It isn't cronyism, says Gilmore as his local pool eats up funding
A NEW swimming pool in the constituency of Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore will soak up more than half of the national budget for pools this year.
Mr Gilmore revealed that he had been lobbying Junior Minister for Sport Michael Ring about the Loughlinstown swimming pool "since the formation of the new Government".
But last night a spokeswoman for Mr Gilmore was forced to deny any cronyism, after it emerged that there are 11 other swimming-pool projects countrywide currently waiting for grant money.
It is understood that only Loughlinstown and Ballybofey in Co Donegal will receive money this year, meaning that 10 other pools are expected to get no funding this year because the budget would be exceeded.
The €3.8m grant allocated to the project in Mr Gilmore's Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown constituency represents 57pc of the entire €6.65m budget available for swimming-pool construction this year.
It was also the highest grant possible because the limit for any one project is capped at €3.8m.
Mr Gilmore announced yesterday within hours of a decision being made that he was "very pleased" the new 25m pool in Loughlinstown was going ahead.
The grant was signed off yesterday by Mr Ring but Mr Gilmore managed to get out a statement welcoming the decision several hours before it was officially announced.
"Since the formation of the new Government, I have been in regular contact with Minister Ring and I am very pleased that he has now given the go-ahead," he said.
Last night, Mr Ring said there was no question of political cronyism in the awarding of the €3.8m grant to the Loughlinstown swimming pool.
He pointed out that a new public swimming pool in Castlebar in his own Mayo constituency was also awaiting funding.
"If that (cronyism) was the case, Castlebar would be the most obvious one for me to do.
"I can't do it because they haven't matching funding from the local authority," he said.
The Loughlinstown pool grant will now go to the local authority, which must come up with matching funding before the project can proceed. The exact amount it must raise was not clear last night.
Mr Gilmore last night declined a request for an interview about the grant for the swimming pool in his constituency.
His spokeswoman said there was no question of cronyism as it had been in the pipeline at least 11 years before Mr Gilmore got into Government.
She also denied that he had been trying to take credit for securing the grant by getting his statement out first.
The swimming-pool projects in Loughlinstown and Ballybofey are currently at the tendering stage and are expected to go to construction soon.
But other projects are stuck further back in the process, because they have not been given the required sports grant or do not have the required matching funding.
Loughlinstown is getting a new pool even though public pools already exist in neighbouring areas such as Meadowbrook, Stillorgan and Monkstown in Dublin and Bray and Greystones in Wicklow.
Local Labour councillor Denis O'Callaghan said there were 60,000 people in the catchment area for Loughlinstown and that many were too poor to afford public transport to go to the other swimming pools.
But Independent Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy said it was time for the Government to review the system for awarding swimming-pool grants.
"People do feel, whether it's true or not in this case, that the decisions are based on political patronage rather than need. And we've got to get away from that kind of politics," she said.
Ms Murphy pointed out that large towns in her constituency, such as Maynooth and Cellbridge, had no public swimming pool despite having very large populations.
And Independent Donegal South West TD Thomas Pringle criticised Mr Gilmore for copying the PR habits of the previous Government.
"Fine Gael and Labour told us they were changing things and bringing new politics to the country. But it's still 'get in first with the announcement' before anything else happens," he said.
The Department of Transport said it was normal practice to notify government TDs and senators of swimming-pool grants in their area and to announce it on its website.
However, the announcement was only put up on the department's website several hours after Mr Gilmore had released his statement.