Thursday, 10 March 2005
National Aquatic Centre.
Will the Government come out of hiding and explain what is going on at the National Aquatic Centre? The centre closed its doors on New Year's Day following roof damage by high winds, has not opened since and seems unlikely to do so for at least another three to five months. I understand the engineering firm originally appointed on behalf of the OPW, Kavanagh Mansfield, to inquire into the damage to the centre has now also been appointed to act on behalf of Campus and Stadium Ireland Development, CSID.
Has this firm reported and will the Minister publish the report? When I last raised this matter in the Dáil at the end of January, I was told the preliminary report was expected at the end of that week. We have heard nothing six weeks later. Are engineers still refusing to allow any public access on safety grounds, has liability been established for insurance purposes and will the public have to pick up the tab for repairing this €70 million facility? Engineering consultants are working on the site for the various parties with a view to identifying the cause of the damage, to ascertain whether there was a design or construction flaw and, most important, who will pick up the tab for repairing the damage, now estimated to cost at least €2 million.
The National Aquatic Centre was one of the first examples of a design, build and operate procedure, with a contract awarded to a consortium consisting of a construction company, Rohcon, an architectural firm, S & P Architects and the operating company, Dublin Waterworld. There now seems to be a blame game with Dublin Waterworld referring inquiries from the centre's users, swimmers and gym centre members, to CSID, the Government company which manages Abbotstown and which provided Government finance of €70 million to build the water sports complex. There seems to be a serious conflict over responsibility for the roof damage and who should pay for the repairs.
In the meantime, one of the country's most outstanding sports facilities remains closed. There are many distressed people, from the 60 employees who appear to face a lay-off of at least six months to gym centre members who are paying gym fees for facilities they cannot use. There is growing concern in swimming and water sports circles and among the thousands of gym club members at the continued closure of the centre and all its facilities. Some 60 staff have been laid off for more than two months and face the prospect of many more months on the dole, yet they have not been told anything by Dublin Waterworld about when the centre may reopen with its roof repaired. Thousands of gym club members have paid expensive gym fees to use the pool and the gym centre but have been left completely in the dark as to when they may enjoy the facilities for which they have paid.
Water sports interests, including swimming, platform diving, scuba diving and water polo, are also finding it impossible to get reliable information as to what is happening at the National Aquatic Centre. We already know that major swimming events planned for May have had to be cancelled, including the Celtic Masters. It seems that no one at Government level — the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism who are the shareholders in Campus Stadium Ireland on behalf of the taxpayer — is prepared to take responsibility for or an interest in what is going on or, at a minimum, to advise the interested parties what is a realistic timescale for the repair and reopening of this facility which cost the taxpayer €70 million to build two years ago this month and which was opened by the Taoiseach recently. This is a marvellous facility which has suffered a terrible accident. The Government must come clean on when it expects the competition pool, the gym and the leisure pool to reopen to the public and the staff to be re-employed.
Having regard to the unusual nature of the contract arrangement through a consortium, its seems that no one, the Government included, is willing to take responsibility. That is disappointing. Where is the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism? He has written to me that he is concerned about the impact of the closure of the facility on divers, swimmers and so on, but he does not seem to be exerting himself to ensure the necessary work is carried out.
I acknowledge Deputy Burton's interest in this subject. She and I have raised this matter a number of times but our pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears. On New Year's Day, storm force winds ripped a 25 metre section of the roof from the competition pool of the National Aquatic Centre. The metal roofing was blown across the complex, causing extensive damage inside and outside the building. Management at the centre expected that repairs would be carried out immediately to facilitate its 7,000 or more members and to retain the services of its 60 staff. However, as it became apparent that no builder was being appointed to carry out the work, management had to make 50 of its 60 staff at that time temporarily redundant. I understand from Deputy Burton that the other ten members of staff have also been made temporarily redundant.
Despite a commitment given on a "Morning Ireland" programme by a representative of Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited on 15 February that the centre or part of it would be reopened in two weeks' time, no work has yet been carried out. More than two weeks ago at the Committee of Public Accounts, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism reported that leisure facilities at the National Aquatic Centre would be available in two weeks' time and estimated that it would take three months to repair the more extensive damage to the swimming pool. Those two weeks have passed and no work has begun at the centre. Although it is more than ten weeks since the storm damage occurred, to date, no contractor has been assigned. It appears highly unlikely that the estimated three-month timeframe for repairs is anything other than extremely optimistic and that the work will not be delivered on in that timeframe.
Apart from the unavailability of the facility to its 7,000 members, in the meantime events such as the Irish Water Polo Association national league have had to be suspended. The International Celtic Masters swim meet due to the held at the centre at the end of May will also have to be cancelled as well as number of other events that appear on the centre's website. Even if the pool could be ready in three months' time, it would not be ready in time for a large number of these events.
As I suspected, the management has lost key personnel who could not be expected to wait this long for the centre to reopen. I understand they have got jobs elsewhere. Dublin Waterworld is losing €500,000 or more a month while the centre remains closed. The closure of the centre is not its fault and it cannot be the target of the blame. The Minister's silence in this regard is unacceptable. We have no timeframe for the carrying out of the repairs, no estimate for the cost of doing so and no idea as to the outcome of consultations between the Office of Public Works and Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited. These consultations were promised at an Oireachtas committee but we have had no indication of the outcome of the discussions that took place.
The taxpayers who paid for the construction of this centre and the many stakeholders in the facility deserve to know why it still lies idle with no sign of repairs beginning. The Minister should, as he has an obligation to do under the leasing arrangement entered into by the Government with Dublin Waterworld, intervene to ensure that a specific date for the commencement of repairs is identified without delay. If this is the experience in this instance, it brings into question the capacity of the Government to successfully develop large projects such as the National Aquatic Centre.
