Lourdes Stadium in Drogheda will not be made available to the public for free during the first two months of the year to coincide with RTE’s Operation Transformation programme – but the local authority admit they do have a staffing issue when it comes to ensuring all sports facilities countywide are always available during specified opening hours.
Councillor Declan Power this week called on Louth County Council to waive the €2 entry fee for Lourdes Stadium for the months of January and February with the popular RTE One programme Operation Transformation encouraging people nationwide to become more health conscious and active.
In a motion tabled to the Drogheda Borough Council, Cllr Power also wanted to promote the stadium, describing it as underused by the general public. The council confirmed there was no provision in the annual budget to allow for lowering any charge for use of Lourdes Stadium.
“My motion is very simplistic,” Cllr Power said, responding to the council’s official reply which made reference to local GAA clubs and their own Operation Transformation related activities. “I welcome the Sports Partnership link between Louth County Council and the local GAA clubs and their walking programmes but there is mention of Lourdes Stadium.
“The issue for me is not the €2 fee – it is more than reasonable – but it is a council facility that is underused by the public. The location can be little bit difficult to get to.
“Many people have gone during opening hours and found the gates closed. It’s a fantastic sports facility here in the town but just not being used. I would like to be able to encourage many of our locals to at least experience the civic facility that is there. The floodlights are fantastic.”
Cllr James Byrne fully supported the motion, saying as a regular user in the past, he found the €2 charge to be “extremely good value for money”.
He felt there needed to be “more creativity around promoting the venue.” Cllr Byrne continued; “It’s an excellent facility, it’s an oasis of calm in an otherwise busy town. Perhaps they could look at extending the afternoon opening hours. It’s under utilised, that’s for sure.”
Cllr Kevin Callan also supported the motion and like his colleagues, cited a concern over the hours Lourdes Stadium was closed when it should be open to the public. The current opening hours are 10am to 2pm Monday to Friday and 5pm to 7pm every weekday excluding Wednesday when it closes at 6pm. It is also open on Saturdays from 12pm to 2pm.
Director of Services Paddy Donnelly confirmed that there would be no free access as requested by Cllr Power but did state that budgetary and resource restraints meant the council’s hands were tied.
“When there’s a budgetary impact, it’s never simplistic,” he told the meeting. “There is a challenge for us around staffing levels. We have in the past depended on CE schemes to support us because we have a minimal number of staff available in the sport section. When staff are on leave or on sick leave or short notice of staff being available, we have to close the facilities. We cannot depend on the CE scheme.”
Donnelly confirmed the council were looking into ways of improving the staffing levels associated with the sports section and the opening of facilities around the county.
“It [Lourdes Stadium] is available to schools and all groups who want to use it. We actually have a problem in the evenings because of the growing number of clubs who want to use it. We have to divide up lanes available to clubs. During the day, it doesn’t get the use it probably could.” The DoS also confirmed it is available to Operation Transformation groups.
“When the gates are closed, people lose a little bit of confidence,” Cllr Power replied. He called for a report on public footfall in 2019 and income generated at Lourdes Stadium. “There’s 80, 90, 100 kids there in the evening. It’s great to see. But during public hours, there’s not enough done.”