Fás has spent more than €3m buying sites and lavishly fitting out temporary accommodation in Birr, Co Offaly, even though the planned move of 400 staff to the midlands town is now unlikely ever to happen.
The state agency's attempts to secure a site in the midlands town – where its former director, Rody Molloy, is from – to house the 400 staff earmarked to move under the government's decentralisation plan, has been beset with problems from the start.
Initially Fás identified a 5.6-acre site on the outskirts of the town which was part of a 25-acre parcel of land owned by the charitable housing agency, Respond. It put down a deposit on the site for which it agreed to pay €1.5m, or €300,000 an acre.
Back at base in Baggot Court in Dublin 4, for which Fás is paying rent of €3.5m a year, the 400 staff dug their heels in. Only eight people signed up to make the move to Birr and Fás management attempted to force the issue by making internal promotions contingent on the person first agreeing to make the move. This prompted a bitter dispute in Fás over decentralisation which, arguably, finally forced finance minister Brian Lenihan to abandon over 50 planned moves last October.
In Birr, legal and planning problems had emerged with the Tullamore Road site. As Fás dithered, Respond decided to sell the entire 25-acre site to a developer, with a clause that the 5.6-acre section be sold on to Fás.
While there was growing resistance to the move in Dublin and little hope it would be achieved, Fás pressed ahead with the purchase and in 2007 finally paid €1.5m for the 5.6-acre site.
Even last September, tánaiste and enterprise minister Mary Coughlan stated that the Fás target for the move to Birr was still 2009 and planning applications on the Birr site were ongoing.
Less than a month later, Lenihan announced that the Fás move to Birr was one of over 50 that have been 'deferred' to 2011, when it will be reviewed. Few believe it will ever happen, and Fás has not revealed what it plans to do with the site though it is understood planning applications are still being processed.
Fás has also spent more than €1m lavishly kitting out temporary accommodation at Birr Technology Centre, including flat-screen TVs in every office.
The move to temporary offices was strongly pushed by the then junior minister
in the OPW and local TD
Tom Parlon, who was also a strong champion of decentralisation. Months before the 2007 election, Parlon, whose seat was under threat, secured a five-year lease on a floor in the Birr Technology Centre for an advance party of up to 40 Fás staff.
However, the state's property arm, the OPW, was not involved in any of the Fás property transactions in Birr.
A hastily arranged grand opening was arranged just before Christmas 2006, though only around a dozen Fás staff turned up.
The remaining Fás staff didn't move; Parlon lost his seat, quit politics and emerged later as head of the Construction Industry Federation.
Meanwhile, Fás is left with an unwanted 5.6-acre site and stuck with a five-year lease on a building 80 miles away that houses just 22 staff.