includes the cost of a site, for which I do not know what are the plans, and the cost of reallocating staff to Tubbercurry. Will the Minister consider using the Cairn building in Kiltimagh on a temporary basis pending the completion of the building at the site in Charlestown? While I agree that Charlestown must be the number one priority, if the Cairn centre were used now, at least the Department would be located in the county, which would be a move in the right direction.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: The major move in the right direction for all of us in the west was to have the Department relocated to the west. While some people may have expected me to succumb to the temptation, when decentralisation was mooted, to move my Department to County Galway, I had a clear view that, other than the Gaeltacht sections, departmental offices should be located in the region of Knock Airport. This was done for strategic reasons and to make a clear statement of the importance of the airport, which is located at the crossroads of Connacht, the point at which the N5 and N17 intersect. I am very committed to the project. Perhaps it is my east coast upbringing but the most important issue is to ensure these offices move to the region. Whether they are five or ten miles up the road is not a crucial issue.
As the selection of accommodation is a matter for the Office of Public Works, the Deputy should address questions on that issue to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh. At present, the Department has temporary accommodation in Tubbercurry and staff have moved to the west. The building in question has been leased until 2012 which means there is a commitment to that location for that timeframe. I hope we will have a permanent headquarters by the time the lease expires.
Deputy Michael Ring: Has the Minister engaged in discussions with the Minister of Finance on lifting the embargo and advancing the decentralisation project? The Minister is one of the exceptions in the Cabinet in that decentralisation of his Department reached the planning stage before being held up by objections. If the delay continues, I am afraid decentralisation to Claremorris and Charlestown will not take place.
A site has been identified and I believe planning permission will be given on this occasion. I am aware, however, that an objection was made to the planning application for the previous site. More than €1 million has been spent on the project to date. The Department can sell the site it acquired for decentralisation at a cost of €390,000. As it will be unable to use this site, it should move to the other site it has identified. The Minister now has another site he can sell for which he paid €390,000 that will not be used for decentralisation.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: The Government is committed to decentralisation. We have already decentralised a considerable number of people throughout the country. Within my own Department we have decentralisation go dtí na Forbacha. We are proceeding now after significant difficulties — tá a fhios ag an Teachta McGinley faoi seo — go Gaoth Dobhair. Throid mé agus throid mé, nuair a bhí chuile duine ag dul i m’aghaidh do sin, and people thought I would never succeed in doing it. We kept pushing the Gaoth Dobhair one. We have people in Clifden and in Tubbercurry. The Government’s commitment to decentralisation is clear.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: It did happen. I have found that when people want to oppose something, they always tell me I am right but I am doing it the wrong way. My attitude towards life is to just get on and do it, and that is what we did.
The current position is that we are in Tubbercurry. I will continue my discussion with the Department of Finance and will continue to press that in the 2011 review we would proceed with this project as planned. The Deputy and I both know that this would be long built if it were not for an individual living in Dublin 6 — I do not know why it concerned him but it is his democratic right within the laws of this country — who chose to put in a single objection.
We have spent money in Tubbercurry but that must be offset by the significant saving in the cost of rents here in Dublin, which are much higher than in Tubbercurry. It is not just a question of how much one spends in Tubbercurry. That must be offset against the vacation of space here in Dublin that is saving us a considerable amount of money.
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