Priority Questions.

Abbey Theatre.

Jimmy Deenihan


144 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the relocation of the Abbey Theatre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25704/04]

An Agreed Programme for Government commits the Government to rebuilding the Abbey Theatre. As I have previously informed the House, the Government authorised me last year 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 for the purposes of developing the project, in respect of which it has been determined that the accommodation brief for a new theatre should satisfy the following requirements: 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 the north-east inner city plan; three significant enlarged auditoria, the Abbey, the Peacock and a third multipurpose space; a dedicated education and outreach facility; a publicly accessible archive; restaurant-bar; improved public areas; disabled access for audiences and artists; and best practice theatre production facilities.

Other design constraints include a requirement for the Abbey and Peacock Theatres to function efficiently, effectively and without compromise; the stages of both the Abbey and Peacock Theatres to be positioned at ground level; and easy access, also at the same level, to the scenery store and the prop store.

In common with many Deputies and with other interested parties, my preference would have been to redevelop the theatre at its present location. However, taking into consideration the requirements I have outlined, it became apparent that redevelopment of the Abbey Theatre where it now stands would be problematic as it would necessitate a much larger footprint than was currently available and for which the acquisition of adjacent properties would be required. As this would likely have been both costly and time-consuming, I reluctantly decided that we had to look elsewhere.

The Office of Public Works has been engaged in the exploration of all available options for locating the Abbey Theatre elsewhere in the city centre. At one point it seemed that proposals being pursued by Dublin City Council for development of the site of the former Carlton Cinema in O'Connell Street might be capable of accommodating the Abbey Theatre. As the Deputy is aware, however, the site is currently the subject of legal proceedings which may not be resolved for quite some time. Accordingly, I have now asked the OPW to look urgently at otheroptions and to advise me as to their feasibility. For reasons of commercial sensitivity I would prefer not to identify the locations currently under consideration.

As it is only about 60 days to the end of the year in which we celebrated the centenary of the Abbey Theatre, are we any closer to an announcement on a new site for the Abbey? Can the Minister give any commitment today that an announcement will be made before the end of the year?

As Deputy Deenihan will be aware, I have stated that I hope to announce the site of the new Abbey Theatre during this the centenary year of the Abbey. It is still my intention to try to obtain a Government decision in that respect before the end of the year. I hope to come to the Government very shortly with a recommendation and I sincerely hope it will be in a position to adhere to that recommendation and that we can then announce the site for the new national theatre.

In view of the urgency of this announcement, is the Minister confident the OPW can come up with a favourable proposal within that timeframe?

I am relatively confident that the Office of Public Works will be in a position to positively identify the preferred site. Obviously, there are varying views in that regard. However, I will listen carefully to the advice they have to offer regarding the suitability of each of the respective sites. I will then make a recommendation to the Government and at that point I hope the Government will make a decision. It is important we try to move this along now. We have had many problems. We have had problems with the current site of the Abbey Theatre regarding the extension of the footprint and acquiring a property, which would take a considerable period of time and great expense. We have also had legal difficulties in regard to the Carlton site. On this occasion I hope we can be free of complications and that we can get a decision from the Government which will see the Abbey view its new home.

Has the Minister carried out an evaluation of the value of the existing Abbey site in terms of using it as collateral for the purchase of a new site? Has a value been put on the current site which must be viewed as prime property in the city centre?

That issue does not arise if the Government decision is as was indicated, that is to say, we would have a public-private partnership. I can inform the Deputy, however, that it was the view of the Office of Public Works that it would be likely to cost in the order of €50 million to acquire a sufficient footprint on the present site of the Abbey Theatre.

Is it the intention to sell the present site if the Abbey is moved to another site?

No decision has been made in regard to that.

National Stadium.

Jack Wall


145 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had discussions with the IRFU and the FAI regarding potential venues for home international rugby and soccer matches while Lansdowne Road is being redeveloped; when work on this project will commence; when it is likely to conclude; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25565/04]

At the beginning of September 2004, a formal legal agreement to redevelop the stadium at Lansdowne Road was signed between the Government, the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Football Association of Ireland, and the Lansdowne Road Stadium Development Company, the special purpose company which has been established to deliver the project. A project director has been appointed to manage the project and a steering group, which is chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, has been meeting regularly over the past six months to oversee delivery of the project. At this stage, the primary focus of the steering group is on ensuring all the legal, financial, planning and procurement requirements are met in an efficient and timely manner so that actual construction work can get under way by the target date of July 2006.

