Thursday, 5 February 2004
Proposed Stadium at Lansdowne Road: Statements.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on what is a most important sporting issue, namely, the decision of the Government to support the development of a sports stadium at Lansdowne Road and a sports campus at Abbotstown.
Tuesday, 27 January was a good day for Irish sport. Early last week, I was proud to announce that the Government had agreed to allocate substantial grant assistance in support of a joint Football Association of Ireland-Irish Rugby Football Union project to redevelop Lansdowne Road as a all-seated state-of-the-art stadium with a capacity of 50,000.
It was also my great pleasure to announce that the Government has agreed to proceed with the phased delivery of a sporting campus at Abbotstown. The decision on the stadium at Lansdowne Road has been arrived at following many years of hard work on the part of very many people. It has involved disappointment and some reversals along the way and there were some difficult times. Since becoming Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, I have engaged in an extensive series of consultations with the major sporting bodies and with my ministerial colleagues on how best to address a widely acknowledged deficit in Ireland's sporting infrastructure, namely, inadequate quality stadium accommodation to house prestigious international sporting fixtures.
The FAI and the IRFU have been under pressure in recent times to provide acceptable stadium accommodation for their major international fixtures. In the case of the FAI at least, this had become an issue of immediate concern affecting its ability to host fixtures in the 2006 World Cup preliminaries in the country.
FIFA, the world governing body for football, had indicated to the FAI that temporary seating for Lansdowne Road would no longer be acceptable for international soccer events, creating the real possibility of preliminary round qualifying matches for Ireland's 2006 World Cup campaign having to be played outside Ireland. This was a scenario the Government was not prepared to countenance. The IRFU too needed to secure its international future at Lansdowne Road.
Lansdowne Road has, since 1872, served the needs of Irish rugby. Since 1982 it has been the home to Ireland's soccer internationals. However, arising from the needs of spectators both in terms of safety and comfort, the facilities at Lansdowne Road are no longer adequate for it to be a venue for major international fixtures.
The re-development of Croke Park into an 80,000 seat stadium, which is now nearing completion, has rightly been acclaimed as a magnificent achievement. However, this represents only one part of the jigsaw. Over recent months I have had ongoing contact with the sporting bodies and in my meetings with the IRFU, the FAI and the GAA, I found broad support among them for the proposition that two modern stadia were required, one capable of accommodating 80,000 spectators and one catering for 50,000 spectators.
It was in this context that the FAI-IRFU put forward their proposal for a 50,000 all seated stadium at Lansdowne Road. The concept is truly state-of-the-art. I am advised that this project is both deliverable and cost effective and is considered least likely to give rise to major planning difficulties. The estimated cost of this project is €250 million in current prices, which is likely to translate into actual outlays totalling just under €300 million as the project is realised over the next five years. Approved Government support is €167 million in current prices, which is expected to translate into cumulative outlays of just over €190 million over five years.
The new Lansdowne Road will be a 50,000 all seated stadium with a transparent roof covering the seats which will be built on the axis of the existing stadium at Lansdowne Road. The process of securing planning permission for the project will now commence. Subject to compliance with all planning requirements, it is hoped that the new stadium will be completed by 2008. It will meet all the current international standards for rugby and soccer and the pitch area will be of sufficient size to accommodate Gaelic games. The standard of the facilities will be broadly equivalent to those at Croke Park and will include about 64 corporate boxes and 8,000 premium seats as well as substantially improved back-of-house facilities both for players and spectators.
The design concept for the stadium at Lansdowne Road is imaginative and state-of-the-art. The design is similar to the one being used for the new stadium under construction at Oporto, Portugal, for the 2004 UEFA finals. Once built, the stadium at Lansdowne Road will be one of the most significant pieces of sporting infrastructure in the country. Thus, the Lansdowne Road re-development project is both visionary and timely. The decision is about ensuring immediate and effective support for the imaginative proposals of the FAI and IRFU to secure their international future. I have no doubt that the stadium decision has also strengthened the hand of the FAI in its dealings with FIFA relating to a continued derogation from meeting the all seated requirement for international soccer fixtures at Lansdowne Road.
I am confident that, with this decision, sport has been the winner. Without the support of the Taoiseach, last week's announcements on the Lansdowne stadium development and sports campus facilities at Abbotstown would not have been possible. The Taoiseach's vision for the creation of a modern sporting infrastructure has sustained the debate on how best to ensure that international sporting events can be staged in this country in state-of-the-art facilities in difficult budgetary conditions. The decision highlights the Government's commitment to the development of sport in the country.
I am also delighted with the decision of Government to agree to the development of a sports campus on the State-owned lands at Abbotstown. The National Aquatic Centre, which opened its doors last year, brought state-of-the-art swimming facilities to this country and was a widely admired and splendid location for the Special Olympics aquatic events in June last year and the European short-course swimming championships in December.
The Government has decided to endorse the phased delivery of a sporting campus at Abbotstown over a period of years. Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited will continue as the agency responsible for the delivery of the campus at Abbotstown. It is envisaged that funding will be provided on an annual basis for the phased delivery of the campus facilities. Earlier this week I met with the board of CSID and I asked it to provide me with a programme of phased developments at the State-owned lands at Abbotstown which will effectively accomplish a major transformation in the quality of Ireland's sporting infrastructure. I have looked for a phased and prioritised proposal, with a business plan and annual budgets in each case, which will deliver the component elements of the campus within a realistic timeframe by building on and updating the existing framework plan for the site in consultation with the various interested parties. CSID Limited will now initiate an assessment of the needs of Irish sport which can be provided in a campus, outline a business and sporting case for each facility and propose a timeframe and cost for each facility.
The scale of the site at Abbotstown is such that it can accommodate the requirements of sporting organisations for high quality pitches and training facilities for both amateur and ranking team sports which would be of benefit not only to major sports organisations, but also to some of our smaller sports whose need for modern facilities is very real. I have asked CSID to explore the potential for private sector investment, especially regarding the development of an indoor arena. A number of sporting organisations have already expressed an interest in relocating offices to Abbotstown, including the FAI which has said it is interested in selling its current headquarters in Merrion Square and moving there. I can also confirm that the GAA and the IRFU have indicated an interest in using what Abbotstown has to offer for the development of their sports.
The availability of centralised high quality sports development facilities will appeal, in particular, to smaller sporting bodies, many of whom depend largely on voluntary commitment. Medical and research facilities for elite athletes might be developed in partnership with one or more of the third level education institutions. All of this will give a further impetus to the work that the Irish Sports Council is doing to support our elite sportsmen and sportswomen.
This initiative is not a vague aspiration, but will be of lasting benefit to Irish sport. There is a real commitment on the part of the Government to a phased development of the sports campus project at Abbotstown. A clear Government decision has been taken and the work can proceed without further delay and without distractions.