I wish to put the following questions, to some of which the Minster of State may not be able to reply. What are the health and safety issues in this instance? Why can the gym and leisure pool not be opened immediately, as was promised some weeks ago by representatives of CSID? Why were we told a month ago that the facility would be reopened in two weeks' time? Will the Minister of State indicate when the centre might be reopened? Who is liable for the damage caused? That is an important point. Will the Minister of State indicate when is it likely that a builder will be appointed?
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I make this reply on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue. He very much appreciates the opportunity to have his record and that of the Department put on the record of the House. There is no question of silence here. A full reply will be given and it will address most of the questions posed by Deputies Burton and Deenihan. From the information at my disposal, they will appreciate that I may not be in a position to answer all the questions but I will be able to answer the majority of them.
It is important to put this discussion in context and to note our point of departure. The damage to this building was an act of God, not an act of Government. As the Members will be aware, during severe weather conditions experienced in the west Dublin area on New Year's Day of this year, damage was caused to the National Aquatic Centre. The roof of the 50-metre pool and the diving pool and the roof of the leisure water area were separately damaged. In addition, damage occurred to lights and fittings around the complex. This resulted in the National Aquatic Centre being closed to the public while the building was being made safe, the damage being assessed and the repairs undertaken. We were fortunate that nobody was hurt on that date as the centre was closed because it was a public holiday.
Deputy Burton and other Deputies will be aware that on the same day severe damage was caused to a number of installations in the north and west Dublin areas. Deputies will recall that two aeroplanes were blown together on a runway at Dublin Airport and that the roofs and walls of a number of houses in estates in Clonee and Castaheaney in Fingal were stripped by the high winds.
A number of agents are involved in the National Aquatic Centre. Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited is the landlord. Therefore, the State's interest in this is as the landlord. Rohcon Limited and S&P Architects were responsible for the design and construction of the National Aquatic Centre. The centre is leased to Dublin Waterworld Limited. It is the operating company that formed part of the development consortium. Campus Stadium Ireland Development directed the company to close its fitness facility because of a possible risk to members of the public using it. The company has been responsible for all matters relating to the running of the facility since it concluded the lease agreement with Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited. The Minister and the Department are not involved in the day-to-day operation of the centre. The Minister has been kept fully briefed of developments at Abbotstown. He wants the centre to be reopened as quickly as possible while ensuring there is no risk to the public.
Rohcon Limited responded to the damage on 2 January by doing some initial repair work to make the building safe. Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited managed and oversaw the response to the situation over the following days. The company's priority was to ensure the safety of the public and those using and working in the facility. It focused on ensuring the damage was accurately assessed by the insurance assessors, repairs were carried out as quickly as possible and the debris in the vicinity of the facility was safely removed. Weather conditions, such as the high winds experienced in January, meant that access to the roof proved difficult. That delayed the work of the engineers who examined and reported on it. The national aquatic centre remained closed to the public while the assessment was ongoing, in the interests of public safety. It will remain closed until the essential repairs have been completed.
The Office of Public Works has engaged engineers to examine the damage and to provide a report as a matter of priority, at the request of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited, to ensure the health and safety of the users of the facility and to avoid a recurrence of the damage, in so far as it is practical and possible. The consulting and structural engineering company, Kavanagh Mansfield & Partners, has been appointed by the OPW, on behalf of the Department. The report on the storm damage to the aquatic centre that was prepared by the company is independent of and in addition to a report prepared by another engineering company, O'Connor Sutton Cronin, which was appointed to examine the damage on behalf of the insurance company that provides the centre's insurance cover.
Deputy Deenihan specifically raised the question of insurance. The insurers have indicated to Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited's insurance brokers that they will cover the cost of the storm damage. The House will appreciate that this is an important consideration because the Minister is anxious that the cost of the misadventure should not be borne by the Exchequer. After it presented its report, Kavanagh Mansfield & Partners were appointed by Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited to oversee the development and implementation of the appropriate remedial works for the storm damage.
Rohcon Limited, which has been given a copy of the report prepared by Kavanagh Mansfield & Partners, has been asked to supply its proposals for remedial works as a matter of urgency. The schedule of remedial works is being finalised by Rohcon, the insurers and Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited to ensure that the centre is restored to the highest standards. Under the agreement between the parties, the damage repair work will begin as soon as possible and will be completed in the shortest possible timeframe. All the parties are anxious to proceed with the work as quickly as possible. They expect to begin the work in the next few weeks and to finish without unreasonable delay.
The reopening of the centre is not simply a matter of selecting a future date. A firm estimate cannot be given until the schedule of remedial works has been agreed by Rohcon, the insurers and Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited. I am sure Deputies will appreciate that the Minister's hands are tied in respect of matters of this nature. An announcement will be made about an exact reopening date as soon as it is possible to say with confidence that it is safe to allow the public to enter the premises of the National Aquatic Centre. Contrary to inaccurate information that has been put in the public domain, Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited has been corresponding regularly with Dublin Waterworld Limited about the remedial works and the reopening of the centre.
The Minister realises that the continued closure of the National Aquatic Centre affects the holding of swimming and diving events, which is regrettable. It is a priority of the Minister to ensure that the centre is repaired and brought into safe use as quickly as possible. While the Minister does not wish to see anybody out of employment, neither he nor Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited has control over the matter, as staff are appointed directly by Dublin Waterworld.
As the centre has been closed for health and safety reasons, it would not be appropriate for it to reopen until the works necessary to ensure the health and safety of the staff and public have been completed. The Minister and Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited wish to stress that they want the National Aquatic Centre to be reopened at the earliest possible date. Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited is working with the various parties to achieve this objective as quickly as possibly. Safety issues must be a priority in that context.