Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - National Stadium.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

1 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the timeframe involved in the assessment of the proposal presented to him by the IRFU on 10 December 2003 to provide a new stadium for rugby, soccer, and Gaelic football if required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31719/03]

Jack Wall

Question:

2 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the matters discussed at his meeting with the IRFU on 10 December 2003; if he has received proposals from the IRFU for the upgrading of Lansdowne Road; his views on the proposals submitted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31715/03]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

3 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if consideration is being given to the annual leasing of Croke Park from the GAA; the feasibility of re-leasing this venue to other sporting bodies during this lease period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31718/03]

Jack Wall

Question:

5 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his position on the provision of a new national stadium; if he has yet brought a memorandum to Government on this matter; if Abbotstown is still under consideration as a venue; the costs involved in each of the options under consideration; when a final decision will be taken on the provision of a national stadium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31552/03]

I met the IRFU on 10 December and received from them further proposals on development options for Lansdowne Road, with a view to providing state-of-the-art facilities which would address the stadium requirements of the major sporting bodies. These proposals are complementary to the options tabled by the IRFU and FAI earlier this year, involving the provision of a 65,000 seater stadium at a number of locations, including Abbotstown and Lansdowne Road.

These discussions were resumed on 16 December when I met IRFU and FAI representatives in my office. They presented supplementary information by way of elaboration on the 10 December proposals. The thrust of this latest proposal is to present an option for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road capable of meeting the needs of the major sporting bodies. I am having this new material evaluated in consultation with the Office of Public Works, which acts as technical adviser to my Department on the project.

With regard to the opening up of Croke Park or possible lease arrangements, I reaffirm my frequently expressed public view that this is a matter for the GAA alone to consider and decide on. My position on this issue is known. I do not, however, wish to engage in hypothetical speculation on issues around suggestions that the GAA should lease Croke Park to the Government or any other methodologies for that matter.

Taking account of the issues highlighted in the various proposals for stadium development, the outcome of my discussions with the sporting bodies as well as the information gleaned in response to the initiative to secure privately funded facilities, and taking into account the likely demand on the Exchequer to fund such a facility, it is my intention to present to the Government for decision the various options for meeting the stadium needs of the sporting organisations at the earliest possible date. In this regard, I wish to place on record once again that the Abbotstown site will be one of the options before Government.

Surely the Minister agrees it is now time to move from vanity to sanity and from dreams to reality? The time for dithering, obfuscation and procrastination is now over. A report by Ove Arup Consulting Engineering is strongly in favour of building a new stadium at Lansdowne Road, which would include seating for 50,000 people and cost approximately €250 million, of which €80 million would be returned to the State in tax. The facility would be a new, modern international stadium with strong aesthetic qualities, which would receive positive recognition internationally due to its world class facilities. It would also have a minimal impact on adjoining residents because of the curved profile of the east and west stands and the low level of the north and south stands. It would concentrate spectators towards the centre of the pitch and capacity would be adequate for most fixtures. In addition, it would be good value for money and could accommodate GAA fixtures. Surely the proposal warrants an immediate decision.

I am concerned that the Minister has again stated he will make a decision at the earliest possible date. Will he be more definitive and clarify when he intends to make a decision on the proposal by the IRFU, which is supported by the FAI, the Fine Gael Party and, I am sure, the other party spokespersons on sport? Fine Gael and other parties have been recommending this solution to the Government for four year. It is now decision time. The IRFU and FAI are losing out considerably due to Government inaction and its failure to make a decision. We are faced with the potentially embarrassing situation internationally of the FAI being forced to decide shortly where to play home matches, while the IRFU could also be forced to consider other options, including playing their home matches abroad. Opening up Croke Park is another question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I remind the Deputy that this is Question Time and he should ask questions.

The issue before us is about making a decision on a well-costed stadium proposal. Will the Minister make a decision and present definitive proposals to Cabinet in January? Will we have a decision in one month?

This Government has nothing to be ashamed of with regard to the provision of sports facilities or investment in sport, which has been massive. Since the Taoiseach first brought the position of sport to the Cabinet table in 1997, the amount of money allocated for sport has increased from approximately €17 million to €176 million per annum. Developments, such as the national aquatic centre, have been a tremendous credit to the Government and country.

It is incorrect of the Deputy to suggest I have been dithering. The opposite is the truth. In September last year, the Government made a decision to the effect that it could not proceed with the proposal at Abbotstown from Exchequer funding due to economic circumstances and mandated me to seek expressions of interest from the private sector, which I duly did. Once these were evaluated, I asked the sporting associations, the IRFU and FAI, to make proposals, which they did. Subsequently, they sought an opportunity to provide some clarity on their proposals, which they also did, and the Office of Public Works has been examining the proposals in the interim. In those circumstances, I fail to see the logic of Deputy Deenihan's argument.

