Wednesday, 31 May 2006
Sports Capital Programme.
Question 12: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his Department is providing funding for the recently announced programme of refurbishment and redevelopment of major GAA venues around the country; his views on the need to update facilities at many of the country's larger GAA stadia; if he has had talks with the GAA on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21127/06]
I am aware of the wish of the Gaelic Athletic Association to develop a multi-annual programme for the refurbishment and redevelopment of major GAA venues. I am very much in favour of such a development and would point out to the Deputy that it has been practice over recent years to make provision in the annual sports capital programme allocations for grant support for a number of major GAA grounds. I intend to continue in this mode.
In the processing of the applications received annually under the sports capital programme all applications received from the county GAA boards for the refurbishment or redevelopment of their county grounds are forwarded to the GAA for its views on the strategic importance of the applications. Following its own internal consultative process, the GAA identifies its priorities and, having regard for this prioritisation and the levels of available funding, I make allocations in respect of selected projects.
Since 1998, a total of €14.43 million has been allocated towards the refurbishment and redevelopment of 24 GAA county grounds. Among the projects which have been supported are Pearse Stadium in Galway, the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, Markievicz Park in Sligo, O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Hyde Park in Roscommon, Páirc Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon and St. Conleth's Park in Newbridge. Since 1998 almost €134 million has been allocated towards GAA projects at local and regional level, which represents some 35% of the total allocation made under the programme. This funding is in addition to the funding of €103.5 million allocated over the same period towards the redevelopment of Croke Park into one of Europe's finest sports stadiums.
As recently as 16 May last, I and my officials met the president of the GAA and his officials. At this meeting, inter alia, the issue of the provision of funding in respect of strategic provincial facilities and county grounds was discussed. I understand the GAA has established a national infrastructural and safety committee which will undertake a review of its venues with a view to the formulation of a new strategy for the development of GAA facilities at regional and local level. I have indicated that I would be happy to consider any requests for funding from the GAA which it may wish to make arising from that review.
I welcome the Minister's statement on the GAA grounds. He might want to check the record to ascertain whether St. Conleth's Park was included. Although it was not the Minister's fault, I understand it was not included and that the funding was not drawn down on that occasion.
The thinking behind this question relates to the major demand for funding at Semple Stadium and Fitzgerald Stadium. Both stadia are entrenched in GAA folklore and, apart from Croke Park, are the two most famous stadia in the country. The estimated cost of a refurbishment of Semple Stadium is €18 million. It is difficult to foresee the GAA, the Tipperary County Board or the Munster Council being able to raise that amount. With that in mind, I put down this question to discover the Minister's position in regard to the two stadia, given their importance in the history of the GAA. In latter years, we have seen all-Ireland finals played in Thurles when they had always previously been played in Croke Park.
I accept the Minister's position on proposals yet to be put to him by the GAA. Will the Minister and his Department look beyond the position that operated heretofore with regard to grounds? No other grounds will demand as much funding for development as Semple Stadium and Fitzgerald Stadium, and €18 million was not invested in any other county ground, by a long shot. Given their importance to the structure of the GAA, will the Government, through the Minister and his Department, look favourably on applications for Semple Stadium and Fitzgerald Stadium?
The stadium I discussed with the GAA authorities is Semple Stadium — I discussed it with the officials of the Munster Council when we met. I do not think anybody has an understanding of Irish culture unless he or she has stood on the terrace at Semple Stadium on the day of a Munster hurling final. Therefore, the Deputy can take it that I empathise and sympathise with the cause he espouses.
The GAA appears to have come to the conclusion, which I welcome, that Semple Stadium should be the second stadium of the GAA in the country. In those circumstances, it will receive the recognition which the conferring on it of such a status would require.
With regard to St. Conleth's Park in Kildare, in which Deputy Wall will be particularly interested, in 1999 a grant of €253,948 was sanctioned for that ground. This was followed in 2005 with a grant of €200,000. I do not know whether that sum was drawn down — I accept it probably was not. However, the grant is still in existence. I look forward to the day when it is drawn down.