Wednesday, 20 October 2004

Questions (51, 52, 53, 54, 55)

Denis Naughten

Question:

151 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the construction work will commence on the new stadium at Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25542/04]

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John Gormley

Question:

158 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the efforts he is making to ensure that the soccer and rugby home international matches will not have to be played abroad; if he will facilitate a round table meeting between the FAI, the IRFU, the GAA and other interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25508/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

166 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had discussions with a view to the provision of stadium facilities for soccer or rugby during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road, with particular reference to the forthcoming World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25514/04]

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Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

187 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on recent statements by Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding the potential for using Croke Park by other sporting organisations in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25421/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

228 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position in regard to the provision of stadium facilities for all sports during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25819/04]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 151, 158, 166, 187 and 228 together.

As I indicated to Deputies in my previous replies on this subject, the provision of alternative facilities for the sports which will be affected by the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium is a matter for both the IRFU and the FAI. I have little doubt but that contingency plans are being developed by both associations for the staging of international and other prestigious fixtures that in the normal course would have been hosted at Lansdowne Road. These plans must take account of current realities but I very much hope that an acceptable arrangement can be evolved which would obviate the necessity for playing these fixtures outside this jurisdiction.

The Lansdowne Road stadium redevelopment project will require closure of the existing stadium for some time. The construction phase of the redevelopment is expected to take 29 months and is scheduled to commence in mid-2006 and be completed by the end of 2008. I have consistently stated that the use of Croke Park by other organisations is a matter for the GAA to consider and decide and it would be counterproductive for me to attempt to intervene in the association's decision-making process. However, I welcome the positive views expressed by the President of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding this issue. In the event that the sporting organisations involved saw a role for me in facilitating dialogue on the issue, I would be happy to be of assistance.

Regarding the commencement of work on the new stadium, I read in the media some time ago that there was a problem with the removal of asbestos from the two stands at the Lansdowne Road stadium. Will that pose a difficulty in commencing work? As we all know, numerous concerns were expressed by the residents. Have they been addressed? Is it envisaged that there will be objections to planning permission when the plans are submitted? When does the Minister expect those plans to be submitted?

I envisage no delay because of the removal of asbestos from any section of the Lansdowne Road stadium. I understand that part of the stadium is constructed of old corrugated iron and that is giving rise to the difficulty mentioned by Deputy Deenihan. I am assured that everything is being done to ensure that there is no risk to the health of any person, including the workers, and that no delay will ensue.

Regarding the construction of the stadium, it was intended that this year a steering group would be in place with a project manager, and that is now the position. The next phase involves the appointment of the design team, which I expect to be made early next year. The steering group, under the chairmanship of the Secretary General of my Department, continues to meet on a regular basis to monitor progress. I expect that the developed scheme will be prepared during next year and that the planning application will be lodged at that stage. I also expect that planning permission will be secured in 2006 and that the detailed design will be prepared and a tendering process opened. I anticipate that work will commence on the stadium in or around July 2006. I expect that construction will be in progress throughout 2007 and that it should be completed by the end of 2008.

It is important that the residents be kept informed of progress at all times. I understand that they are being kept informed of developments and that they will continue to meet those involved in the project to ensure that they are aware of what is happening. Whether there will be objections is a matter of conjecture. I hope that there will be no objections. If they are made, however, they will have to be dealt with. As Deputy Deenihan is aware, people have the right to object in certain circumstances. I sincerely hope that there will not be any objections and that we can proceed with the development.

Is the Minister willing to make a statement that the holding abroad of international sporting fixtures involving Irish teams should be avoided at all costs? Are there measures that he, as Minister, is willing to put in place to ensure that such an eventuality does not occur? Is he prepared to facilitate the holding of a round table meeting between the sporting organisations in need of a venue and the major sporting organisation that has an international class stadium available during the period in question? It would be of commercial benefit to the latter organisation if it were to make its stadium available for use.

