Lansdowne green light as Bertie Bowled out

BERTIE AHERN and Fianna Fáil were last night forced to defend the Bertie Bowl debacle after the Progressive Democrats blew the final whistle on the Taoiseach’s pet project.

Amid accusations that up to E200 million and five years had been squandered on the abandoned proposal at Abbotstown, the Cabinet pledged E190 million to the E300 million redevelopment of Lansdowne Road by the IRFU and FAI.

The saga developed further as the GAA said it now expects similar financial backing for its refurbishment work at Croke Park, after controversially losing out on E40 million promised to it for originally supporting the Bertie Bowl.

While yesterday’s decision was overwhelmingly interpreted as a significant political victory for Mary Harney and Michael McDowell, the PDs played down their influence in the final decision. The Tánaiste, who consistently opposed Abbotstown, confined herself to saying it was a good outcome for Irish sport.

Yet, in an official party statement, PD transport spokesman Senator Tom Morrissey said the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road was contained in their election manifesto. Attempting to save face after his embarrassing climbdown on a proposal he had personally championed, the Taoiseach denied time and money had gone down the drain in the pursuit of his dream.

“I don’t think there was any waste of resources,” he responded to criticism in the Dáil.

Admitting that costs had escalated at Abbotstown, he said the priority now was to get on with the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road.

Notably, Mr Ahern was not present at the announcement of the stadium decision, where Sports Minister John O’Donoghue robustly defended the Taoiseach’s record on sport. The minister also said the outcome was not about the critics of Abbotstown overcoming its advocates.

But Opposition parties made claims to the contrary. Fine Gael said that up to E200m was spent on land acquisition and consultants’ reports and Labour claimed that E157 million had been spent on the site.

Attributing the rejection of the Bertie Bowl to the major infrastructural and public transport shortcomings at Abbotstown, Mr O’Donoghue dismissed these figures, saying the Aquatic Centre cost E63m and E11m was spent on the site.

Welcoming the decision, GAA public relations officer Danny Lynch said it was possible that hurling and Gaelic football games could be played at the ground in the future.

But pointing out that the redevelopment of Croke Park cost E260m with E200m coming from GAA coffers, Mr Lynch said the association would now be seeking comparable financial assistance from the Government. “We wouldn’t want to have been left at a disadvantage,” he said.

The 50,000-seat stadium is due to be finished by 2008 and means the FAI will not now have to play international qualifiers abroad.

As residents near Lansdowne Road, opposed to the redevelopment, considered what action to take, local FF TD Eoin Ryan said it was the best location for the stadium in terms of cost, location and accessibility.

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