IRFU, FAI working on stadium decision

 

The Irish Rugby Football Union and the Football Association of Ireland will not make a final choice on their preferred location for a new 65,000-seat national stadium until meetings today and tomorrow are finished.

A report by consulting engineers Ove Arup, which examined four locations for a stadium, including Lansdowne Road and Abbotstown, was still being worked on over the weekend, said the IRFU chief executive, Mr Philip Browne.

The final report will be given to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Mr O'Donoghue, during a meeting tomorrow afternoon, though Mr Browne refused to reveal its contents yesterday.

Reports in two Sunday newspapers carried very different claims about the report's contents, with one account favouring Lansdowne Road and the other Abbotstown.

The IRFU and the FAI jointly commissioned the Ove Arup report after they were asked by the Minister last year to produce a preferred choice and suggestions as to how it could be paid for. "We asked the consultants to give us the facts, warts and all, on the sites. There was to be no agenda. It will make clear comparisons between the sites," Mr Browne told The Irish Times last night.

However, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism clearly favours the selection of Abbotstown, since the Government has already claimed a stadium could be built there for €353 million.

This compares to an estimate by some Government sources, who spoke to The Irish Times yesterday, of "between €550 million and €600 million" for construction at the IRFU-owned stadium.

Construction at Lansdowne would be more expensive because there is just 14 acres available on the Ballsbridge site, which would mean that it would have to be built higher.

Last night, a spokesman for the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism said Mr O'Donoghue had long since made clear that he believed a second stadium is necessary if both soccer and rugby are to develop properly.

Opinion inside the Football Association of Ireland is divided, with some strongly favouring Abbotstown - the preferred choice of the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern.

A number of influential figures believe that a 65,000-seater stadium is too large for the FAI's needs, particularly since it had itself planned to build only a 45,000-seater venue in the cancelled Eircom Park project.

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste and Progressive Democrat leader, Ms Harney, has again voiced her opposition to Abbotstown stadium. Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, Ms Harney said "the reasons which were there for not proceeding at Abbotstown two months ago are still valid. For us it was always a questions of priorities in relation to the spending of public money."

She said she would not contemplate "millions and millions of taxpayers' money being spent on the Abbotstown project" at a time when there was a need for greater spending on areas such as disability.