Priority Questions.

Abbey Theatre.

Jimmy Deenihan


95 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the acquisition of additional space to refurbish and extend the Abbey Theatre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6171/04]

As I informed the Deputy in response to a similar question on 18 December last, the Government, on 29 January 2003, authorised me to invite expressions of interest by way of public invitation from the private sector in participating, on the basis of a PPP, in the capital redevelopment of the Abbey Theatre in and-or around the vicinity of the site of the existing theatre.

My Department, with the Department of Finance and the Office of Public Works, has been working to implement that decision. To be compatible with the functions, profile, and status of a national theatre and to address the acknowledged defects with the existing theatre a redeveloped premises requires: to be a signature development, representative of a national theatre in the 21st century; to be in an appropriate civic setting and form part of the overall urban regeneration represented by the O'Connell Street integrated area plan and north-east inner city plan; three significant enlarged auditoria — Abbey, Peacock and a third multi-purpose space; a dedicated education and outreach facility; a publicly accessible archive; a restaurant-bar; improved public areas; disabled access for audiences and artists; and best practice theatre production facilities.

For the Abbey and Peacock to function efficiently, effectively and without compromise, their basic functioning must not depend on movement of goods and people by mechanical lift. In essence this means that the stages of both the Abbey and Peacock must be positioned at ground level. In addition, both theatres must have easy access, also at the same level, to the scenery store and the prop store. It is agreed between the management of the Abbey and the OPW that there is a requirement for a ground floor footprint that is considerably larger than now exists. Therefore, for the theatre to stay in its existing location it will be necessary to acquire properties adjacent to the existing premises.

Indications are that such acquisition will prove very costly and problematic in timescale. My Department and the OPW are carefully examining all the issues now arising and I hope to report to Government in the very near future.

Is the Minister implying that it will be very difficult to stay on the present site if we are to refurbish the existing Abbey Theatre? In a recent interview in The Irish Times the Abbey’s artistic director expressed similar sentiments, stating that it would take four times the existing footprint to provide a new theatre. In view of the possibility that it may be very difficult to acquire the necessary space on the present site, is the Minister actively looking at other sites in the city? For example, the Carlton cinema has been mentioned and that site would be part of the regeneration of the centre of Dublin. The Custom House is now unoccupied. Could that be considered? Will the Minister go back to the original site at Grand Canal Quay? That was the original choice of the board in 2001 but for political reasons it was thwarted. Are the Minister and his Department looking at additional sites, apart from those already mentioned, to provide a proper theatre for the new millennium? This is the centenary of the Abbey, which is surely the time to go forward with a new, state-of-the-art theatre.

There is no doubt that for many people the Abbey has a cultural and historic resonance which for obvious reasons would not be replicated in another site. We have not yet actively engaged in looking at alternative sites because the OPW is currently looking at the options for the properties which would be required for a larger footprint at the present location.

I am coming to the conclusion that because of problems of cost and acquisition it may not now be possible for us to proceed with the construction of the new Abbey Theatre at its present location. That has not been ruled out but it is beginning to look more difficult. Obviously once a decision is made on this I will go to the Government for a recommendation. At that point we would look at alternatives.

I appeal to the Minister to avoid a repetition of the national stadium saga. It was not the Minister's fault that the saga went on for four or five years. However, it is important that there is no recurrence of this procrastination in the case of the Abbey. Does he agree that the Abbey is as much a state of mind and ideas and a geographical footprint? Moving it to another location will not damage the future of theatre in the country. I am not one of those people who are hung up on the present site if it cannot be expanded or if the floor space for a proper theatre cannot be provided. When will the Minister make the decision to move away from the existing proposal? When will he decide to examine other sites?

The ghost of Lady Gregory is not likely to be seen at a new location, if that is what Deputy Deenihan is suggesting, but it is necessary for us to finalise opinions on the existing location and on the possibility of acquiring additional properties there to enlarge the footprint. I do not intend to bring recommendations to the Government until we have come to a decision on that. We should reach a conclusion relatively soon but I remind the Deputy I have been in this position for only 18 months. We have a stadium. The conference centre——

Now we are getting culture.

