Dáil debates

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Adjournment Debate

Swimming Pool Projects

2:30 pm

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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The potential closure of St. Enda's swimming pool and sports complex is an important issue for the southside of Limerick city and particularly for the people of South Hill. Intensive discussions are currently under way between Limerick City VEC, the Catholic diocese, Limerick City Council and the Limerick Regeneration Agencies with a view to keeping open the sports complex, which consists of a swimming pool, gymnasium and various other amenities. The proposed closure comes on foot of the closure of the only other community swimming pool in the area, the Roxborough facility, in 2004. St. Enda's is now the only community sports facility of its type on the southside of the city. Twenty-five people are employed there, many of them with young families and having worked at the complex for many years. It is essential that their uncertainty is ended and their jobs are maintained.

The Department of Education and Skills has not come forward with the capital funding, of the order of €400,000 plus, that is needed to bring the facility up to health and safety standards. It is gravely disappointing that the Government should espouse the virtues of the Limerick regeneration project while leaving it to other stakeholders to provide the necessary funding for this vital project. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, confirm that the funding of €400,000 plus will be provided to facilitate the much needed renovations to ensure compliance with health and safety standards? Will he give a further commitment that the Department will support the redevelopment of the complex? Renovation would require some €5 million and a full refurbishment approximately €10 million. That can happen only with the approval of the Department.

Intensive discussions are under way among the stakeholders. It is vital that the Department come to the table with the €400,000 that is needed to facilitate the much needed capital works. I hope the Minister of State will have good news for the people of Limerick and for the 25 staff at St. Enda's sports complex.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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This is a most urgent matter. If it is not resolved, the swimming pool and sports complex will close this Friday. We are talking about the loss of 25 jobs and the removal of a vital amenity for the 24 schools which use the complex, including St. Enda's community school on whose grounds it is situated, as well as various community groups and swimming clubs. It would be an absolute betrayal of the communities concerned if the facility were to close.

I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills to take responsibility in this matter. The complex is owned by the Department and is in the grounds of St. Enda's community school. It is directly across the road from the top of O'Malley Park in South Hill, at the heart of southside regeneration efforts. This is a community that has had its share of problems. It would be a travesty to continue talk of building and developing new facilities if, at the same time, an existing facility that is widely used and is at the heart of the community were to be shut down. It is vital that actions are taken to keep it open. The Tánaiste has ultimate responsibility in this regard because it is the Department which owns the premises.

Negotiations are ongoing to seek to safeguard the facility. I commend my colleague, Councillor Joe Leddin, vice chairman of the board of the school, in this regard. There are signals that the regeneration board and Limerick City Council are willing to play a significant part in ensuring the complex stays open. However, the most important player is the Department. It must come up with the funding, which is not a significant amount in the context of the building programme and the Department's overall expenditure. It would be a terrible tragedy if the sports complex were to close because it would mean there would be no facilities for people in the area. When the nearby Roxborough pool was closed the indications were that the savings made would be used to safeguard the future operation of St. Enda's. Limerick City Council is responsible in that regard.

By raising this issue we hope the Tánaiste will assume her responsibility by giving an indication without delay that St. Enda's will be supported. We are absolutely determined that the complex will not close this week and that it will be given a solid foundation for the future, for the benefit of the communities it serves.

Photo of Seán ConnickSeán Connick (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I am pleased to be given the opportunity, on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, to clarify for the House the situation with regard to the St Enda's community school sports complex. The school has operated a swimming pool and sports complex since the 1970s, one of five such complexes operated by community and comprehensive schools. When the sports complexes were established alongside community and comprehensive schools, it was envisaged that they would operate on a self-financing basis. However, it was always recognised that additional costs were associated with the operation of swimming pools. For this reason, all five sports complexes receive an annual payment of €44,000 from the Department towards the cost of swimming pool maintenance.

Over a period of years, the St Enda's complex has failed to deliver on a commitment to become self-financing in its day-to-day operations and has built up a substantial deficit. Current funding provided by the Department of Education and Skills, together with some funding from the Limerick Regeneration Agencies and Limerick City Council, has allowed the complex to continue to operate. However, the board of management has recently reported that the sports complex has serious health and safety issues which, it is estimated, require immediate capital funding of €455,000 to resolve. Such an injection of capital funding will not resolve the wider issue that the ageing sports complex cannot compete with other facilities in the area and therefore has little prospect of an income stream that can meet running costs.

The stark reality is that this is a 40-year-old facility. It is estimated that a complete renovation could cost up to €3.5 million, while a new build to replace the entire existing complex would cost an estimated €10 million. The priority of the Department of Education and Skills must be to channel available funds to front-line educational services. The Department has been in contact, and will continue this engagement, with the board of management of St Enda's community school, the Limerick Regeneration Agencies and Limerick City Council on the future of the sports complex.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State's response is inadequate. I hope the proposal will be endorsed and funding provided.