We are bringing our national sporting infrastructure into the 21st century. Lansdowne Road is steeped in tradition and history and resonates with some of our great sporting successes. Our international sports of rugby and soccer will now have a platform on which they can showcase themselves and Ireland to the world and from which they can develop and build on the great progress they have made over the past 15 years, while the sports campus at Abbotstown will provide the training facilities and support for both amateur and ranking team sports.
These proposals, together with the investment which this Government continues to make in the development of our sporting infrastructure through the sports capital and local authority swimming pool programmes and in supporting the Irish Sports Council with its sports development programmes, are further evidence of our commitment to the development of sport in this country. It is our intention to see these facilities completed in a short timeframe so that all our people, both at competitive and recreational level, can enjoy sport in facilities which are modern, well equipped and well managed.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his contribution. I thank the Leader of the House for arranging statements on the issue of the national stadium. Persistence pays off. I constantly raised this matter on the Order of Business a couple of weeks ago and I thank the Leader for agreeing to arrange this debate.
There were a number of comments in the Minister's address which made me wonder whether he was having a laugh or whether the official who composed the script did not know what he or she was on about. The Minister said that the stadium at Lansdowne Road and the announcement by the Government was visionary and timely. To describe the upgrading of a stadium as visionary and timely when five years have elapsed since it was proposed beggars belief. I cannot understand how the Minister can say it.
I compliment him on putting a brave face on what has been a remarkable climb-down by the Government over the past couple of years. In his closing remarks, the Minister said that a clear Government decision has been taken and that the work can proceed without further delay and without distractions. Clear Government decisions were made in this regard before. A clear Government decision was made regarding the land at Abbotstown. It did not proceed without distraction and in fact has not proceeded at all. I wonder whether the commitment expressed by the Minister today will be delivered. Two central problems have arisen with the debate on the national stadium. One is the delay that has occurred over the past few years. The Minister is right in many of the points he made about the delay and the possible effects that can have for the IRFU and the FAI with regard to qualifying matches for European championships, World Cups and so on.
The other issue is the amount of money that has already been spent on the lands at Abbotstown on drawing up plans and proposals which will not be brought to fruition. It seems to me that a large amount of money has been expended in those areas. A committee was set up by the Taoiseach in 1998 to investigate the possibility of building a new national stadium. In 1999 the FAI came forward with proposals for Eircom Park, which it had fully costed. It had a site and it felt it had the resources to go ahead with that project, but it was scuppered, purely and simply, by the Taoiseach's ego. Supported by the Government and even the Progressive Democrats at that time, he decided that Campus and Stadium Ireland — the "Bertie bowl" project at Abbotstown, as it came to be known — would proceed rather than Eircom Park.
Every possible obstacle was placed in the way of the FAI. It was even tempted by funding commitments from the Government to drop its plans for Eircom Park and back the proposals for Abbotstown. The national stadium at Abbotstown was first announced on 26 January 2000 by the Taoiseach. Remarkably, it was almost four years to the day before those proposals were officially jettisoned and the Minister made his announcement last week with regard to Lansdowne Road.
I would like to make clear, as I have done before, the position of Fine Gael with regard to the question of the national stadium. As far back as 2001, the Fine Gael spokesperson on sport, Deputy Deenihan, launched a document on the national stadium. It was stated clearly that it was Fine Gael Party policy at the time, and it remains so, that Lansdowne Road should be upgraded as the new national stadium. This was at the height of the fiasco that we now know as the "Bertie bowl". It is truly remarkable that at that particular time the FAI, the IRFU, members of the Government and particularly the Progressive Democrats said nothing in support of Lansdowne Road. They were all bought and sold on the notion of the "Bertie bowl" in Abbotstown.
It is clear also that the man who made most play at the general election on the issue of the "Bertie bowl", the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who was a member of the Government in 2001, had little to say on the issue at that particular time. However, he jumped on the political bandwagon before the last general election, accused the Taoiseach of being like Mr. Ceaucescu in Romania and made other such remarks. Now, it seems, the policy has been reversed by Government.
I wish to ask the Minister a number of specific questions with regard to what has taken place at Abbotstown and what exactly the proposals are for Lansdowne Road. I would welcome a response, if he can provide one. A number of different figures have been bandied about as to the amount that has been spent thus far on Abbotstown. Will the Minister inform the House in his closing remarks as to how much money has been outlayed on Abbotstown? I want a specific reference to the amount spent on the aquatic centre. Nobody would deny this is a great facility which was used extraordinarily well in the Special Olympics and is a credit to the people who built it. I support it fully, but how much did it cost? How much did it cost to relocate the Government Departments that were already in situ on the site in Abbotstown, prior to the Campus and Stadium Ireland development?
How much has it cost to draw up plans for the different arenas that were proposed at Abbotstown? I would also like the Minister to comment on the whole issue of consultants and consultancy fees. We have seen in the newspapers in the last couple of weeks since this issue again gained prominence a number of references to different consultancy groups who still claim fees and are being paid for work that is allegedly being carried out in Abbotstown. I would appreciate it if the Minister could outline how much has been spent on consultancy fees, how much is being spent and what the future holds in that particular area over the course of the next few years.
I would also like to ask him whether, if the development proceeds at Lansdowne Road, it will be a phased project. Is the stadium to be pulled down all at once and what will the sporting bodies that currently use it, the FAI and the IRFU, do about their home fixtures? Will they have to find alternative stadiums to hold the games that would have been held in Lansdowne Road if it was not under reconstruction? If they have to find alternative stadia, what is the view of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism as regards in which locations they will hold their home matches?
It has been estimated that the new stadium will cost in the region of €250 million. One of the figures mentioned as regards Abbotstown is €220 million. It is clear that the money was there and has been spent. Over the past five years the Government has largely squandered that money, which could have at this stage ensured the development of a new national stadium, either at Lansdowne Road or some other location in the capital city. It is not good enough for the Minister and Government Senators to clap themselves on the back for what has been done. The reality is that five important years have been wasted. Irish sport finds itself facing the possibility of not having an arena over the next couple of years in which to hold international soccer and rugby matches, if Lansdowne Road is to be developed. That is not a position with which any Department of sport can be satisfied.
I welcome the Minister to the Seanad and congratulate him and the Taoiseach on all the effort they have put into making this development a reality. As the Minister said, this will be a fantastic development, a stadium of which the country can rightly be proud. The development will comprise a state-of-the-art bowl-shaped all-seater stadium with a capacity for 50,000. It will consist of two single tiered stands at the north and south ends, while the east and west stands will have high capacity three tiers as well as space for corporate boxes. The seating will be covered by a transparent roof and from the published designs it seems the entire structure will be similar to the highly regarded McAlpine stadium in Huddersfield. The total cost of the development will be €250 million at current prices, but that is likely to rise to €292 million over the period of construction due to building cost inflation. The Government has wisely factored such increases into its calculations when assigning the relevant funds to the project.
