Millions spent… but museum may have to exit storage facility

By: Michael O’Farrell
Investigations Editor
THE National Museum may have to vacate a vital storage facility – rented at a cost of millions from developer Gerry Gannon – just a year after it finishes transferring its collections to the building.

Insiders believe the surge in property and site values, and Mr Gannon’s move back towards profitability, makes it likely he will exit the deal in December 2019.

However, the museum is continuing its eight-year transfer to the former Motorola factory in Swords – which Mr Gannon bought for €12m in 2008, just as he was about to become mired in the Nama process as one of the agency’s top 10 most indebted clients.

He secured the museum as a tenant the following year, in December 2009. The 20-year lease, at a rent of €1m a year, was questioned in the Dáil when details emerged in 2012.

Although the rent bill is split 65/35 between the museum and the Office for Public Works, it is by far the largest financial commitment the museum has made in recent years.

Now, some eight years into the deal, the taxpayer has contributed more than €8m in rent and renovation costs for the museum to establish its collections resource centre at the Swords facility.

Ironically, in 2013 four rhino heads and their horns – worth an estimated €500,000 – were stolen from the facility.

They had been placed there for safekeeping on Garda advice due to the rise in thefts involving rhino horns.

Last night the museum estimated that the transfer of precious items to Swords would conclude next year.

It confirmed that the transfer has, so far, cost €600,000. However there is a real risk that the storage facility will not be available in the near future.

This is because the deal with Mr Gannon contains a ‘break clause’ that allows him to exit in December 2019, upon payment of €500,000.

With the developer surging back towards profitability – thanks in part to assistance from Nama – it is likely he will exercise the clause in order to build on the lands currently occupied by the museum.

His firms already own much of the land in the immediate vicinity of the Swords site and are in the process of building much sought-after housing developments there.

The buyout of the site has been listed as a priority for the museum but the OPW – which secured the site from a list of seven other possibilities – indicated this week that Mr Gannon did not want to sell.

‘The matter of a buyout was explored in the past but without reaching any successful conclusion,’ an OPW spokesperson said.

Neither the museum nor the OPW has received any indication from Mr Gannon that he wishes to exercise the break clause, although this is considered likely by insiders.

In response to questions from the Irish Mail on Sunday, the museum said it had considered the possibility of having to transfer its collections from the Swords site.

‘The museum has considered this possibility and is in discussions with the Department and OPW on the matter of future storage options,’ a spokesperson said.

The likely cost of such a move is not known but would ultimately have to be footed by the taxpayer.

The MoS asked Mr Gannon if he intended to exercise the break clause – and what his plans are for the Swords site – to no response.

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