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Meeting planned to begin talks on a proposed major new indoor sports complex in Portlaoise

Laois County Councillors have led a charge for a new, state-of-the-art indoor sports complex to be developed in Portlaoise.

The first step came on Monday of this week when the Council agreed join forces on the project with the Portlaoise Panthers Basketball Club and 25 other clubs and groups across the County.

Sinn Féin Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley and Labour Cllr Marie Tuohy raised the motion at the March meeting of Laois County Council.

They asked that the County Council “take a lead in bringing together all relevant stakeholders, ie Sports Ireland and Basketball Ireland, along with Laois County Council, to make progress and advance a Sports Hall in the County.”

The motion came on the back of several calls from Portlaoise Panthers to renovate St Mary’s Hall, which culminated in a march on Council Buildings following this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Portlaoise.

However, Cllr Dwane Stanley St Mary’s Hall has outlived the level of sport being played in the County, and that fixing the issues at “would not solve the need” for a major new sports complex in Portlaoise.

Cllrs Dwane Stanley and Tuohy said they wanted the County Council to “play an active, positive role” bringing together local clubs, Government Ministers, and bodies such as Sport Ireland and Basketball Ireland to provide the new complex.

The Cllrs stressed the value of Portlaoise’s geographic location as an asset not just to the County, but to the country as a whole.

Cllr Tuohy urged the County Council to identify potential sites as soon as possible.

Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald supported the motion, saying there has been “a population explosion in Laois,” meaning there is an ever-growing need for improved indoor sports facilities.

Cllr Fitzgerald added that a new complex should cater for multiple sports, including basketball, athletics, hockey, handball, and more.

“It is terrible that our young athletes have to go to other counties to train before they go and represent us on a national and international level,” Cllr Fitzgerald said.

“This new sports facility is desperately needed and Laois County Council have to take the lead on it – because if we don’t, nobody else will.”

Cllrs Barry Walsh, John Joe Fennelly and Padraig Fleming all implored the Council to consider the financial benefits to local business that would come from building such a complex.

Cllr Walsh said sport and recreation have huge benefits and that spending money on these facilities should be as important as roads, housing and infrastructure.

Cllr Fleming reiterated Portlaoise central geographic location with “great road access from outside the County.”

Cllr Aisling Moran also highlighted Portlaoise’s proximity to motorways, saying the town is “90 minutes away from 80% of the country,” which she says makes having a national indoor arena in the town “a no-brainer.”

Cllr Ben Brennan went a step further, saying the County Council “should be looking for an indoor sports stadium, not just a hall,” leading to Cllr Thomasina Connell calling for the Council to write to the Minister to engage in the matter.

But Cllr James Kelly warned that before contacting Ministers, the Council should identify a site and zone it for sports and amenities.

Cllr Fitzgerald added that there should be meeting coordinated with all relevant bodies “before we go running to Ministers.”

Cllr Pascal McEvoy said as Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council he pledged to bring together all parties concerned and would facilitate creating a committee to work on the development.

Chief Executive of Laois County Council, Mr John Mulholland tempered expectations, however, saying such a project “would entail huge capital investment” and that the cost of managing the facility post-build must also be considered.

Mr Mulholland said that Laois does not have access to the kinds of funding that come with having third-level educational institutes as with towns such as Athlone and Carlow.

The Chief Executive also reminded Cllrs that this idea had also been mooted “during Covid,” but that there was no agreements between the clubs and bodies affected.

But Cllr Fitzgerald refuted these claims, saying it is Westmeath County Council who are responsible for the Athlone Regional Sports Centre, which the Fianna Fáil Cllr said is completely independent of TUS Athlone or any governing sports bodies.

Cllr Fitzgerald added that Westmeath County Council were lining up another regional sports centre, this time for development in Mullingar.

“If Westmeath can have two, why can’t we Laois have one?” Cllr Fitzgerald asked.

Cllr Dwane Stanley posed the question, “why is Laois always bottom of these things?” with regard to receiving national grant funding.

Cllr Walsh added that “people get frightened by big costs, but this can be paid for on a phased basis.”

Cllr Tuohy also said that the costs associated with post-build management of the facility should not get in the way of providing a proper community sports centre.

Director of Services, Mr Donal Brennan confirmed the County Council will call a meeting with Sport Ireland to discuss the feasibility of the project.

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