Taxing times at Limerick Opera site

Opera site
Computer generated image of the Opera Site Development

A CALL has gone out this week for the Revenue Commissioners to review their staffing needs for their proposed offices in the €200 million Opera site in Limerick City centre.

Speaking to the Limerick Post, Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea urged Revenue to ensure they have adequate numbers of staff on site to allow for a full opening of their offices to the public.

This comes after Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Patrick O’Donovan confirmed on Live 95 that, due to a move to remote working, the original plan for 900 Revenue Commission staff to move from their office in Sarsfield House to new custom-built offices in the Opera site is now being questioned.

According to a report in the Business Post, Revenue now only need space for 500 staff per day due to remote working.

“I would remind Revenue that they are public servants and that the current disgraceful arrangement is not serving the needs of the public, who should be able to call into the Revenue offices in Limerick and talk to a human being face to face,” Deputy O’Dea said.

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“I am calling on Revenue to again review their staffing needs for their new proposed offices in the Opera Centre and to ensure that they have adequate numbers of staff on site to allow for a full opening of their offices to the public.”

Limerick City and County Council Metropolitan District Cathaoirleach Olivia O’Sullivan (FG) also expressed her disappointment following the confirmation.

“Greater regionalisation within the financial services industry is a key theme in the government’s Finance Action Plan 2022 and there is opportunity to locate additional financial services in Limerick along with Revenue headquarters if we are serious about decentralisation,” she said.

Party colleague Sarah Kiely also described the news as very worrying for the city centre and project Opera.

“The potential to have that number of people working in the city was very good news. If it doesn’t happen, it is a huge setback,” she said.

“It is of the utmost importance the city does not suffer because of this potential situation.
“Remote working is now part of all our lives and needs to be considered in any project and any organisation from now on. It provides flexibility and opportunity. However, in this case it has a knock on for the city in terms of footfall and revenue for businesses.”
Labour Party councillor Joe Leddin took the view that the construction of a new office development in the heart of the city is important to attract new companies or facilitate expansion for existing employers.
“Regardless of whether Revenue require the original office space identified, the original design should proceed as additional commercial tenants can be accommodated.
“Offering high-end offices will enhance the attractiveness of the city for more jobs,” Cllr Leddin opined.
Speaking in the Seanad last week, Fine Gael Senator Maria Byrne took issue with Revenue’s remote and blended working model.
“Only today I again received an email from a fellow constituent in his seventies who cannot get through to the Revenue Commissioners. It is a disgrace that a public organisation or a public service is not open to the public.
“The Revenue Commissioners have opened up for appointments in both Dublin and Cork. That should be spread out to the rest of Revenue offices. It is not good enough that people who want an appointment have to travel to Dublin or Cork,” Senator Byrne insisted.
In a statement to the Limerick Post, a Revenue spokesperson said: “As a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, and the resulting opportunities arising for staff in relation to blended working, Revenue re-assessed its potential staffing requirement for occupancy within the new Opera site.
“The most recent estimates undertaken by Revenue show that the projected maximum footfall on any given day in the new site will be 500 staff approximately.
“Revenue carried out this exercise taking account of the rollout of the Government Blended Working Policy, in order to be able to better inform all stakeholders of the current, rather than the pre-pandemic, position regarding staff occupancy of the Opera site.
“These numbers are estimates and may change as blended working settles down and team work patterns evolve.”
Ruairí Fahy, People Before Profit representative for Limerick City North, believes there’s still time to call a halt to the current plan and do more for the site than “a few soulless towers and a square that will likely be dead after 7pm”.
“The original plans included housing for 500 students. With students walking out this week in protest to the cost of living and housing crises, that plan could be revived,” Mr Fahy commented.
“If student accommodation isn’t suitable due to the location, the council could free up accommodation by building a public housing stock with rents linked to people’s incomes creating a real solution to mixed living and a chance to revitalise the city centre, not just during office hours,” Mr Fahy concluded.