Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has revealed he would still like to see his controversial Bertie Bowl built in the capital.
The sports-mad Dubliner has labelled its detractors as “anti-sport” and “smoked salmon and wine-drinking people” in a new RTE documentary on the abandoned big-ticket project of the Celtic Tiger era.
The politician famously singled out his failure to go ahead with the National Stadium on the grounds of Abbotstown House in west Dublin as one of his biggest regrets on his last day in the Dail in 2011.
Now, in a Scannal documentary on the demise of the planned 65,000-seat stadium with an estimated cost of close to €1bn, the former Fianna Fail leader said he still hopes to see a scaled-back version of his field of dreams. He said: “We were trying to build a new two stadiums, a GAA Stadium and then the national stadium. Now that doesn’t apply.
“What we should do now is build a 25,000 or 30,000-seat stadium on that same site.
“That’s what we should still do if someone has the political guts, which I doubt, to stand up and fight for the remaining part of it.”
The documentary details how plans for the monster stadium were scrapped in 2002 amid accusations that it was a vanity project by Ahern to crown his achievements as Taoiseach. It was first mooted around the same time as the FAI’s ill-conceived bid to build Eircom Park for soccer and alongside the redevelopment of Croke Park.
“What did they call it, the Bertie Stadium or whatever it was, it’s became a real issue”, said the former Taoiseach.
“The idea was that you wouldn’t just do a stadium for soccer, it would also be for rugby and it would be for Gaelic. And it would be for the underages,” he added.
Officially titled Stadium Ireland, the 65,000 all-seater was billed as the flagship feature of a huge sports campus in Abbotstown to replace the dilapidated Lansdowne Road.
But as estimates soared to €1bn in an independent report in 2002, his PD partners in government scotched the plans amid accusations that it was a Ceausescu-era project.
In Scannal, Mr Ahern calls the stadium’s detractors “anti-sport”. He added: “You had people writing in-depth reports about the stadium, people who were never in Croke Park or Lansdowne Road in their life. In fact they were probably anti-sport, writing in-depth pieces, they became experts, you know the smoked salmon and wine-drinking people who talk about these issues. I had to contend with that. I just had to put up with it, it was hard going.”
The flagship sporting project was still in the works when the government was handing €60m to the GAA for the redevelopment of Croke Park in 2001 while the organisation voted against changing rule 42 to allow soccer or rugby to be played on the hallowed turf.
“It didn’t matter what happened with the rule, we were going to pay,” says Ahern in the documentary. He adds that it was very hard to get a political win with a sporting project. “You’re always faced with this when you are fighting for sport and you always will, that they will go down to a hospital and they’ll find a 90-year-old woman and a trolley and they’ll say ‘oh this guy wants to build a sports stadium’.”
‘Scannal’ will be shown on RTE One this Tuesday at 8pm