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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Ahern's stadium plan in trouble
Croke Park
Only gaelic games can be played at Croke Park
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's plan to build a national sports stadium was in fresh trouble on Thursday as coalition partners and opposition parties lined up to criticise the plan.

The sports-mad Ahern's enthusiasm for the Stadium Ireland project has led the media to dub it the "Bertie Bowl".

However an increasing number of his allies and opponents are baulking at cost estimates of up to one billion Irish pounds (800m).

"One thing we don't want is another white elephant, another Millennium Dome," said Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney in remarks quoted in the Irish Examiner newspaper.

Harney is leader of the Progressive Democrats, junior partners in Fianna Fail leader Ahern's minority coalition government.

It's the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time
  Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan

"It's a big issue of principle as far as we are concerned and we just have to get it right," she added.

The two main opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, upped the ante on Thursday, calling for preparatory work on the project to be suspended for an independent cost assessment.

"It's the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time," Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan told state broadcaster RTE.

"There's a lot more useful things we could do with a billion pounds," he added.

Opponents of the "Bertie Bowl" - which would form part of a sporting campus on the western outskirts of Dublin - point out the Irish capital already has two major sports stadiums.

Lansdowne Road, home of Irish rugby union and also used by the homeless national soccer team, boasts a convivial city centre location and is highly atmospheric.

But the old stadium is looking increasingly dilapidated and can only hold 35,000 fans for soccer games - when its terraces have be covered with temporary seating - and 49,000 for rugby.

GAA president Sean McCague
Sean McCague: Slammed GAA's critics

Croke Park, headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, is also central and is to have its capacity boosted to 80,000, but comes with political problems.

The GAA, which oversees gaelic football and hurling and was a historic focal point for Irish nationalism, will not allow "foreign" sports to be played at its grounds - a ban upheld by a wafer thin margin at its recent annual conference.

The Progressive Democrats were furious that a 60m pound government grant to redevelop Croke Park was made without committing the GAA to a quid quo pro of allowing other games to be played there.

But while Croke Park remains closed to all but traditional Irish sports the row over the "Bertie Bowl" looks set to continue.

Meanwhile, the GAA hit back on Thursday at suggestions that the association should not receive public funding unless it changes its stance on other sports at Croke Park.

The GAA conducts over 5,000 games on a weekly basis
  GAA president Sean McCague

GAA president Sean McCague strongly "condemned consistent and continuous public comment" directed against the association in recent weeks.

"There appears to be a wish and an agenda to impose conditions and restrictions on the GAA alone amongst sporting organisations," said Mr McCague.

"At no time has there been any lobby or suggestion that impositions should be imposed on any other sport.

"Indeed, when justifiable funding analogous to that committed to the GAA was announced in respect of the Football Association of Ireland no resistance was expressed in regard to the proposal from any quarter.

"While this funding to the FAI was absolutely justified, the reality is that it does not have the facility to share its grounds because of lack of infrastructure and dimensions," added McCague.

Six sports

The GAA president said it was a "matter of record" that the association was contributing 30m to the exchequer from its investment of 190m in Croke Park alone.

"And it has and continues to contribute much more in terms of investment in its 2000 club, county and provincial grounds around the country.

"The GAA has nearly one million members and approximately 10,000 teams in its 2,000 clubs.

"It provides for six sports and conducts over 5,000 games on a weekly basis.

"It will play a minimum of 74 games in its National Stadium, Croke Park in the current year," added McCague.

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See also:

11 Apr 01 |  Northern Ireland
GAA funding row rumbles on
10 Apr 01 |  Northern Ireland
Irish government split over GAA funding
08 Apr 01 |  Northern Ireland
Croke door may stay shut
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