Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 September 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna (Atógáil) - Commencement Matters (Resumed)

Sports Facilities

9:30 am

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, to discuss this matter in light of the importance of this project to Galway, the standard of facilities available and the impact it will have on the local economy. As he is aware, this is an important project not just for Connacht Rugby and its supporters but also for the local economy in Galway and regionally for the west. As he will be aware, the strategic benefits of the project to the entire region are closely aligned with the Government's national planning framework and Project Ireland 2040, as well as the national sports policy, all of which highlight the need for a regional spread of capital investment throughout the country.

A study carried out by KHSK Economic Consultants found that Connacht Rugby makes an annual contribution of €35 million to the regional economy. This total includes direct economic spend, the social value provided through volunteer activity and participation and an economic multiplier effect of all of this activity.

More than 130 people are employed in the Sportsground through Connacht Rugby. This total includes professional and academy players, together with non-playing staff, making it a significant employer in the local economy.One of the key conclusions in the report is that the delivery of a new, fit-for-purpose home for Connacht Rugby will lead to a further increase in economic activity, considering the strategic location of the Galway Sportsground and its proximity to the city, and also the entire region. The report describes how a modern, fit-for-purpose venue has the capacity to act as a beacon for regional development and a driver for economic growth for Galway city as a whole. Connacht Rugby has confirmed that the multi-use facility will also be made available for the hosting of other sporting events where the demand arises. The training and playing facilities will be available on a routine basis for the hosting of professional and amateur club rugby fixtures. This is happening as we speak and is only appropriate, as the Minister of State will be aware, because the facility is being supported by public funds, with a need to benefit the entire community. Connacht Rugby has stated that it is very much aware of this, which is welcome.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Crowe for raising what I know is a huge issue not just for Galway but for the west of Ireland. I know the Acting Chair has a great interest in rugby, and we all share that interest, particularly in these months. From that perspective, this is a very important project. It gets to the heart of the Government's approach of supporting balanced regional development, and is a great example of that approach.

The national sports policy was published in 2018 and provided for the establishment of a new large-scale sport infrastructure fund, LSSIF. The aim of the LSSIF is to provide support for larger sports facilities where the Exchequer investment is greater than the maximum amount available under the sports capital and equipment programme.

The first call for proposals under the LSSIF closed in 2019, with applications confined to local authorities and the national governing bodies of sport. I understand that all applications were assessed in accordance with the published evaluation procedures and guidelines and the first allocations were announced in January 2020. Thus far, approximately €86.4 million has been awarded to 33 different proposals. The first allocations were announced in January 2020, as I said, and included a grant of €10 million towards the redevelopment of Connacht Rugby’s Sportsground in Galway city. I have been informed that phase 1 was completed last December and included the construction of a new synthetic pitch, installation of LED floodlighting and associated groundworks. I understand the next phase of the project will see a high performance centre and the north stand developed. Detailed design development was undertaken last year to ensure clarity of design, inform the procurement documents and, in so doing, mitigate cost risks for this next phase. This is another important step in the delivery of what will be a superb facility for the west of Ireland.

The Government is acutely aware of the importance of the project regionally and the ongoing 2023 Rugby World Cup clearly shows the interest in rugby at a national level. Connacht Rugby will be rightly proud of playing its part in providing some of our Rugby World Cup stars who are performing so well in France. I know the finished stadium will provide access to appropriate facilities to enable existing professional players, as well as emerging talent, to fulfil their potential and go on to perform at the highest level. The region will also benefit from additional employment opportunities and economic spend created from the redevelopment.

The strategic benefits of the project to the entire region are also closely aligned with the Government’s national sports policy, which highlights the need for a regional spread of capital investment throughout the country. Over the past 20 years, Ireland’s stock of sports facilities at local, regional and national level has been substantially improved with the help of Government support under the various sports capital programmes. This investment is helping to ensure quality sporting experiences for all adults and children, as well as assisting lreland’s top sports stars to compete successfully at the highest levels.

I understand from the Department of sport - I am not going to give it its full title because I will trip over the acronym but we know sport is included with tourism and other areas in a very extensive Department - that there was recent engagement between that Department and the Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. In recognition of the challenges faced by some grantees, officials from the Department wrote to all LSSIF grantees, including Connacht Rugby, inviting them to apply for additional support by 4 August 2023. To be considered for additional funding, grantees were advised that the key elements of the project should remain as set out in the original LSSIF application and that priority would be given to applicants who provide evidence-based documentation to support their application. Connacht Rugby has made a submission as part of this process.

I understand from the Department that the assessment of all submissions is at an advanced stage and it is hoped to have details of additional grants announced shortly. In this regard, I assure the Senator that the importance of the project to Galway is fully recognised by all in government and the request for additional funding will get every consideration.

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his detailed response, which has given clarity on the timeframe involved. The support of the Department is essential for the completion of the project and I welcome the Minister of State's comments in that regard. As I outlined, it is essential not only for Connacht Rugby, its staff and supporters, but also for Galway. The Minister of State has brought clarity on the timeframe as regards 4 August 2023. That is welcome. I have no doubt the Government will be in a position to continue this funding for Connacht Rugby and bring the project to a conclusion.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator again for raising this matter. It gets to the heart of these large-scale sports infrastructure projects, of which 33 were allocated funding under the previous Government. Obviously, things changed dramatically after January 2020. The 33 projects in question all increased massively in cost because they were delayed due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, increases in costs for all building infrastructure projects meant that many projects changed. I know this from experience in Kildare where our county ground and the "Newbridge or Nowhere" campaign became one of the successful 33 projects that were supported nationally. However, the scale of the increase in costs meant that what was envisaged originally changed dramatically. That is why the Department and Government had to review the matter. We want these projects to be delivered and in some instances there will be a need for top-up funding and prioritisation. That is why those involved in the 33 projects were asked to make applications where that was the case.

Some of those projects have been completed. I know there is a new athletics track in Newcastle West. A number of different projects have been able to proceed and did not get caught up in this way. Connacht Rugby, where the project is a phased process, has been caught in that regard. The Government wants these projects to deliver. We see great value in supporting large-scale infrastructural projects given the huge benefits they will deliver across society and throughout the country. Hopefully, we will have a final decision on this matter very soon.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 10.17 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 10.30 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 10.17 a.m. and resumed at 10.30 a.m.