Government rethink on GAA grants

 

GAA: Government grant of £60 million: Even the GAA may not escape unscathed from the Stadium Ireland debacle. Ian O'Riordan reports.

The GAA appear to be on a collision course with the Government over the funding committed to the redevelopment of Croke Park.

The collision arises from the €75 million (£60 million) grant allocated by the Government in April of last year and specifically earmarked for the completion of Croke Park.

The GAA are stating that the €75 million grant was never linked to the completion of the Stadium Ireland project.

However, the Government is stating that the grant was tied to Stadium Ireland and is to be re-examined in light of the decision not to provide Exchequer funding for the project.

The grant was originally announced somewhat sensationally on the eve of the GAA's annual congress in Dublin in April 2001.

The money was to be paid in three annual tranches of €19 million, plus another special payment of another €19 million to render the stadium ready and suitable for the Special Olympics in 2003, when the opening ceremony will be held at Croke Park.

According to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, the €19 million towards the Special Olympics has been paid out, as well as the first €19 million instalment.

The remainder of the grant, however, is to be examined following Tuesday's decision by the Government not to provide funding for Stadium Ireland.

"In light of the changed situation regarding Exchequer funds to Stadium Ireland, the Department is examining all undertakings associated with the project," said the Department's spokesman yesterday.

Yet, the department would not be pressed on whether this meant the GAA grants were under threat: "Speculation on the outcome of that examination is at this point nothing more than speculation," added the spokesman.

While confirming the one-off grant of €19 million for the preparations of the Special Olympics had been paid out, and also the first of the three €19 million instalments on July 1st of last year, the Department also confirmed that the remaining two instalments have not been paid out.

The GAA, however, are claiming they have a written commitment from the Government in relation to the grant and, more significantly, it was in no way linked to the completion of Stadium Ireland.

According to the association's press officer Danny Lynch, there is currently no reason to suggest the grant is under threat.

"We have a formal, written commitment from the Government in relation to the funding for Croke Park," he said. "And any deviation from that would be contrary to that commitment.

"And, of course, we would seriously hope that the Government would stand by their commitment.

"But this commitment has been quite clear, and in writing, and if required it can be brought into the public domain.

"Our only commitment to Stadium Ireland was that we put x amount of bodies through the turnstiles, a figure of around 200,000 every year.

"Any suggestion other than that would be a serious derogation from our formal and written agreement from Croke Park.

"What it also meant in effect was that we finish Croke Park in one phase, rather than a number of phases.

It meant combining the redevelopment of the Canal and Hogan Stands, and as a result the stadium was completed four years ahead of the original schedule.

That also meant spending substantially more up front than if we had gone ahead with the redevelopment on an incremental scale basis."

Nor, said Lynch, was the promised grant in any way linked to Croke Park ever being used for other sports.

With regard to amounts already paid out, it was confirmed that the remaining two instalments of €19 million each had yet to be paid out, and had fallen somewhat behind schedule.

"There are a lot of spin figures being put out there at the moment," added Lynch. "One grant may be behind schedule, but there is nothing abnormal or unusual about that."

In a previous statement on the matter last June, Sports Minister John O'Donoghue also referred to the proposed grant to the GAA as forming the basis for further detailed negotiations between the association and the Government in the context of the future use of the facilities to be provided at Campus Stadium Ireland.

"In view of the issues raised in the High Point Rendel Report on the Stadium and Sports Campus Ireland," said O'Donoghue at the time, "the detailed negotiations referred to have not yet taken place and so the question of related funding does not arise."

O'Donoghue also indicated that, as of last June, grants totalling €63.49 million have been provided by the Government solely for the redevelopment of Croke Park from 1997 to date.