The beleaguered Cork event centre project is still viable, the Tánaiste has insisted, despite the Covid-19 pandemic forcing its proposed operators to slash global expenditure by $500m.
Simon Coveney said while Covid-19 has dealt the project yet another blow, it’s “not a terminal setback”.
And despite the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the finances of its proposed operators, global entertainment giants, Live Nation, he said the Cork venue can still be delivered.
“This process has had its critics, right the way through. Lots of people were willing to write it off at different times. I wasn't and I'm still not,” he said.
It was his first public comment on the project since the operators of the INEC in Killarney withdrew their legal challenge to the venue's €50m state funding package in April. It was hoped that was the last hurdle.
But Covid-19 forced Live Nation to cancel or postpone more than 6,000 of its scheduled shows, and then furlough more than 2,000 of its 10,500 staff, as its revenues fell 20% in the first quarter of the year.
It fuelled fears about the company's ability to follow through on its estimated €35m investment in the Cork venue.
Mr Coveney said Covid-19 has obviously had a huge impact on the company’s business model.
“But we are ready to work with them, and with the developer to make sure that this happens," he said.
“The state hasn't been found wanting when there have been other obstacles in the way and it won't be found wanting now either. I believe we will get this project back on track.
“We need to work with Live Nation, of course, and we need to see where Covid-19 goes internationally and how that impacts on the capacity of Live Nation to make available what’s been committed.
“But I'm confident that we can work together as we have done throughout this process. I do think it will happen.
“We've had so many setbacks in terms of getting this across the line, some on the government side and some on the planning side, and then obviously working with Bam and Live Nation in terms of the changing nature of this project, as it's gone on and became a much, much bigger project and much more expensive project.
“The government responded to that by making more funds available. But so too have BAM and Live Nation - they've also found extra money to make this project happen.”
He said hopefully the focus of a new government will be on making the project happen “in the public interest” as it would be a “huge positive shot in the arm” for the city as it emerges from Covid-19.
“Life will move on from Covid-19. We will have concerts again, we will have events again,” Mr Coveney said.
“Cork city is going to grow in population terms by about 50% over the next 20 years.
“And the idea that Cork people would still have to drive or get the train to Dublin to see big events in the 3Arena or in the Bord Gais theatre - that for me has never been acceptable.”
But he also said Live Nation’s investment would ensure that it gets ownership of an asset worth multiples of its investment, and that the partnership with government should be a “very attractive business model” for them.