There has been much speculation on this matter. Since before the last general election the issue of the national stadium has been discussed in detail by the press, politicians and the public. Never before has an issue concerning sporting infrastructure so captured the attention of the country. It would seem everyone has an opinion on the best way forward. Various options have been discussed, others dismissed. No one can accuse the Government of not considering the matter fully. Every possible scenario has been examined and now a conclusion has finally been arrived at that takes account of the current budgetary climate in which we find ourselves.
The case for remaining at Lansdowne Road has always been strong. There were clear economic considerations. A stadium is there already so it is not necessary to acquire land and build from scratch, but rather to improve on the facilities that exist. It is centrally located in Dublin terms and this allows for easier access for people throughout the city. It is on the DART line and general transport infrastructure is already in place.
It also adds more to the city. When Lansdowne Road plays host to a big match, Dublin as a whole enjoys the benefits. That is not only an economic consideration, but a cultural one. We do not simply sell the match. We sell the city with considerable economic benefits for hotels, public houses and shops.
However, I am sure another consideration weighed heavily on the minds of those who opted for Lansdowne Road. I am referring to the historic significance of the venue. Lansdowne Road is renowned as an historic and passionate venue throughout the sporting world. It has also been the scene of many great Irish sporting moments. When we think of Lansdowne Road, we think of the great Irish rugby teams of the 1980s, of Jack Charlton's record setting soccer team and that unforgettable match when the whole country cheered as Jason McAteer's goal helped us beat Holland on our way to the World Cup in Japan and Korea. Lansdowne Road is inextricably linked with these proud moments in Irish sport. That link will continue for the foreseeable future as a result of this proposal.
When announcing these proposals, the Minister also announced his plans for the Abbotstown project. I was pleased to hear that the Government has decided to proceed with the development of state-of-the-art infrastructure over time at the Abbotstown site. Step by step, the sports campus will come to life. Once in place, it will provide world class training and organisation facilities for our various sporting bodies and stars. It will benefit amateur and professional sports people alike. It will also add significantly to the magnificent National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown.
The National Aquatic Centre, which opened last year, recorded 600,000 visitors in its first six months. Last year, it played host to 500 swimmers from 40 countries during the European short-course swimming championships. That event was broadcast to an audience of 30 million people, all of whom view this as a venue of which we can be proud. Let us not forget that last year's historic Special Olympics, which brought such festivities and pride to the country as a whole, would not have been possible had the Aquatic Centre not been in place. During those games 600 athletes from 160 countries competed at the venue. I am sure television viewers and the 2,500 people who attended were impressed by the venue. Lest we forget, it too is a part of the Abbotstown sporting development so widely criticised.
I noticed, as the debate on the national stadium developed, both here today and in the last few weeks, that some members of the Opposition have seen fit to criticise the Government and the Taoiseach, in particular, on that issue. The Taoiseach and the Government have been accused of vanity for taking time to reach this decision. It is remarks like those that give a bad name to politics. Clearly, the Government explored other options before deciding on the proposed plan of action.
I am sure they would be complaining that we did not think through the decision in those circumstances. It is true that the Taoiseach is on record as stating he would like to build a national stadium at Abbotstown. This project was christened with the rather unfortunate title of the "Bertie bowl". The name aside, what was so wrong with it? What aspect of it so galled the Opposition?
It would have been a fantastic development, even larger and more adaptable than the current proposal. It would have been one of the most fantastic venues in Europe and would have provided the kind of capacity to allow supply to meet demand for tickets for big events. I have thought long and hard about why some members of the Opposition were so stringently against that project and I can come up with only one answer — the nickname they helped to promote.
In giving it that nickname, the Opposition was giving the Taoiseach credit for the project and every time the issue was discussed in public, the Taoiseach was being discussed with it. That is not the kind of publicity one would want for the Taoiseach.
Since 1998, almost €270 million paid out under the national lottery sports capital programme has been spent on the development of more than 3,500 sports and recreational projects. These are real figures that have made a significant difference to the development of sport and will continue to make a difference well into the future. While the Opposition likes nothing more than to talk about the need to invest more money in sport, the records show that when it gets the chance it ignores sport. The Opposition pays lip service to sport and sports funding. It can say all it wants; the facts are available in black and white for everyone to see. That is the reason it was so opposed to the so-called "Bertie bowl". The Taoiseach was showing the public how a real sports fan treats the issue of sport when in office. In doing so, he was showing just how little regard the Opposition has for sport. The Taoiseach came across as someone who loves to watch and play sport. One has to wonder whether some of those who criticised the Abbotstown development had ever picked up a ball, let alone played a game.
The Abbotstown stadium may not have come to pass, but that does not mean it was not a worthy development. Given the changing financial climate, it was decided that it would not be the most prudent move to make and the cheaper option of redeveloping Lansdowne Road was chosen. Rather than criticise the Government for changing its mind, the Opposition should congratulate it on its pragmatic approach——
Before concluding I would like to comment on the GAA. Many people have voiced the opinion that the GAA should open Croke Park to other sports. They put this forward as a solution to the national stadium debate. Let us, for a moment, ignore that the sheer bulk of matches and overlapping dates would make it virtually impossible to host all important sporting fixtures in a single venue. How dare anyone dictate what the GAA should do with its national venue.
I have heard it suggested that the GAA should open Croke Park to other sports because the Government has provided grants towards its development. That may be so and the Government should be congratulated in that regard, but the GAA should not be held to ransom for such an act. It has more than earned the funds it received through its contribution to this country since before the formation of the State. I do not think anyone here needs to be reminded of the significant involvement of the GAA in the development of this country and the significant involvement it continues to have.
Should the GAA congress decide, in its wisdom, to remove rule 42, then I am sure the people will welcome that development. It would allow special, significant matches to be played in Croke Park if the demand for tickets was more than the available capacity at Lansdowne Road. That, however, is for it to decide in the future. Those who suggest otherwise do not show the GAA the respect it deserves and appear to have a tenuous grasp of Irish sporting and political history.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to partake in this debate. I welcome my constituency colleague and friend, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the House for this debate. I also thank the Minister for attending earlier and for his involvement in this debate since taking office.
I will not deny that I was a critic of this project from its inception. My criticism of it stemmed from the fact that, on a very early learning curve, I found out that Croke Park was the fourth biggest stadium between Ireland and the Balkans and that no city in Europe, despite having big sporting soccer teams, had two stadiums that catered for 80,000 people. For that reason, I did not think Ireland could accommodate two such stadia. My doubts were realised when I met the managers of Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited in the early days because I was not able to get answers to simple questions about infrastructure, costs and timing. I do not know whether the current management would have been able to manage a project of this magnitude. I made my view known to my party from the early days and I am delighted we have reached a position where Lansdowne Road will be redeveloped, as this is a realistic project with a realistic budget. Figures can often be dangerous and they have been the downfall of CSID. I am delighted the Government is providing €190 million in funding for the project and I hope that will be capped . The history of State involvement in large projects is they have not been delivered within budget. It must be ensured the money is handed over during the phase-in period and the sporting organisations allowed to get on with it.
