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Friday 17 January 2020

Man behind Dublin's €23m white-water raft project is veteran kayaker

WATER SCHEME: An artist’s impression of what the white water rafting project in the Docklands will look like
WATER SCHEME: An artist’s impression of what the white water rafting project in the Docklands will look like
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Dublin city manager championing the controversial white-water rafting project for the docklands is a veteran kayaker who has competed 25 times in the Liffey Descent race. But Owen Keegan insists his paddling prowess is "irrelevant" to the Dublin City Council's plans to build the €23m centre at George's Dock in the north inner city.

The facility will offer white water rapids, canoe polo and water polo, and promises training facilities for canoeists and the elite slalom squad and for emergency services in water rescue.

City councillors voted 37 to 19 last week in favour of the plan but it has divided opinion inside and outside the chamber. Michael McDowell, a former attorney general, dismissed the project as "daft" while independent councillor Mannix Flynn has described it as a "grandiose vanity project" for Mr Keegan.

Mr Keegan confirmed this weekend that he has been a keen kayaker for close to 50 years, both in Ireland and abroad but insisted that his "personal involvement with canoeing as irrelevant to the project". He is credited with competing 25 times in the Liffey Descent, an annual kayaking race from Kildare to Dublin.

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To compete in the event he was required to register as a member with Canoeing Ireland, according to a statement issued in response to questions from the Sunday Independent. He never held a position in the association and had never received any representations from Canoeing Ireland lobbying for the proposed white water facility, the statement said. He last competed in the Liffey Descent in 2017, and pointed out that "he has never participated in slalom canoeing, which is the Olympic discipline that will use the facility".

Damien O'Farrell, an independent city councillor, said he was unaware of Mr Keegan's personal interest in canoeing. "We have little decision making power and when we have a decision to make, we should at least have all of the relevant information."

He voted against the project, questioning its necessity, the costs and the level of public consultation. However, councillors voted in favour of the project last week, saying it will generate employment, tourism and revive the disadvantaged dockland area.

According to Dublin City Council, the idea was proposed by Richard Shakespeare, assistant city chief executive, at a time when George's Dock was considered a "major eyesore". The facility is modelled on a similar centre in Cardiff. An important feature will be a water rescue training facility for Dublin Fire Brigade and emergency services, with a "floodable street". Dublin Fire Brigade, which comes under the auspices of Dublin City Council, told councillors that training in the polluted River Liffey was a health risk for members.

The costs have almost doubled since January from €12m to €23m. A business plan presented to councillors projected that it will make €500,000 in its first year, charging a basic €50 fee.

The city council has already spent €565,000 on the proposal, including €3,530 sending Dublin Fire Brigade to inspect a water rescue facility in the US.

Canoeing Ireland said it was "delighted" with the white-water rafting facility and hoped to host international events at the centre.

Sunday Independent

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