*Kevin Thompstone. Photograph: Joe Buckley
One week on from a highly charged public meeting surrounding the future of The Venue in Shannon, no formal approach has been made by Clare County Council regarding the project.
At the conclusion of last Wednesday’s meeting chaired by RTÉ’s Rachael English, promoters of the community, civic, cultural and interpretative centre outlined they would walk away from the project if the local authority did not acquire the site while Cllr Gerry Flynn declared the Council would purchase it.
Although all six elected representatives of the Shannon Municipal District were present along with approximately 170 people, no formal conversation regarding the future of the 2,600 sq metre site has occurred since.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, Kevin Thompstone outlined that he has been stopped by several people in Shannon since the meeting took place to discuss the project. “I can’t go for a walk in the town or through the town centre without people stopping you to say ‘I didn’t realise there was that much work involved and I’m disappointed’”.
An additional 7 people have volunteered to join a grouping focused on the future of Shannon “that will be focused very much on the lack of investment in the civic, community and creative facilities in the town and socio-economic deficits. It’s too early whether something definite is coming from that”.
Thompstone confirmed that no progress has been made with the Council on the future of The Venue in the past seven days, “We talked with the elected members after the meeting but nothing formal”. He added, “We met the Council formally back in January, the Chief Executive Pat Dowling and Director of Services Liam Conneally and we told them our position, the only way that we would be back involved if Central Government funding was to emerge and be back on the table, the Council are very much in the leadership role but so far nothing like that has happened. Unless there is a breakthrough on the funding front, we strongly believe it’s better that we step out of the way and recognise that’s what been happening over the last couple of years that any project like this that has got funding has been led by the public sector. As long as we’re there with our project it seems like we’re in the way of progress being made on that front soon, we think it’s better to vacate the pitch and leave it free. Where we need to get to is instead of the Council supporting a project led by the community, it needs to be a project led by the Council with the support of the community so we swap roles on the pitch”.
While his involvement and the future of the project remains uncertain, Kevin is adamant that investment is required in the town. “1960 there was no Shannon Town there was nothing here, from a history point view that’s just coming up on 60 years. Unlike centuries of history that you would have with most towns and villages in the country it’s missing that heart, Croí na Sionna was the name we used for The Venue when we made the submission for the URDF. At the same time what I’ve always seen because I’ve worked with lots of people in the community, there is a strong community spirit and also there are lots of green and unseen areas Shannon is right on the River Shannon and a lot of people forget that, we’ve fantastic walkways, a trail that was developed back then by people who had foresight. When I came here first there used to be The Diamond as it was known De Beers sports and social but that was a place we could go to for different events but that’s gone now, you had the different community halls they’ve gone so it’s a reinvestment in that that needs to happen”.
“Half a dozen” pitches were made to Shannon Group in the space of 7 years seeking financial backing of the project however he felt their priority was on the Airport and the Free Zone. “The argument we were making was for the Zone and the Airport to be successful businesses in the Zone need to be able to attract and retain talented people. What we’re hearing from companies in the Zone, they are not able to attract people that live in the town because they don’t see a lot for them to do in the evening time that’s for people that are not into sport. To grow business to the Airport you need to give people a reason to visit and a reason to stay and we felt we had an offering there with The Venue but while there was some recognition of that effort, the focus and priority of Shannon Group has been on the Airport and the Zone itself”.
A failure to secure Central Government funding despite the promise of €5m following a get together with Pat Breen and former Finance Minister Michael Noonan has led Kevin and fellow promoters to form the opinion that the only way The Venue will come to life is if it’s led by the County Council.
“When you keep getting that response it’s clear that the level of commitment isn’t there so it’s back out of the way and let the public sector take it on, we’ve shown what can be done so now let’s vacate the pitch so those with the mandate and with the authority can lead the way. If you look through the RDF funding applications you’ll see nearly every project is public sector led, we felt we weren’t going to make any progress unless the solution for Shannon is public sector led,” he concluded.