THE ROYAL Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission over the conditions set by the ESB for an international architectural competition to redevelop its headquarters on Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin.
In a letter to the commission, RIAI director John Graby says a “huge percentage” of architectural practices in Ireland and throughout the EU were excluded from the competition by a condition specifying a minimum fee income of €2.5 million a year.
Noting that the ESB is 95 per cent-owned by the Government, he says the RIAI is “concerned to ensure, particularly given the scale and national importance of this project, that the public interest is best served by ensuring that the contest is as competitive and transparent as possible”.
The complaint is being pursued even though several Irish practices – all affiliated with the RIAI – were included in the shortlist to go forward to the detailed design stage. These include Gilroy McMahon, Grafton Architects, Henry J Lyons and Partners, OMS and Scott Tallon Walker.
Mr Graby’s letter, which notes that the RIAI is the regulatory body for professionally qualified architects in Ireland, complains that aspects of the ESB’s design contest are in breach of EU procurement rules – not least the €2.5 million “entry bar”, which it describes as “exclusionary”.
The letter says fee-income information for 2008 provided to the RIAI by 450 Irish practices shows that only a small number generate an annual turnover of more than €1 million. It estimates that only six practices generate a turnover of €2.5 million.
The RIAI maintains that EU directives requiring “clear, proportionate and non-discriminatory selection criteria” are being breached and that the composition of the jury and two-step decision-making process chosen by the ESB “are in breach of the fundamental principles of transparency and equal treatment”.
It is anticipated that three winners will be selected by the jury, chaired by ESB chairman Lochlann Quinn, by the end of November and they will then be “invited to participate in a negotiated procedure leading to the award of a follow-up architectural services contract” to design the headquarters.
Mr Graby’s complaint notes that the RIAI outlined its concerns in a letter to the ESB and that the institute’s president, Seán O’Laoire, met Mr Quinn to discuss the matter but the ESB subsequently indicated the rules would not be changed.