Tuesday, 17 October 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
2. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the expenditure to date for Stadium Ireland and the Campus of Sporting Excellence under the subhead in his Department's 2000 Estimate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19492/00]
3. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the costs incurred to date by his Department arising from plans for Stadium Ireland at Abbotstown; the role his Department plays in regard to the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20083/00]
The Taoiseach: Prior to that the Estimate was considered by the Committee on Finance and the Public Service in accordance with the procedures set out in Standing Orders. It is only in the context of that process that the matter of a general statement on the Estimates arises.
With regard to the specific questions in relation to Sports Campus Ireland, an allocation of £10 million was included in my Department's Esti mate for this year. That allocation was made to facilitate the start-up of the project which my Department initiated. Now that the project is off the ground, responsibility for taking it forward has been given to the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, and this will be reflected in the Estimates for next year. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, answered questions in the House last week in which he dealt with the details of the project.
Expenditure on the project from my Department's Vote to date in 2000 has been £113,232. Payments amounting to over £0.5 million are being processed at present, mainly in respect of office accommodation costs and studies into individual elements of the development such as the aquatic and leisure centre and the indoor arena. My Department spent £380,033 last year on the initial feasibility study entitled A Stadium for the New Century.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach accept that all of us on this side of the House are anxious that elements of this project go ahead, such as the aquatic facility which is essential for the Special Olympics, which we support and which we must be able to host properly? Does he accept, however, that there is increasing doubt about the viability of this project? On the Government's own estimates the original cost has escalated from £280 million to £550 million and that £550 million does not even cover the £90 million for the relocation of the Abbotstown facility, the £20 million for the development of associated infrastructure around the stadium, the £20 million for road, rail and bus services to the stadium or the provision for cost escalation or overruns. Is the Taoiseach aware that the estimated cost of this project would allow for the spending of £5.42 million on recreational facilities and swimming pools, many of which must be closed because their roofs are leaking – in each Deputy's constituency? For example, it would cost £3 million to replace the swimming pool in Ballinasloe, the roof of which is leaking. Does the Taoiseach agree there is a greater need for recreational facilities throughout the country, where many young people have nowhere to meet their friends except in a public house and that, therefore, this facility may not be the best use of limited resources for the promotion of sport and recreation?
The Taoiseach: I welcome Deputy Bruton's support for the aquatic centre. That is the first element of the overall campus which must move forward. The tenders have just been received and examined and the detailed contract arrangements for that will be entered into between now and Christmas.
The cost for the stadium element of this project was, and still is, £281 million. The feasibility study was based on that and all the examinations carried out by the interim and advisory board were based on that. The 15,000 capacity multiple sport indoor arena, the medical centre, the admin istration blocks and the other facilities were not, of course, covered by the £281 million. Therefore, one cannot make a comparison – I am not sure the Deputy is doing so – between the £281 million and the £550 million because they relate to different elements. The £281 million relates to the stadium only and the campus involves all the other initiatives.
The Deputy is correct about the infrastructural elements. The initial report stated that Fingal County Council would require £13 million and of course there are transport initiatives. From what the chairman of the body has told me of the discussions with the local residents of Blanchardstown, the 15 committees, they are raising issues about the transport element. They will all need to be facilitated, as will the movement of staff. However, if this country is to develop a proper sports campus, it will cost money. I have long held the view that the amount of money spent on sport, leisure and recreation is paltry. We increased the health budget by 56% – £1.5 billion in three rounds of Estimates. I have no objection to the spending of that amount, or more for that matter, on health, but if we are to do as other countries have been doing for a long time, that is, spend money on prevention, the other end, the health bills, might not be as excessive or at least could be used more effectively.
That said, in the past few years, now that there is a Department with responsibility for sport, tourism and leisure, the infrastructure is being put into local projects, each of which is important. I am a great supporter of and believer in recreational facilities, club halls, parish halls and facilities for county grounds for all sports and for club grounds. We have seen an enormous increase in recent years, right through the 1990s and in the life of this Government, in those areas. Under the national development plan, £41 billion has been allocated and a small amount of that has been allocated to sport. Even if this costs £1 billion, which it will not, it is a small proportion of what we spend in other areas.
