Thursday, 30 November 2006
Lansdowne Road Stadium.
Question 8: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will expand on his recent comments that the difficulties between the Irish Rugby Football Union and Wanderers Rugby Club regarding the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road represents a family dispute; his views on the fact that if this dispute is not resolved in the near future, the redevelopment of the stadium will be delayed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40820/06]
Question 16: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the situation regarding the planned redevelopment of Lansdowne Road; when he expects An Bord Pleanála to approve the redevelopment of the stadium; when construction work will begin; if any issues remain outstanding in regard to the planning process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40819/06]
Question 23: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount of money that will be allocated by his Department towards the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road in 2007; the way this money will be spent; the amount of the funding for the redevelopment of the stadium that has been provided by the Government to date; the further amount he anticipates will be allocated in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40818/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 16 and 23 together.
As the House is aware, in January 2004, the Government agreed to provide funding of €191 million, phased over five years, to the joint IRFU-FAI project for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road as a 50,000-seat stadium. The estimated total cost of the project is €365 million and the IRFU and FAI will provide the balance of €174 million. Expenditure to date on the project amounts to €18.94 million. I am satisfied that I will have ample funds in my Vote to meet both the current and capital needs of the stadium project in 2007.
On 31 July 2006, Dublin City Council granted planning permission for the project, subject to a number of conditions which can be accommodated without undue difficulty. A number of appeals against the granting of planning permission have been lodged by local residents and An Bord Pleanála has indicated that it will hold an oral hearing commencing on 11 December next. Following the oral hearing, An Bord Pleanála will issue a decision which I am hopeful will enable the project to proceed early in 2007.
Once construction commences, the estimated period for completion is 29 months. The newly developed Lansdowne Road will finally bring the stadium facilities into the 21st century and the Irish rugby and soccer squads will have a worthy platform on which they can showcase themselves and Ireland to the world, and from which they can develop and build on the progress they have already achieved.
As to current issues between the IRFU and Wanderers Rugby Club, I have said previously that the dispute is entirely a matter which must be resolved within the rugby family. I do not intend to intervene or comment extensively on the matter. It is clear that ultimately the issues must be resolved between the parties directly involved. Discussions are ongoing and it is a time for cool heads and sound reason. I am confident that a solution will be found and that the dispute will not delay the redevelopment of the stadium.
I am very hopeful that by the end of 2009 we will see the completion of the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium, which will cater for the international rugby and soccer requirements of the IRFU and FAI. I look forward to the completion of this much-needed new stadium, which will be a welcome flagship facility for rugby and soccer.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He has stated on previous occasions that this is a family dispute, but these have a tendency to drag on longer than anything else within the regulatory system. It will obviously involve this particular project, An Bord Pleanála, etc. Is this not something that should be put to bed as quickly as possible? Perhaps the Minister, through his Department, can provide a facilitator who will allow the dispute to be mediated once and for all so that we may look forward to the project going through the regulatory agencies and see the commencement of the Lansdowne Road refurbishment project in 2007.
I sincerely hope the issue can be resolved by negotiation. If it cannot be resolved by negotiation, then I hope it can be resolved by both sides committing to arbitration. Talks between the two parties have been going on for nearly a year and a half.
The offer on the table from the IRFU seems to be quite fair. I understand it includes a replacement fully-equipped club house within the existing grounds, a grant to include the Wanderers' Merrion Road club house and grounds and financial compensation for loss of income to cover the period when the club would not have the use of the stadium during reconstruction. There is also to be an extension of the current licence agreement for the lifespan of the new stadium, complimentary use of a hospitality suite — although this has been withdrawn — and an allocation of tickets for matches. The IRFU has been more than fair and accommodating in trying to come to terms with Wanderers Rugby Club. I am very disappointed that Wanderers continues to be recalcitrant.
I understand this will not hold up the planning process, but could pose difficulties in a few years when it comes to the opening of the new stadium. Will the Minister contemplate the immediate appointment of a mediator to resolve this matter? I am sure it could be resolved rather easily at this stage if an independent arbitrator were involved.
The IRFU has requested that the issue should go to negotiation or arbitration — and negotiations have taken place. My understanding is that the deadline for negotiations was Tuesday, 28 November. I am not up to date on precisely what has happened. If the final offer cannot be accepted, then it seems the best way is arbitration. However, arbitration is something that must be accepted by both sides to the dispute. I sincerely hope arbitration will take place if negotiations do not resolve the issue.
It is also regrettable that Wanderers has chosen to put this matter into the public domain. That was never my wish nor that of the IRFU.