The current position is that I have sufficient information, other than the final evaluation of the latest document presented by the IRFU and FAI, to go to Government. This documentation should be ready soon and I have stated publicly my wish to bring the relevant memorandum to Government for decision at some point in January. As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, the memorandum will include the various options the Government can consider and, having done so, it will, in its wisdom, make a decision. I have also repeatedly indicated my personal desire to construct a new stadium, because the IRFU and FAI unquestionably require a home. I believe the sporting public has also identified the need for such a stadium.

Each time the Minister has been questioned in the House in the past six months, questions on a national stadium have been taken as a priority. However, despite all the reports, it seems that no conclusion has been reached. When the relevant reports from the IRFU and the FAI came on stream I thought a decision would finally be made. The Minister has conceded that all the Opposition parties have supported his endeavours.

Media coverage on the latest meetings of the IRFU and FAI indicates the total cost of their proposals would be €250 million. When the VAT reclaim etc. is removed that brings it down to a possible €85 million. Will the Minister say whether an offer of £50 million from Mr. J. P. McManus is on the backburner as regards a national stadium and facility? Mr. McManus has a reputation for supporting all sports, including soccer, due to his links with Manchester United. It would be a cheap stadium for the Government if one was to take the reclaim of the VAT and the offer of £50 million into account. That would possibly put the provision of the IRFU and the FAI at around €35 million, which would make it good value for them. This would be an obvious solution given the problems facing the FAI as regards the European and world championships and the safety and health factors that the IRFU will face.

Is it not time that we put this to bed and moved on? It is raised continuously at Question Time and is covered regularly in the media. I was concerned when, within a few days of his meeting with the FAI and the IRFU, the Minister indicated that he would like Croke Park to be opened to other sports. That may muddy the waters in terms of the Government's intentions. A concrete proposal now exists, which, given the facts as regards costs presented in the media, could be the cheapest option for the Government. I would ask the Minister to bring this to Government, get it done and dusted and allow the IRFU and the FAI to move forward with their plans for the Six Nations Championship and the world championships and allied arrangements. Will the Minister say when a decision will be made and when this matter is to be put to bed once and for all? Let us stop muddying the waters and be positive as regards reaching a decision.

I have been clear and consistent from the outset as regards this issue and have repeatedly stated that a new stadium is necessary. I have also been fair and open with all of the sporting organisations concerned. I let them know my views and my door has been open at all times to discuss the issue. On 10 December, the IRFU requested further time to make another submission and I gladly acceded to that because I believe all sides of the argument deserve a hearing.

Deputy Deenihan, in the course of his contribution, seemed to indicate that the Ove Arup report comes down in favour of Lansdowne Road. That is a matter for interpretation. Others will strongly argue that any stadium should be at Abbotstown on the grounds that it would provide the opportunity for future Governments to build a campus there which could host major international events in years to come. They pointedly refer to the tremendous success which the National Aquatic Centre has been during the recent European short course championships. Experts on swimming from across Europe were laudatory of the facilities and records were broken. It is a great tribute to the resilience and progress of Irish sport that the Government has located such a facility there.

In answer to Deputy Wall, I have not had the opportunity of advising Mr. McManus of the precise proposals, but I am sure I will in due course. When I do, Mr. McManus will no doubt make up his own mind. However, I would like to record again my deep appreciation of the magnificent gift of £50 million he has offered the State towards the construction of a national stadium. I hope this has dealt with the matters raised. The issue is one which requires decision. It is clear from FAI and IRFU statements that these bodies regard their positions as untenable. I fully understand and appreciate that and have articulated that view.

I thank the Minister for his reply and note that today's questions are largely on the same theme, sport. That generally reflects public opinion. Will the Minister say if he has been involved in any meetings with the GAA, formal or informal, with regard to the future use of Croke Park and if he considers that such meetings might be of benefit? If the Government was to lease Croke Park, it would remove the dilemma of Rule 42 for the GAA. This would make sense. As Deputy Deenihan stated earlier, we have many international matches next year and it would be terrible if we had to go abroad when a fantastic stadium such as Croke Park exists. There should at least be discussions on this.

