Thursday, 21 May 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Ciaran Cannon: Approximately 16 years ago the people of Loughrea were given a very strong indication that the Government of the day was willing to co-fund the provision of a public swimming pool in that town. At the prompting of the Government and local Fianna Fáil representatives at that time the people of the town engaged in a comprehensive fundraising campaign. I bought one of those £100 tickets, as they were at the time, for me and my family. Some 16 years later the pool remains undelivered and we have arrived at a point where Fianna Fáil uses this as some sort of trump card to be played at every election, local and national, in the Loughrea area, constantly promising that this pool is about to be delivered or, at the most recent general election, that is has been delivered.
In February 2001 Deputy Noel Treacy announced that his Government colleague, Deputy McDaid, then Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, had approved the appointment of consultants by Galway County Council for the preliminary design and construction of the proposed pool. Deputy Treacy also said he was “looking forward to a swim in the warmer waters of the pool in the years ahead”. In the weeks running up to the May 2007 general election another announcement was made that the swimming pool had been approved and that €1.7 million was waiting somewhere, about to be allocated for the pool. A very large billboard was erected on the site of the pool proclaiming the pool had been delivered. Deputy Treacy said he was “delighted to have achieved a positive conclusion for this very important project”. I stress the word “conclusion”.
Two years later, not one cent of that €1.7 million has been delivered to the community of Loughrea. We have been fobbed off over and over again with pathetic excuses about legal difficulties that have arisen. If somebody says he or she was happy to have achieved a “positive conclusion” for a project, one would assume all these legal issues had been resolved back in 2007. I cannot understand why this money still has not been allocated two years later.
We have the legal knowledge available to us in the Houses of the Oireachtas to draft a Bill to guarantee every loan in our State banks and have it passed in 48 hours. If the political will and the intent to deliver this money and pool to the community of Loughrea existed, it would have been done many years ago. I do not believe the political will is there to do that. There is no intent to deliver a pool at any point. The excuses given were simply a smoke screen for an unwillingness on the part of the Government to deliver this money. I hope the Minister, Deputy Mansergh, has something that may encourage me to believe otherwise, but I doubt it.
Deputy Martin Mansergh: I prefer the colder waters of the Atlantic off the coast of Galway, but I appreciate that schools and inhabitants need a local swimming pool. If I had not been keeping up to date with recent developments, Senator Cannon’s speech left me in no doubt as to what side of the political spectrum he stands on, and I wish him the best on his transition. I thank the Senator for raising this matter and for giving me the opportunity to outline the position in relation to the Loughrea swimming pool proposal.
As Senators are aware, the local authority swimming pool programme is administered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. The programme provides grant aid towards the capital costs of new public swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing public swimming pools provided by local authorities or other bodies where the application for capital funding is supported by the local authority. The current round of the programme closed to new applicants in July 2000. An application was received from Galway County Council for the Loughrea swimming pool before that closing date. The programme provides for maximum grant aid of €3.8 million per project.
There are four principal stages which must be undertaken by a local authority in developing a swimming pool project. These are a preliminary report including feasibility study, contract documents, tender stage and, finally, construction. Local authorities may not proceed to the next stage of a project until prior approval issues from the Department. Grant aid is formally allocated when the tender is approved. The Department’s technical advisers, the Office of Public Works, which I have the honour to head, evaluates each stage.
The policy since 2000 has been to give priority to the completion of the 57 projects within the current round. Of these 57 projects, 43 have been completed and open to the public, three are under construction, all of which have been grant aided. Eleven other projects are at various stages of the programme. One is at tender stage, seven are at contract documents stage and three are at preliminary report stage.
Cumulative grant expenditure by the Department under the programme from 2000 to the end of April this year is €134.3 million and this grant aid has leveraged total investment of €383.5 million in public swimming pool facilities. Under the National Development Plan 2007-2013, €184 million has been allocated for the provision of public swimming pools under the local authority swimming pool programme, with €12.4 million provided in the Revised Estimates for 2009.
The Department has completed and published a value for money and policy review report of the local authority swimming pool programme. The report examined, among other things, how the programme has worked to date and what changes are required to ensure its effective and efficient delivery in the future. The report was published in 2008. The terms and conditions of any new round of the programme will be devised taking into account the recommendations of the report.
However, given the current budgetary constraints, it is not intended to launch a new round of the local authority swimming pool programme at this time. The matter will be reviewed again later this year.
The Department has been in discussions for some time with Galway County Council regarding the grant aiding of a swimming pool in Loughrea. The current proposal is that Galway County Council would supply a site to a local hotel developer who would construct the pool and in return would make the pool available to the public in Loughrea for an agreed number of hours per week and at entrance prices comparable to other public pools in Galway. As part of this plan, the council applied to the Department for a grant of €1.7 million from the local authority swimming pool programme towards the construction of the pool. Consideration of this proposal is at an advanced stage in the Department and my senior colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, hopes to make an announcement about the project soon.
Again, I thank the Senator for raising this issue and assure him the Government will continue to build on its record of achievement in upgrading the stock of local public swimming pools in this country. The reply I gave does not justify the unqualified pessimism of the Senator’s contribution.
Senator Ciaran Cannon: I understand this €1.7 million is coming from the local authority swimming pool programme pool of funds. The Minister of State said that given the budgetary constraints, it is not intended to launch a new round of the swimming programme at this time and that the matter would be reviewed again later this year. He said Galway County Council has been in discussions with the Department and that it hopes the €1.7 million will be allocated. Are they two distinct issues?
The Minister of State also said consideration of this proposal is at an advanced stage in the Department. In May 2007, Deputy Treacy, the Minister of State’s party colleague, told us the money had been sanctioned and that he was delighted to have achieved a conclusion for this project. How can something confirmed as concluded in May 2007 continue to be at an advanced stage in May 2009?
Deputy Martin Mansergh: The answer to the first question is that they are two distinct issues. I was talking about the programme. There is a question of finishing off the existing programme, which includes Loughrea. However, I was also dealing with the question of when there might be invitations to apply for a new programme. The fact there is no new programme this year has no implications whatsoever for the Loughrea swimming pool proposal which is under the existing programme and is in the pipeline.
With the greatest possible deference to the Senator and his constituency colleague, Deputy Treacy, I am giving an official and, I believe, authoritative departmental reply. As the Senator will know, Deputies, even when they are officeholders in other Departments, can give informed or optimistic views on the prospects for something. The Senator would be entitled to take seriously and literally what I have said, regardless of what may have been said in the past.
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