THE ?250m redevelopment of Lansdowne into a 55,000seater stadium could be delayed by at least two years after it was revealed that a large amount of hazardous asbestos is contained on the site.
The IRFU and FAI are now facing four years without a ground for home internationals, with completion of the refurbished stadium likely to extend past the 2008 deadline.
The revelation is the latest in a series of blows that have delayed attempts by both organisations to develop a modern national stadium.
A spokesman for the IRFU said that the association was "very aware that there is an amount of asbestos contained at the site". He added that the "very best specialists" in the area of asbestos removal will be hired to remove it from the stadium, to ensure the safety of local residents.
Specialised contractors will have to be called in to blast the hazardous material with fluids during the demolition process to prevent lethal fibres from becoming airborne. Inhalation of asbestos fibres causes lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma ? a cancer of the pleural lining that is almost always lethal.
Industry sources described the amount of asbestos cement sheeting contained in the roofing of the old section of the stadium as significant.
The removal of such an amount of asbestos is costly and will result in delays in the demolition of the stadium.
The old section of the stadium was constructed in 1955, when the use of asbestos was common in the building industry.
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne previously indicated that the deadline for the completion of the project in 2008 was based on the hope that it would pass through the planning process without any difficulties.
The sports bodies had hoped to have the planning process concluded by mid2006, with demolition and rebuilding work completed two years later.
It is now likely that the final stage of the planning process will extend into 2007, given the likelihood of major objections in relation to health risks.
But it is possible that even if permission is granted by Dublin City Council and there are no objections by An Bord Pleanála, the stadium may not be completed until 2010.
The IRFU and FAI have set up a management company which will meet with local residents' groups and public representatives in the next fortnight. It is expected that residents will raise concerns about the removal of the asbestos.
In the event of large-scale financial problems in removing the asbestos, extra funding may be difficult to obtain from the department of sport, which has already committed over .190m to the project. The stadium's financial difficulties are likely to send the IRFU further into debt.
The union operated on a .4m deficit last year. The IRFU expect to recoup just ?3m annually from the redeveloped stadium.
At least half the ?83m of non-government-funded costs, which will be borne by the IRFU and the FAI, are based on advance ticket sales, marketing and advertising for rugby games.