The Fine Gael spokesperson sought information on the costs of the project and I am surprised he had to ask the Minister of State for it. I refer to the amount that has been spent on Abbotstown. The original estimate was £280 million or €356 million, which broke down as follows; stadium, €182.84 million; fit out, €2 million; site infrastructure, €10.16 million; design, €40.63 million; professional fees, €21.59 million; local infrastructure, €16.51 million; and campus excellence, €64.76 million. The estimate did not include the National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown, which was expected to cost between €19 million and €25 million at the time. However, it cost €61.4 million together with executive service fees of €4.9 million making the total cost €66.3 million. That was a small project relative to the stadium proposal, yet the projects costs were overshot.
The relocation of the Department of Agriculture and Food cost €120 million and the cost of moving the State laboratories to Backweston, Celbridge, County Kildare, cost €79.3 million, a total of €199.3 million. The relocation of sections of the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources was estimated to cost between €40 million and €50 million but the figure has not been confirmed. An alternative farm was purchased for the Department of Agriculture and Food at Longstown, Sallins, County Kildare, for €7 million. The GAA was promised €76 million, of which it initially received €19 million and a further €19 million to host the Special Olympics. A balance is still owing of €38 million.
When the Abbotstown project was mooted five years ago, a contract issued for the development of facilities costing €3.8 million. The contract was abandoned and the developer received €782,000 in compensation for doing nothing. That is a large amount and I am delighted a campus will be built on this 514 acre site, on which sporting bodies will be located.
The Minister of State is a constituency colleague and both he and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism will be aware that Blanchardstown is one of the fastest growing areas in the State but does not have a regional park. There is a need for many facilities such as GAA and soccer pitches. The development of Abbotstown should address the deficit in sporting infrastructure in Blanchardstown over the past few decades of fantastic development because this will be the final opportunity to do so on this State land. If clubs that set up in the area must rent land from private developers, they will never own the facilities to which they are entitled. The population of Blanchardstown is expected to increase to 130,000. It has a young population given that only 3,300 people lived in the town in 1961. My party and I will strive to ensure the development of Abbotstown will include a regional park. That is not too much to seek in terms of the development of the community because there is a deficit in terms of sporting facilities in the area.
I am delighted the two large sporting organisations — the FAI and the IRFU — have set up a management structure for the development of Lansdowne Road. That was a momentous decision. One organisation will own the land but, at the end of the day, both will lease the venue for whatever activity and will generate advertising and ticket revenue and so on. They have shown what can happen when people sit down at the table to talk.
Ireland is not short of stadia as there is one in every major city. However, the utilisation of the stadia must be addressed. The far-reaching significance of the management agreement between the FAI and the IRFU is they have given the lead to other sporting organisations, which can retain their autonomy but can make better use of their facilities on behalf of the people. I call on the GAA to consider the same model as the FAI and the IRFU. That is not asking too much and I expect the GAA will come on side and share its facilities. At the end of the day, that decision will come down to commercial considerations.
When I began this campaign five years ago, I did not think that I would be in the Seanad or that Deputy Brian Lenihan would be sitting in the Minister's chair but that is how life turns out. Lansdowne Road will be redeveloped and it might also accommodate gaelic games. I hope Brendan Cummins, the Tipperary goalkeeper, will have retired by then because, given the length of his puck out, he might land the ball in the Havelock Square end. I wish this project the best but I hope the proper development of the 514 acre site at Abbotstown will take into account local needs in terms of sporting facilities.
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; Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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It always did.
When I think of Ceaucescu, I do not also think of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell.
Many years ago someone picked up on a comment the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey made in a narrow political context when asked about a particular policy initiative. The comment may have been relevant to the refurbishment of the new splendid Government Buildings which, at that time, had aroused some controversy. Mr. Haughey said that history would not judge him on how much he had reduced the rate of inflation but rather on other issues and other visionary things.
This debate is about a vision. The man who had that vision has been pilloried by many newspapers throughout the country in references to the "Bertie Bowl", etc. The articles in these newspapers diluted and removed the dignity from a debate which should have been engaged in at a more serious level on what we need in terms of sporting facilities and in respect of the image of this country abroad. Anyone who travels will know that even in the most deprived former communist countries one will find that one of the major priorities of its defunct regime was the provision of sporting facilities. Communist regimes often followed the old Roman attitude of giving people bread and circuses in order to keep them quiet in this regard.
I was in favour of Abbotstown as a development from the outset. I did not necessarily agree with the arguments that were constantly brought forward about lack of resources. We had growth rates of 13% to 14% and we were generating enormous wealth. The figure of €1 billion was bandied about in initial arguments about Abbotstown. I am sure Senator Morrissey will agree that, regardless of his initial objections about the proposal for the stadium at Abbotstown, €1 billion was not a realistic figure. However, it was a nice round figure which the Opposition picked up and was able to throw around like snuff at a wake. We have since moved on.
While I fully agree with what has been proposed, I feel that, in a sense, it is a climbdown. Lansdowne Road is going to be a state-of-the-art 50,000-seater stadium but I do not believe it is going to take account of the significant expansion in the population of this city and the greater Dublin area in the next 20 to 30 years. There are three friendly soccer matches taking place at Lansdowne road in the near future, all of which have been sold out. People cannot get tickets for the Ireland versus Brazil game. There will be 50,000 people in Lansdowne Road for the match because bucket seats will not have to be used owing to the fact that it is not a competitive fixture and, therefore, people can stand on the terraces. That is the position in 2004 for a friendly match and we are talking about accommodating some of the larger games there in the future. On a recent Friday night, 24,000 people attended a Heineken Cup rugby match at Lansdowne Road. Even though I applaud the decision about Lansdowne Road — it was much delayed and should have been taken long ago — I am not sure the ground will be able to accommodate the needs of the sporting public.
There is a responsibility on all Governments, irrespective of their complexion, to provide sporting facilities and a particular Minister is always charged with that mandate. No matter how often one proposes on a logical and rational basis that a certain amount of expenditure should be set aside in the national budget for the provision of sporting facilities, there will always be a person who will tell one about the granny on the trolley outside the general hospital in their part of the country because it is an emotive and simple argument to use in reply. One will be asked why the Government is throwing away millions of euro on sporting facilities when the money could be used to build more and better hospitals, schools and roads. That argument will always be used because it is the nature of democracy. There are competing interests in any country and these ensure that what those in Government aspire to — they may not necessarily achieve it — is equity and fairness across the board so that all levels of society can feel they are engaged.
Why should sport always be singled out as the one area in which public money should not be spent? I reject that argument totally because the rationale behind it states that if money is not spent on sporting and recreational facilities, it will not matter. Of course it matters; it is about the health of a nation. It is rather appropriate that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who has responsibility for children is present. He would probably be the first to say that in order to ensure the future well-being of the children of this nation we must encourage them to get out of doors to take part in healthy exercise and not have them indoors sitting at their computers or games consoles.