The process of transforming the existing well-loved but outmoded stadium into a state of the art facility which will satisfy aspirations of both the IRFU and FAI and, indeed, the sports-going public will at some point necessitate the closure of the stadium for about two and a half years. The current time-line for the project envisages that the closure period will run from mid-2006 to the end of 2008. I am aware from my contacts with both associations that they are giving some thought to their options for staging major home rugby and soccer fixtures when Lansdowne Road is temporarily out of commission. Pragmatic contingency planning clearly would require consideration of possible staging of some of these fixtures outside of this jurisdiction. It is my wish, however, that a way can be found to avoid this contingency. I imagine this aspiration is widely shared. If I can assist in any way to facilitate dialogue on this issue while respecting the autonomy of the parties involved I should be happy to do so.

The loss to the Exchequer of these matches would be huge and no party in this House or interested parties outside it would want that to happen. The only alternative venue for providing the facilities is Croke Park. The previous Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, maintained there was no agreement with the GAA in regard to the €40 million that was outstanding. In recent weeks that was reversed and the money was allocated to the GAA to enable it to complete the stadium, rightly so. Did the GAA make any agreement or give any indication at that stage, or did the Minister's Department seek anything, to ensure that during the period from July 2006 to July 2008 any hope of staging these matches in Croke Park would be considered?

No conditions attached to the €40 million granted to the GAA recently in respect of Croke Park. The president of the GAA has stated several times that he would prefer that Croke Park be open for specified games on specified occasions. While it is not for me to instruct the GAA in how it conducts its affairs I welcome this statement.

Rule 42 of the association specifies that a change in the use of Croke Park or any other stadium can be facilitated only by a vote of congress. It is a matter for the GAA to make its own decision in that context. It would be unhelpful were I to say otherwise. The grant has been allocated to the GAA for Croke Park and the question of whether it will facilitate the IRFU and the FAI while Lansdowne Road is closed is a matter for the GAA to decide.

In my consultations with it, the IRFU said the development of Lansdowne Road is its priority but indicated the problems it has for the period in question today. When the Minister spoke to the IRFU and the FAI did they indicate whether they had made any approaches to the GAA, or if Croke Park is available whether that would be their first choice as a venue for their fixtures? Are they making arrangements for the matches to be played outside the country because of the problems posed by rule 42?

I will be deeply disappointed if any international fixtures are played outside the country while Lansdowne Road is closed between mid-2006 and the end of 2008. I am not aware of any formal contacts between the IRFU and the FAI in connection with the prospect of any change to the GAA's rule 42. Since Croke Park has a capacity of 80,000 it would be of considerable benefit to the FAI and the IRFU if the GAA were to decide to facilitate them but this is a matter for the GAA. The sporting public would be very disappointed if the FAI and the IRFU played outside the jurisdiction. The question would arise of people having to travel outside the jurisdiction and go to that expense should it arise. Furthermore in the spirit of national pride people would wish that the international games were played on home soil. I have no control over that. The correspondence to the president concerning the grant to the GAA did not mention it and no conditions attached to the grant. Of the grant €20 million comes from within my Department's Vote. The balance must come from next year's Vote.

Tourism Promotion.

Martin Ferris


146 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the review of RTOs in the North to establish RTPs; his views on whether, due to the natural affinities which northern counties have with the adjoining counties in the South, there ought to be a common strategy in terms of tourism products, marketing and destination; and if he has been in contact with Fáilte Ireland and his northern counterpart to ensure that this common sense approach becomes a reality within these RTPs. [25564/04]

For many years, policy-makers on both sides of the Border have recognised the benefits of applying co-operative strategies in developing tourism both on an all-island and a cross-Border basis. Co-operation on these matters started to become more formalised and action-oriented from the late 1980s onwards. The relevant Departments in both jurisdictions, together with the then Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, were assisted by cross-Border funding bodies, such as the International Fund for Ireland and the EU-funded INTERREG and peace and reconciliation programmes, to develop and implement specific programmes across a range of tourism themes, for example, support for product development in the Border counties, Northern Ireland and the five southern Border counties plus Sligo, and associated training and a limited joint marketing programme. This programme focused on below-the-line co-operative activities namely, non-mainstream advertising, carried out jointly by the two tourist boards in main markets. These small cross-Border programmes took place against the backdrop of the much larger tourism product, training and marketing measures under the EU co-funded tourism operational programmes in the South.