Sport has not been recognised since the foundation of the State. There were always areas that were more important, and that is why we are in this situation in regard to national sporting grounds, with the exception of Croke Park. Croke Park is the only sporting ground which comes anywhere near a good ground, but it lacks facilities, including transport and parking facilities. It has no facilities other than a stadium. It has no warm-up facilities which you would find in any collegiate ground elsewhere in the world. That is the difficulty for this country and it is a difficulty I would like to see addressed. It cannot be addressed in a year or two but it can be in this decade and that should be done.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach accept, as all of us on this side of the House do, there is a good case for spending at least £1 billion on sport? However, there are some on this side of  the House, at least, who would question whether it should all go into one project in one place, a large part of which will go on spectator facilities rather than on facilities for those taking part in sport. Does the Taoiseach agree that once this goes beyond the point of no return in contractual terms, the money has to be spent and, therefore, will not be available for any other projects such as the ones I mentioned where there are many schools without sports halls and so on?
When is the point of contractual no return on the stadium element? At what date does the Taoiseach expect he will be committed financially to going ahead with the stadium to an extent that no subsequent Government with a different policy to his would be in a position to modify because of contractual commitments? I think the Taoiseach will accept that while we are united in our commitment to put £1 billion into sport, there is legitimate room for argument about whether it should all go primarily into one project or whether the £1 billion could be spread more profitably throughout the country. I imagine any one of the Deputies listening could think of many ways to spend £5.5 million in their constituency – that is the equivalent of the cost of this one project.
The Taoiseach: I accept Deputy Bruton's point. Even if we did not have a campus and sports section and regardless of my views, I would like to see the money spent on sport. Down through the years, through no fault of the Deputy's or mine, we always found different ways to spend money. It will be some time before it comes to that. The contractual commitment on the aquatic leisure centre will be made in the next two months.
The Taoiseach: No. The indoor arena is the next part. It will be a multi-purpose indoor and outdoor arena with training halls and pitches which will be used by all sports. There will be a sports, science and medicine centre which will be easy to plan because it will be based on the models in other countries. There are many of these centres throughout Europe. There will be headquarters for sports organisations. The question of the stadium will then arise. I understand the board is carrying out ongoing feasibility studies and examinations of design. While the feasibility study on the stadium was carried out by Price Waterhouse last year, it will look at more modern designs as it proceeds. It will be some time next year before they make any decision on that. The urgency for the next six months lies in some other areas.
Mr. Quinn: Now that we have significant sums of money, no one would disagree with the desirability of investing in a sporting infrastructure that stretches from the local parish and community to international competitions. I welcome,  in principle, the commitment the Government has made to this project.
However, I am concerned already by the very loose set of costings and accountancy parameters that seem to apply to today's answer and which applied to the reply of the Minister, Deputy McDaid, last week. For example, does the Taoiseach agree there has been a substantial overrun in the 15 comparative studies of stadia of similar size to the one that is being costed at £281 million? Closer to home, there was a substantial increase, above and beyond construction inflation or changes in the original design, in the cost that was originally estimated for the port access tunnel and the original price that was signed off by way of public contract, which the Taoiseach was happy to announce last week.
I am concerned this project might not be properly implemented because of poor planning. The figures at this stage seem to belong in fantasy land. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the £281 million includes the donation from a private individual?
I have two specific questions arising from that observation. First, to whom is this private limited company, CSID – Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Company – accountable? Is it accountable to the Department of the Taoiseach or to the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation? Second, can the Taoiseach give some indication of the kind of moneys that are being prepared for the allocation to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation in the budget? When will the taxpayer, the people who are ultimately accountable, get a clear indication of what will be the real capital cost and annual operating cost of this project?
The Taoiseach: I welcome the Deputy's supportive remarks for what the Minister, Deputy McDaid and I have said. There is, perhaps, some confusion about this. The original Price Waterhouse report was on just the stadium and not any other element of the campus. The price in that report was £281 million. The additional elements, to which I have referred, are what bring it up to £550 million.
The board stated it wanted to do much of this on the basis of public private partnerships, which is what has happened elsewhere. There has been a great deal of consultation with the Australians on this because they have the biggest infrastructural element. The Office of Public Works were the managers of it, with the other people in the design team. The estimated overall cost is £550 million. Some £150 million of that will come from public private partnerships and £50 million was donated by J. P. McManus to the State.
I agree with Deputy Quinn – and this point was also made by Deputy John Bruton – there has been a cost overrun on all the stadia in Europe and outside it. We are already seeing that in the stadium being built here and the proposed one. In regard to the other infrastructural matters, the team is talking to CIE and others about  transport, rail and all the other issues and the overall cost.
The board will answer to the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. However, I said from the start that it should also report twice a year to a committee of the House, so that everything will be seen to be up front. They will answer to the Department but will present themselves to a committee of the House. While the projection is that it will be finished in 2005 and I hope it will be, realistically it will have to be monitored. I agree with what the Deputy said about planning, construction, size and the over-runs on a project that will run seven if not more years and that that type of control needs to be maintained.