As regards the residents concerns about the development of Lansdowne Road — which most people believe necessary and would like to see happen as soon as possible — does the Minister accept that his Department might have a role in expressing some reservations during the planning process, particularly in respect of proposals to eliminate or severely restrict the Dodder River walk? As Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, he should have a say in respect of this planning application in terms of the preservation of interesting features such as the walk which plays a major role in terms of providing public access to recreational and sporting facilities.

I will deal first with the question about the Dodder River. It is intended to provide an international size rugby pitch to the rear of the East Stand which will be used by the Wanderers and Lansdowne clubs. This development will require the use of a small strip of land along the Dodder River walkway. Dublin City Council has been approached with this request and is fully aware of what is involved. There will continue to be a Dodder walkway from Lansdowne Road to Bath Avenue. The existing amenity will not be taken away and, as part of the plans, it is intended to upgrade and improve the walkway.

I stated earlier that I would be deeply disappointed if international games involving the teams fielded by the FAI or the IRFU were played outside of the jurisdiction. Aside from the expense this would involve for travelling supporters, the question of national pride arises. The latter dictates that international games should be played on home soil and I hope this will be the position. I will do whatever I can to facilitate a resolution of the problems the IRFU and FAI will face between mid-2006 and the end of 2008. As indicated earlier, however, it is not my function to interfere with the inner workings of any sporting organisation. Such organisations can make or change their own rules.

Am I correct in stating that the complex, incorporating the stadium and, to the rear thereof, the international size rugby pitch to which the Minister referred, will be completely dedicated to sport and will not involve a commercial aspect such as the building of office blocks or anything of that nature?

Deputy Wall is correct. The complex will only be used for sporting purposes.

Given that there is a deadline as regards the arrangements the FAI and the IRFU will be obliged to make to procure stadia in the UK for away matches, is there any way the Minister can intervene? While he has stated on many occasions that he respects the autonomy of the GAA to decide on issues affecting it, unless rule 42 is on the agenda for congress, nothing will happen before 2006 when the IRFU and the FAI will be obliged to arrange the use of stadia in which to hold international matches. Is the Minister in a position to appeal to the GAA to ensure that the rule will be placed on the agenda for congress in 2005?

It is a question for the GAA to decide if it is going to decide the issue at congress in 2005. The president of the GAA has given positive indications as regards his wishes. I welcome his comments but it would be counterproductive if I were to issue or extend any appeal to the GAA. I specifically announced in recent weeks that the €40 million issued to the GAA in respect of Croke Park was given free of any conditions. I reiterate that now.

Aside from the expense involved for members of the public travelling abroad for home games and the issue of national pride and the effect thereon of playing international games outside the jurisdiction, it should be remembered that a report commissioned by the IRFU found that the revenues generated in the Dublin area as a result of the Ireland-England rugby game in March 2003 were in the region of €52 million. I accept the sense behind what Deputy Deenihan is saying and I understand his point. However, perhaps he more than anyone else in the House understands that the GAA has its own rules and makes its own decisions. I am happy to allow it to proceed in that way.

The Minister may have misunderstood what I said on this matter earlier. When he held discussions with the FAI and the IRFU, did those organisations indicate that they would make proposals or suggestions to the GAA in respect of obtaining the use of Croke Park? I fully understand the positionvis-à-vis rule 42. Leaving that aside, however, have formal or informal representations been made by either organisation to the GAA regarding the possible use of Croke Park?

I am not aware of any approaches, formal or informal, by the IRFU or the FAI to the GAA in respect of Croke Park. The negotiations I held with the FAI and the IRFU related to the construction of a new stadium at Lansdowne Road. They are delighted to join with us in the construction of that stadium. I welcome that the GAA stated that it would be interested in using the new stadium at Lansdowne Road because the pitch will be of sufficient size to accommodate Gaelic games. There comes a point when every actor must bow and leave the stage, and I have just reached it.