Thursday, 17 February 2005
National Conference Centre.
Question 1: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the national conference centre steering group has authorised the OPW to issue invitations to tender to the three pre-qualified candidates; when the preferred bidder will be selected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5346/05]
The detailed tender documentation for the procurement of a national conference centre in the Dublin area was approved by the NCC steering group on 7 December 2004 and was subsequently issued by the Office of Public Works to each of the three previously short-listed consortia on 10 December 2004.
As I indicated to the House on a number of occasions, the preparation of this documentation has been demanding and time-consuming, with details requiring careful scrutiny and consideration. Accordingly, I was very pleased when the documentation was completed, allowing the next stage of the procurement process to get under way.
The project is being managed by the Office of Public Works under the direction of a steering group chaired by my Department and is being conducted with full regard to, and in accordance with, EU and national procurement rules and regulations, including the Department of Finance's interim guidelines for the provision of infrastructure and capital investments through public private partnerships. While it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the detail of the procurement process under way, I am informed that the NCC project team, headed by the Office of Public Works, is currently engaged in a process of consultation with the tenderers, intended, inter alia, to enable the OPW to provide clarification to and, where appropriate, to take account of issues raised by, tenderers, thereby helping to ensure the quality and robustness of the tenders to be submitted.
Allowing sufficient time for engagement with the tenderers, it is hoped that a provisional preferred tenderer will be selected by mid-year, with the award of the contract, subject to Government approval, following later.
The provision of a national conference centre is a necessary precursor to expanding a business tourism sector currently worth €250 million a year to the country. As such, it remains my personal priority, and that of the Government, to have this project brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible date.
As I mentioned in the House previously, a national conference centre is vital for the future economic development not only of Dublin but of the country. I stated also, and the Minister referred to it, that international business tourism is now worth approximately €40 billion and this country gets approximately 1% of that business. Approximately 4,000 conferences take place throughout Europe, only 1% of which are held here. I appeal to the Minister to do everything possible to speed up this process.
As regards the bidders, will the Minister confirm that one of the bidders withdrew from the competition and that at this stage there are only two tenderers?
I am informed that the Office of Public Works is currently engaging with the three short-listed consortia, although it is true that one of the candidates short-listed has indicated that it will not, in all probability, proceed.
In view of the fact that a national conference centre would encourage approximately 30,000 extra tourists to come here, with a spin-off of about €50 million, such a facility is very important. On a related issue, business tourists who visit other countries in Europe can reclaim VAT. As we will shortly debate the Finance Bill, I ask the Minister to make personal representations to the Minister for Finance to allow business tourists who come here for conferences and so on reclaim VAT. These two issues are connected — a conference centre and the reclaiming of VAT by business tourists to encourage more business tourism in the country.
That proposal is also being brought forward by the Irish Hotels Federation. I confirm to Deputy Deenihan that it is his one which I will be pursuing with the Minister for Finance.