“A town fighting back” was the mantra adopted by those who originally campaigned to have a government office decentralised to Tipperary and the dream of those campaigners was finally realised on Monday.
Veteran public representative and chairman of the decentralisation committee in Tipperary, Christy Kinahan, said the official opening of the Department of Justice building in Tipperary town was the culmination of “years of hard work, hopes and dreams as well, but mostly hard work”.
The building is now a permanent home to the Department’s Citizenship section and its 67 staff.
“The slogan behind this effort to achieve a decentralised office was ‘a town fighting back’,” Mr Kinahan said, “because this town has had its share of hardship and its share of hard knocks and its share of industrial closures and its share of austerity, even in those days, and we hadn’t been baled out by anyone.”
He reminded those present for the opening ceremony, including Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, that the process started with a deputation to then-Minister for Enterprise Mary Harney. Much lobbying and meetings followed, before confirmation of the decentralisation was received from then-finance minister Charlie McCreevy, and work could start. “We were over the moon,” he recalled.
Mr Shatter, before cutting the tape to officially open the building, described it as a “truly impressive development” and commended all involved in its design and construction “for the vision and collaboration involved in bringing this shared project to fruition, to deliver such an impressive campus”.
The “21st century facility” was more environmentally-friendly and more efficient in terms of running costs, the minister said.
“The completion of this office is a very welcome development, which has allowed units of the Citizenship Section, formerly housed in separate temporary accommodation in Tipperary, to be re-united in this purpose-built facility.”
Mayor of Tipperary town, Ruairí Devitt, said Monday was the culmination of “many years of hard work and dedication” on the part of many people. “It is an idea that sought to promote Tipperary town as a place to work and visit and live,” he said, and “clearly established Tipperary as a seat of national and local government” which will benefit the entire community of South Tipperary, but particularly the town itself and its environs.
Comprising the Department of Justice’s citizenship section and the new Tipperary town civic offices, with a “civic plaza” and a welcoming space for all, the building was now “a landmark area for the town,” according to Cllr Devitt, which “reinforces the presence of democracy in the community”.
Chairman of South Tipperary County Council, John Crosse, said it was “a significant day for the county, marking the completion of the decentralisation” project.
The support the project had received from many quarters had been “remarkable,” Cllr Crosse said, and it was “a testament to the spirit of the people involved”.
County manager Billy McEvoy described it as a “magnificent complex” and represented a successful joint venture between the OPW and the local authorities. “We have new national government offices and new local government offices, side by side in a beautiful setting. Why would you want to work anywhere else?”
Dan Breen House had served the area well for over 40 years as a focal point for the delivery of local services, Mr McEvoy told the gathering on Monday, but the accommodation it provided was no longer suitable either for council members or staff or the public. “It wasn’t up to modern-day standards. The writing was on the wall for us as a local authority.”
An ideal opportunity came about through the joint venture with the OPW, and the purchase of a green-field site from the Sisters of Mercy, he said.
It might seem “ironic” to be opening new public offices just after the government had announced plans for the local government system [which would see town councils abolished throughout the country], but Mr McEvoy said he was confident that Tipperary town would continue to provide “quality public services” from the new building.