Wednesday, 4 June 2008
I thank the Minister for being in the House at this hour to take this Adjournment matter given that he is not the Minister responsible and has had a long day in the Chamber. We all realise the importance of the Abbey Theatre not only to the greater Dublin area but the country at large. It is our national theatre and the idea of developing a new theatre at another location in central Dublin has been mooted for a long time. The Ceann Comhairle, when he was Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, probably did something to advance the idea in 2002. His successor in that portfolio, Deputy Séamus Brennan, announced more than a year ago that the design phase would be completed by mid-2008. We have recently learned that the international design competition has been delayed. According to a recent newspaper report, the competition has not yet been initiated despite promises from the former Minister and perhaps others. What is the position regarding the design phase?
I understand the Office of Public Works appointed a group as theatre consultants and a site at George's Quay in the docklands was agreed. Recently, the possibility of using the old Carlton site on O'Connell Street has been discussed. I ask the Minister to provide further details in this regard.
I understand the project will be pursued under a public-private partnership. Will the OPW act as project manager and technical adviser? What is the role of the National Development Finance Agency? What role will be played by Jacob's Engineering Group, which I understand has been appointed? I look forward to obtaining all available information to bring us up to speed in the matter.
I am grateful to the Senator for raising the matter to enable me to outline the current position on the proposals for a new national theatre. In 2006 the Government decided to proceed with the redevelopment of the Abbey Theatre by way of a public private partnership project on a site at George's Dock on a build, finance and maintain basis. This site was chosen following an extensive exercise conducted by the Office of Public Works which involved the examination of a number of options and the project is being progressed on the basis solely of the George's Dock site.
Arising from the Government decision, an interagency steering committee was set up to oversee the project. The committee is chaired by my Department and comprises representatives of the National Development Finance Agency, Office of Public Works, Abbey Theatre and Dublin Docklands Development Authority. At its first meeting the steering group decided, inter alia, that the Office of Public Works should prepare the documentation necessary for holding an international design competition for the new Abbey Theatre. An international design competition was one of the conditions of the offer of the site by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.
A project team, chaired by the Office of Public Works and comprising representatives of the same agencies as the steering group, has also been established and is overseeing the arrangements for holding the international design competition and advancing the PPP process. The Office of Public Works has asked the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland to organise the competition. The competition regulations are currently nearing finalisation. The technical documentation for the competition must be very carefully specified, in particular the detailed accommodation brief for the new theatre. Work on this is nearing completion.
A jury for the international design competition was appointed late last year. The jury has representatives from the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, Office of Public Works, Dublin Docklands Development Authority, Arts Council and Abbey Theatre. It also features international figures in the architectural and theatre worlds. It is expected that the design competition will be completed before the end of 2008.
In the meantime, the Office of Public Works is working on drafting output specifications in collaboration with the Department, Abbey Theatre and National Development Finance Authority. Technical, legal, insurance and financial advisers have been appointed to guide and advise the interagency teams in the procurement of this epochal and crucial project. A theatre consultant and acoustic consultant have also been appointed. Furthermore, a process auditor is in place in accordance with Department of Finance guidelines.
The project is complex and there are myriad factors to address in making progress on it. It remains a priority for the Department and Government in the programme for Government and national development plan. The same teams progressed the National Concert Hall to competition initiation last week and resources will now turn to advancing the Abbey Theatre public-private partnership. When a winning design has been chosen, the National Development Finance Agency will oversee the PPP procurement process in accordance with PPP guidelines.
I am confident that when the international design competition is complete we will have a world class design for a new iconic landmark building for the city and the new quayside theatre will be a dynamic structure reflecting Dublin's growing reputation as a global capital of culture and creativity. I look forward to a new national theatre building that makes a bold and visionary statement about modern Ireland, while at the same time acknowledging the historic significance of the Abbey Theatre to Irish life over more than a century. It will be a cultural institution that will act as a magnet to draw all of our citizens and those visiting towards enjoying the inspiring drama and creativity our country has to offer.