Sunday 22 July 2007

IDA was 'insensitive towards elderly couple' in land deal

AN independent inquiry into the IDA's handling of a land swap arrangement with an elderly Waterford couple has found the state agency was insensitive in dealing with the couple. The IDA also earmarked a plot that was a quarter of an acre short of what it had promised them, which the report attributed to an innocent mistake.

A preliminary report by Dermot Quigley, the former Revenue Commissioners chairman who conducted the inquiry, was presented to IDA Ireland last month.

It is understood that the report found that Joseph and Kitty Carey, both of whom have since died, should have been dealt with more sensitively but overall, it exonerates the state agency of any deliberate wrongdoing.

The IDA tried to persuade the elderly couple to swap their house - which was of strategic interest to the state agency - for a new house on an adjoining plot. The IDA needed the Carey's land to allow it to widen the entrance to its business park in Waterford. The couple, who were then aged in their 90s, were reluctant to move. The couple died before the contract was concluded and the property passed to their nephew.

Micheal Martin, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, sought an independent investigation two years ago after allegations from the Carey's nephew that the IDA had "attempted to compromise" the legal advice given to them, by offering the couple's solicitor work to "encourage" a decision favourable to the IDA.

The solicitor for the Carey estate has rubbished any suggestion that he would even consider such an arrangement - pointing out that he never acted for the IDA. Mr Quigley's report is understood to clear the IDA of any improper attempts to pressurise the Careys. However, it does make recommendations for new procedures on how the business agency - which is used to dealing with corporate clients - should handle transactions with ordinary members of the public.

It also emerged that the land it sought to exchange with the couple is significantly less than the .575 acres it promised in its contract. Mr Quigley finds that the shortfall was due to an error in map measurements. The IDA is currently working to resolve the discrepancy.

An internal IDA memo dated September 1999, says "I did indicate to (the solicitor for the Carey's) that I would recommend that the IDA use his firm for the conveyancing of the two pieces of land - Careys to IDA and IDA to Carey. The reason for making that suggestion to (the solicitor) was to try and 'encourage' him to make a decision in IDA favour."

It concluded "Mrs Carey is now permanently in a home for the elderly and I understand that Mr Carey, who is in his mid-90s, is also not in the best of health. We should try and get the building started asap while Mr Carey is still in a position to be party to the development. If Mr Carey dies or is hospitalised the whole deal will die and we will be back to square one."

Mr Martin later said the allegations raised questions about the "propriety" of the IDA. In a letter to the IDA in 2005, he noted that "any perception that the IDA sought to compromise the independence of the advice given to them could, I am sure you agree, be very damaging to the IDA's reputation."

Dermot Quigley's report into the deal was held up because the proposed land swap became the subject of two High Court actions. His report is understood to make a number of clear findings and recommendations, which have been accepted by IDA. The report will not be forwarded to Mr Martin until outstanding legal issues are resolved.

The IDA said this weekend a report on the investigation is almost complete and will be given to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in due course. The agency said it was precluded from commenting or from releasing any details of the inquiry because of two sets of High Court proceedings that are currently in train.

Sunday Independent

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