Saturday 23 February 2008

Marina backers face EUR260,000 bill as project hits choppy waters

MINISTER Eamon 6 Cuiv and Deputy Frank Fahey have joined forces in a last ditch attempt to save the backers of a marina project in Roundstone from having to fork out substantial sums from their own pockets to the banks.

The Roundstone Marina company - comprised largely of local people - took out bank loans totalling over EUR260,000 five years ago in the belief that Government grants would be available to pay the money back.

The people in the Roundstone Marina company are working in a voluntary capacity on the project.

Four business people with strong links to Roundstone - and including the creator of Riverdance, Bill Whelan - gave personal guarantees in respect of the loans.

But the Marina company, and the guarantors, have been caught in the centre of a long running battle between Frank Fahey and officials from the Department of the Marine.

The controversial 34-berth marina project in Roundstone Bay was first mooted when Deputy Fahey was the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for the Marine between 2000 and 2002. The estimated cost was approximately EUR2.5m.

The then-Minister Fahey committed the Department of the Marine to giving strong financial backing to the marina. However, since Fahey left the Ministry departmental officials have raised doubts about the marina project and have raised questions about the wisdom of spending money on it.

The Roundstone Marina company got full planning permission five years ago. They also got all off the foreshore and marine licences that were needed for the project.

But the local company directors had to take out large bank loans to cover the cost of consultancy work and the planning process.

It is understood that a local bank branch has now handed the matter over to its Dublin headquarters and that moves may be afoot to get the money back. But the Marina company does not have the funds to pay up.

This could leave individuals in the Roundstone Marina Company and/or the four guarantors with the responsibility of paying the EUR260,000 out of their own pockets.

According to local sources the situation has reached the point where demands for the money - or Court action - could follow soon.

It is understood that representatives of the Roundstone Marina Company met the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Eamon 6 Cuiv and Deputy Frank Fahey in Ballyconneely during the week to discuss the matter.

Following on that, Deputy Fahey said that the Marina project was now coming under the umbrella of Minister 6 Cufv's Department.

It is not clear as to how a marina project could be handled in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs but there is some talk thai it could involve liaison with the Department of the Marine. It is understood that the matter is to be raised with Finance Minster, Brian Cowen with a view to finding a sum of money to back the project.

But the most immediate priority is to ensure thai the voluntary community group and/or the guarantors who got into the venture in good faith are not hit with a big bill. It is not known yet if the banks will be willing to hold back further - they have been waiting for money for six years - as a result of the new efforts involving Minister O Cufv and Deputy Fahey.

The Roundstone Marina was one of four such projects along the south and west coast that were backed by Frank Fahey when he was at the Cabinet table.

The projects came in for some criticism from people such as former Green leader, Trevor Sargeant, T.D - now a junior Minister in the FF/Green/PD Government.

These criticisms have abated for sometime past. Deputy Fahey has always defended the projects strongly and said they opened up new possibilities in tourism in the wesl of Ireland.

Officials in the Department of the Marine continued to demand more information and asked for different structures in the Roundstone Marina company in recent years.

Deputy Frank Fahey says that all that was required has long since been complied with.

There has been speculation that Fahey - who pushed through projects such as the marina's and Rosaveal Harbour while certain civil servants were unhappy about them - insisted that money would come to west of Ireland projects when he was in the Cabinet. This may have led to tensions between himself and Dublin based civil servants.

"It's a crying shame that local people here in Roundstone who are doing their best for the community should be suffering because of that", said a local community activist who did not want to be named.

Mairtin O Cathain
Connacht Tribune

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