It is important to make that point and I do not apologise for doing so. I accept that I have a particular agenda, particular in light of the fact that I have worked as a sports journalist for over 20 years, that I played the game and that I am committed to the whole concept. That is why I applaud the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, and the Government but I have also been critical of the fact that the decision has not been made until now.
Having said that, I welcome the proposals contained in the initiative announced earlier in the week by the Minister about the development of Campus Ireland. What will be put in place there has already been outlined. However, I want to make an intervention on behalf of the national Community Games movement. The latter has for several years been seeking a permanent campus to allow it to hold its wonderful games on a yearly basis. Campus Ireland will help the movement realise that dream because it is proposed that state-of-the-art facilities across the various disciplines will be provided there. The argument about Santry versus Abbotstown is specious. Santry should continue to be developed and funded and I believe the Minister wants to do that. However, what is to stop us having a multifunctional and multi-purpose indoor arena at which basketball, volleyball, etc., could be played and which would include a running track? In my view a medium sized football stadium, which a capacity of 10,000 to 15,000 seats, should be constructed at Abbotstown in order to accommodate some of the Dublin clubs which may wish to move there. I fully support the idea that facilities should be provided on the campus to allow all of the national sporting organisations have their headquarters there. The Community Games should be given full support and I am sure Members on all sides agree with me in that regard.
There has been a great deal of discussion about opening Croke Park to other sports. As a strong advocate of the GAA I say God bless that organisation for having done what it did in the face of all the begrudgery about, attacks on and criticism of its culture and that for which it stands. The GAA has provided state-of-the-art facilities across the country without receiving any thanks or making any apologies to anyone. Croke Park is a world class stadium and the GAA should be allowed to decide what to do with it in its own way. I do not believe the IRFU or the FAI have made any formal or informal approaches to the GAA to seek the opening of Croke Park. That has been a media creation and invention because it makes good copy. Let the GAA decide what it wants to do. I have no doubt that in the fullness of time the organisation will make whatever decision is in the best interests of its code.
People must remember that the GAA is competing with other codes. There has already been an encroachment in various schools where Gaelic games were traditionally played and where rugby and soccer are now making inroads. The number of youngsters who play sports is finite. I do not, therefore, blame the GAA for protecting its interests in that regard. However, it must be allowed to make its own decision.
There has been a great deal of discussion about an Irish soccer or rugby team playing at Croke Park.
I look forward to the day when we have an all-Ireland soccer team playing at Lansdowne Road. I hope the Government, through the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs who has just entered the Chamber and who may be able to make headway in this area with the help of our European partners, will make efforts to see that this comes about. There should not be a division in soccer. There is no division in any other national sport on this island. If there was a unity of purpose, it would go a long way to improving the tolerance and reconciliation that is needed on this island to bind the wounds of the past.
Senator Mooney made the interesting point that there is only a finite number of young people involved in sport. That is a good point on which to begin a debate. In terms of the public good, public health and so forth, the first priority of a national sports policy ought to be to maximise participation, rather than to maximise achievement.
It was taken for granted when I was of football-playing age that virtually everybody played some sport, mainly because people did not have the money to do anything else. Recently I was told that only 18% of people in the 18 to 25 year age group were involved in an active sport. That percentage is extremely small. This is a huge issue and the first platform of public policy should be to maximise participation. Achievement will result from maximising participation. Obviously, if one puts in place an infrastructure which encourages participation, it will also encourage achievement.
The only criticism I have of establishing the national stadium in Lansdowne Road, and it is a criticism I have voiced on a number of occasions, is that this country seems to have constructed a process of public policy decision making which takes about five times longer than in other European countries. People talk about fast track planning and EIS procedures for infrastructural proposals but the process of decision making that resulted in the recent decision about Lansdowne Road was every bit as slow as the much criticised process of decision making on infrastructure. There appears to be a reluctance either in the public service or in Government, and I am not particularly referring to the present Government, on which my views have been well recorded.
I have said nicer things about this Minister of State than about most other Ministers because of his considerable work on the European brief. The Minister should not spoil his good record.
I agree with Senator Mooney about false dichotomies. Some Members of the Opposition are too quick to make them by asking why all this money should be spent on a stadium when there is this or that other need. I believe, and the figures for January show, that the country is not as impoverished as the Minister for Finance would like us to believe. This country could absorb a significant increase in Government revenue through a variety of taxes. The capital gains tax rate of 20% is far too low. This tax could be used both as a revenue earner and an instrument of public policy to encourage certain forms of development and discourage others.
This country is nowhere near a position where it needs to make choices between apparently conflicting things. If one had to choose between a hospital and a stadium, nobody with a spark of humanity would do other than choose a hospital. However, these are false choices for which I blame the present Government. The fundamental fault of the past seven years of this Government has been the determination to pursue the private good at the expense of the public good. The fundamental difference between social democracy throughout Europe and the parties of the right is the belief in the public good and the need to use the resources of the state to advance the public good, be that in transport, education or leisure infrastructure.
Leisure is as important a part of life as work. This country has a hopelessly under-developed leisure infrastructure. Swimming pools are fast becoming the preserve of the comparatively affluent. They are becoming a privately provided amenity for which people are not charged by the hour but by the year. Anybody who cannot assemble the best part of €1,000 in a single payment has no access to these rapidly expanding and high quality facilities. Even as the number of private swimming pools in my home city is expanding, the public swimming pools are in danger of collapse. That is the choice we make between public and private good, whereby we leave people to deliver privately amenities such as good quality recreation.
The decision to invest in Lansdowne Road is a step in the direction of the public good. However, the public is entitled to look carefully at the provision of a stadium that will be used overwhelmingly by two professional sports in which a considerable part of the revenue raised will be used simply to pay players. That is the fundamental distinction between those two sports and the GAA. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the GAA. It is possible to be such a supporter and to have many reservations about some of the aberrant utterances of individuals in the GAA when they stray outside their sporting brief to pronounce on the nation, the future of the nation and so forth. Once they move into that territory, they are involving themselves in politics and are fair game. However, as an organisation delivering services to the people of this country, the GAA is unsurpassed.
This organisation teaches young people how to organise events. I remember participating, as a 16 year old, in the annual general meeting of the Athy gaelic football club and learning the rules of debate, organising one's contribution, getting motions passed and so forth. It has contributed enormously to teaching people the rudiments of administration. People learn it in the GAA from the people who were there previously. This experience moves on into the provision of facilities. There are extraordinary numbers involved.
There is also the expansion into other sports. I wish the GAA would use the term "women's gaelic football" rather than "ladies' gaelic football". Most of the women I know hate being called "ladies" except under certain circumstances. I do not know why the GAA does not call the game "women's gaelic football". There has been huge expansion into that area. There has also been an extraordinary revival of camogie, which 20 years ago liberal Ireland would have regarded as a leftover from the past. Now, it has become important. The GAA is an extraordinary organisation which has reinvented itself extremely well. It deserves support from the State and that support should not depend on whether it is prepared to allow Croke Park to be used for other sports.
