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March 28th 2007

Investigative Journalism
and the health service

'Opinion'Good lead story by Zoe Tunney in the Demo of March 15th in which the Ballyshannon lady zoned in on the paradox of the HSE owning land and dozens of buildings around the county to the value of €340 million – at the same time presently paying €1.5 million to landlords to rent their premises. While possessing a vast property portfolio, many of the buildings lie empty, while the private sector lines its pocket from lettings to the blue-chip rentor.
What I don’t understand is, if you have an exclusive expose like that, why restrict it to three columns of a seven column front page, especially when two of the other stories on that page weren’t worthy of being there; and how could the lay-out people make such a mess of the headline.
Anyway, I won’t detract from Ms Tunney’s research and writing – though I feel the article could have been expanded by asking other relevant questions eg. How much did the old health board pay for the properties – did it have to borrow any of the money – if so, how much interest per annum was, or is, being paid; and is the former headquarters in Manorhamilton fully utilised?
There is another way of looking at it. Though not meant to be, the purchase of those properties was probably a very good investment. Between 1995 and 2007, the value of each unit should have more than doubled. The years 2000 to 2003 saw the stock-market go south rapidly, before starting a recovery – but the value of property kept rising, well out-performing the exchanges. An investment in bricks and mortar was definitely a good decision by anyone with a few bob to spare in the mid-ninties.
What the HSE should do is sell off unused and redundant sites all over the country. Take Donegal Town – eleven buildings are owned or being rented by the HSE. There are acres (literally) of land out beside the Services Centre or on Revlin – why not one building to house the lot. An investment is only really of value when it is realised. My bet is that there are billions of euro worth of such sites all over our amazingly rich island.
But my other bet is that, even if these investments were liquidised, the vast amount of money realised wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the health service in its current form. Until archaic restrictive practices and god-like positions are amended or abolished, our health service will remain in the doldrums no matter how much money is pumped into it. Bureaucracy and a top heavy management structure absorbs obscene quantities of spondolicks leaving the residue to trickle down to the people on the ground.
The whole nationwide structure is the proverbial big black hole into which huge amounts of dosh are being poured each year and yet all people perceive is a slowly crumbing structure. The experience of the Dutch father and son, detailed in our last issue, is the norm rather than the exception.
From night-calls to A&E, from cancelled operations to long waits to see a specialist, it all seems to be going downhill. Everytime a reform is mooted by government, the sector affected threatens all types of action, and the mandarins back off.
As a lay person, I don’t know the answer, but would suggest the position of consultants should be looked at. If the cozy cartel at the top is tackled - and their numbers expanded - perhaps the benefits would trickle down through the ranks and the glimmer of a modern 21st century health service would be visible in the distance.


The beautiful Kerrie and Kate model the Spring/Summer range from Tots ‘n Tassels at the Fashion Show in aid of Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Donegal Autism services.


Full steam ahead for Keeney on Magee shopping complex project
Team of investigative engineers commence work on site

The first sign of progress on the eagerly awaited mixed-use development on the Magee site and adjoining lands has appeared with the arrival of excavation machinery and drilling rigs earlier this week. Glovers, a firm of engineers and site investigators, have commenced an extensive programme of test pits and bore holes to analyse ground conditions in advance of development starting, and are expected to be on site for the next two to three weeks. Once complete, the results of the site investigation will confirm the final design of the scheme, including the new bridge across the River Eske which the Council want to see constructed before work commences on any of the other buildings proposed on the site.
Once conditions have been complied with in accordance with Donegal Co. Council requests, and the consultants have finished the full design, contractors will be appointed. These are likely to be picked from one of the five largest construction companies in the country, a firm of specialists who would have the capability of carrying out a project of a size that will undoubtedly change the face of Donegal Town.
The proposed development, which is forecast to create in the region of 1,000 new jobs for Donegal Town, includes a new supermarket (understood to be anchored by Tesco Ireland), fifteen retail units, 250 residential units, an art centre, and car parking provision for 950 vehicles.
Meanwhile out at Revlin, the Moore Group, a Galway based firm of archaeologists, have just completed an intrusive archaeological site investigation on behalf of Keeney Construction which involved the excavation and examination of trial trenches across the entire site. The County Council required the excavations to be undertaken in advance of any development works commencing, by imposing these conditions on previous planning permissions granted for an office building and hotel on the site.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-74-9722860 Fax: +353-74-9722937


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