Priority Questions. - National Conference Centre.

Bernard Allen


11 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation when he will be in a position to make a decision on the national conference centre; and whether the expert evaluators have yet reported to Bord Fáilte on the matter. [15453/98]

As I announced on Monday evening, 22 June, I have been informed by the chairman of the independent management board for product development of his board's decision to award a grant of approximately £25 million under the Operational Programme for Tourism, 1994-9, to the tender submitted by Spencer Dock International Convention Centre Ltd., for the development of a national conference centre at Spencer Dock adjacent to Dublin's International Financial Services Centre. The board's decision followed the submission by Bord Fáilte of the report of the team of expert evaluators which examined each of the five tenders. The total estimated cost of the conference centre being proposed is in the region of £80 million.

I am pleased that a tender was selected following the competition run by Bord Fáilte on behalf of the management board. The decision of the management board is subject to Government and EU agreement on foot of a cost benefit analysis which has been commissioned and is under way.

I pay tribute to the chairman, Mr. Malachy Stephens, and the board for successfully bringing the process to this stage, having regard to the requirement of the Commission that a sufficient level of progress be achieved to ensure the project can be completed under the current round of Structural Funds.

This flagship project is seen by Government as an extremely important addition to our tourism infrastructure. It will further enhance the tourism industry's efforts to exploit the full potential of the international conference market. It is estimated that the new centre when developed could generate an additional £30 million per annum in foreign tourism revenue, much of it outside the high season which is a matter of great significance.

I welcome the decision announced by the Minister on Monday subsequent to this question being tabled on Thursday. Is he happy the schedule set out will be met in order that the Structural Funds can be drawn down before the deadline? In view of the figures he gave regarding business which will be generated mainly in the Dublin area, will he consider setting up regional convention centres to tap into the vast potential which exists in relation to international conferences? Will he develop this policy as a means of redressing the imbalance in the growth of tourism on the east coast as against the patchy growth in the rest of the country?

An answer to a later question deals with the last two questions raised by the Deputy regarding the regional imbalance. In the context of the schedule, we are ahead of the EU deadline. There is a CSF monitoring committee meeting on Thursday. This time we have dotted the "i"s and crossed the "t"s. I admit that past experience, including that of Deputy Kenny and his predecessor, has been of benefit. I thank the product management board and its chairman, Mr. Malachy Stephens, who have been dealing with the matter over the full period. Many other management boards would have given up the ghost a long time ago but this board persisted. We had difficulties but I am delighted we have an excellent project and hope it will benefit not only Dublin people, but people nationally.

Construction will involve up to 1,000 jobs. Part of the remit of the docklands development authority is that a certain percentage of the jobs must be from the local area. The project will be a catalyst to the development of the docklands area. It will bring high incentive tourism business to Dublin and prove an incentive for the entire country.