WITH THE children’s hospital overrun grabbing headlines for the last month, the contractors, BAM, are at the centre of a media storm. This is uncomfortable for Simon Coveney, who has been a prominent supporter of a multimillion euro event centre planned for Cork, where BAM are also feeling the heat as a result of an escalating budget.
It will be recalled (see The Phoenix Annual 2017) that BAM pipped Owen O’Callaghan to win the construction tender in December 2014, with public funding of no less than €20m then on the table. The subsequent arrival of Live Nation as the proposed venue operators led to a redrawing of the plans, after which BAM said it was looking for a public funding commitment of €38m (including a €6m contingency fund to pay for overruns).
Subsequently, it emerged in the Dáil that the updated budget had jumped from the original €53m in 2014 to €74m. This didn’t faze Coveney, however, who continued to aggressively promote the ballooning project in his constituency, telling the Irish Examiner, “We don’t want to build a mediocre event centre.”
At the end of last year, the state committed to increase the public funding element of the project to €30m, but the Attorney General insisted that €9m of the extra €10m be in the form of a loan. While Coveney has publicly backed this condition, it has placed a question mark over the project going ahead and has ensured further delays.
The real worry for the tánaiste is that the National Children’s Hospital debacle could make it politically opportune to withdraw public funding for the event centre.
The Blueshirt minister sought to put as much blue water between the event centre and the hospital last week, noting that the Cork project “is an entirely different construct. It involves an awful lot of private sector money… It would be wrong to even talk about the two projects in the same conversation.”
Coveney was also happy to tell local media that he “met the AG last week, Cork City Council the week before and the AG the week before that again, so virtually every week we have a meeting in either Cork or Dublin on making progress on getting this event centre project fully across the line”.
Good to know where the priorities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade lie.