Mr. Quinn: It is normal practice in most capital projects that a final agreement is not arrived at by the Department of Finance, which I assume has some input into this project, until a business plan is provided which demonstrates clearly and beyond doubt that the project can generate enough revenue on an annual current basis or will get a subvention from the State on an annual current basis. When will the capital sum be signed off and the estimated operational running costs be finalised, including revenue from the public private partnerships? Will this House be consulted before the final decision to go ahead is made?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy has raised three points. The Department of Finance has been totally involved in the feasibility study on the stadium. A detailed feasibility study or plan was not conducted on the other elements. They will all have to be assessed and cleared individually. I have opposed the idea that they could be considered together.
On public private partnerships, a number of Members, including Deputy Allen and Deputy O'Shea, have looked at the reports on other countries. The best way is to allow the private sector in from the earliest stage where they design, build, manage and stay with a project. That is what has happened on the ten best stadiums in the world. We should not go against what has proved to be the best plan. That is not to take away from the Office of Public Works type management of the overall contract. At this stage the aquatic centre will have gone through all the mechanisms but the others will have to go through those positions as we move forward.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Is the Taoiseach aware that in the 12 months since the project was first promoted his Department has not had any consultation with the elected members of Fingal County Council? Will he accept that a project of this size, should it go ahead, has massive implications for the large residential community in the area, particularly in west Dublin? Will he give an undertaking that his Department will have an early meeting with the elected representatives of the people in that area? Is the Taoiseach as  alarmed as I am by the potential detrimental impact on the quality of life of residents in the greater Blanchardstown area, of 14,400 cars, which is probably an under estimate as all traffic predictions to date have been under estimated? Will he agree that people attend in large numbers – as they do at Croke Park at the weekend – at the same time for these events and leave at the same time? Does he understand that residents in the greater Blanchardstown west Dublin area will be prisoners of massive traffic gridlock on any day in which there is a major event at such a stadium? Therefore, it is absolutely critical that a rail link is provided at the site, not at Ashtown. Mr. J. P. McManus will be able to get in and out of his helicopter but the thousands of residents of west Dublin will be left with the major problem, the noise and the pollution. With regard to the remaining 185 acres of the site, PriceWaterhouseCoopers more than hinted that it should be sold for development. In view of the huge amount of development in west Dublin, including the doubling and trebling of densities in residential areas to up to 30 units of housing per acre, will the Taoiseach give an undertaking that the 185 acres will be preserved as green belt and will be tied into the Tolka Valley Park as a resource for the people of west Dublin and, indeed, for all citizens?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Higgins asked three questions. With regard to the first, I am aware there have been detailed discussions with Fingal County Council but the answer is yes, I will ensure that the public representatives of the area are briefed on those deliberations and discussions. I am not privy to what is happening in that regard but I will ensure that they speak to the individual political representatives.
Second, I am aware, as are most Members, of the impact caused by the arrival of up to 70,000 people at a venue each week. I am blessed to have lived beside such a venue all my life and beside the smaller venue of Tolka Park where up to 5,000 people might arrive for an event. I am also aware of the advisability of having a rail link. While I am blessed to have a rail link beside my home, it closes down when there is a match. That is not very handy. It is a better idea to have a rail link which will transport people to and from a venue and does not have to close down on safety grounds when there is a match. That should be planned and that is the intention.
Third, the Deputy asked about the overall site. The company, Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Company, will publish advertisements outlining the terms of the competition to develop an architectural and environmental framework plan for the site. The site consists of 500 acres and the intention is that the winning framework plan will suggest a logical and coherent approach to accommodating Sports Campus Ireland, a major parkland amenity to serve the community and the public of the Blanchardstown  and surrounding areas, an education project to be selected and complementary leisure projects, all of which will respect the built and natural heritage that exists in Abbotstown. That competition will be managed by the Royal Association of Architects in Ireland in association with Campus and Stadium Ireland.
The winning framework plan will suggest access and transport solutions to the site as well as an overall policy approach to the quality of the architecture that will be expected. The winning team of architects will develop the detailed development plan for the site and will act as consultants to Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited for the duration of the project. It is expected that both national and international firms of the highest calibre will respond to the exciting challenge.
The Taoiseach: I cannot tie the hands of whoever will win this contract. The architectural and environmental framework plan will take account of the matters I have outlined. It is important that this is followed and that the professionals deal with it – the last thing we need is piecemeal ideas. This is the best way of securing the proper development of the site and the protection of the interests of the community and the public, not to mention the heritage and the environment.