Croke Park was an extraordinarily brave and farsighted undertaking. If the GAA had not undertaken the Croke Park project, neither of the other two organisations would have had the vision or imagination to think about something similar. Their view of what was achievable would have been far more modest without the example set by the biggest sporting organisation in the country. If the GAA had to pay its players any wages, no money would be available for such stadia.
One of the popular mythologies is that the GAA is loaded with money. The truth, however, is that there is no more transparent organisation in the country in terms of where money goes. It has always been so. If the GAA has a boom year with plenty of replays and so forth, every cent trickles back into every club in the country over the following 12 months. There is a false dichotomy, therefore, between Croke Park and Lansdowne Road.
I believe the GAA could take a hard headed commercial decision to let Croke Park be used by other sports when it suits the GAA. However, it is a matter for the GAA and is not related to any other issue. The organisation is entitled to take a view about competing sports. It is running a small sport in a tough competitive market and is in competition with sports, particularly soccer, that have saturation television coverage. To date, it has done a remarkable job to protect and preserve its identity.
The association's willingness to collaborate with TG4, which is not just about money but about a certain affection in the GAA for matters to do with the language and which allowed TG4, in turn, to let people have television access to matches that would otherwise not be broadcast, was an imaginative decision that was good for the GAA and TG4.
The next stage after Lansdowne Road must be a well focused public commitment to the development of good quality sporting facilities throughout the country. Clubs in small towns and parishes throughout rural and urban Ireland should not have to spend endless hours working to raise €10,000 or €15,000 for better dressing rooms. We have moved beyond that point. We should recognise the community contribution of organisations such as the GAA and, through the national lottery or taxation, match local fundraising 50:50 or even 75:25. Sporting facilities are for everybody. The facilities a GAA club or a good rugby or soccer club provides in any town are not just about sport; they are places with which the community can identify and where it can meet and grow. Therefore, they are an investment in all of us.
I bow to the superior knowledge of my male colleagues. I am wearing my heart on my sleeve today. Some Senators will remember me standing in the same spot a number of months ago when I defended Connacht rugby. Last week's news was music to my ears. I am delighted with the Government's decision to develop Lansdowne Road. The Minister was right when he said this morning that sport is the real winner in this decision, which outlines the Government's commitment to sport.
I was a little saddened to hear Senator Phelan complain that this announcement is five years too late. News like this is never too late and five years is a very short time. It may not be so short when one is in opposition and trying desperately to get back into Government. I can understand the begrudgery that comes from feeling like that. I also note that Senator Phelan claims this was the Opposition's plan. So be it. Let it be their plan, but we have taken the ball and are running with it. We are providing the State with a much-needed second stadium and I am proud of the Government for doing so.
The year 1872 saw the opening of Lansdowne Road, making it one of the oldest rugby stadiums in the world. In 1982 soccer found a home there when the Irish soccer team played in the stadium. We all have wonderful memories of matches played there and names which come to mind include Jackie Kyle, Mike Gibson, Mick Galway, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Liam Brady, Paul McGrath, Roy Keane and, of late, the great Brian O'Driscoll. Many others have left memories of triumph and disappointment in all of our minds.
Like that of Croke Park, the location of Lansdowne Road is central. This gives the State a great advantage. Revenue is created by local hotels, pubs and bed and breakfasts at the time of fixtures, whether in Croke Park or Lansdowne Road. As the mother of two young rugby players who came up through schools rugby, I know the excitement of St. Patrick's Day when parents sit in Lansdowne Road and watch the schools' final. There is nothing to beat that type of excitement. I am delighted that Lansdowne Road is to be developed.
I hate to think what might happen if Lansdowne was not redeveloped. Would we see an office block, housing or some other type of development and the removal of yet another green area from the city centre? The decision to develop Lansdowne Road for the IRFU and FAI is the right one. When Irish fans go abroad we love to find that the stadium is located centrally. We can presume that fans coming to Ireland feel the same. They should be accommodated at a centrally located stadium.
The best tourism revenue is generated biennially when the English rugby team visits Ireland. Everyone from Ireland comes to Dublin because we are all trying to beat the English. It is quite a while since we did it but what a wonderful occasion it is when we do. Nowhere is better than Lansdowne road to do that.
I disagree with my colleague, Senator Mooney, although I bow to his superior judgment. Blackrock College, which traditionally has been one of the leading rugby schools, is now playing Gaelic football.
I bow to two superior judgments and I thank Senator Phelan. Usually I try to speak across him when he interrupts, but I knew something good was coming and I was prepared to listen. Not alone is Blackrock College playing Gaelic football, but the school has a history of playing hurling. My son played on the school's soccer team in 2000.
I agree with many of Senator Ryan's sentiments. He spoke of the argument often made regarding whether we should have a sports stadium or a hospital. We should have both. Every good health programme promotes the playing of sports. We would have less crime and fewer dysfunctional juveniles if we had better sporting facilities. We would have more healthy young and middle-aged people, like our good selves, if we participated in sports instead of watching them on television. I agree with him when he said it gets under his skin to hear of ladies' football teams. I would much prefer, like him, to hear them called women's football teams. The word "ladies" conjures up something going back to Victorian times, although I love to be called a lady and I hope I usually act like one. It is better if women are referred to as women. Yesterday we debated equality. I cringe when equality matters are being spoken about and women are referred to as ladies. The proper word, "women", should be used across the board.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome this debate. We have arrived at the two stadium solution to this problem. Anyone could have told the Government five years ago that the solution was the total refurbishment of Lansdowne Road and the completion of Croke Park into the terrific stadium it is today.
That was the solution. We have lost a lot of time and spent a lot of money. We have lost the focus on the debate, which should be about sports participation and getting children to participate in sports in order to deal with the growing problem of obesity.
We have a new Standing Order regarding decorum in the House and I ask Members to observe it. People need to concentrate on the person speaking.
We have all agreed this at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I put my name to it and I will observe it.
I repeat my point for the Minister of State, whom I know is listening, that we have lost five years during this debate, largely due to the incompetence of the Taoiseach in this matter. I blame the Taoiseach rather than the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue. The Taoiseach has been shuffling about over the past five years trying to find a vision which he patently does not have. His vision was of a stadium in Abbotstown, brilliantly described as "Ceaucescu-like" by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. We have lost five years and spent a great deal of money while the Taoiseach's incompetence on this issue has been exposed. I have no doubt that most Members on the other side of this House believe that too. The national stadium issue has been a joke from start to finish. I am glad the Government has finally proposed the sensible solution of refurbishing the Lansdowne Road stadium as a modern international stadium for the future, while ensuring we retain the excellent facility on Dublin's north side, namely Croke Park.
