Tuesday 19 March 2019

Shane Ross says his constituency 'actually got unlucky' as he denies 'intervention' in €150k grant to fee-paying school

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Colin Keegan
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Colin Keegan
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Minister for Sport Shane Ross has denied that he had any intervention after a fee-paying school in his constituency was awarded a €150,000 sports grant.

Earlier this month, Shane Ross, tweeted: "Delighted to confirm that Wesley College has been granted €150,000 as part of the Sports Capital Programme. The funding will ensure the resurfacing of the hockey pitch, and will benefit the school as well as the YMCA Hockey Club."

The tweet sparked outrage, as it was highlighted that Wesley College is a fee paying school in the minister’s own constituency, and that 30 public schools were turned down in this process.

Speaking on RTE Radio 1, Minister Shane Ross said that while he was delighted for Wesley College, he wasn't involved in the process.

"Before I came into office, there were accusations of the 'pork barrel' and the Sports Capital Grants. The system worked like this: There was a scoring system for every application, which was done by the officials. It was then sent up for political decision after that and sometimes those decisions didn't reflect the scoring system.

"When I came in, I made it absolutely and totally clear that that was not going to happen on my watch. We would do the exactly same system but the officials would do it and I would have absolutely no involvement whatsoever. When it came up to me, I would sign off on it without interference or observations or comment."

Mr Ross continued to say that his constituency "actually got unlucky".

"What happened in this case, was that the application was refused and I signed off on that. I had nothing to do with it apart from signing off on it.

"Then there was an appeal and I signed off on that. There was no alteration, no political decision, not one movement of money, sum or individual. It just came through.

"I was cheering for them... but that isn't interference. I never made a representation to the officials."

Mr Ross said that the narrative around the decision is "baffling".

"The narrative on this story is extraordinary. One is that I supposedly interfered. I did not. The other narrative is that a private school got €150,000 courtesy because it was in my constituency.

"A private school doesn't get €150,000 out of the sports grant. What happens here is that any school that applies, has to before it gets money, it has to open up to the community and do it jointly with a club in the community.

"What happened in Wesley's case is that they went in with the YMCA. The conditions of that is that Wesley must now open its ground and pitch to YMCA for wide use. The YMCA now get 32 hours a week on the Wesley hockey pitch. This is opening it up to the community. It also opens it up to a national school. In every case, whether the school is public or private, it is opened up to the community to use."

Mr Ross also told Sean O'Rourke that it was irresponsible of him to tweet about his delight.

"Yeah, I think it probably was, but I've sent some pretty irresponsible tweets around from time to time. The reaction I didn't expect."

Also speaking on the show, Mary Daly, Principal at St Dominic’s College in Ballyfermot, said that her school's gym has "14 leaks".

"We've a gym but it's totally sub-standard. We have about 14 leaks and the joints under the floor are rotten. It's a health and safety risk for student to use. Changing facilities are inadequate and shower facilities are not available. It's very difficult to encourage young girls to participate in sport."

Ms Daly added that the school has applied for sports grants but they weren't granted.

"This year we are going to apply for emergency works as the hall can't be used at the moment. We have a number of buckets in the hall and the caretaker has to come in every morning and mop the floor. Especially with the spate of bad weather the roof has deteriorated more.

"The system isn't open. We wouldn't be able to afford to upgrade our existing facilities. There needs to be a level playing field."

Mick Duff, Chairman of the Board of Tallaght Community School also told Sean O'Rourke that his school is in need of funding.

"We applied and have continuously applied for a small all-weather pitch for the school."

Mr Duff said that the school does have a sports complex with a pool, but that it is "completely outdated".

"It is a wonderful complex and it is managed well but we do need an injection of capital from the Department of Education. We would have applied about five times for this.

"It's about value for money. €107,000 coming into a school with almost 6,000 pupils in it and also serving the local community is not a single interest."

Mr Duff added that the school never received an explanation as to why the school was refused the funding.

"There needs to be more transparency in the system," Mr Duff said.

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