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'A mess from start to finish': PAC says someone must be held responsible for Oireachtas printer controversy

The overall cost of the project is €1.8 million, the committee heard today.

Image: Shutterstock/noel bennett

THE PURCHASE OF the new printer for Leinster House has been “a mess from start to finish” the Dáil Public Accounts Committee heard today. 

A report into the controversial and costly printing press ordered by the Oireachtas has concluded that the requirements of the building and other regulations in relation to “head height” were neither “understood nor examined at the critical early stages of the project”.

The total cost of the tender, which included the printing press, came to €1,369,605 inclusive of VAT. 

Initial reports stated that installation works, as well as other costs set relating to the project, put the costs at €1,793,605. 

However, the total cost is now believed to €1.629 million, according to Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Seán Fleming.

Speaking in Dublin today, the Taoiseach said it was a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

“I do want to be abundantly clear on this, I think sometimes people often lump everything in the public service all together as if it’s all controlled by the government, that’s not the case,” he said.

“This is a matter for the Oireachtas, the government doesn’t control the Oireachtas.

“It’s really going to be matter for the Ceann Comhairle, and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to resolve this, not the government. This isn’t isn’t our business, actually.”

Varadkar stressed that the costs associated with the printer are public funds which are not controlled by government.

“This is not a government department,” he added.

“This is not a State agency.

“These are Houses of the Oireachtas, they’re controlled separate from government.

“It up to the Ceann Comhairle and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to account for that, and the opposition parties make up a majority of that commission.”

Reacting to the report, which was carried out by the clerk of the Dáil Peter Finnegan, Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry said the approach to the procurement of the new printer was “let’s buy it and stuff it in”. 

The report notes that issues relating to the space and height of the room where the printer was to be stored were identified, however, Finnegan could not establish what actions, if any, were taken following the warning. 

“This has been a total pig’s ear,” MacSharry said, adding that members of the public were fed up of seeing failings and no one being held accountable in the public sector. 

“There are no tangible sanctions when we have blatant incompetence,” he said. 

He added that had something similar happened in the private sector, the person responsible wouldn’t last the day in their job. MacSharry said something similar happened with the Health Department’s Miesian Plaza controversy. 

Miesian Plaza in central Dublin was earmarked to become the new headquarters for the Departments of Health and Children and Youth Affairs in December 2016.

The building remained vacant 17 months later, at an initially estimated rental cost of €16 million.

The Fianna Fáil deputy said the report does not outline anything complex, stating that it simply shows a blatant waste of taxpayers’ money. 

“It is basic cop on,” he said, adding that no university degree, no masters degree is needed, “just simple cop on”. 

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, who initially questioned Finnegan about the printing works in a meeting back in July, said the information relating to the overspend should have been forthcoming then. 

Relating to issues about the printer being unused due to staffing issues, Cullinane told the committee that he had spoken to the staff members. 

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He said the printer is bigger than anyone has operated before, and all the staff want is adequate training in how to use the machine. He added that a forklift will have to be used to load the paper into the printer. 

Fianna Fáil’s Bobby Alyward said lessons should be learned from printer-gate, stating that it should be relatively simple for the measurements of the printer and the measurements of the room to be taken. 

“Someone has to be held accountable,” he said. 

Who is responsible is an issue Fianna Fáil’s Shane Cassells also honed in on today, stating that while the report states that there was a lack of understanding relating to head height and regulations. 

The report does not specify who had that lack of understanding and whose role it was to oversee that aspect of the project, he said. 

Chair of the PAC Sean Fleming said the committee would now write to the OPW to ascertain what role they played in the project. 

With additional reporting from Cate McCurry, Press Association 

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