Stadium Ireland – the game is on

28th November 2001

I’m convinced that Stadium Ireland (aka the Bertie Bowl) will be a major election topic and that it could be Bertie’s undoing.

Of course, the major issue should be health but as the parties will blind us with bull****, err, I mean facts, we’ll probably end up baffled by promises. Not only that but the Government has armed themselves with £700 million in extra health spending in the hope that a spot of ribbon-cutting might ward off some of the outrage out there.

Ok, so think of something else that the parties differ on.

Not the North. Not the economy – that’s all wrapped up in the partnership agreements. Not the EU – as we seen in the Nice vote fiasco. Not abortion, except in the ferocious desire not to say anything that might alienate anybody, anywhere.

Unless Mary Harney goes off on another ‘lock up your single mothers’ solo run, we’re not going to have anything to vote about.

Which brings us nicely to the Bertie Bowl. Here looms the possibility of clear blue water between the coalition and the opposition.

Like a lot of other things the public like the idea of a national stadium but would rather spend the dosh on something more worthy. It isn’t that they are not interested in sport; Irish people are past the point of rationality when it comes to sport.

But the argument can be simply made; don’t spend x-amount of zillions on one big project – spend it on lots of smaller projects.

This is a very powerful argument and one the opposition is totally asleep to. Instead of warbling on about the demerits of Bertie Bowl, the opposition could be spelling out the alternative.

A nice glossy map of Ireland with the location of nice, shiny, new sports centres marked on it would do wonders for election politics, which, as we all know, are particularly local.

Yer man in Tallaght is not going to support Bertie Bowl when the prospect of a £20 million super-duper local sports complex is dangled before his eyes.

So the Bertie Bowl could be difficult to argue for in any case. But the fact that Croke Park is about to open its doors to all and sundry could be a killer blow.

Last year the GAA congress voted for the first time on whether to open up Croke Park to other sports. The vote in favour was 66.5 per cent, just a touch short of the 66.7 per cent required.

There had been almost no public debate on the issue beforehand. Next time there will be a head of steam equal to the push on the Rule 21 issue. Last year, Bertie threw in £60 million the night before the vote to relieve the financial pressure on the GAA. A total coincidence, of course. Next year, there won’t be any £60 million.

So that’s it. The Government will have to explain to the electorate why they want to spend £300-400 million on a new stadium when there is a world-class 80,000 seat stadium available for anyone who wants it.

All the opposition have to do is to paint the Bertie Bowl as some elitist ego-trip while they will be spending money on the people. Devastating. An absolute winner. There has to be twenty seats in it at least.

But they’ll probably make a balls of it.

As well as that…

The railways are the key to Croker

Bertie’s constituents have become very bolshie about Croke Park recently. They don’t want extra games and they certainly don’t want it to be the National Stadium.

If you attend some of the games there you can see that the residents certainly have a point. It is a nightmare, especially for those living close to the ground.

A former colleague here at The People lived five doors from the entrance to the Cusack Stand. On Sundays after rising late (working late at The People, of course) he would have to negotiate with the gardai so that he could go to the shop to buy milk for his breakfast. That isn’t funny at all.

The vast majority of people arriving at Croke Park get there by car blocking every street for two miles and then walk to the stadium creating havoc for everyone else.

This could be acceptable if it were not for the fact that there are railways at either end of the ground. The electric cables from the Dart end up just 350 meters from the stadium on one side while there is access to two railway lines to the west of the city on the other side.

Instead of having tens of thousands of fans milling around Drumcondra a huge proportion could be delivered directly to and from the stadium. Tickets could incorporate the fare as an incentive.

The railways could also be used as temporary walk-ways to get people off the roads, especially the Drumcondra Road which is a shambles after matches.

It might cost a few bob but it won’t cost £400 million.