The refurbishment of the Merrion Street complex to become Government Buildings in 1990 was led by the Office of Public Works (OPW), with a budget of £17.6 million, and was the subject of national attention. The laboratories and lecture theatres of the building had seen little structural change – but much wear and tear – since 1911, and were now to be converted into the offices, meeting rooms and press facilities appropriate to modern government. The important features of one of the city’s great buildings were to be maintained and enhanced, with the resulting building presenting a suitably dignified backdrop for major government events.
Layers of pollution were cleaned from the facade of the building. The front steps were extended and the courtyard refurbished, with the addition of a circular fountain. A helicopter landing pad was built on the roof.
Inside, the most obvious change was the removal of the main lecture theatre at the top of the steps in the foyer and its replacement with a dramatic beechwood staircase. The staircase is overlooked by Evie Hone’s great stained glass window My Four Green Fields, originally created for the Irish pavilion at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. The carpet on the staircase was designed by artist Mary FitzGerald to echo the colours in the window.
In the basement a former lecture theatre and canteen were converted to a press centre for visiting media personnel. The library, on the top floor, became a large meeting room. The decision was made not to relocate the cabinet room, or council chamber, but to leave it in the north wing, where it had housed government meetings since the foundation of the state.
The Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, moved into the new accommodation with his staff in January 1991 and performed the official opening later that month, in a ceremony attended by former Taoisigh Liam Cosgrave, Jack Lynch and Garret FitzGerald.
The refurbishment project won a number of awards, including the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Silver Medal for Conservation for the period 1987-92. The RIAI citation commented that ‘the re-use of this existing building of acknowledged quality for this new, and entirely fitting, purpose has created a special identity of Government, and has contributed considerably to Dublin’s status as a European capital’.