Monday 11 December 2017

Minister axed tourism centre after Budget cancelled funds

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe

Gordon Deegan

Tourism Minister Paschal Donohoe axed the planned €26m National Diaspora centre after being recently told that no capital funding had been earmarked for the scheme.

In February, Mr Donohoe said the Government would not be proceeding with the centre.

Now documents show he made the decision after finding out after the Budget that there was no State money for the centre.

The documents released under a Freedom of Information request reveal that eight companies were shortlisted for the centre with seven having no funding in place.

All stated that they had the financial capacity to deliver but would be relying on a mix of government funding, public and private sector borrowing, philanthropic, corporate donations and council funding. In March of 2014, the Cabinet approved the venture which the Government said would become a major tourism attraction.

The announcement came after a Failte Ireland report said such a centre would be viable and self-financing.

However, a civil service memo prepared for Mr Donohoe stated that it had been anticipated  there would be capital funding by the end of 2014.

The memo then added that “it is now clear post-Budget 2015 that there is no Government funding available in the foreseeable future’.

The memo warned that if the competition proceeded without State funding, there would be criticism for the Government’s failure to provide funding; reputational damage and criticism for lack of State investment; and the possibility of subsequent demands on the State to subsidise the centre. The briefing also put forward the option of suspending the tender competition.

The report stated that the negatives from suspending the competition would be “reputational damage…why did we start if we had no funds” and “infrastructural and capital investment framework 2012-16 not delivered upon”.

Recommending the project’s cancellation, the civil servants said “that the complexity of the procurement process  and the financial uncertainties of the current proposals present significant risks to the successful completion of the project”.

Fianna Fail Tourism spokesman Timmy Dooley said yesterday that it was “deeply disappointing that the Government isn’t proceeding with the project and it represents a significant opportunity lost and fails to harness the true potential of The Gathering”.

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