Sunday 1 November 2009

DDDA in the dock again

Dublin Docklands Development Authority board was given a detailed report on the collapse in the value of its property interests as long ago as last June. Neil Callanan reports.

The board of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) was given details of the collapse in the value of its property interests, including the €412m Irish Glass Bottlers site, as long ago as June.

Minutes from the authority's board meeting on 8 June show that the board received a report from Niall Coveney, the head of its audit/ finance/ risk subcommittee, detailing a presentation by estate agent Lisney on the asset valuations of the authority's properties. It also included details of the review of those valuations by the DDDA's subcommittee.

Updates were also given on Becbay, the company behind the Glass Bottle site, and its borrowings, internal controls and conveyancing. The DDDA has refused access, under the Freedom of Information Act, to details of other issues relating to Becbay which were discussed at that meeting. Becbay is owned by the DDDA, retired businessman Derek Quinlan and developer Bernard McNamara, who is suing the DDDA in relation to the site. The site is now understood to be valued at €60m.

The authority's annual financial statements have still not been released but the DDDA's board saw draft details of them at the June meeting. Access to the authority's cash flow analysis until 2014, which were presented to the board, and to its projected income and expenditure accounts for this year and next year, was also refused under the Freedom of Information Act.

At a meeting on 29 June, it was stated that the chairman, Niamh Brennan, and then chief executive Paul Maloney would be meeting with the Department of Finance and the Department of the Environment "shortly to discuss the authority accounts and borrowing limits". At a board meeting in late July, details of the borrowing facility available to the authority were discussed but details of it are confidential.

The authority realised its financial predicament, which is expected to result in a loss of €20m for the year, back in April, when the board requested management to bring the authority's finances into a break-even position with immediate effect. In June it reported that "every discretionary expense has been reduced, but to achieve a break-even, further cancellation or deferral of projects would have to be considered". The DDDA has refused to release details of those projects; "however, in most cases there would be risk associated with the deferral or delay of the projects which had to be considered".

The docklands authority is coming under further financial pressure, minutes from a board meeting held on 28 July show, following a suggestion from members of the authority's council that funds should now be released by the trustees of the community trust to support community projects.

"The issue arises as a result of the authority's inability (because of financial difficulties) to provide funding for the Community Development Projects Initiative," minutes from the meeting show.

The authority blanked out documents relating to staff lay-offs and the plans for the U2 tower at Britain Quay. At a meeting in July, the board discussed the "financial challenges facing the authority, the consequences for the authority of having to operate within a smaller financial envelope, and staffing issues arising as a result". A staff resource plan was then drawn up and discussed at a board meeting later that month but access to the details of it has been refused.

Minutes from a board meeting in May show that, after a new threat of litigation from developer Seán Dunne's Mountbrook, the authority decided to write to rival developer Liam Carroll "as a courtesy" to advise him of the correspondence received from Mountbrook. Dunne had challenged the decision to allow Carroll's development of an office building in the north docks earmarked as the future headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank. It was at this meeting that the authority decided that it would not contest any legal proceedings to have the certificate allowing the construction of headquarters quashed.

At the same meeting, the board noted that the DDDA has a right to "put its residual interest in the lease" to The Vaults under Connolly Station onto the lessee and the "executive proposed to exercise this power" which should "eliminate any future risks to the authority of litigation in the event of the premises being damaged as had occurred previously, resulting in an expensive court settlement in 2008".

The documents also show that the authority is in mediation talks with Treasury.

The Lar Bradshaw/ Paul Maloney phone calls

Former DDDA chief executive Paul Maloney made 41 calls this year from his mobile phone to former DDDA chairman Lar Bradshaw. A log of the calls, seen by the Sunday Tribune, shows that the two men spoke for nearly seven and a half minutes the night before an Oireachtas committee hearing about the authority in February. Maloney did not return a call last week seeking details of that conversation with Bradshaw. Maloney also called Bradshaw the morning after Gerry Kelly was appointed acting chief executive of the authority with immediate effect during a board meeting on July 28. The call was not answered. There is no record available to the authority of calls from Bradshaw to Maloney.

The July 28 board meeting began in closed session and the DDDA has refused to reveal further details from the board meeting relating to the decision to appoint Kelly as acting chief executive. The board meeting in its entirety that day took four and a half hours. Maloney, whose five-year contract was due to expire in June 2010, left with immediate effect after retiring early and he is being paid a €150,000 lump sum to cover the salary he was due if he had served his full term.

Sinking ship: The DDDA's four-year 'Jeanie Johnston' conundrum

Minutes from a meeting of the DDDA's board in April show it was still unsure what to do with the famine replica ship, the Jeanie Johnston, almost four years after it purchased the vessel.

The authority had offered the Department of Defence use of the ship free of charge as a temporary replacement training ship for the Asgard II, which sank in the Bay of Biscay. However, the department refused the offer. At the April board meeting, several options were considered, including making it ready for sail training or offering it for sale or charter on the international market. The board also discussed offering the ship free of charge to tourism and leisure groups in Ireland and abroad.

At a board meeting in June, the board said that in the "current straitened economic circumstances of the authority, the board was not prepared to agree to the ongoing maintenance costs" proposed in a document. However, the board agreed to undertake an engineering survey of the ship to ensure it remained seaworthy.

Subsequently in July the board agreed to appoint a company called Aiseanna Mara to carry out essential maintenance and agreed a specific budget for that project. Submissions had been made by a number of companies for operating the vessel next year but the board decided that the executive should pursue "the opportunity with Aiseanna Mara to operate the ship as a famine museum and for corporate hospitality, commencing in 2010".

Last week, Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan described the 2005 purchase of the ship by the authority as "very puzzling". The Jeanie Johnston cost more than €15m to complete in Kerry and was bought by the DDDA for a reported €2.7m in September 2005.

Sunday Tribune

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