INEC owner: €50m State funding for Cork Event Centre is 'inappropriate and unfair'

The owner of the INEC in Kerry has branded the €50m state-funding deal for the Cork event centre as "inappropriate and unfair".
INEC owner: €50m State funding for Cork Event Centre is 'inappropriate and unfair'

The owner of the INEC in Kerry has branded the €50m state-funding deal for the Cork event centre as "inappropriate and unfair".

Patrick O’Donoghue, the chief executive officer of the Gleneagle Group in Killarney, said the goalposts have changed so much since the original €14m state-aid package for what will be a direct INEC rival was first advertised, it’s like asking the Kerry football team to play Cork in Cork "uphill and against the wind in both halves".

Mr O’Donoghue made his comments on Radio Kerry after his group withdrew its High Court legal challenge to the funding deal.

"In normal circumstances, I think maybe other people would be asking the questions that we were asking and unfortunately that’’s not happening," he said.

And so we felt we had to ask the question because we were the ones who are mostly going to be more directly impacted.

He told Kerry Today presenter Jerry O’’Sullivan that the INEC has received little or no financial support from the state over the last 20 years but now that a precedent has been set in terms of state investment in a private event centre, the INEC should be considered for state funding too.

He confirmed the group considered tendering for the 2014 €14m state-aid package given the expertise it has built up over the years.

"We looked at it but felt that the kind of money that was involved at the time wasn’t significant enough to justify that type of investment from our point of view. So we didn’t participate in that process," he said.

BAM went on to win the tender for what ultimately became €20m of state-aid before the sod was turned in February 2016 and the project was hit with delays.

But Mr O’Donoghue said when the new funding details emerged in January, the Gleneagle felt it had to mount a legal challenge which was then hit by a ’’perfect storm’’, triggered by the Covid-19 crisis.

The group has laid off some 500 staff over the last few weeks.

"Our main priority is to try and get them re-employed as soon as possible and our focus has to be on the more short-term issues that are affecting tourism and our own business in the medium term, as opposed to worrying about something that’’s going to come down the road in three or four or five years," he said.

They had planned to call expert witnesses from the UK to give evidence, and that was proving difficult to arrange given the current restrictions, and mounting the legal challenge was an expensive undertaking, he added.

And when the High Court refused their request recently for an extension of time before the matter was due to be heard in early May, Mr O’’Donoghue said they had no option but to withdraw their legal challenge.

"It was hard to justify in the current environment when we’re trying to battle the impact of the Covid virus and the impact it’’s having on our business, on all businesses. We know we’’re not unique in that situation," he said.

Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Mr O’Donoghue said they have managed to reschedule a lot of cancelled INEC business in May or June and he said the venue can play a large role in the economic recovery after Covid-19.

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