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Department faces grilling on €43m ‘Bertie Bowl’ spend

By Tom Lyons

Sunday February 12 2012

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will grill the Department of Sport this week on how it managed to spend €43m on master-planning a national sports campus that was never built.

It will also question the department on a number of claims it made about the pet project of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when it appeared in front of the committee last November to discuss the matter.

John McGuinness, the chairman of the waste watchdog, said: “It is difficult to justify [€43m] given nothing has actually gone ahead.

“They seem to have put the cart before the horse by spending millions and millions without have any commitment of money to implement any plan.”

McGuinness added: “There has been too much money wasted in the past without things being properly thought out.”

According to the Royal Institute of Architects’ fee recommendations, the cost of master-planning should be under 1 per cent of the total development cost, but the State has spent a large multiple of this figure on fruitless master-planning as the project constantly changed.

The spend on the master-planning of the 500-acre campus site in Blanchardstown stood at only €2m in 2002 when the National Aquatic Centre, the only significant building ever built on the site, was being built.

Another €43m was spent in the next four years as plan after revised plan was drawn, withdrawn and redrawn for the site.

The PAC also intends to clarify details previously highlighted by Donagh Morgan, an assistant secretary general in the Department of Sport and a previous chief executive of the National Sports Campus.

Morgan told the PAC that about €3m was paid for executive services but the accounts for the campus appear to show it spent €8.2m.

How the Department of Sport lost a multi-million, nine-year legal case over a disputed VAT bill for the National Aquatic Centre will also be returned to by the PAC this week.

The Deptartment of Sport declined to comment ahead of the PAC meeting.

– Tom Lyons

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