Crucial legal advice on whether the State can plough another €10m into the stalled Cork events centre project is still not ready, it has emerged.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Attorney General has asked for more time to finalise a legal position in relation to the request.
It could be “some weeks” before the advice is ready for consideration by the Government, which will use it as the basis for a decision on whether the additional funding can be sanctioned.
A planning decision on the enlarged and more expensive event centre is expected within days.
Speaking in Cork this week, Mr Coveney said he had hoped that legal advice on a request from the developers for an extra €10m in state aid would be ready by last week.
But following a “lengthy meeting” on the issue last week with the AG and his team, and Arts Minister Josepha Madigan, he said the AG wants to do more work to make sure that any new funding decision isn’t legally challenged.
“They have asked for a few more weeks to finalise their view on that,” he said.
“The AG wants to be satisfied that nobody will challenge this on the basis that they may have been willing to tender for this if they had known that more money was available from day one.”
“And so there are certain parameters we need to make sure are adhered to, to make sure the tendering process stands up. It’s proven to be more complicated than we thought.”
But he insisted again that the Government is “happy to commit” to the extra funding but only if the legal advice confirms it’s OK to do so without the threat of a legal challenge.
He also insisted it’s not a reason for concern given the ongoing planning process.
“I’m not worried about it. I’d be more worried if we tried to make a decision because of the pressure that’s there and then there was a legal challenge and the whole thing fell apart. The AG is determined that the advice that they give is the basis for this project moving forward,” he said.
It will be four years this December since the initial €20m in state-aid was awarded to BAM following a competitive tender process.
It will be two years next February since the official sod turning by former taoiseach Enda Kenny.
In that time, the project has been blighted by delays, the venue has been redesigned and enlarged, and costs have soared to at least €73m, and public confidence in the scheme has been eroded.
Despite all the difficulties, all those involved insist it will happen.
Ironically, it looks as if a massive office development on the proposed event centre site which lost out to the former brewery site looks set to open before works starts on the events centre.