IRELAND’S most senior diplomat in New York was told to find a new residence in the city because the $29,995-a-month rent the taxpayer was paying was far too high.
The Consul General had been living in a duplex apartment in the Big Apple with 4,000 square feet of space and a wraparound balcony with 360 degree unobstructed views of New York’s skyline.
The eight-room property was “much-admired” but because of its size, unique balcony, prized views, and the “exclusive nature of the building” … it also came with a hefty price tag.
In 2013, the Department of Foreign Affairs asked that the residence be moved to a “more cost-effective alternative”.
However, that move ended up taking more than two years — as they struggled to find a suitable property to accommodate the Consul General.
The Department had to agree to two separate roll-overs of the $29,995-a-month lease on exceptional grounds.
The saga began in December 2013 when the lease on the residence came up for renewal and the property owners signalled that they would be upping the rent and were seeking $35,000 a month.
An internal email from one of the diplomatic staff in New York said: “I explained that it would be very difficult to get the agreement of my authorities to such a large increase, particularly given the challenging economic circumstances in Ireland at this time.”
In response, the landlord said that the rental market in New York was booming with the stock market scaling new heights.
The Department of Foreign Affairs made some tentative efforts to find a new property. However, they were told many landlords would not actually accept diplomats as tenants.
An email explained: “This, apparently, has resulted from many cases where New York based diplomats have damaged properties or left them in a very poor condition and have invoked diplomatic immunity to avoid civil law suits for damages.”
The diplomatic staff did look at three properties: one was only half the size of the current residence with small elevators, another had no decent space for entertaining, while another appeared to be two smaller apartments converted into a larger one.
Instead, they went back to their landlord who after some negotiations agreed they could keep the existing apartment for $29,995 per month, with monthly service charges of nearly $2,000.
Back in Dublin, Department bosses agreed to an extension of a single year on condition the Consulate continued to look for a new cheaper property.
By the end of 2014, little progress appears to have been made and the Department again had to “exceptionally” extend the lease for another year.
Efforts to find a new property were proving difficult because the market in New York was “on fire”, according to the newly arrived Irish Consul General Barbara Jones.
An internal email from Fergal Mythen, the Director General of Corporate Services, to Ms Jones said: “We cannot overemphasise the fact that the high cost of the rent remains a matter of concern to the Department.”
The email explained how the annual rent bill needed to be cut from $360,000 per year to a cost of less than $250,000.
A report on the residence explained how the actual rent bill was actually even higher at $388,800 annually when service charges and parking were taken into account.
It extolled the virtues of the current property saying the balcony space in particular was an “oft-cited point of admiration by … guests”. It was also used for a wide variety of events.
The report explained that getting a property for $250,000-a-year would be tricky with “limited” suitable stock in the city even after more than 130 properties were looked at.
One apartment in a new building called UN Plaza was eventually found, which fit the bill with a monthly rental cost of $23,000, which with parking and service charges worked out at $279,600 per year.
However, that was not the end of it and when diplomatic staff went to meet the landlord, they were told there would be a 120 day “termination clause”.
“Our collective assessment is not positive towards the landlord based on these surprise developments,” said an email from Vice Consul Shane Cahill.
Fortunately, a separate apartment in the same building was also available with just a $500-a-month increase on the rent.
“The mission believes the apartment would make a suitable residence,” said an email. A lease on the property was signed off and the Consul General moved into the new apartment early last year.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The Department asked the Consulate in New York to go back to the market to see if a better value for money option was available.
“After an exhaustive search in what is one of the most challenging and expensive real estate environments in the world where identifying suitable space is not easy and can take some time, an alternative premises was identified which did offer better value for money to the Department.
“A three-year lease was signed for the premises … I would take this opportunity to highlight once more the $309,000 savings which will be made over the course of the three year lease.”