The Minister implied he is going to move. He has more or less announced that today.

Sports Capital Programme.

Jack Wall


96 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if, when assessing applications made to the sports capital programme, his attention has been drawn to the need to support, in particular, the disadvantaged areas targeted under the RAPID programme to foster local development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6168/04]

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, is run on an annual basis and allocates funding towards the provision of sporting and recreational facilities to sporting and voluntary and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country.

Applications received under the programme are evaluated in accordance with detailed criteria which are laid out in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme and which, when combined, are designed to meet as far as possible the four main objectives of the programme.

These objectives are as follows: to develop an integrated and planned approach to the development of sport and recreational facilities; to assist voluntary and community organisations with the development of appropriate facilities in appropriate locations that will maximise use in terms of participation in sport and recreation; to encourage the multi-purpose use of facilities at national, regional and community level by clubs, community organisations and national governing bodies of sport; and to prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of facilities.

In the past three years alone, €97 million has been allocated under the sports capital programme to more than 1,000 projects in respect of the provision of facilities in areas categorised as disadvantaged. Nevertheless, my Department continues to evaluate how best to provide for the needs of disadvantaged areas in terms of providing sporting and recreational facilities and increasing participation under the programme.

For the 2003 programme, at the initiative of my Department and in consultation with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Area Development Management, ADM, which is the agency with responsibility for the administration of RAPID, it was decided that only those areas that have been designated by Government for special support through the schemes administered by Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, namely, RAPID 1, RAPID 2, local drugs task force areas and CLÁR, should be treated as disadvantaged areas. As part of the designation, it was also agreed to give a higher assessment rating to those projects from RAPID areas that had been endorsed by their local RAPID area implementation team.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This designation of disadvantaged areas has been continued for the 2004 sports capital programme.

The positive approach taken by my Department in supporting applications received from disadvantaged areas has been favourably commented upon by ADM. In addition, ADM organised a special information presentation by my officials for the RAPID area implementation teams in December last, prior to the application deadline for the 2004 sports capital programme. On 28 January last, I met my colleague, the Minister for Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, to discuss in detail how our Departments might best work together to continue to identify and prioritise projects from disadvantaged areas. I reassure the Deputy that projects which meet the basic qualifying conditions and which are located in RAPID areas will again be prioritised under this year's programme as they were in 2003.

I welcome the Minister's reply. I would be one of the first to state that the sports capital grant system has been of major benefit to sports club across the country. However, because of the shortfall in the RAPID programme, there is a necessity to ensure that, in the next round of grants which comes on stream in the next month or two, RAPID or disadvantaged areas are treated as special cases. In many of these cases the voluntary sector is not in a position to orchestrate applications properly and, in such instances, if it is feasible, the Department should pay special attention to them.

The forthcoming audit of sports facilities, which the Minister has sought, will demonstrate that sporting facilities in many disadvantaged areas are not on a par with those in other towns and villages. The RAPID programme has not been funded to the extent it should. Therefore, it is important that these areas are treated with special attention in the forthcoming round of grants.

I assure the Deputy that the areas concerned will continue to receive close attention from officials in the Department when assessing applications. As the Deputy is aware, the applications are assessed against certain criteria, one of which is the designated status of the area concerned. Any objective observer would agree that the RAPID areas have been treated with a great deal of sympathy over the period of life of the sports capital programme. Furthermore, it is necessary to continue to build such facilities in disadvantaged areas because of the tremendous benefits in terms of social behaviour. In those circumstances, I assure Deputy Wall that RAPID areas will continue to receive the most sympathetic consideration of the Department. In addition, if a place is within one of the areas concerned, the local funding required is reduced from 30% of the total cost to 20%.

Hare Coursing.

Tony Gregory


97 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the Irish Council Against Blood Sports has been in correspondence with his Department regarding its concerns at the ongoing cruelty involved in live hare coursing, including video evidence of the success of drag coursing abroad; if he has fully considered all the issues raised given his reply to Question No. 246 of 18 February 2004; and if he will make a statement on the need for legislative change. [6210/04]

As I explained in my reply to the earlier parliamentary question referred to by the Deputy, under section 26 of the Greyhound Industry Act 1958, the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, is recognised as the controlling authority for the breeding and coursing of greyhounds, subject to the provisions of the Act, the constitution of the club and the general control and direction of Bord na gCon.

