Sunday 23 October 2016

Curveball: As property prices rise, sport could be squeezed out in this pitch battle


THE headline part of Dublin GAA's failed attempt to purchase the Spawell complex is pretty straight-forward: the county board was scuppered by a higher bid and, in the big bad world of real estate, that's the bottom line.

Money talks.

Delve a bit deeper and you'll find a subtext pertaining to how we view Ireland as a society, not just an economy. Dublin GAA had bid above the €6.5 million asking price, hoping to turn the 35-acre Templeogue site into a centre of excellence with the future possibility, finances permitting, of building a 25,000-capacity stadium.

Just think what this could mean, not just for Gaelic games in the capital but that area of south Dublin?

Which brings us back to Ireland as a society. Which brings us on to NAMA.

Effectively it was the Irish people who bailed out the banks in the face of financial Armageddon. Or as county board CEO John Costello put it more colourfully yesterday: "The banks got off the hook and the taxpayer got screwed."

The instrument established to facilitate this multi-billion bailout was the National Asset Management Agency.

The same Irish people would love their money back - or, at least, as much of it as NAMA can generate through the strategic disposal of all those distressed assets.


But is it all about the bottom line? Or should there also be a moral obligation to dispose of these assets in such a manner that benefits the nation's health as well as its, ahem, wealth?

That's the nub of this conundrum.

Costello - speaking, obviously, with his partisan Parnell Park hat on - is adamant that NAMA has such a responsibility.

"It is disillusioning and regrettable that NAMA, despite the inclusion in their terms of reference of 'Community Development', have failed once again to acknowledge the role of voluntary organisations in their disposal strategy in the generation of social capital," Costello complained, in response to Dublin's defeat by an unidentified higher bidder.

"We considered that the Dublin GAA proposal for the construction of five grass and synthetic playing pitches and complementary facilities represented the best value for NAMA and the tax-payer involving, as it would, significant benefits to the community in terms of participation in sport, health and fitness and the economy generally."

NAMA, for its part, was quick to point out that it is "not the seller", adding: "The property is being sold by a receiver who is obliged to accept the highest offer on behalf of the debtor."

That may well be the case, but the counter-argument is that NAMA surely still has a central role to play when it comes to assets such as the Spawell and their eventual disposal. And what about the 'community development' to which Costello refers?

According to NAMA, the receiver could not have accepted a lower bid simply because it came from a sporting organisation; and the receiver could have been sued by the debtor if this were to happen.

A more general fear for Dublin GAA, and all such similar sporting bodies, is that they may have missed the boat in the acquisition of distressed assets offering that priceless commodity - greenfield space for pitches, lots of them.

Property prices have been steadily climbing. The dormant developers are starting to stir - and if that happens, what chance has the county board to compete?


Here's the real issue for Dublin GAA, one that doesn't involve a new 25,000-seater southside arena, lovely and all as that would be ... since 2010, participation rates have risen by 27pc in football and by a staggering 49pc in hurling. The numbers looking to play Gaelic games in the capital "are literally going through the roof," according to Costello.

That is a good news story, with a caveat. Where are they all going to play?

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