By Mark Jones
DUBLIN – One of Irish sports’s longest-running sagas took a dramatic twist earlier in the week when it was revealed that the Football Association of Ireland has agreed to open talks with the Irish government regarding the possibility of the association becoming a tenant at the proposed new national stadium.
The news emerged on the back of revised figures for the FAI’s own proposed soccer stadium, the so-called Eircom Park, the cost of which has now almost doubled to £130 million. A meeting of leading officials of the association also gave the go ahead for talks with a property company, Davy Hickey Properties, which has expressed an interest in investing at least £40 million in the Eircom Park project.
However, the FAI chief executive, Bernard O’Byrne, denied that the association would be talking to the government, saying that the FAI’s treasurer, Brendan Menton, wanted to enter into negotiations regarding the national stadium. "We can’t stop the treasurer doing that on an individual basis," he said, "but we are not in talks with the government on an official basis."
O’Byrne remained bullish about the future of Eircom Park as a dedicated soccer stadium, which has a proposed site in West Dublin, despite the reported rise in costs. "Yes, the costs have gone up, but then we’re fortunate that the effects of inflation on revenue will be felt too," he said. Although the cash-strapped FAI would have to borrow close to £60 million for the project, O’Byrne described that level of debt as "eminently manageable."
But what is certain now is that the FAI cannot build the stadium on its own and O’Byrne’s detractors within the association have repeatedly stated that to forge ahead with the project would be risking bankruptcy.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
"The project is not feasible on our own," said FAI Board of Management member John Delaney. "We now have to talk to potential investors and there is now an acceptance that someone has to put £60 million into this and we don’t have that sort of money."
O’Byrne and his supporters have talked about as many as six sell-out soccer games a year for the proposed 45,000-seat stadium — which appears to be optimistic in the extreme — with extra revenues being provided by concerts, circuses and ice shows. But treasurer Menton remained skeptical.
"The thing is a gold mine if you believe the figures," he said, "but the fact that every time we talk about how that money is to be raised, we become very far removed from the business of soccer and we don’t know anything about the business of entertainment."
With the future of Eircom Park know precariously balanced, it was agreed to wait until Feb. 5 before any vote on the project is taken.