Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Questions (71)

Maureen O'Sullivan


71. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the relationship between a location (details supplied) and the OPW; his views on the location refusing permission for a group to perform there as part of a cultural event while allowing the group to perform in the past; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39474/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Public)

My question relates to the Convention Centre Dublin and the relationship between it and the Office of Public Works, OPW. What is the Minister of State's view of the fact that the location has refused permission to a cultural organisation to perform there? It is a cultural organisation that performed there a couple of years ago.

The Convention Centre Dublin, CCD, is a public private partnership, PPP, project developed on a design, build, finance, operate and maintain, DBFOM, model. Construction was completed in 2010 when it opened for business. In return for a monthly unitary charge, an independent company operates the CCD under the provisions of a project agreement that will remain in effect until its expiry in 2035. The primary objective in developing a national convention centre, as set out in that project agreement, is: "... to increase Ireland’s share of the international conference market, thereby increasing import tourism revenues. The main measure of the NCC's success will be the extent to which it succeeds in contributing towards meeting this objective".

The project agreement sets annual targets for international conference delegates. Failure to achieve targets set under the project agreement results in financial penalties for the operators.

The OPW does not have a role in commercial matters relating to bookings or in the day-to-day operation of the CCD. The property is held by the operator under a legal agreement for an operational period of 25 years and, accordingly, any issues relating to the use of the premises are properly dealt with by the facility operator.

In this regard, it is noted that the chairman of the CCD issued a comprehensive response to the group in July 2019 setting out his reasons for not hosting the event.

I do not know if the Minister of State saw that comprehensive response, but I did and I would not call it comprehensive. I will outline the background to this. In either 2014 or 2015 I attended a performance by the Shen Yun Performing Arts in the convention centre. It was there for two years. It was a stunning and spectacular performance of Chinese classical dance with an orchestra and traditional Chinese costumes.

The group applied in March 2018 to have a repeat performance at the convention centre but was turned down. Yet, in February last year the Confucius Institute held a cultural event in the centre and no later than June last year I attended an event there celebrating 20 years of Chinese-Irish diplomatic relations organised by the Chinese embassy. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, was also in attendance. It was a cultural event with Chinese music and dancing, yet Shen Yun has been refused permission to perform in the centre, even though it had performed there on two previous occasions.

A similar scenario arose at the Palais de Congrès in Paris where Shen Yun was initially turned down under pressure, it seems, from the Chinese Communist authorities. However, the Palais de Congrès told the Chinese authorities that everybody was welcome. The conclusion I come to is that this particular group is being discriminated against at the behest of the Chinese embassy and authorities.

The Deputy is correct in saying that the convention centre previously hosted Shen Yung shows in 2014 and 2015. The operator is now focusing on its core business of attracting international associations and corporate entities to host conferences in Dublin in the centre. I am advised that since January 2016, it has only hosted two ticketed public performance arts shows. This is in line with its contractual obligations and it is a matter for the management of the centre to make judgments in this regard.

The centre also plays host to community groups, as the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, who represents the same constituency as me, will know. The centre allows community groups to use its facilities. Management is being very selective in the answer it has provided to the Department. The centre is State funded and has an agreement with the Department but it reflects very badly on the Department if one particular group is being discriminated against. This group has performed in over 150 cities around the world in prestigious venues like the Kennedy Centre in Washington, the Lincoln Centre in New York and the ICC in Birmingham as well as theatres in London, Berlin, Milan, Barcelona and Rotterdam. The convention centre in Dublin is an ideal venue for this group, such is the number of performers involved.

There is another agenda at work here. I hate to say it and I hope I am wrong but I cannot come to any other conclusion. This group performed in this venue on two previous occasions. It is not as if the centre is full 365 days a year with conferences. I live nearby and pass the centre twice every day so I know there are times when it is empty. This particular event would bring a lot of people into the area, as it did previously, and would be good for tourism, hotels and so on. I ask the Minister of State to go back to Mr. Dwyer because his answer was not comprehensive.

I will go back to Mr. Dwyer and seek a more detailed answer.