In the mid-1990s, a new industry-led joint marketing body, the overseas tourism marketing initiative was formed. Both tourist boards were members of OTMI and its board included industry representatives from both jurisdictions. From its inception, it recognised the potential benefits of advancing an all-island approach to tourism marketing. In 1995, for the first time, an island of Ireland theme was used to advertise Ireland.

Arising from the identification of the tourism sector as a key area of co-operation between the jurisdictions, Tourism Ireland Limited, the all-island tourism marketing body, was established in December 2000 under the framework of the Good Friday Agreement. This company is responsible for Tourism Brand Ireland, strategic all-island destination marketing in all markets outside the island of Ireland, the international roll-out of regional and product marketing programmes formulated by Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the operation of the overseas office network. North-South co-operation on tourism matters operates at many levels. At policy level, the North-South Ministerial Council, with the Ministers from both jurisdictions, oversee and approve objectives, strategy and resources for overseas marketing by Tourism Ireland. This co-operation cascades through both public sectors through the active liaison and co-operation of both sponsor Departments on a range of issues and through the co-operation and liaison of the three bodies Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and NITB. This co-operation is mirrored in the private sector, at one level through the industry representation on the board of Tourism Ireland but also through the close working relationship of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation and the Northern Ireland Tourist Industry Confederation.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Border between the North and South cuts through several natural tourism and general development areas. If the potential of the Border region is to be properly developed, the planning strategies for the region will require close co-ordination with those in the North and close, practical co-operation will need to be fostered between the various public authorities on both sides of the Border. This will also have to extend to certain infrastructural issues given that key routes traverse both sides of the Border. It makes sense for the regional tourism authorities on both sides of the Border to work closely to exploit the potential of the natural tourism areas and the waterway systems that straddle the Border. If tourism marketing within the region is to be successful, it needs to take practical account of the cross-Border dimension and to comply with the themes and quality associated with Tourism Brand Ireland, which is an all-Ireland brand.

I have no direct responsibility for individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are day-to-day functions of the tourism State agencies. On foot of the recommendations of the tourism policy review group, Fáilte Ireland, is actively considering the question of how best to establish a closer correlation between the identified core visitor servicing and development functions provided at regional level, and the State financial support provided through the regional entities. The outcome of this work is expected later this year and will inform Fáilte Ireland's ongoing deliberations on the most appropriate regional structures for the discharge of its functions and the relationships and arrangements that should apply at regional level. It remains a key aim of my Department and the tourism agencies, to facilitate North-South tourism co-operation in areas of mutual benefit. The principal aim will be to deliver on the potential manifested by the successful co-operation that has evolved over many years with clear economic and social benefits for both communities.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. I welcome many aspects of it, particularly the all-Ireland dimension and the intention to develop a common strategic approach for developing and marketing Ireland as a single entity tourist project. Do local authorities in regions on either side of the Border make any direct input into the development and continuing progress of the strategy for an all-island tourist project? Does it not make sense in the marketing of Border regions which share amenities, particularly, for example, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Cavan, to take a structural approach, from the point of view of the Six Counties, the Ministers and particularly that of the local authorities which would be responsible for marketing their respective counties in a joint approach?

I fully concur with Deputy Ferris on that. It is also fair to say that there is a very strong case, an unanswerable case, for an ever greater degree of co-operation between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Fáilte Ireland. There is also an undeniable case for a greater level of co-operation to be made between the regional tourism authorities on both sides of the Border. Tourism Ireland Limited can be described as a unique body. It is unique because it is the one cross-Border development organisation which actually is in place. What is even more important is that it is a template for the future. It is important that it succeeds and the good news is that it is succeeding. For example, tourism in the North increased by 11%, for the first time in many years. All the indications are that this will continue. Marketing Ireland overseas by Tourism Ireland in the context of an all-island unit makes economic sense. I sincerely hope it continues to grow and prosper as it has been doing.

National Conference Centre.

Jimmy Deenihan


147 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when a decision will be made on the successful tender for the proposed national conference centre. [25747/04]

The Government decision to proceed with a national conference centre provided that it should be pursued under a public private partnership arrangement. This is a necessarily complex procedure and one that is required to be undertaken in accordance with the Department of Finance's interim guidelines for the provision of infrastructure and capital investments through public private partnerships.

As part of the procedural requirements of the PPP process, a public sector benchmark exercise and a benefit assessment must be undertaken before the next detailed proposals stage can be initiated. These exercises are being carried out and are close to finalisation. Every effort is beingmade by the Office of Public Works and its advisers to complete as soon as possible the detailed project contract documentation required. As I explained to the House on 1 July, the preparation of this documentation is demanding and time-consuming, with details requiring careful scrutiny and consideration. At that time, I expressed the hope that the procurement process would be sufficiently advanced to facilitate a Government decision before the end of the year. This has not proved possible and the firm objective now is to ensure that invitations to tender are issued to the three pre-qualified candidates before Christmas.

