A SPECIAL accelerated contract for public relations was awarded as a matter of “national urgency” as part of Ireland’s bid to host the European Medicines Agency.
The Medicines Agency, which is based in London, will be moving after Brexit to one of the European Union member states.
The Irish government has been lobbying for it to be relocated to Ireland bringing close to 900 staff and an estimated €180 million into the Irish economy annually.
An internal Department of Health note explained how the only way to award the €93,000 public relations contract quickly enough would be by giving it a special designation.
It said: “To do this we have to proceed on the basis that this is a matter of national urgency and that the requirement for urgent provision of this service could not have been foreseen far in advance.
“A memo on this matter was submitted to the Secretary General and he has now approved the proposed approach, which will involve a small number of potential providers being invited to tender.”
They said that the process would have to be “expeditious” while still involving a “fully transparent selection process”.
The PR firm Hume Brophy was ultimately chosen following the competition and for a three-and-a-half-month period were paid €93,082 with a small amount of expenditure still to be invoiced.
A memo prepared for Health Minister Simon Harris making the case for the contract explained how competition between member states was “already intense”.
It said some countries were already emerging as powerful candidates and were mounting “strong and well-resourced campaigns”.
The memo said Ireland was seen in the EU as having a “very good case” to win the relocation bid but that this needed to be communicated more effectively.
It said this required support both from the government and Irish diplomats, but that the PR campaign needed to be ramped up within a matter of weeks.
The memo said: “Clearly it would not make sense to enter a full competitive process such that the required service would only become available after the key period for promotion of the Irish bid had passed.”
It also explained how normal EU procurement rules could be bypassed where there was a “state of urgency” that made normal time limits impractical.
The memo, written in March this year, said: “The factors giving rise to urgency must be serious, unforeseeable and not due to action or inaction on the part of the contracting authority concerned.”
The Department’s civil servants said they felt the bid for the EMA met these criteria.
“It is now becoming clear that competitor countries are well resourced and already have a presence in Brussels putting their case,” they said. “The Dublin bid must be able to compete for coverage in order to be seen as a realistic option.”
They said a slow full-scale procurement process would stop the Irish bid from getting “on the ground” quickly and be a serious disadvantage.
In a statement, the Department said seven companies had been invited to tender.
They said: “Due to the nature of the work it was deemed essential by the Department that all companies must be able to operate effectively in Brussels and have the capacity to take on the work immediately on award of the contract.”
The Department said they had consulted with the IDA, the Health Products Regulatory Authority and the Office of Government Procurement in the selection process.
They said: “The process fully complied with the [relevant EU regulations] … tenders were evaluated by a five person panel, including two external to the Department of Health. Feedback was provided to unsuccessful applicants and a 14-day standstill period was observed to allow for appeals.”