Irish Minister for Transport and Tourism, Paschal Donohoe, has put the brakes on a project to build an iconic National Diaspora Center when informed that the project was to receive no capital funding.
The Minister announced last February that the project would not be continued, but documents released this week under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Irish Examiner show that his decision to call time on the center was made post-Budget 2015 when he became aware that it would not be in receipt of State funding. The planned center was to cost up to $28 million.
In 2011, the Irish government committed to the development of an Ellis-Island style national diaspora center, which eventually received Cabinet approval in March of last year.
On the request of the Tourism Minister in 2013, Leo Varadkar, Fáilte Ireland compiled a report on the feasibility of the center. The project had already encountered delays by this time with Varadkar stating that the project had reached a roadblock.
A statement from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2013 said that, “It was never going to be possible for the State to fund the construction on its own. So it's a question of what sort of center is possible and whether a partner can be found who is interested in financing the project."
Varadkar also commented that, “We are looking at a partner who can help to fund it and build it. The work done by Fáilte Ireland suggests that it should tell the story of the Irish diaspora overseas. It should also tell the story of how Irish people view the world.”
The Fáilte Ireland report investigated the possibilities for where and how the center would be built, concluding that the center would be viable, self-financing and had the potential to become a major tourist attraction.
In government documents newly released, it is revealed that there were eight companies short-listed for the center, seven of which did not have funding in place. All of the eight companies said, however, that they had the financial capacity to complete the project but would need to rely on a mixture of funding options such as Government funding, public and private sector borrowing, philanthropic, corporate donations, along with local authority funding.
It was originally believed by the Department of Tourism that funding would be made available for the center by the end of 2014. When it became “clear post-Budget 2015 that there is no Government funding available in the foreseeable future,” a memo from the tourism division writes, it was evident that the project needed to be rethought.
The memo continues: “the implementation of the next phase will commit all the tenderers to a substantial spend through the production of business plans and presentations and commit the Department and Fáilte Ireland to a process that will require the assignment of scarce resources to process applications and manage expectations.”
It also states that if the project were to continue in this way, without State funding, that the Government would be criticized for failing to invest. The memo concluded that the project should be canceled as “the complexity of the procurement process and the financial uncertainties of the current proposals present significant risks to the successful completion of the project in its current form.”