Mr. Allen: The Taoiseach has entered a new element, the public private partnership, for a project that will cost up to £1 billion. Since the GAA will be in Croke Park, the FAI will be in Eircom Park and we do not know the intentions of the IRFU, who will use the stadium to ensure it is sufficiently viable to attract a public private partnership? Has it crossed the Taoiseach's mind that notwithstanding the capital investment in the project, there will be a huge revenue charge on the Exchequer on an annual basis? Has it crossed his mind that we could be going down the road to a repeat of the Millennium Dome? The only difference is that the Millennium Dome can be disposed of whereas the National Stadium will be a permanent millstone around the neck of the taxpayer and the sporting bodies.
Mr. Rabbitte: It is a long time since we spent £1 billion in half an hour in this Chamber during Question Time. Does the Taoiseach believe that not just he but Deputies on this side of the House are losing a grip on reality here? If one looks back at newspaper reports when the £50 million was offered by this mysterious donor, is it not the case—
Mr. Rabbitte: Given newspaper reports at the time, is it the case that when the £50 million was offered by J. P. McManus, the cost of the project was approximately £100 million? It is now £550 million on the admission of the Minister for Tourism, Sports and Recreation – a number of items, some of which Deputy Allen listed, are not included in that figure. How will the stadium be run and what will take place in it when built? If this city needs an 80,000 seater stadium, I am sure it has not passed the Taoiseach's attention above any Member in the House that we already have an 80,000 seater stadium. The Taoiseach will be aware that when the work being carried out in Croke Park is concluded there is the prospect of a rapprochement with the rugby fraternity. The Taoiseach knows this better than any Member in the House because he has virtually colonised the place. How will another 80,000 seater stadium be filled? Eircom has separate approval for a 45,000 seater stadium. All the resources of the State are being utilised to try to ensure there is a stop put to that project. Is it not the case that during the recent planning approval by South Dublin County Council the Department of Defence entered a last minute objection, after approval had been cleared with the Baldonnel authorities, that would involve, if implemented, lowering the Naas Road in certain parts and knocking down Saggart and Rathcoole?
Mr. Rabbitte: I am doing it by way of question because it is about time we began to look at what is involved in this project. This may have been a brave project when envisaged, but now that the Taoiseach knows it will cost approximately £800 million, is it not time to look at the run-down swimming pools, the towns with no swimming pools, the young boys' football clubs throughout the city and country where there are no changing rooms, the athletic clubs that are under-provided for, the completely derelict infrastructure in every town and village throughout the country—
Mr. Rabbitte: I am asking a question. Is it not the case that the sports infrastructure throughout the country is derelict? This needs resources and if this folly goes ahead it will absorb all the resources that would otherwise be available to build up the sports infrastructure, of which we are all in favour. Does the Taoiseach believe that, rather than signing irrevocable contracts for whomsoever will form the next Government, he ought to look at the figures? If London, with a population of 11 million people, can ill-afford one Wembley Stadium—
An Ceann Comhairle: If time permits I will allow the Deputy back in but I appeal to Members to be brief because a number of others also wish to ask questions and they can only do so if Members who are given the floor are brief.
The Taoiseach: I will also speak into this one, that is not a problem. With regard to Deputy Allen's question, the public private partnership is not new. The Deputy tabled questions to the Minister, Deputy McDaid, during Question Time last week. I read the text of what he said this morning, and he said it was the first he had heard about the PPP, but he asked questions on it last week on the record of the House. The Minister explained to him—
The Taoiseach: I have not answered it but a reference to public private partnerships is on the record. As I stated earlier, in all major infrastructural developments of this nature throughout the world public private partnerships are being used and developed. It is a good way of involving the private sector.
An Ceann Comhairle: I ask Members who have already asked questions to refrain from asking more because others who have not yet asked questions are indicating to the Chair that they wish to contribute.
The Taoiseach: I have carefully tried to answer every question. I have listened to approximately five minutes of questions from two Deputies and 30 seconds into my reply they do not want to hear the answer. I will be glad to give replies. Let us be frank about this. Some people who oppose this stadium did little or nothing to develop sport in Ireland when they had an opportunity to do so. Spending on sport by successive Governments was a crying disgrace. I established a departmental infrastructure to deal with sport. Most grounds  and clubs in every constituency will receive substantial capital funds for sport this year—
The Taoiseach: —including Cork. One of the finest indoor hurling arenas that could be built was constructed at Na Piarsaigh's ground in the Deputy's constituency, something that would not have been thought about three years ago.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Allen was concerned last week that there would not be an athletics track. He said we should build it into the stadium. He is not aware that the track in Sydney is being taken up again. We have gone ahead and developed Santry stadium. We are spending money and shall continue to do so, and I hope people for years to come will continue to spend money.
