Coveney on fears Cork event centre will become a political football

By Joe Leogue
Irish Examiner Reporter

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said he understands the frustrations surrounding the long-running Cork Event Centre saga - but fears the delay will see the project become a ‘political football’ in the run up to the local elections.

The Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central also said he does not think that criticism of the transparency of the process has been fair.

“This is an ongoing issue, I can understand people's frustration, and believe me, I share it. I've been involved in this project for four years. The easy thing for me to have done years ago, when this got difficult, and obstacles were being put in the way, would be to simply leave it to somebody else,” Mr Coveney said.

“I haven't done that and the government hasn't done that, we are determined to make this happen. So are BAM, and so are Live Nation. There will be meetings in the coming days, as there are regularly on the Event Center, and what we're trying to do is establish how the State puts €30 million into this project in a way that's legally consistent with the original tendering process. And of course, BAM needs to finalise its planning issues with Cork City Council, both of those things now can happen in parallel in the coming weeks, and that's where the focus should be,” he said.

“My fear is that, because of the frustration linked to this project not moving ahead, it could be turned into a political football and the build up to local elections. I think that would make it even more difficult then to finalise all of these issues.”

“We're trying to do this properly. It involves a lot of money, it involves probably €40m of private money, and €30m of public money, as well as a lot of other public realm works to make this thing happen. There are lots of different moving parts here from the Attorney General's office to the Department of Arts and Heritage, the Department of Public Expenditure, to my office, which is playing a coordinating role, to Cork City Council to BAM and Live Nation, both of whom report to executive boards outside of the country.

“And so trying to coordinate all of that, in a way that's consistent with a tendering process that's four years old, has been a challenge. The legal advice Cork City Council has is slightly different to the legal advice that the AG's office has given, and we're trying to resolve those issues. And it's taking time, but I can totally understand why pubs and clubs and cafes and restaurants and hotels in the city are saying, 'look, enough is enough, we've got to move this thing forward'. I'm with them on that, but we've got to do it in a way that doesn't result in a legal challenge that results in even more delays,” he said.

Mr Coveney also responded to criticism from Cork East TD Seán Sherlock and others that the Event Centre process has lacked transparency. Earlier this week, Mr Sherlock told RTE’s Prime Time "the Tániste has taken political ownership of this issue on the ground, but when I’ve asked parliamentary questions of the Tániste I’ve been told that he has no political accountability to the Dáil for this issue”.

“I don't think that's fair,” Mr Coveney said. “Anyone who's looked for a detailed briefing from me gets it but ultimately, I can't simply say, just because I'm the Tánaiste that, we're going to give €30 million to this project and let's get on with it.

“You have to go through procedures and processes that are consistent, that stand up to scrutiny and that are transparent so that the end of this process, we can show, step by step, how this process developed, because it's changed, the goalposts have changed as we've moved, and we've had to respond as a State to those changing circumstances, which largely involves an increased cost.

“Once the actual details, internal and external design happened, there was a need for a new planning application, because effectively, we needed a much larger Event Centre, and therefore the cost increased with that.

“We've tried to respond to each of those events in a way that's appropriate. But I don't think there's any project of this complexity that is essentially openly discussed at every point in terms of the detailed legal assessments from week to week, and month to month, publicly because it involves multiple different parties.

“If Sean Sherlock wants to get a detailed outline of where we are, he just has to pick up the phone and talk to me, we're not trying to hide anything here. We're simply trying to get the project done. That's the only objective that I have, and done in a way that's consistent with tendering rules, and consistent with the appropriate standards and transparency around the spending of public money,” Mr Coveney said.

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