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Tom Ryan: 'When Pairc Uí Chaoimh is generating a return, it will go into servicing the debts'

The cost of the stadium redevelopment has caused plenty controversy.

THE GAA’S DIRECTOR-General Tom Ryan has stated the overall cost of the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be somewhere between the quoted figures of €85 million and €110 million.

A general view of Pairc Ui Chaoimh A view of Páirc Uí Chaoimh before last year's Cork county senior hurling final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The final cost of the stadium project has still to emerge with Cork GAA chairperson Tracey Kennedy and Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna both stating different figures on the matter at the end of 2018.

Speaking in Croke Park yesterday, Ryan moved to clarify the situation and the the issues currently at play which will determine the overall cost.

The GAA chief was keen to stress that large chunk of the stadium build has already been accounted for and stated the debt figure for the stadium is approximately €20 million.

“I suppose the (€)110 (million) number is the worst, worst case. From a financial perspective, in terms of my own way of thinking about things, that’s how I would couch things always, you start at the most conservative estimate and in all likelihood things will be better than that and I think that will be the case this time as well.

“(€)85 (million) is what they call the construction cost to date. There are some other costs relating to the construction that will be categorised as different things in the accounts.

“It will find a median between the 85 and the 110. The 110 includes contingencies as well which are not included in the 85. There are four key things that are still at issue; one is arbitration with a contractor, there’s a tax question, there’s one or two other bits of negotiations on things to be resolved and there’s a significant asset sale, all of which will nudge the cost down towards the number you referred to from Cork.

“I’m not being evasive. It will only be when those three or four little processes are complete that we’ll know finally where it ends up at. In fairness it presents a problem but the facility is there, it’s a fine facility and we’ll get great use out of it.”

Ryan outlined that income from the stadium itself will be used to clear the debt.

“There is a conference element to it, there can be concerts as you have seen. It is an enterprise that will generate a return. And if it is run properly, which I have no doubt that it will, it will generate a return which will fund it.

“And it has been set up separately, it is a mirror of the arrangement that we have here, it is a separate company owned by the county board but the debts and so on are debts of that company. the predominance of that is paid.

“There is an overhang of debt at the end of it, in the order of (€)20m or so, most of the ground is actually paid for. (The) stadium in Croke Park now is self-financing and generating a return back to the Association and when Pairc Uí Chaoimh is generating a return, it will go into servicing the debts.”

TR John Horan and Tom Ryan at yesterday's report launch in Croke Park.

Is there a prospect of levies being placed on clubs?

“I can’t comment, that is one for Cork to manage, really,” said Ryan in response to that question.

“Some counties don’t do that in order to fund their grounds and stadiums. It is one for Cork to determine how best they manage it themselves, really.

“We’ve helped them initially in terms of refinancing the thing but that’s the way the GAA works. The repayments will come from the stadium itself. We’ve tried very hard to put in place a structure that isn’t going to impact on those people that you mentioned, the clubs in Cork and so on.

“In fairness to the county committee, that’s why they set out at the outset to do it without debt, so it wasn’t going to impact on hurling and football in Cork and we’re going to try to make sure that we still do that.”

In hindsight Ryan believes ‘it was a stretch’ to try to realise what was aimed for in redeveloping Cork’s GAA headquarters.

“Projects of that nature are really, really difficult. The scale of it was such that it was always going to present a challenge. I think what we all set out to do at the start, in hindsight, it was a stretch.

“The target was we were going to do it without having any debt at the end. I’d say you could probably count on the fingers of one hand even the number of club projects that are able to achieve that.

“There are debts associated with every county ground around the country and most club grounds, it’s just a fact of how we have to fund projects. Almost inevitably we were going to meet some debt to fund the Cork project so it’s not a unique outcome by any means and it’s not insurmountable.”

Ryan did reveal that the GAA at a national level will be taking a direct role in infrastructure projects in 2019, something which Connacht GAA secretary John Prenty called for in his annual report last week.

“There are three or four things now hopefully that will hone into view in 2019 of a significant nature. They won’t be as big as Pairc Ui Chaoimh and I won’t name them just in case but certainly we will make sure that there’s a direct involvement from here. We’re talking with counties already in terms of putting together their plans and in terms of sizing them and scoping them. That’s our job to do.”

In reference to another major stadium project which continues to be mired in uncertainty, Ryan stated that the plans for Casement Park in Belfast will not involved downsizing.

A computer generated image of the new Casement Park project A computer generated image of the new Casement Park project. Source: Presseye/Kelvin Boyes/INPHO

“There has to be a stadium built at Casement Park. There has to be, Belfast needs it, it is out of action at the moment. We don’t really have an alternative option, and if we are to look at downsizing it, we have to go back to the start of the process again, go back through planning and new physical configuration of the stadium.

It is full steam ahead with the project as it is configured at the moment and with the financial commitment that we have made to it.

“The little frustration with it is that we can’t control the outcome of it at the moment. It is all behind the scenes with local government in Northern Ireland and we have to wait and see the outcome of that.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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