On the assumption that tender invitations will be ready for issue in December and allowing several months for engagement with the selected tenders, current indications are that a preferred bidder could be selected by late summer 2005. While I am reluctant to be categorical given the complexity of the process, my personal priority and that of the Government is to have this project brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible date, while ensuring that the relevant procedures and guidelines pertaining to the process are closely observed and that nothing is done that might jeopardise its successful conclusion.

International business tourism is worth about €40 billion and Fáilte Ireland has set up a business tourism unit to attract business tourism to this country. Every capital city in Europe now has a dedicated conference centre and I believe Barcelona has about four conference centres. As a country, we are losing at least €60 million because we have no conference centre. Surely the Minister would agree that this should be considered as a matter of urgency. It certainly seems to be taking a long time to go through the various procedures. Will the Minister give a guarantee to the House that this project will command his total commitment and attention for the next six months? This is to ensure that it will be provided in time. In the past, we have been promised certain deadlines and they have not been met, although that may not be the fault of this Minister. I know he gave an outline on possible deadlines. Will he be more precise on key dates by which we can expect progress to be made over the next six months?

Four submissions were received by the closing date of 21 January 2004. What followed was a detailed evaluation of an assessment panel, which was representative of my Department, the Office of Public Works and its advisers, the Department of Finance, Fáilte Ireland and the National Development Finance Agency. Following that a separate panel evaluated the site proposals which candidates were required to bring forward. The outcome of the evaluations was that three of the four candidates were deemed to have pre-qualified on the basis of their financial and economic standing and technical capacity and to have proposed an acceptable sized site. As I announced in July, the three candidates shortlisted were Anna Livia Consortium, Michael McNamara and the Leopardstown Club Consortium and Spencer Dock International Conference Centre Consortium. I had hoped that we would be in a position to move along from there by the end of this year. Unfortunately, that has not proved possible and now it is hoped that we will have the tenders ready in December. If we can do that, I am hopeful that a preferred bidder can be selected by late summer of 2005.

I agree with the Deputy on the issue of the delay. The reason is the PPP process. As far as my experience goes, it is tortuous in the extreme. It is tortuous for the officials involved, the Minister and those who are interested in becoming involved in construction. I hope that one of these days someone will see sense and change the guidelines governing this process. I have rarely come across as much red tape or bureaucracy in all my days travelling.

Will the Minister confirm that there is no concern within the Department of Finance about this project? It is very important that there are no reservations about this project. Does the fact that the Spencer Dock site has planning permission give it an advantage over the other proposals?

I will leave the selection of the proposal to others and will not get involved in that. That is for the panel of experts and it is not for me to decide which site is to be selected, nor to indicate a preference. It would be wrong of me to do so. The Minister for Finance is very committed to this project, as was his predecessor. There is no difficulty as far as they are concerned.

I am talking about official level.

I am not aware that the officials would seek to block a project which has been given the go-ahead by the Government.

Sports Capital Programme.

Paddy McHugh


148 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount of grant aid allocated to Tuam Stadium, Tuam, County Galway, by his Department; the reason for the refusal of a recent grant application; and if grant aid will be made available for essential development work to be carried out. [25562/04]

Tuam Stadium Development Association received an allocation of €127,000 under the 2000 sports capital programme. The organisation submitted a further application for assistance received under the 2004 sports capital programme. A total of 1,304 applications were received under this year's programme, 73 of which were for projects in County Galway.

All applications were evaluated by my Department in accordance with the detailed assessment criteria for the programme published in the guidelines, terms and conditions document which accompanied the application form for the programme. Having regard to the assessment scores achieved and the amount of funding available, provisional allocations were made. I announced the provisional grant allocations for those projects classified as local on 7 May 2004 and on 10 August I announced those classified as regional, municipal or multi-purpose and national. Of the 739 provisional allocations under the 2004 programme amounting to €61 million in funding, 39 projects in County Galway were allocated a total of €3.4 million. The application on behalf of Tuam Stadium Association under this year's programme was unsuccessful and a letter was issued to the organisation on 16 August last advising it of the outcome of the application. A copy of the assessment of the application conducted by my Department, including the scores attained under each criterion, was also provided. When I announce details of the 2005 sports capital programme later this year, it will be open to the organisation to submit an application if it wishes to do so and if it intends to engage in a project which satisfies the programme's terms and conditions.