I refer to the question about who will use the stadium. It is a national stadium and all sporting organisations will use it. I confidently predict that in years to come Cumann Lúthcleas Gael, the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Football Association of Ireland will use the national stadium.
The Taoiseach: I am still replying to Deputy Allen. I will get to Deputy Rabbitte's question shortly. I confidently predict that. It is stated in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, not my report, that the stadium would host four international rugby matches and two other international sports and it put forward 17 uses for an indoor stadium that would make this project viable. There will be no difficulty whatsoever in achieving that.
The Taoiseach: I will have a go at most things. It is obvious that some Deputies have grave reservations about this matter. However, all the proper procedures will be followed. It is like every thing else in Ireland; if one listened to the prophets of gloom, one would do nothing and then people would complain that there are no facilities. Facilities from the bottom level up are required.
The Taoiseach: That applies from schools to adults. National facilities are also required. I hope the campus will feature the fine athletes who participate in national sports but also that the smaller athletic and sporting organisations will use the indoor facilities and the administrative and medical centres. Groups such as the Community Games organisation have been in existence for almost 30 years but they do not have any facilities or headquarters. They will be accommodated in the new campus.
Deputy Allen knows better than most that almost every time there has been an opportunity with regard to any of the major sports to hold an international event which did not involve Ireland, it has been necessary to turn it down because facilities were not available. There is huge capacity for Ireland to hold such events – this is also linked to sports tourism. If there is a proper ground—
There will be a much better way to access Abbotstown. It is beside the M50 and there will be proper transport. Deputy Higgins made a point about proper transport access. If we are  ever to bring ourselves into the real world in terms of sport at local and national levels, Ireland requires state of the art facilities. This is an attempt to provide such facilities. It has been identified since the mid-1980s that this needs to be done. It will be good value for the small proportion of capital money that is required. The only pity is that it was not done years ago.
Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach make public the official comments on this project made by the public expenditure division of the Department of Finance? How does he expect the GAA, which has borrowed and spent much money on Croke Park, to abandon it and pay a fee to stage a major event in another venue in the same city even though its stadium is not being used on the day?
Mr. J. Bruton: How does he expect the FAI, having also spent a great deal of money on its park, to leave it empty on the day of a big game and pay substantial fees to use Abbotstown for the event? Does he think the GAA or the FAI do not have a reasonable level of financial comprehension to know that paying for something which one has already does not make sense?
The Taoiseach: As any good sports reporter would be aware, and as Deputy Bruton knows, such things evolve. Given the way in which sports, and corporate sports sponsorship, are moving, we will see a very different situation evolving not too many years hence. A stadium can only be a national sports stadium if the main sporting bodies us it.
The Taoiseach: They will. The stadium will not be built tomorrow so there is no need to panic. In time, the national sporting bodies will use it by selling corporate facilities, thereby gaining money which they will use for the benefit of their respective sports. Increasingly, we will move towards staging night games and away from the restrictions in other sports. All that will happen during this decade and rest assured, I will be proved right.
Mr. J. Bruton: How does that affect the issue of the FAI leaving its stadium empty and paying to use another stadium? How do all those matters relate to that issue? When the Taoiseach says the stadium will be used by all the national sports bodies is he engaging in prophesy, or does he know something that he is not telling the House? Have they given him agreements, privately, that are contrary to what they are saying publicly?
The Taoiseach: The feasibility study is public and it would be great if the Deputy read it. That is the problem with some of the questions – Deputies have not read the feasibility study. I know Deputy Allen has read it, but if other Deputies had done so they would have seen about the public private partnership. As time and events move on, what will happen is that the national sports bodies will use the stadium. That is what I predict. The IRFU will.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not speak because he has not been called. If there is another question I will call his colleague Deputy Seán Ryan. The Deputy is now preventing his colleague from asking a question.
The Taoiseach: It is not so simple. Fortunately, sport is played on grass and not on a carpet. Last week, Croke Park closed down for the winter break. The playing field there badly needs this seasonal break. Croke Park cannot just re-open for four rugby matches.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has been endeavouring to facilitate the Deputy. The time has now elapsed and we must move on to Questions nominated for priority to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources.
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