The Irish Council Against Blood Sports has written to my Department about drag coursing and the availability of a video showing drag coursing events abroad. As the Deputy will be aware, the question of introducing drag coursing to Ireland has already been raised with the ICC by the monitoring committee which comprises officials of my Department, the Department of Agriculture and Food, Bord na gCon and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The ICC informed the committee that it does not propose to change to drag coursing and that the muzzling of greyhounds and the continued veterinary inspections by both the coursing clubs and the Department of Agriculture and Food have significantly reduced the incidence of injuries to hares. In light of these initiatives, I do not propose to introduce changes in legislation to introduce drag coursing in Ireland.

I am more interested in the Minister's views and his policy on this issue than those of the Irish Coursing Club, about which I am well aware. Does the Minister agree that the introduction, even on a pilot phase, of drag coursing, which uses a lure rather than a live animal, would be a step forward and a more humane alternative to the current practice of traumatising timid wild animals — hares — and subjecting them to the cruel and terrorising practice of greyhounds being set upon them? What is the Minister's view on the introduction of drag coursing and would he see it as a more humane alternative? Does he agree that a tiny minority of die-hard coursing people are resisting change and a more humane practice? As the Minister well knows, these are the same people who resisted the introduction of muzzling, which had to be forced on them.

I dislike posing this question under the heading of "sport" because I do not regard the terrorising or infliction of cruelty on animals as sport. Is it not part of our appalling record in animal welfare that we allow the practice of enclosed hare coursing as well as the use of packs of hounds to hunt domesticated tame deer, as practised by the Ward Union Hunt? Moreover, other activities have been exposed recently which would not be tolerated in other EU countries, such as puppy farming and the new development of fur farming in which Arctic foxes are farmed for their fur and subjected to horrific deaths.

Does the Minister agree that, due to the activities of a small minority, we unfortunately have a dismal and appalling record in animal welfare and does he further agree that the continuation of such a medieval, archaic and anachronistic activity as hare coursing is part of that culture of cruelty? What are the Minister's views on these issues because they are important and, if the Government does not deal with them, action will be forced on us by the European Community.

Deputy Gregory should be under no illusion about the fact that coursing is a popular sport among a considerable number of people.

They are a small minority of the population.

Since the introduction of the muzzling of greyhounds, the incidence of injuries to hares has been greatly reduced and has been accompanied by monitoring and inspections carried out by veterinary officers and wildlife experts. In those circumstances, the Irish Coursing Club's assurances on the high standards enforced at coursing meetings should be accepted. The muzzling of greyhounds was necessary and has dramatically improved the situation and the sport is well-ordered and run.

As the Minister did not answer my first question, I will repeat it. Will the Minister agree that the introduction of drag coursing would be a more humane alternative to the current practice of live hare coursing? Will he agree that hares continue to be injured, killed and brutalised by muzzled greyhounds and traumatised by being taken out of the wild in the first instance? It is a practice which is increasingly unacceptable in the modern world.

I have been informed by the ICC that in its opinion greyhounds would not follow the lure in these circumstances.

Has the Minister an opinion?

That is the view of the coursing club and the people who control the sport, which I must take into account.

It is done in Australia and all over the world.

Ministerial Appointments.

Jimmy Deenihan


98 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the reason the chairman of Bord na gCon has resigned. [6314/04]

The Deputy will be aware that under section 8 of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, the chairman of the board may at any time resign his office by letter addressed to the Minister and the resignation shall take effect as and from the date of the receipt of the letter by the Minister. A letter of resignation from his position as chairman of Bord na gCon was received in my Department last Friday, 20 February, from Mr. Taggart. No reasons for his resignation were given in his letter but I understand there had been a somewhat contentious meeting of the board earlier in the week.

At the outset I want to place on record my own and the Government's appreciation of the energy and vision of Mr. Taggart who has always had my full confidence and support. His drive, passion and foresight at the helm of Bord na gCon since his appointment as chairman in 1995 has created a vibrant greyhound industry as evidenced by the year on year increases in attendances and betting and the countrywide network of modern facilities which are attracting growing numbers of people to greyhound meetings throughout the country.