When I was a member of South Dublin County Council a very controversial decision was taken, with the unanimous support of council members, to support Eircom Park in my former constituency of Dublin South-West. That decision was taken on a cross-party basis with the brilliant foresight of Mr. Bernard O'Byrne. The proposal had planning permission, with funding in place. It was close to the M50 and ready to go. What happened? All the little moles in the FAI who had been listening to the Taoiseach's office did the dirty on Mr. Bernard O'Byrne, creating trumped-up charges against him which have yet to be proven, with the result that the Eircom Park stadium was put on the back burner, and more time was lost.
Despite the revisionism of Members on the other side of the House, we should not lose sight of what happened. Mr. O'Byrne was dumped by the FAI. The first genuine attempt to find a home for Irish soccer was dumped because it did not fit in with the plans of Fianna Fáil at the time. All kinds of promises were made to the GAA. Promises were made by the Taoiseach to some lackeys in the FAI that if they dumped the notion of Eircom Park and came on board with him for the proposed Abbotstown stadium, the world would be their oyster. Those people in the FAI have been shown to be utterly incompetent in the organisation of their own association over these five years. They were duped by the Taoiseach and lost one of the best FAI executives ever, Mr. Bernard O'Byrne, who has since gone on to better things. We had the opportunity to produce another stadium of 50,000 or more seats in the west of the city, which needed it at the time, at virtually no cost to the Exchequer. Five years later, the costs have escalated and we are in this dilemma.
I commend the GAA, particularly for its plans to redevelop Croke Park. The GAA has shown great foresight and tenacity in bringing to fruition its brilliant stadium. The soccer organisations have been found wanting in urban Dublin when it comes to providing top class club facilities. In my own constituency this week, St. Jude's GAA club in Templeogue became the countrywide club of the year as a result of the kind of hard work and effort put in by urban GAA clubs responding to a need in housing estates over the past 25 years. The FAI was embroiled in typical disputes and petty arguments while the GAA was building up clubs in working class west Dublin. That is why we have effectively professional clubs such as St. Jude's, St. Enda's in Ballyboden, the Thomas Davis club, St. Anne's, St. Mark's and others. They show the tremendous tenacity of the GAA, which deserves credit for that work.
I have changed my views on the GAA since I became involved in elective politics, and I now believe it makes economic sense for the GAA to open up its stadium for other sporting codes. Croke Park will normally be filled on only four or five occasions annually. While we are re-developing Lansdowne Road, it is only sensible that there should be opportunities for rugby and soccer matches in Croke Park, a stadium seating more than 80,000 people. The vast majority of GAA members to whom I speak would agree. It is not for me or anyone else or the Government to tell the GAA what to do, but it should do what is in its own interests. It makes perfect economic sense, and there are also social arguments to be put for many sporting codes to be allowed use this fine facility, with the GAA gaining the resulting financial benefit. I agree with the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, that the new stadium at Lansdowne Road should also be available for GAA matches, because there will be many occasions where that stadium, with its 50,000 capacity, will meet the demand. The GAA should use the opportunity to rent out its fantastic stadium to other sporting codes, particularly at times of the year when its 80,000 capacity would be useful, on occasions when the Lansdowne Road stadium capacity of 50,000 is not sufficient.
I have been very hard on the Government, in particular the Taoiseach, because over the past five years we have lost the opportunity to debate many of the real issues in sports, while exclusively focusing on the issue of the national stadium, the "Bertie bowl" or Ceaucescu-like building, call it what one will. There was a very important graph in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times which showed that the number of children cycling to school has fallen dramatically in recent years, as more people drive their children to and from school, particularly in urban communities. The problem of obesity and the volunteer problem in many organisations, with the same people doing all the work, now present the opportunity to invest in sport.
Thanks to Government support in my own constituency in Jobstown, an excellent all-weather pitch has been installed. The problems involve a lack of full time security and of full-time personnel to organise children's leagues. Unfortunately, local authorities do not match with personnel the excellent facilities being put in place all over the country. We must now invest in full-time community people and support full-time community organisation of leagues, particularly in urban Ireland. Regarding the Jobstown development, within two months there were joyriders all over the place. It was in bits, and the security problem was not resolved. Thankfully, the situation has now been turned around. If we are to invest in infrastructure we must also invest in personnel, and the best way of doing that is through local government.
The national lottery issue has been debased by politicians of all parties and Governments. Each council should be given a percentage of the money available and must make the hard decisions on what clubs in the community will get the money. This is an argument for greater devolution and in ensuring that more financial accountability is available locally. The current gravy train, with decisions taken purely at the behest of backbench Deputies, in whatever party in Government, is wrong and is bad for sport.
I welcome the Minister of State, and the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism before him, to the House. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is to be congratulated on bringing this long-running saga to a satisfactory conclusion. I would also like to pay tribute to the pragmatism of the Taoiseach in respect of this issue. Even though he would have personally favoured another option, he accepted that, in its original proposed form, it was not feasible.
The Government and its predecessor have done a tremendous amount for sport. Spending has increased from approximately €17 million in 1997 to €109 million in 2004, which has been of tremendous benefit to different sports clubs throughout the country. It is not the case that decisions are made at the behest of backbenchers. Extremely detailed application forms have to be filled in by clubs and projects have to stand up to scrutiny. All of us on this side of the House know of many instances of projects which perhaps we might have supported but were not successful.
I have come across this in the private sector. There is always a danger that when we engage on an ambitious project, we start filling it up with all sorts of other desirable things and the project then grows out of proportion and ceases to be feasible.
That may have happened in this case, but it is right to take one's time and debate these decisions. We are talking about decisions the effect of which will last for 50 or 100 years and it is important to get it right. If there is an element of trial and error involved no one should make any apology for it. That also happened in respect of Luas. It is easy to criticise and say something is a mess if we do not get it absolutely right from day one. I do not agree with that.
These matters should be thought through properly and the right decision reached, even if it takes a little time to do it. I would not apologise for it.
In the case of facilities in Dublin, and I am not only talking about sports, there is a live debate as to whether they should be located on the periphery, accessible to the ring road or in the city centre. There is something to be said on both sides of the argument. As we all know, it can take a long time to penetrate the city centre from the periphery.
I am glad the decision has come down on the side of Lansdowne Road which has public transport facilities in place. It also has a long tradition. We also need to think of the visitors who come here. We are talking in many cases about internationals and many supporters would come by air, sea or whatever. A stadium close to the city centre is more attractive to visiting supporters of whatever team we are playing against.
All of us are very proud of the magnificent facility at Croke Park. I have long been of the view that the more commentators, politicians and others try to cajole the GAA, the less effective it is likely to be. It will have to make its own decisions in its own time and according to its own internal lights. I have little doubt, however, that with two facilities, one for 50,000 and another for 80,000, there will come a point where it will make sense to share or swop facilities for certain purposes. I have no doubt the flexibility will come in due course, but I am not sure that us preaching about it will hasten the day.
