CITY Hall's chief executive has admitted she is “frustrated” at the repeated delays on Cork's events centre project but warned that additional funding is still some time from being approved.
The local authority is still awaiting legal advice on €30m worth of public funding for the project to be built at the site of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery by contractors BAM, and whether €9m of this will be provided as a repayable loan.
Ann Doherty delivered a 'state-of-affairs report' to councillors last night after a controversial RTÉ Prime Time show aired last week which suggested representatives were gagged from speaking to reporters researching the programme. This has been widely denied by councillors.
Ms Doherty said City Hall officials did not engage with RTÉ, despite requests, so as to not “jeopardise” ongoing work on the project.
She added that Freedom of Information requests regarding the event centre and ongoing deliberations, functions and negotiations are being refused because of the sensitive nature of ongoing talks.
Ms Doherty said: "It must be noted when funding certainty is achieved the City Council will have to update the current cost-benefit analysis and submit it to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for their review and approval. Also, from a state-aid perspective, the preliminary submission made to the European Commission under state aid regulations and for which agreement in principle was received from the Commission will need to be resubmitted.
“I am well aware that this process has to be the cause of considerable frustration. I am frustrated myself. A multifunctional event centre such as this is a bespoke project which has never been constructed before and it has resulted in considerable unforeseen challenges.
“Cork City Council has worked since December 2014 to bring the project to a successful conclusion and remains fully committed to its delivery, given the support voiced by the elected members and the very significant economic value it will generate for the county in general, the region and Cork,” she added.
Meanwhile, councillors are set to write to RTÉ demanding clarity on comments on the Prime Time programme that suggested party whips had asked councillors not to comment on camera.
Chris O’Leary (SF) said he was contacted by the show and was happy to make himself available for interview but was not given the platform to do so.
Mick Nugent (SF) added there was no directive and “no closing of ranks” from elected representatives.
According to Fergal Dennehy (FF), the Council should seek legal advice on going back out to tender for the project because of the increases in costs, while the Solidarity party's Fiona Ryan said the event centre project is now about the “profit margins for the private operators”.
“This could have been 100% public funded. The private sector is the reason we do not have an events centre,” she added.
Paudie Dineen (IND) called for the project to be moved to the docklands where he believes a 6,000-capacity even centre could be built.
Ms Doherty said the next stage is for City Council and the relevant Government departments is to agree to a funding package.
“It will be up to the bidder at that point to decide if they can deliver a sustainable event centre for the mount of public funding being made available.”