The Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has refused to comment on the cost to the taxpayer of moving Tullamore VEC to Portlaoise. Minister Quinn was challenged about the reasons behind this decision by Offaly Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen at the Oireachtas Education Committee today (Wednesday, 25 January 2012).
Deputy Cowen commented, “People are struggling to understand why the decision was made to abandon the new VEC facility in Tullamore after hundreds of thousands of euro was spent on it, and located the new headquarters in Portlaoise in a building that’s older, smaller and less well equipped.
“The VEC facility in Tullamore is just 4 years old and it cost €636,000 to fit out. The VEC is locked into a 20 year lease at a cost of €122,000 per annum. In addition to this, VAT of €185,000 has already been paid. It is a state-of-the art building that is fully equipped to facilitate the new amalgamated VEC for Laois-Offaly. So why then did the Government choose to move from this location into a less suitable facility, at considerable cost to the taxpayer?
“The rent alone on the Tullamore building over the next 16 years is nearly €2 million. As the VEC is locked into this lease for the next 16 years, why aren’t we making proper use of this facility and avoiding the massive extra expense of locating the amalgamated VEC in Portlaoise? The only reason that I can see for the chosen location of amalgamated VECs is proximity to a local Labour TD or Senator.
“I challenged the Education Minister Ruairí Quinn about the Tullamore VEC at the Oireachtas Education Committee today and he failed to provide a plausible explanation. This is not good enough. If his reason for amalgamating VECs is to save money and make the sector more efficient, I simply cannot understand why the Government has taken the significantly more expensive route in the case of Laois-Offaly.
“I will continue to press this issue with the Minister. Co Offaly is a major loser in this, and the people are owed a proper explanation,” said Deputy Cowen.