The Dundalk Ice Dome has remained vacant since it was bought by DKIT in 2014
The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are set to investigate why the Dundalk Ice Dome has remained vacant since being bought by Dundalk IT in 2014.
It comes as the President of the Irish Ice Hockey Association (IIHA) has said that his organisation had been in negotiations with DKIT since 2018 to lease the property.
Chairperson of the PAC, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley confirmed that the issue was raised with the PAC last week by another Sinn Féin TD from Dublin Bay South, Chris Andrews.
Deputy Stanley stated that the PAC has since written to DKIT for their stance on the situation, saying that the committee is “frustrated” by the building remaining vacant.
“Public funding went into the purchase of the former JJB and Dundalk Ice Dome in 2013 and it is sitting there not being used. It has also been reported that the upkeep of the dome has been subpar and is being ‘left to rot,” clarified Deputy Stanley.
According to Deputy Stanley, a response to the PAC’s letter has not yet been received.
In a statement to the Dundalk Democrat, DKIT said that they are “actively engaged in securing a lease for the Ice Dome property located in Dundalk Retail Park”, adding that a framework to lease the property was first established in 2018.
“DKIT is seeking to lease the Ice Dome facility to a sporting organisation and it continues to consider its options in this regard. The institute has communicated with interested parties to date and continues to keep the HEA and the Department informed of all progress,” said a spokesperson for the college.
“Ongoing discussions are commercially sensitive and further details cannot be made available at this time, nor is the institute in a position to discuss its engagement with any sporting organisations.”
When asked by the Dundalk Democrat whether or not DKIT would be engaging with the PAC, the college declined to comment further.
Deputy Andrews, who raised the vacant site with the chair of the PAC, believes that the Higher Education Authority (HEA) also have questions to answer and that Higher Education Minister Simon Harris needs to intervene.
“They’ve [HEA] been just sitting on their hands and the Minister needs to stop sitting on his hands and clarify and resolve the outstanding issues and ensure that public funds aren’t allowed to just lie like a white elephant there,” said Deputy Andrews.
Neither the HEA nor the Department of Higher Education responded to requests for comment in time for publication.
President of the IIHA, Aaron Guli, has said that his organisation had been in negotiations with the college since 2018 to lease the site.
Originally, Mr Guli says that the IIHA approached DKIT to inquire about purchasing the site after it went on sale in 2016.
However, the newly-appointed President of DKIT Michael Mulvey said that the site should not be sold, and instead began negotiations to lease the building.
Minutes from a DKIT Governing Body meeting in November 2017 show that Mr Mulvey believed it would be unwise to sell the property.
Mr Guli says that there were several more attempts by the IIHA to lease the property, with each facing delays due to new investors approaching DKIT.
According to Mr Guli, the IIHA had agreed to pay €60,000 rent a year for the Ice Dome for a minimum of 10 years, alongside a €400,000 investment into the property to restore the building.
Most recently, DKIT rejected the IIHA’s final offer for a lease of the building in February, after three years of negotiations.
Mr Guli said that the IIHA were not “going to take this decision lying down”, and that the IIHA had met all of DKIT’s lease requirements during the negotiations yet were still rejected.
“We met every single one of their framework (heads of terms) over a three year period and they still stated that this wasn’t suitable,” exclaimed Mr Guli.
“The question remains why it took three years for a simple lease and why it was not leased to us if we met the requirements they set.
“It is our position that they were negotiating in bad faith.”
Deputy Andrews said that there was no reason this situation couldn’t be resolved quickly and that commitments need to be made so public funds aren’t left to go derelict.
“The bottom line for me is that we have a large sporting facility that has been allowed to decay and become derelict by the College,” said Andrews.
“It looks dirty, overgrown and run down, there is red spray paint with profanities all over the place, it looks decrepit,” recalled Mr Guli.
“I think the people of Dundalk need to understand that there is actually been people who have been trying either through purchase or lease for the last four years to reopen that building.
“Public money was used to purchase that site, so the public should have a say in that building use.”
Currently, as the Ice Dome was the only full-sized indoor ice rink in Ireland, the IIHA currently cannot compete professionally due to a lack of facilities.
“We are one of only three in Europe that does not actually have an ice rink, we have no venue for any winter sports in this country,” stated Mr Guli.
“Therefore anyone that wants to play ice hockey or winter sports, we are the only ones who literally have to leave the country in order to play.”
According to Mr Guli, the eight Irish teams can only play each other once a month for an hour and 15 minutes in Dundonald in East Belfast, and can only access training on a Saturday night between 10:15 pm and 11:30 pm.
“That's not conducive to kids, it is only for adults… the kids can only avail of those pop-up holiday rinks,” said Mr Guli.
Mr Guli clarified that this contrasted to countries like Nepal, which have the facilities and are able to compete in national competitions, unlike Ireland.
“I can name a few countries I deal with on the international level, who by any standpoint are considered third world countries: Nepal, Mongolia, Thailand, The Philippines, Malaysia and Iran. All of those countries have an ice rink.”
“Ireland prides itself on being a global economy with a very diverse population but basically what they’re saying is, when it comes to sport it is one size fits all.
“We have lots of North Americans and Eastern Europeans whose primary sport would be ice-based and just don't provide that for them.”
Deputy Andrews said that he hoped that DKIT would step back and look at the bigger picture surrounding the Ice Dome and that the college would reengage with the IIHA to find a solution.
“We have an ice hockey home without any sport and we have an ice hockey association without any home,” said Deputy Andrews.
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