Galway City Council’s speed to close Crown Square deal


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Galway City Council’s speed to close Crown Square deal Galway City Council’s speed to close Crown Square deal

Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

The speed with which Galway City Council closed the deal to buy Crown Square offices took many observers of the local authority by surprise.

After all, it’s not known for its haste in completing, or even starting, projects.

The need for park-and-ride facilities was identified by city councillors as far back as 2005, when they inserted it into the City Development Plan. And still, the almost-20-year wait goes on.

It’s the same with proposed public buildings. In 2017, Chief Executive of Galway City Council Brendan McGrath announced a proposal to redevelop Lenaboy Castle as a “children and young people’s creative and cultural hub”.

Five years and a bit later, and the former orphanage on Taylor’s Hill remains idle, costing ratepayers God knows how much every year on security, and with no timescale or budget commitment for it to be redeveloped.

It’s another project that might never see the light of day, despite the fanfare surrounding the initial announcement. Another false dawn, added to the ‘to-do’ list that might never be done.

Meanwhile, the deal to purchase Crown Square from JJ Rhatigan took less than six months to complete, from when it was first publicly announced at a Council meeting in July, to last December, two days before Christmas Eve, when Mr McGrath issued a circular to staff and councillors, confirming the purchase had been completed.

Prior to July, the so-called need to move out of College Road and to relocate City Hall, had not been flagged to the public.

This, despite Department of Housing officials in Dublin saying it was “advisable” to do some sort of public consultation.

But once city councillors approved the €45.5m loan to fund the purchase of new offices in Mervue, (and committed a further €11m to kit out the new building) a few days after they were given details of the plans, Council officials moved with uncharacteristic haste to close the deal.

Why? Well, documents released to this newspaper under Freedom of Information (FOI) suggest that they moved quickly in order to meet a deadline set down by the Housing Minister, Darragh O’Brien.

In a letter released under FOI, Deborah Byrne, Assistant Principal Officer at the Department, wrote to Helen Kilroy, Head of Finance at Galway City Council, to confirm loan approval.

Minister O’Brien approved the loan with six conditions, one of which included: “That Galway City Council commits to the full drawdown and expenditure of the loan by December 31, 2022, and that Galway City Council understands that sanction will be withdrawn if it is not utilised.”

That sanction was dated September 13, 2022, which gave the Council just over three months to seal the deal, which it duly did.

It begs two further questions: Why such haste on the part of the Council executive in bringing the proposal for approval by city councillors to the July meeting in the first place; and why was Minister Darragh O’Brien so eager for the Council to draw down the loan before New Year’s Eve 2022?

An updated report on Crown Square on the Council agenda for next week’s meeting might shed some light on it.

(Photo: Housing Minister, Daragh O’Brien)

This is a shortened preview version of this column. For more Bradley Bytes, see the February 10 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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