Government's policy of investing in sport has led to increased participation levels
The third round of Sports Capital Programme (SCP) funding which I announced last week saw €41m allocated to 891 sporting projects across the country. In the years between 2008 and 2012, under previous Governments, the SCP was stopped. On coming to office, this Government gave a commitment to provide two rounds of funding, despite the terrible state of the public finances. This reflected the Government's commitment to sport and to the role it plays in local communities.
In the last three years, almost €130m has been allocated to the development of more than 2,600 projects, either through SCP funding or special allocations. In 2012, under the SCP, €31m was provided, in 2014 that rose to €40.5m, and last week I announced another €41m. A further €17m was provided through special allocations.
I am acutely aware that this funding goes to assist voluntary and community organisations, national governing bodies, local authorities, education and training boards and schools to provide equipment and develop sustainable facilities in suitable locations. The money is broadly dispersed, going to the stalwarts of Irish sport such as the GAA, soccer, rugby and boxing but also to groups as diverse as angling, weightlifting and skateboarding.
During each round of the Sports Capital Programme, funds are allocated on a per capita basis to each county. This is a system that was introduced by me and which has been a major departure from previous allocations, which sometimes saw ministers' constituencies being allocated disproportionately large amounts.
To put this in context, between 1998 and 2013 Carlow and Meath each received €111 per head of population, while Kerry got €202 and Donegal got €191. This demonstrates the unfairness that was inherent in the past, which cannot and should not be repeated in the future.
This year, due to the fact that some counties - Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare - did not have a sufficient number of valid applications to receive their full allocations, a surplus was available. This meant that more than €3m of surplus funds could be distributed to those counties that had historically fared so poorly. Most of these counties had an additional €300,000 added to their per capita allocation, and I worked hard with my officials to make sure these funds were delivered to as many valid applicants as possible.
A further change which I introduced to the programme was the introduction of a 'sunset clause' to grantees. This puts in place a time-frame of two years for projects to be completed. This has worked well in ensuring a good draw-down of funds, with facilities being provided in a timely manner. It has also meant that jobs could be created quickly as projects progressed through phases of development.
We are starting to see improved levels of participation in sport and physical activity across the country. This is evidenced by the most recent Irish Sports Monitor report which shows that participation rose from 44.8 per cent in 2011 to 47.2 per cent in 2013. If we are to continue to build on these numbers we have to make sure that clubs and organisations have appropriate equipment to use and facilities in which to train that will attract new participants and keep the old. We also have to do what we can to ensure that the volunteers and coaches, who are the backbone of our sporting organisations, can take their focus off fundraising and put it where it matters: on the promotion of healthy sporting activities and participation within their local communities. This is the very essence of the Sports Capital Programme and allows them to do just that.
The facilities that benefit from these funds range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence and everything in between. With around 90 per cent of grantees reporting that they have been able to increase participation as a direct result of these grants, we see the importance of their continued delivery.
This year almost 1,600 applications were received under the Programme, with a record number - almost 90 per cent - of valid applications being grant-aided. Throughout the application and assessment process an emphasis has always been placed on rewarding clubs and organisations that share facilities and on applications from disadvantaged areas. This year, more than €14.5m has been allocated to 305 projects located in or serving CLAR and RAPID areas.
This Government will continue to seek the most effective ways to promote sport and increase participation to support the nation's physical and mental wellbeing. I am delighted to have been able to deliver this round of funding and I'm turning my focus to securing a further round next year.
Michael Ring is Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
Sunday Indo Sport