Monday 26 September 2016

Eugene McGee: Cork plans for progress taken two steps back by EU red tape

Published 02/11/2015 | 02:30

A general view of Pairc Ui Chaoimh with diggers at work where the main stand once stood
A general view of Pairc Ui Chaoimh with diggers at work where the main stand once stood

We have a chequered history when it comes to major GAA ground developments. The present-day Croke Park is the shining example of how to do things right, from the financing of the massive operation to the design of the complex.

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Sadly, many other stadium upgrades have been torturous processes on various fronts, and the latest reports of a hiccup in the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh is an ominous reminder of the hazards involved.

Over the years, there has been a litany of GAA projects that ran into trouble, mostly financial - and the main reasons were that, with the best will in the world, GAA officials are not usually developers, architects, financiers, planners or builders.

They are good at running GAA clubs or county boards, but when they assume that such expertise will also apply to ground or stadium development they often get into trouble.

Overdue

The Pairc Ui Chaoimh development is long overdue, and the Cork GAA plans put forward and accepted by the planning authorities would certainly be fitting for a major city and Ireland's largest county.

Even when the first Pairc Ui Chaoimh was built in 1976, replacing the old Athletic Grounds, there was an immediate complaint because the dressing-rooms were far too small. That problem remained until the place was demolished earlier this year.

In those days any problems were caused - and sorted out - by GAA officials themselves, but times have changed, and nowadays several outside agencies have the authority to scrutinise and intervene in GAA developments.

This has already happened with two Irish government departments this year in relation to Cork GAA's plans. . . eventually the problems were sorted following discussions.

Now it is the turn of the European Union to stick their nose into Pairc Ui Chaoimh; they are reported to be querying the Irish government over the €30m grant recently approved for the development on the basis that it may be a breach of the State aid for projects that the EU always keep a close watch out for.

This debate will be between the Irish authorities and the EU but is critical for Cork GAA.

Regardless of the outcome of this EU intervention, there could be a substantial delay in the progress of the Cork GAA plans.

More serious of course would be if the EU actually put the boot into the Irish government and reduced that €30m state funding.

A fundamental rationale for the government allocating such a huge grant to Cork was the prospect of Ireland staging the Rugby World Cup in 2023 when the availability of a state of the art stadium in the city was seen as a necessity.

The GAA has already adjusted their rules to accommodate such events in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Belfast. But inquiries - whether from the EU, the government or local authorities - mean one thing above all: delays.

Any major delay will be serious for the Cork GAA on several grounds, with work on the project already in train. For example, the Munster SFC final, normally Cork v Kerry, is on a home-and-away basis between Killarney and Cork.

While the project is continuing, all such finals will have to be in Fitzgerald Stadium which is great news for Kerry.

A good example of how bureaucracy can seriously disrupt a major GAA development is Casement Park in Belfast, another potential Rugby World Cup venue.

Work on that gigantic £77m scheme, largely paid for by the UK government, has got bogged down in a series of disputes at various levels.

At a lower level, there have been many development plans in recent years that never saw the light of day because of bad commercial decisions or bad planning or construction regarding projects.

Tralee, Newbridge and Mullingar, for example, had planned to move their GAA grounds from the town centres to greenfield sites on the outskirts, but this never came about - nor is it likely to.

In other places, some centres of excellence, which were largely financed from the proceeds of soccer and rugby in Croke Park in recent years, have also got into financial trouble and were either not commenced or severely limited in their facilities.

Long before time Croke Park is now taking a stronger line over GAA developments that the GAA finance in whole or in part and tighter controls from headquarter should prevent future mistakes.

But this problem with Pairc Ui Chaoimh is not caused by anything Cork GAA are doing wrong, so we will have to leave it to the government officials to come to Cork's assistance and put manners on the EU!

A busy time ahead I reckon for European Parliament member and ex-GAA president Sean Kelly.

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