Wednesday, 20 October 2004

Questions (42)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

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]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

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.