THE government is to press ahead with a €750,000 restoration of the lawn at Leinster House despite being advised that the work could be undone by planned refurbishment works at the buildings.
A paper from the Offices of the Houses of the Oireachtas said there was "no logic" in spending public money on the lawn this summer when a massive restoration project to make safe the crumbling buildings at Leinster House was still needed.
The lawn had been turned into a surface car park to facilitate a major extension of parliamentary facilities as part of the Leinster House 2000 project. However, it had been given only temporary planning permission and the government is currently in breach of planning laws in continuing to use it as a car park.
A committee, comprising the secretary general of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas and four senior managers, recommended that the Office of Public Works (OPW) should seek a five-year extension for the parking facility.
Their position paper, obtained by the Sunday Tribune, says: "There is no logic in spending public money in restoring the lawn at this point in time when there will be further significant disruption to car parking as a result of necessary works to Leinster House in the summer recesses 2009-2010 and subsequent years, and which may also in fact adversely impact on the restored lawn itself."
The government, however, is determined to push ahead with its proposals, fearing a backlash over the use of what is effectively an illegal surface car park.
A briefing document from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission says: "Office of Public Works are pushing to restore the Merrion Lawn. Their reasons are: the 'Part 9' planning permission for Leinster House 2000 only provided for a temporary car park. If the lawn is not restored, OPW fear that legal action could be taken against them, or in the future they will not be granted 'Part 9' planning concessions. The subject of the lawns gets frequent negative media coverage."
It says there are only three options available including the €750,000 restoration of the lawn which would create a "parking shortage" and would not remove the "eyesore" of cars , which would continue to be parked around the lawn.
The second option was to do nothing, which would save on costs, retain the parking space but have a "negative impact that is bad for public relations".
The third option is to have the temporary planning permission extended and to allow the restoration of the lawn to go ahead at the same time as a proposed refurbishment of Leinster House.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the OPW and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission have been under pressure from a number of government ministers to replace the lawn.
Minister John Gormley wrote to the Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue last November saying a number of "dismayed" people had been in contact with him to complain about the lawn. Gormley wrote: "I am of the opinion that these beautiful and historic gardens should indeed be restored." In February, transport minister Noel Dempsey wrote to the Office of Public Works saying it was "simply unthinkable" to retain surface car parking.
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