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It was touted as an official Taoiseach's residence - what is Steward's Lodge used for now?

The house was used “every now and again” by Brian Cowen, but now it is only used about a dozen times a year.

Since an upgrade to the security system, photos of the house and its grounds are prohibited.
Since an upgrade to the security system, photos of the house and its grounds are prohibited.
Image: Sun Ladder via Wikimedia Commons

IN 2006, THE Irish State spent more than €600,000 renovating a house and landscaping gardens in the Farmleigh estate in the Phoenix Park.

At the time, there was discussion about the use of the house as a residence for the Taoiseach as there were security concerns about the use of city centre apartments as accommodation for the country’s leader.

Then-taoiseach Bertie Ahern did not use the house as a residence and in late-2008 and early-2009, his successor Brian Cowen was challenged on the fact that the house was not regularly being used, despite the public funds spent on the renovation. 

‘A part-time resident’

In one exchange in 2008 Cowen was questioned by now-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil relating to Steward’s Lodge – or Steward’s House as it is sometimes called.

Varadkar referred to the heritage fund bill, designed to establish a fund to assist with heritage properties and private properties.

“One of those properties will probably be Farmleigh House. I understand the Taoiseach is waiting on a decision from the Garda Síochána on whether he should take up residence in the Steward’s Lodge there. I would like to welcome the Taoiseach, should he choose to become a part-time resident of my constituency,” he said.

Cowen: “I look forward to receiving the Deputy’s literature.”

Varadkar: “If he has any problems at all, such as needing access to the gate at White’s Road, then he should not hesitate to contact me.”

Cowen: “I thank Deputy Varadkar for his good wishes. It is probably the kindest thing he has said about Fianna Fáil since he started his political career.”

In January 2009,  Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said TDs had been told at the time the refurbishment was announced that the building was intended to be a Taoiseach’s residence.

“Is the Taoiseach considering taking up occupancy of the property at any time? I understand that since 2006, this facility has only been used for overnight purposes 11 times,” Ó Caoláin asked.

To what other uses does the Taoiseach intend to see this property put, if it is not to be a city residence for the Taoiseach while in Dublin on business?

“Yes, I have used the steward’s house from time to time, as I have required it. While I have not used it regularly, I have used more frequently in the new year than was the case previously,” Cowen responded.

Ó Caoláin: “The Taoiseach has indicated that he will use the facility, which is fair enough. However, given 11 nights’ occupancy over the period of almost three years since 2006, good value for money does not appear to have been achieved heretofore.”

Cowen: “The Deputy will not mind if I go home every now and again.”

Ó Caoláin: “Perhaps, as a country-based Deputy like me, the Taoiseach might have more need and use of the facility during his term in office.”

Later that year, the Irish Independent reported he had stayed there 51 nights in the first six months of the year. 

What is it used for now?

Since Cowen left office, the house has only been used around a dozen times each year. When he was staying in Dublin, Enda Kenny used his own apartment. 

The Office of Public Works (OPW) told TheJournal.ie the building is “for the sole use of the Taoiseach when he or she requires overnight facilities in Dublin or for meetings”.

But the current Taoiseach has not used the facility for any overnight stays. 

According to data released to TheJournal.ie by the OPW, the house is generally used for events around New Years’ Eve and for the first couple of days of the year. 

The house was used 11 times in 2012, nine times in 2013, 14 times in 2014, 19 times in 2015, 17 times in 2016 and 17 times last year. It is mainly a venue for meetings or to host guests – in June 2013 it was used to host a Canadian delegation. 

In response to a recent parliamentary question by Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the house is managed as part of the estate of Farmleigh and so it does not have dedicated staff or its own budget.

There has been some work on the property since the €600,000 refurbishment in 2006. Donohoe said the OPW spent €12,500 on repairs to brick paving and gravel in the front driveway in 2013. Two years ago repairs to the garden wall also cost €12,490. 

“Building Maintenance Services, a service department of the OPW, provides reactive and preventative minor maintenance in Steward’s House as part of their normal duties at Farmleigh Estate.

“Farmleigh outdoor staff carry out grass and hedge cutting at Steward’s House as part of their normal rostered duties at the estate.

Farmleigh housekeeping service ensures that Steward’s House house is ready for occupation as part of regular work at Farmleigh House, on an ad hoc basis, with no separate apportioning of cost.

Donohoe said costs associated with servicing Steward’s House would amount to no more than €500 annually.

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