I am glad we can now look forward in the reasonably near future to a second excellent stadium in this city for international matches and for national teams that, by and large, whether one is talking about soccer or rugby, have done pretty well in recent times. The Connacht rugby team, which was in danger of exclusion, was mentioned a number of times last year on the Order of Business, but it has covered itself with glory in the recent past, and the Munster team even more so. I will conclude by wishing them the greatest success in further rounds.
The Minister of State is welcome to the House to listen to the debate on the national stadium. While one would have to welcome the fact that at last a decision has been made, and that it is the right one, we have to point out that it has taken five years of wasted time to make it. I heard one of the Senators on the opposite side say that five years to make a decision is not that bad. It is a disgrace that it took the Government five years to make its final decision on providing a national stadium.
When we look back at the history of this saga I have to start with the proposal for a stadium in Eircom Park. That was a lost opportunity, with time and money wasted. Eircom Park should be up and running now and the FAI would have revenue coming into its purse which could be spent on local clubs throughout the country. Local clubs are playing on shared pitches — in many cases there are not sufficient pitches — with no changing rooms. Our local sports clubs, be they soccer or Gaelic, are in a dreadful state. Eircom Park was where this Government made its biggest mistake. We had a Taoiseach who stopped Eircom Park going ahead.
That is the most disgraceful aspect of the whole issue of a national stadium. Five years later we now have a proposal, which I hope will go ahead, but in the meantime our soccer and rugby teams will have to play their matches abroad. Irish supporters will have to leave this country and spend their money in the United Kingdom and elsewhere and we will miss out on the revenue which could be generated by supporters coming to this country and spending their money here.
While the FAI speaks sweetly of the new proposal, in the long term I wonder how satisfactory it will be for the FAI. Who will own the Lansdowne Road stadium in the long term? It currently belongs to the IRFU, but the FAI will want a share if it is to invest money in it. That will cause problems. The planning process, which can be protracted, may also cause problems. Thankfully, the residents appear to speak well of it. We hope this will be up and running by 2008 and that matches will be played on it. In the meantime, our teams will play abroad. That could have been avoided if a decision had been taken and support given to the FAI, instead of obstacles having been put in its way to prevent Eircom Park being built.
I welcome the Minister's proposal to develop Abbotstown as a sports campus as it will be a great benefit to all sports. As it is located in my area, it will be a welcome facility and local sports clubs will be able to avail of it. When will all the facilities be put in place? I note that work is to be done on a phased basis and that funding will be provided on an annual basis. I welcome this and hope it will be developed as quickly as possible.
It has taken five years to make this decision on a development that will take four years to build. Shame on the Government that it has taken such a long time. That money has been wasted in the process is a disgrace. Money spent on fees for consultants at Abbotstown could have been spent on developing badly needed local sports facilities. On a daily basis, sports clubs are looking for pitches and changing facilities. Young girls trying to get involved in athletics and sports have to change in the ditches. How will this encourage young people to get involved in sport? How can we develop our young sports people into athletes who can compete on an international level when we will not give them the necessary facilities? Instead, we waste millions of euros on consultants' fees while we dither and are unable to make a decision.
I welcome the decision that has been taken. It is the right decision and one we have said for a long time should have been made. I wish it and the Minister of State well and hope the project will run smoothly and get started as quickly as possible.
Please stop me when I get into full flight. I welcome the Minister of State. A great decision has been taken although it took some time. It was important that all sides were consulted. A decision reached by consensus is an important one.
We all recognise there were tensions on all sides, from a political perspective and certainly within the sporting codes. There is now a resolution and we can move forward to the next business. I hate to hear the decrying which is taking place about the time lapse and where people will have to play. The decision has been made. Let us move on in a spirit of unity and in the knowledge that while a world class stadium is in place at Croke Park, there will be a fantastic facility at Lansdowne Road. Even more important there will be a sports campus in the west of the city that will allow many sports organisations throughout the country, which do not have sufficient resources to build their own headquarters, an opportunity to get involved and to develop facilities there. I hope the vision set out by the Government of having a stadium at Abbotstown is not lost. I hope that in ten or 15 years time that will come to fruition. It is important for the young people watching us here today that their future and the part sport plays therein is recognised. They should have something on which to focus rather than encountering the vagaries of society through drugs and other activities.
Listening to the debate, it is clear everybody is pleased with the decision. Decisions were made previously in respect of Abbotstown and elsewhere for which there was general welcome but things started to unravel. I sincerely hope the support shown for the Lansdowne Road proposal will hold and that people will not try to find objectors to work against us into the future.
The original decision on Abbotstown was visionary. If it had only been built, people would have seen it was the right decision. It is regrettable that other people could not share the vision of those who proposed it. In politics we often talk about the need for visionary ideas, of which this was one.
Ireland and Dublin are unique compared to other European countries which have populations several times greater than that in Ireland. In Ireland there can be 60,000 or 70,000 in attendance at Gaelic, soccer and rugby matches. I am not sure if Germany or France have three sports at which there would be a similar level of attendance. At domestic and international level, there is a huge interest in sport, not to mention the potential from sport tourism on which we have not touched. I am glad to hear of the welcome now.
A clear decision has been made on the matter. I totally reject the suggestions made about Eircom Park and other places. The Government came forward with a proposal five years ago, for which there was huge welcome. Since 1997, we have had for the first time a Minister with responsibility for sport. I agree about the lack of facilities at local level. Until 1997, sport was dealt with by a minor section of the Department of Education and Science. Since 1997, under this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government we have had a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for sport. There has been enormous investment in sport at all levels, local, national and international. The Senator's constituency, as well as mine, has done well in the past six years out of the sports grants. Enormous investment has been put in at all levels including our elite athletes. I cannot quote the figures but they are impressive. I hope that investment continues into the future irrespective of who is in power. For too long we did not recognise the need. In the past, much lip service was paid to the need for facilities but generally much of the work was done voluntarily by clubs. I would have represented an area quite near to Croke Park. It is easy for people in other parts of the city to say Croke Park or Lansdowne Road should have sports seven days a week. It is not practical from the pitch point of view. People live adjacent to these facilities and it is important to realise they have a breaking point and the pitch has a breaking point, so to speak. I sincerely hope there will be no more delays with the proposal which has been welcomed for Lansdowne Road. Obviously it will have to go through the planning process. I hope the support evident today holds. That support was evident when Abbotstown was announced but it unravelled because many people came out of the woodwork with all kinds of agendas.
I hope that what seems to be agreement in the House on Lansdowne Road holds up, that we manage to get this through the planning process and begin redeveloping the stadium quickly, and that it is completed by the target date of 2008. I hope also that we learn from the experience of the past couple of years because on different matters — I do not want to wander into the port tunnel or anything like that——
——but we often talk about our lack of vision and our slowness in getting major infrastructure jobs completed. However, when decisions are made we should be behind them and get them carried out.
People at different levels of the political system did not share that vision. However, I am glad to hear there is such cross-party agreement in this House in regard to Lansdowne Road. I look forward to seeing the stadium completed on schedule in order that all our sports are well catered for.