Tuesday 4 March 2014

Deep pockets sought for National Diaspora Centre

The Irish Government is seeking expressions of interest from potential partners to develop and operate a National Diaspora Centre.

Making the announcment, Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Tourism and Sport, said: "Ireland has a very large overseas diaspora compared to the population of the country, but we do not have a National Diaspora Centre. A Fáilte Ireland study has concluded that a Centre could be viable and self-financing on an operational basis, and would be an opportunity to add to Ireland’s tourism offering.”

The study concluded that a National Diaspora Centre has the potential to be a major tourism attraction, with particularly strong appeal for the Irish Diaspora. However, it would also have to be of interest to people living in Ireland as well, and to overseas visitors who do not have an Irish heritage, in order to be viable. (I was surprised to hear that tourism statistics show the majority of Americans who visit Ireland do not have ancestrals connections, and the proportion has been growing in recent years.)

“The State’s finances remain extremely constrained, and we are not in a position to develop the Centre from our own resources. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it happen. That is why we have decided to progress this project through a partnership process,” Minister Varadkar said.

The call will be issued by Fáilte Ireland in the next couple of weeks and will make clear that the lack of public funds currently available means the project would most likely be for development in the medium term. However, the process should clarify which are the best options should funds become available and the likely extent of Exchequer funds required. Groups making an expression of interest will be asked to indicate if they would be able to meet some or all of the capital costs.

The financial appraisal indicates that a National Diaspora Centre could operate sustainably on a revenue basis, but would not be able to meet its own building costs. The feasibility study envisages that the capital cost of a Centre could range from around €5 million to €26 million depending on the approach taken to its establishment, with the final cost depending on location, scale, and specification and whether it is a new-build or existing building. Use of an existing building and sponsorship would reduce the capital funding required appreciably.

Such a Centre, which has been under discussion for years, has previously prompted Birr, Castlebar, Cork City, Limerick City and Dun Laoghaire to put themselves forward as the host destination, but in the absence of public funds, any decision on location will now be down to developers.

Responses to the call will be assessed initially by the Fáilte Ireland executive. Their findings will then be submitted, alongside the expressions of interest, to a committee comprising an independent Chair and representatives of relevant Departments and other interested parties.