Tuam Stadium is not the designated GAA county ground of the Galway county board. Pearse Stadium, which is the official county ground, has been allocated €1.4 million in funding under the sports capital programme in recent years. In addition, the GAA's Connacht provincial council listed Tuam Stadium as fourth out of the five applications submitted in 2004 under the sports capital programme in order of priority for funding.

I thank the Minister for his reply, which was very disappointing, to say the least. As the leading stadium in County Galway over the years, Tuam Stadium has hosted many football matches in all grades. It has been the venue for college matches, under age games, Coiste Peil na n-Óg tournaments, ladies football, Connacht finals and Railway Cup finals. It is managed on a voluntary basis by a few committed members and a hard-working committee. Does the Minister agree that the local voluntary committee has worked hard, for example, through fundraising, to keep the stadium open? It has ensured that the stadium complies — just about — with health and safety regulations.

Does the Minister agree that expenditure of approximately €5 million is required if the stadium is to continue to accommodate GAA fixtures? Such moneys will do little more than bring the stadium up to scratch and ensure that it complies fully with health and safety regulations.

The Minister's reply referred to the GAA's designation of Pearse Stadium as the leading stadium in County Galway. Does the Minister not agree that the existing stadium at Tuam needs to be modernised? We do not want it to eclipse Pearse Stadium as the main stadium in County Galway, as the stadiums are not in competition. Tuam Stadium is worthy of special attention, however, because it is located in north-east Galway, which is the centre of the home of Galway football.

Is the Minister aware that Tuam has been designated as a disadvantaged area under the RAPID programme? Does he agree that Tuam Stadium is worthy of special attention and funding because it is in a RAPID area? Does he accept that the stadium deserves such attention because Tuam has been designated as a hub town under the national spatial strategy? The Government can demonstrate its support for the national spatial strategy by making funding available.

In summary, does the Minister agree that matters other than the GAA's designation of Pearse Stadium as the leading stadium in County Galway need to be borne in mind when considering the application made by the Tuam Stadium committee? The Government should support Tuam Stadium for many reasons other than the advice of the GAA.

I do not doubt that the committee dealing with the affairs of Tuam Stadium is outstanding. I would not deny for a moment that the members of the committee do a considerable amount of voluntary work. Having been to Tuam Stadium, I agree it is a fine facility.

The difficulty we face in this regard relates to competing priorities. Pearse Stadium receives priority under the regional sports grants programme because it is the county ground of County Galway, as I have said. It has the priority backing of the Galway county board, the provincial council and the GAA's central council.

Tuam, which is designated as a hub town under the national spatial strategy, has certainly not been overlooked by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. Three of the four applications which were submitted by interests in Tuam under the 2004 sports capital programme were successful. Three projects were provisionally granted funding, but the fourth project was not granted funding because it did not comply with the relevant conditions.

As Deputy McHugh said, Tuam is designated as a disadvantaged area under the sports capital programme because it is included in strand 2 of the RAPID programme. Applications from Tuam under the sports capital programme were prioritised within County Galway for that reason. Some €323,000 was provisionally allocated to the three successful projects in Tuam under the 2004 programme. My colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, has allocated top-up funding of a further €96,000 to the three projects under the RAPID programme.

Deputy McHugh is aware that I have sanctioned a grant of €3.8 million to Galway County Council for the replacement of the existing swimming pool in Tuam. Some €960,000 of the grant has been paid to the council to date and construction work on the project is ongoing. I do not doubt that sporting and recreational facilities in Tuam and throughout County Galway have been greatly enhanced in 2004 as a result of Government funding.

The funding allocated to the Galway county board has been more than twice that given to other GAA county boards, with the exception of the Limerick county board which was given €1.88 million for the development of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick city. Deputy McHugh can be consoled by the fact that his constituency is in pole position. We will examine whether we can provide further assistance this year and reconsider the issues relating to Tuam. I assure the Deputy that, as someone who supports Tuam and the west of Ireland, I will put my money where my mouth is.

I acknowledge the Minister's comments. I thank him for his support of the swimming pool and leisure facilities in Tuam, which are greatly appreciated. The Minister said in response to an earlier question that he should not tell the GAA what to do. Likewise, the GAA should not tell the Minister what to do in respect of Tuam.

No. I did not suggest that the GAA would or could do so.

The Minister should give the money to Tuam.