Following subsequent contacts involving representatives of the greyhound industry, Mr. Taggart and myself, Mr. Taggart intimated that his services are again available to work for the further development of the greyhound industry and I welcome this development.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister that the chairman, Pascal Taggart, has changed his mind. Nevertheless, I would ask him to be more forthcoming as to why he resigned in the first instance. I will add my view, given that the Minister is not prepared to tell the House and the public what happened.

Is the Minister aware that two members appointed by the Government totally frustrated the workings of the board, leading to Mr. Taggart's resignation? One member took the bizarre action of taking a court injunction against his own board and his own directors, which subsequently failed. The other member, in sympathy with him, sought to have his legal costs paid and totally obstructed and frustrated the board meeting last Wednesday, forcing Mr. Taggart and another director to offer their resignations. What action will the Minister take to ensure incidents such as these will not recur? Will he allow these people to remain on the board or will he take some other action?

The Minister has a major gender balance problem on the board. There is just one woman on the board, even though there were three in my time. I have no hesitation saying that I was the person who identified Mr. Taggart as the proper chairman for Bord na nGon because of his genuine interest in racing and his business acumen, and he has proved me right. I am sure everyone will accept that he was an inspired choice at the time. I remind the Minister that his record is demonstrated by figures. Bookmaker betting has increased from €22 million to €91 million, totaliser betting from €6.7 million to €50 million and attendance figures have increased from 580,000 to 1.3 million. The figures speak for themselves. What will the Minister do to ensure there will not be a recurrence at the next meeting of what happened last Wednesday and what has happened in the case of one director for the past two years?

The Deputy will be aware that it is not the function of the Minister, nor can he give details about what did or did not happen at a board meeting. On learning of Mr. Taggart's resignation, I subsequently made contact with the greyhound industry and I am pleased to say that these consultations resulted in Mr. Taggart accepting the appointment as chairperson of the board. I am well aware of the contribution Mr. Taggart has made to the greyhound industry in Ireland and I am particularly pleased that he has agreed to take up his position.

As Deputy Deenihan knows, I am not in a position legally to remove people from the board that easily. I noted newspaper comments by the Deputy to the effect that he was being hounded out of office. I had no intention of becoming involved in hounding anyone out of office. I want the man to stay where he is as I greatly respect his performance as chairperson of the board.

The Minister may or may not be aware that Mr. Taggart took no directors fees or travel expenses since being appointed, and he has worked 25 hours a week. Last week a letter was sent to the Minister by the greyhound fraternity, from trainers, owners, bookmakers and other stakeholders, after more than 300 people attended a meeting in Portlaoise. These people are not happy with Mr. Taggart changing his mind and becoming chairman. They want a board to represent their interests. The Minister has a responsibility to ensure that Bord na gCon works effectively and efficiently and that the directors on the board, who are answerable to him, work with the same purpose and for the good of the racing industry. If he cannot give that assurance, he cannot have responsibility for the greyhound industry.

I had consultations with representatives of the industry and there was a frank exchange of views. It will benefit the industry if Mr. Taggart continues as chairperson. I regret that the meeting was so contentious and became so fractious. However, as Deputy Deenihan will be aware, I was neither at the meeting nor did I seek to motivate anyone going to it. My entire interest is, and was long before I went into politics, the good of the industry. I had a very good relationship with Mr. Taggart long before I became Minister with responsibility for the industry. As Deputy Deenihan outlined, he has done a great deal for the industry and I want him to continue to do so. If I had any hand, act or part in what did or did not go on at the meeting, I do not think I would have met people in the industry in regard to its future and the future of Mr. Taggart.

I am pleased he has decided to resume his position as chairperson and I look forward to a far greater degree of constructive debate within the board in the future.

Will the Minister contact the directors?

I cannot make people say anything. However, I can make known my views, which I have done.

National Stadium.

