Harbour transfer deal runs into choppy waters

by Aisling Kennedy

THE imminent transfer of control of the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company to the council could have a serious financial impact for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown taxpayers, a local councillor has warned – citing issues surrounding valuations and pensions that are currently the source of considerable confusion.
A due diligence report on the Harbour Company’s asset portfolio showed that it is valued at €38.3m.
However, there are question marks over a potential pension fund deficit, legal costs, ownership issues at St Michael’s pier where a lot of development is planned, including the cruise berth, and the potential demands for repayment of EU grants amounting to €11.2m.
At the most recent DLRCC meeting on January 9, the due diligence report on the harbour company (DLHC) which was commissioned from consultants LHM Casey McGrath by the council, was debated by local councillors.
The debate centred around a need to further assess the potential liabilities of the council, and it was recommended that a further risk assessment be carried out on DLHC.
The due diligence report was commissioned ahead of the transfer of control of the harbour company to the council as per government-enacted legislation in 2015.
Cllr Chris Curran (SF) spoke to The Gazette following the council meeting, and said: “To take on such a liability would be madness and would be an unacceptable risk for local taxpayers.
“Tonight’s report was void of any real detail, and the full extent of the risk is unknown.
“The property tax, rent and ratepayers of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown would be forced to pick up the pieces on any current exposure and future undiscovered liabilities.”
Cllr Curran said that he and his colleagues put forward a motion that central government would own any risks associated with taking over the operation, assets and liabilities of the harbour company.
The motion was agreed by the council.
Cllr Curran also queried Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross’s stance on the situation, and said: “Ultimately, the decision on whether the harbour company is dissolved or wound up rests with [Minister Ross].
“We put forward another motion to invite the minister to attend a special meeting of the council to address this and other matters effecting his portfolio.”
He said he hoped Minister Ross would attend the meeting to help ease the concerns of the citizens and council of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.
In response, Minister Ross told The Gazette: “The chief executive [of the council] has indicated that the due diligence report has raised a number of issues for clarification.
“The chief executive has now engaged a consultant to examine these issues and she has agreed to report back to DLRCC on progress in March.”
Minister Ross said he is awaiting the outcome of the report and will then progress the matter with the councillors and the chief executive.
He added: “Over recent months, I have met with both Oireachtas members and members of DLRCC, including separate meetings with both Cllr Deirdre Donnelly and Cllr Melissa Halpin, to hear their views on the best way to transfer the harbour. I will continue this engagement in the coming months.”

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