Ireland ace's stirring call for minister to maintain funding level
Published 25/11/2011 | 05:00
Last May, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar went to the bathroom at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and missed the first try of Leinster's stunning comeback in the Heineken Cup final.
However, he didn't miss the opportunity to rush out a press release following the game congratulating the two-time European champions.
Unfortunately, he was a little less hurried in his enthusiasm to meet those charged with maintaining Irish sport's dwindling finances -- his meeting yesterday with the Federation of Irish Sport (FIS) was his first in eight months, a mere 12 days before a budget from whose swingeing cuts sport is unlikely to escape.
"The word is that they are looking at a 15 to 20pc reduction over three years, so we are looking at maybe 5pc this year," according to FIS CEO Sarah O'Connor.
"That's all Sports Council funding and there is a sports capital programme for next year where there hasn't been one for three years.
"Sport would prefer to see Sports Council funding kept where it is and for the sports capital programme to be €27m (from €30m).
"I don't know how much traction we have in terms of changing their minds ahead of budget time, but certainly we do want to change their minds, in that if they go ahead with the 15 to 20pc cut over the next three years, we are back to where we were about 2003.
"People will lose jobs. It would be hard to quantify the number. But bigger than that is the reality that it would impact on people's opportunity to partake in sports around the country and will also impact on the standard of sport that comes out of Ireland.
"It's not by accident that we've had some of the best GAA championship matches over the last couple of seasons, or that Dublin hurling has suddenly emerged, or that Leinster and Munster suddenly are flying high for the last number of years and that Connacht aren't far behind them -- or that this year our international Olympic athletes have won 56 medals around the world."
And Sean O'Brien, professional rugby player and part-time farmer, delivered a stirring message to the minister, who has unashamedly aligned himself with the Blue Holy Trinity of Fine Gael, the Dubs and Leinster rugby.
"It's bringing so many more people into the country at certain stages, whether All-Ireland finals or Six Nations games," he said.
"It brings money into the country, it generates money in the country as well. They really have to look at the economic aspect of sport as well.
"There's not a whole lot of other things generating money in the country at the moment apart from sport. Well, except farming maybe."