Furniture like something from a 1970s Dublin student flat, a mysterious locked room, pervasive damp … why Ireland abandoned its €7,200-a-month Vienna residence

FURNITURE like something from a 1970s Dublin student flat, a mysterious locked room that had not been opened in at least 14 years, stained carpets and a pervasive smell of damp … just some of the many colourful reasons given for why an Irish diplomat desperately needed to move house.

The move from a property in Vienna, which had been leased for €7,200-a-month, to a new more expensive residence costing €9,000 has now been explained in a submission written by the former Irish Ambassador Mary Whelan.

A copy of a letter released under FOI and sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters has revealed a litany of problems in the official residence.

The €87,257 annual rent was described as “low by the standards of the local property market”.

However, that appears to have been its only advantage as the submission from Ms Whelan outlined a succession of issues with a building that was rapidly deteriorating.

The property had been rented in 1977 from a local businessman but in recent years, it had been proving impossible to have any improvements carried out.

It had a double basement, parts of which were now unusable due to leaks and damp.

The ground floor had an ornate “marble room” which should have been available for receptions but could no longer be used due to a “strong smell of damp”.

Above that level, there were two bedrooms, one of which was now being used as a changing room for catering staff.

On a previous occasion, while still in use as a bedroom, the landlord’s agent had, when damp spots appeared, suggested the bed could be moved away from the wall.

The main floor of the building was described as the best area of the house.

“The library is a pleasant space, albeit sparsely furnished,” said Ambassador Whelan’s submission. “The very large, ornate and dark reception room could be described as cavernous or having the ‘whoa factor’ depending on your point of view.”

Paintings borrowed from the National Gallery were described as “very dark” and in need of rehanging, and in some cases had chipped cases.

The Ambassador’s submission continued: “This very large room also houses the landlord’s piano which is not in good condition. A wonderfully elaborate clock over the fireplace is broken but was undoubtedly state of the art a hundred plus years ago.”

The letter reserved the harshest words of all for the master bedroom and one of the upper floors.

“The master bedroom is frankly in a bad state and the condition of the furniture recalls student accommodation in 1970s Dublin,” explained the submission.

“While there is some new furniture on this floor, some of it could not be given away because of its decrepit condition.”

Carpets in the corridors were “permanently stained” and “fairly worn” while rugs weren’t big enough to cover anything except the centre of the rooms.

The top floor was described as a dilemma, with carpets that appear to be “as old as our [Ireland’s] tenancy” – that is, almost forty years.

There was also a mysterious room, which had a sign affixed to it with the name of the landlord.

A cleaner, who had been working at the Irish residence for fourteen years, was asked if anyone had ever set foot inside. The answer was no.

Plumbing and wiring were also a problem with radiators breaking down and “too old to repair”.

There were not enough electrical outlets either with extension cords in use throughout the building. “It takes some dexterity to avoid tripping over all of this,” Ambassador Whelan’s submission explained.

There was at least one bright note in the letter saying that with considerable expenditure, the premises could be outstanding and among the best that Ireland had.

It explained that a meeting was to take place with the agent responsible for the property with a view to seeking improvements.

Notes of that meeting said health and safety concerns were raised over the “pervasive smell of damp” and the proximity of leaks to electric cabling.

The note said: “The issues raised were not disputed by the Agent (they were often acknowledged by vigorous nodding) although it remains to be seen how far any follow-up will go to address the underlying issues.”

The problem however, remained intractable and the Irish Ambassador began looking for a more suitable home to live in.

She was given a generous rent ceiling of €150,000-a-year and the chosen property on Theresianumgasse ended up costing €8,964-a-month.

As part of the move, more than €146,000 in costs were run up, including €25,504 to move the “very dark” National Gallery paintings between the properties.

Other costs included €26,900 for a security deposit, more than €20,000 for curtains, and €12,738 for a security system.

Flag poles and a flag cost €615, carpets cost just over €5,000, and just over €7,000 for restoration and reupholstering of old furniture.

In a statement, the Department said: “The Department had rented this property for a number of years, however it was deteriorating with little input from the landlord.

“It had substantial issues in terms of wiring and general health and safety; it also contained asbestos, was in a poor condition of maintenance, had considerable damp, was poorly insulated and would not be in line with current building regulations.

“The replacement property … was in the same rental range as the existing building, [it] is located in a suitable area with adequate representational areas, with considerable savings of over 50% forecast in relation to utilities (gas and electricity bills).”

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