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Ireland to proceed with joint Euro 2008 bid

© Reuters 2002

By Michael Roddy

DUBLIN, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Ireland will go ahead with its joint bid with Scotland to host the 2008 European Championships, officials said on Thursday, but where the games will be played remained unclear. A decision was taken at a late-night meeting on Wednesday where top government ministers agreed to back the joint bid.

"They (the government) confirmed to the Scottish First Minister's office that we're supportive of the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) bid to co-host the championships," a government spokesman said. Thursday was the deadline for Ireland and Scotland to express their interest in making a bid to host the games.

It is uncertain, however, what venues would be used in Ireland, where the only two stadiums in Dublin are Lansdowne Road and Croke Park. Croke Park belongs to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which only allows gaelic games to be played there.

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has long promoted the construction of a new national stadium, which has come to be known as "the Bertie Bowl".

The FAI also said it would prefer to play in a new stadium. "The preference of the FAI is for the government to give effect to its statement of 31st of January last that a national stadium is both desirable feasible," FAI president Milo Corcoran said.

But spiraling costs, with a recent report putting its price tag at 890 million euros ($767 million), or double the original estimate, caused a split between Ahern and the junior coalition partner Progressive Democrats.

The PD leader, Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney, saying the cost is prohibitive, had indicated she would only back the bid for the games on condition that the existing stadiums be used. The government spokesman said that the government and the FAI had until the end of May to finalise details of the bid.

"Between then and now the steering committee will be looking at the options for the necessary stadia," the spokesman said.

However, unofficial reports said the GAA may well relent on its ban on soccer or rugby in Croke Park, thus permitting Ireland to use Lansdowne and Croke as its two venues.

The Irish Independent newspaper quoted government sources as saying the GAA, in exchange for certain rule changes, would "consider the request to accommodate some of the European Championship games".

An approach to the GAA to open Croke Park for soccer and rugby was narrowly defeated by the GAA board last year, but the association is expected to review the issue when it meets in April.

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