Does the Minister believe it would be beneficial to take a lead role and invite the IRFU, the FAI and the GAA to round table talks? Their respective constitutions may not allow any of these bodies to initiate such talks but the Government should take the initiative in this regard. That might be beneficial for all three organisations. Religions that are diametrically opposed to each other can share the same church buildings. Sports bodies should be able to share the same facilities as well. In general, the same sports fans go to soccer and GAA matches and go racing. Such a move would facilitate such sports people. To have a world class stadium used in this fashion would send out a positive message about Ireland. I would ask the Minister to take the initiative in this regard. Croke Park is officially used only 21 times per year. That is an under use of a fantastic resource. Will the Minister consider taking a lead role by inviting the three national organisations to talks?

I doubt if there has been a Minister who has met the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI on more occasions within the same timeframe, since I assumed this portfolio. As regards Croke Park, even if the GAA hierarchy wanted to negotiate it could not do so, as Deputy Connolly will be aware. It would require a vote of the congress of the GAA to lift Rule 42. As regards the resolution of the problem, I have consistently stated that Croke Park on its own is not the solution. That much is clear. The FAI and the IRFU have also made it clear on numerous occasions and have outlined their cogent reasons in this regard.

As I have been outlining for some time, the memorandum is being finalised and it will go to the Government.

Since I was appointed Minister, and I do not mean to blow my own trumpet, there has been clarity about the options. We have also engaged fairly with the relevant sporting organisations. The sporting public wants the issue resolved to ensure that rugby and soccer can prosper. Indeed, it is also the public's wish that the same would apply to our national games.

All Members agree that a second stadium is needed for rugby and soccer. The question is about where and when. It is also important that the Minister state his personal preference. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will make a definitive statement in January on whether the stadium will be in Abbotstown or Lansdowne Road? Will the Minister indicate his personal preference? It is a fair question and he must have a preference. The IRFU and the FAI firmly support the Lansdowne Road proposal. That should be enough to convince the Government that this is the optimum site. Fine Gael has always favoured the Lansdowne Road option because of cost and location. The infrastructure already exists and that would save money. There is also a feeling among the sporting fraternity that this is the optimum site.

The principal Opposition parties have been most supportive of the concept of a new stadium for which I am grateful. It would be unfair not to acknowledge it. It would also be remiss of me not to confirm that some of the Independent Members, including the two who are present, have indicated that they are supportive of the concept.

I am a great lover, like Deputy Deenihan, of large balls, round balls, oval balls and so on—

The Minister should be careful. He should not go there.

—but I do not have a crystal ball.

We only have high balls.

Therefore, it is not possible to give Deputy Deenihan the definitive reply he seeks, much as I would like to do so. What I can and will do is put the position to the Government.

The Minister should not drop the ball.

Indeed. I have also been trying to juggle the balls. I will not drop it.

The ball is in the Minister's court.

The Minister had a meeting with the president of the GAA, Seán Ó Ceallaigh, on 23 October. Did the Minister make him aware at that meeting that the IRFU and the FAI did not see Croke Park as the answer to all their problems? My second question relates to the costs of the proposed new stadium at Lansdowne Road. The cost is said to be €250 million. If the same 55,000 seat stadium that is proposed for Lansdowne Road was located in Abbotstown, would the cost be the same?

The question of whether the proposed stadium for Lansdowne Road could be transferred to Abbotstown for the same cost reminds me of the song "If We Only Had Old Ireland Over Here". It is a difficult question that will have to be resolved by the Office of Public Works, which will cost the various options we will subsequently put to the Government.

I have tried to keep all the sporting organisations informed of progress on the options. People have been frustrated by the fact that meetings had to take place, reports had to be produced and examined by the Office of Public Works and that the issue has to be brought back to the Government. However, I have no intention of going to Government with half-baked proposals. I will go with proposals that are solid in their own right and let the Government make its decision. The last thing I would do is go with ill thought out proposals because that would be self-defeating and would not do justice to the sporting organisations.

It is different from the Punchestown approach.

Horses for courses.

Will the Minister respond to my suggestion earlier about exploratory talks? They might prove fruitful for all three organisations. This is an interim, not a lifelong, solution and the lease could be reconsidered after a period of years.

My apologies for not replying to Deputy Connolly. I have had meetings with the IRFU, the GAA and the FAI and there have been some joint meetings. I understand where each organisation stands and I am aware of their feelings about what is required in a new stadium. Such a meeting might yield results in the context of there being a positive proposal to discuss but, at this point, I am not in a position to put a definitive proposal to any of them and they are aware of that. Until I am, I doubt that a meeting of the type envisaged by Deputy Connolly, although the suggestion is well intentioned, would be of benefit.