Wednesday, 20 October 2004

Questions (43)

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]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

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.