Jack Wall


99 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the reason he recommended Lansdowne Road as the location for the new national stadium as opposed to the site at Abbotstown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6169/04]

Proposals for meeting the stadium needs of our rugby and soccer teams have been the subject of discussion in the House over a long period. I indicated that it was my intention to bring proposals to Government to deal with the matter. Accordingly, last month I brought two options to Government to deal with the current deficit in modern stadium facilities in Dublin. These were the development of a stadium at Abbotstown or the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium. The Government decided to approve the proposal to support a joint Football Association of Ireland-Irish Rugby Football Union project to redevelop Lansdowne Road as a 50,000 all-seated state-of-the-art stadium.

In this context the Government approved the provision of funding of €191 million towards the project, which is estimated to cost €292 million, with the balance being provided by the two sporting organisations.

What mechanism will be used to draw down State funding in this regard? Will it be the same mechanism used in regard to investment in Croke Park? Will the IRFU drive the project or will the Minister's Department have an input into the project team? What part will the FAI play in the project? Will it be like in the past whereby the IRFU will be the landlords and the FAI will be strictly tenants in the national stadium? Will control of the stadium be within the remit of the IRFU?

My understanding is that all of that needs to be discussed. In due course we will see what emerges from it. As of now the fee simple is held by the IRFU. It is possible that a management team will run the new stadium from which the various sporting organisations will rent it for their respective events. With regard to the question of the funding, the IRFU and the FAI have committed themselves to putting up in excess of €100 million, which will be put up through the advance sale of tickets to corporations and the business community generally.

Construction of the stadium will be overseen by a monitoring committee, which I will establish under the direction of Mr. Furlong, Secretary General of the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism. He has agreed to direct this implementation team, which will be charged with ensuring the timely construction of the stadium. It is hoped the stadium will be constructed by 2008 and that the pre-planning and planning issues can be got over as quickly as possible. Obviously, if there are objections this will possibly give rise to difficulties but I hope there will not be objections. I remain confident that the stadium will be up and running by 2008. We badly need this stadium. Irish sport was the winner. The stadium will prove to be a useful facility for all the sporting organisations involved and people will be extremely comfortable with it.

I welcome the decision. The new stadium will be of major benefit.

As an aside to the position regarding the stadium, I wish to ask a question I have asked previously on a number of occasions, in response to which the Minister will probably say he has no control over the matter. A sports conscious man like Mr. McManus was willing to give to the Exchequer IR£50 million to develop a national stadium. Does the Minister intend to talk to Mr. McManus about his offer, or is it within his remit to do so? Is it feasible for him to make representations for such money to be invested in some sporting organisations that need funding? Alternatively, could such money be used to fund RAPID programmes, or is the matter only within the remit of Mr. McManus at this stage?

When Mr. McManus put forward IR£50 million for the construction of a national stadium, it was given on the basis that the Government would construct a publicly funded stadium with a capacity of 80,000 at Abbotstown, but that patently will not now be built. The Government decided that the stadium will proceed at Lansdowne Road. Budgetary considerations and economic conditions meant we were not in a position to proceed with the Abbotstown proposal. In those circumstances the task I had was to see if there was a viable alternative that would be acceptable. I am happy to say we have such an alternative and that the stadium project can now proceed.

With regard to Mr. McManus's money, I do not believe it is available for Lansdowne Road. It would be quite unfair to ask him now to switch over to a concept to which, in truth, he had not subscribed in the first instance. We are constructing a new sporting campus at Abbotstown. That point may have been lost in the euphoria of the moment when we announced details of the stadium. The campus will be of considerable benefit. We intend to ensure that, as resources allow, we will have a necklace of centres where we can ensure sporting excellence and greater participation at Abbotstown. The National Aquatic Centre, which was built on budget and on time, is an example of what can be achieved there. I envisage proceeding with the campus and planning for it.

The Campus Stadium Ireland Board was convened. I explained what I and the Government wanted. I asked its members to prioritise the building of the campus, set out the facilities they believe are required and in the order in which they are required in order that I would be enabled to go to the Minister for Finance during the Estimates discussions in the autumn with a view to obtaining funding to progress the campus. It is important to point out that an important part of the Government decision was that the campus would proceed.

That concludes priority questions. We now come to deal with Other Questions. I remind Members that supplementary questions and answers are confined to one minute.