And Bertie has been on the defensive for his pet project:
He acknowledged that the aquatic centre was a “pet project” of his. “Indeed, I am proud to claim that it is such.” The Government’s motivation was to provide a 50-metre pool and to provide a location for the Special Olympics aquatic events. “The project was delivered on time and on budget,” he insisted to Opposition heckling and laughter.
The Taoiseach was responding to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny who described the “debacle” of the centre as an “apt metaphor for the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat Government – massive costs to the public, a so-called state-of-the-art attraction that is all splash, with fake waves, the roof blown off and leaking like a sieve”.
Mr Kenny claimed that the Taoiseach as the sole promoter and shareholder of the project “is personally responsible for the huge failures that have been exposed”.
He asked the Taoiseach to confirm that the aquatic centre “is leaking water at the rate of five million litres per month and that a consultants’ report has found that the original roof structure was substandard, suggesting that either corners were cut or plans were washed away at construction stage”.
Mr Ahern said he was “very sad to see the Opposition aligning themselves with the company that CSID has take to court and acting as its mouthpiece in the House today.
“Deputies appear to have no compunction about making public statements on matters before the court.”
He said he and the Government were not at all happy with Dublin Waterworld, which runs the centre. The company had “done a very good job in Killarney in the Kerry operation but it has not done a good job in this case”.
CSID had taken the company to court for breaches of the lease agreement, including failure to pay rent, to provide audited accounts, failure to pay insurance on the building and to establish a sinking fund.
A dispute over whether the company had to pay more than €10 million in VAT was referred to arbitration and a dispute over repair and maintenance had been referred to an architect for determination.
Mr Ahern said the Minister for Sport had described the capital expenditure on the centre as value for money “and I fully agree with him”.
When Mr Kenny asked who was responsible for the roof being blown off the building, the Taoiseach replied: “The wind”. He said: “I am hugely powerful but I do not organise that”.
The Fine Gael leader said that the same wind blew over a lot of other roofs at the same time and “none of those blew off”, but Mr Ahern said the freak storm in January this year damaged a large number of buildings in the area, uprooted 200-year-old trees and hit the centre.
“Our primary concern at all times must be to protect the taxpayers’ investment and that is what we are doing.”