Great divide must change
IF, or maybe when, the sports capital programme is resurrected by this government, or indeed the next one, a radically different approach to how money is distributed will be required.
Speaking in the Seanad in March, minister of state Mary White said: "More than 7,400 projects have now benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing the total allocations in that time to more than €730 million. The programme has, in the past ten years, transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city."
Unfortunately, that is not the whole story. It is clear the programme was used by successive ministers for sport and finance to the benefit of their own areas.
The extent of this practice was laid bare in a recent report by academic and journalist Jane Suiter, who wrote in the Irish Times: "Clubs in their constituencies receive more money in total, receive a greater amount per application, are more likely to make successful applications, and more likely to have more successful applications than others."
Suiter's report cites the example of funding under the programme in Kerry during John O'Donoghue's term as sports minister.
O'Donoghue's constituency of South Kerry faired remarkably better than North Kerry for four of his six years in office.
In 2002, the county received just over €3.3m, split almost equally between the two constituencies. In 2004, €3m went into the county, with over €2.1m of that going into the minister's South Kerry constituency. In 2007, of the €3.55m awarded, €2.25m was for South Kerry.
Renewed pressure on the government to reinstate the programme is a good thing, but it cannot be a question of flicking the switch back to 'on' and continuing as before. Sure, this is the kind of fund that can buy votes, but who really benefits in the long run from that kind of thinking?