We talk to Barry O’Brien, CEO, National Sports Campus Development Authority about his time in charge of the campus development, the challenges they have faced and upcoming developments.
What was the situation when you took up post in 2008?
The National Aquatic Centre (NAC) was already well established and back under State control; the FAI HQ was already opened; the Irish Institute of Sport was under construction; the Design and project teams for the overall Campus project were appointed; and there was a budget of up to €160 million in the National Development Plan for the complete development of the Campus. However, around that time Minister for Sport Seamus Brennan T.D. passed away; the State’s finances collapsed; the Current Budget was halved and the Capital Budget had all but disappeared.
It was a time to keep focussed on the overall Master Plan and to keep everybody on board.
Full Planning Permission was achieved and remains in place. Ever since then we have “chipped away” at delivering elements of the plan; refurbishing existing buildings; upgrading facilities at the NAC and Morton Stadium Santry thereby enhancing our operational reputation; and retaining the confidence and support of the NGBs of sport, the Department of Sport, and successive Ministers.
Were there any particular challenges that you had to overcome in the intervening period?
Retaining confidence and support was the biggest challenge. In this respect we are forever grateful to the NGBs in general and the Federation of Irish Sport in particular who always pressed our case.
Eventually, when the State realised it would no longer afford the original plan, it fell to us to come up with an affordable incremental development strategy – which is what we did.
Another critical element was land ownership. In this respect we insisted that ownership of all the State lands and buildings at Abbotstown be transferred to the Authority. This was done by the Government at the instigation of Leo Varadkar T.D. soon after his appointment as Minister. This proved to be a “game changer”. It meant that when we went to the major field sports (GAA, FAI, IRFU and IHA) with the bad news of diminished State funding, I could at least offer to give them their sites fully serviced and at a nominal rent. This offer was gladly accepted and has released a whole new set of energies and funding sources. As a consequence, it is expected that both the GAA and FAI will commence ground-works on site before the end of September 2013, with the other two following as soon as this own funding circumstances permit.
In the meantime, we continued with our building refurbishment programme, converting the former Marine Institute building into Irish Sport HQ which is today the administrative home for 20 NGBs including the Federation.
What projects are coming on stream soon?
We are delighted to confirm that new High Performance Training facilities for Equestrian, Fencing, Pistol Shooting and Diving will be completed in September this year. This is a huge boost for those athletes pursuing medals at international competitions. In addition, floodlit multi-sport, all-weather Pitches and Pavilion are also nearing completion and these will be open to the public and the NGBs for hire before the end of 2013.
How about long-term projects?
The National Indoor Training Centre for Athletics, Court Sports and Gymnastics continues to be our prime target. It is designed, approved and “ready to go” as soon as funding becomes available. We are hopeful that the Government will see fit to include it in its National Stimulus Plan or some other investment programme.
In the meantime, we also have developed costed plans for both an extension for the Irish Institute of Sport and also a Coaching and Conference Centre for all the NGBs. We are hopeful that the Government will see fit to sanction both of their projects in the forthcoming Budget in October. If it does so then both facilities can be delivered within 2014 and will be of immense benefit to all Irish Sports on the run-up to the Rio Olympics.
What’s your overall impression of Irish Sport?
- I am hugely convinced of its importance to the health, psyche and spirit of our nation. It plays a vital role which is hard to encapsulate in financial terms.
- I am amazed by the on-going determination and commitment of all involved especially athletes, parents, volunteers and administrators.
- Irish sport deserves a sufficient and sustainable funding support mechanism with tax revenue on those who make money from the sporting performance of others and tax relief for those who support clubs and make donations.
Any final comments?
Yes – a very big “thank you” to the NGBs, the Federation of Irish Sport, Chairman Sean Benton and the Members of the Authority for all their commitment and support.
Similarly – a big “thank you” to all my colleagues at NSCDA, notably David Conway and Stephen Ryan for all their determination and hard work.
Finally, – a big “thank you” to Minister Leo Varadkar T.D. and Michael Ring T.D. for their unstinting support for Irish Sport in general and the National Sports Campus in particular. We are blessed to have 2 Ministers – all we need now is one more major capital allocation to deliver the world-class National Sports Campus which Irish Sport deserves.