Tuesday 20 February 2018

John Greene: Ring vows to ensure grants are well spent

John Greene

John Greene

The 1,500 clubs who failed in their bid to get a share of the €26m in sports capital grants dished out by Minister for Sport Michael Ring last week will find out in the coming days why they did not receive any money.

And the successful applicants will also be told they will be watched closely to ensure they spend the money on the purpose for which it is intended. They will receive correspondence this week confirming how much they will receive and also outlining exactly how that money is to be spent.

The Department of Sport received 2,170 applications with a value of almost €230m for grant aid from clubs looking to develop facilities all over the country and ultimately 615 were successful.

By far the biggest bulk of the money will stay in the capital. Dublin received just over €6.2m for a range of projects. Almost €500,000 will go to schemes in Marlay Park in Rathfarnham, including an all-weather pitch, while €300,000 each has been pledged to McKelvey Celtic FC in Finglas and the GAA club Man O' War in the north of the county. A further €290,000 has been ear-marked for the famed football nursery Stella Maris and €230,000 for Merrion Cricket Club.

Of the clubs who failed in their bid, approximately two-thirds had their application adjudged invalid by the department. Each club will be informed in writing this week exactly where their application fell down. The remaining clubs who lost out will also be informed in writing as to why their application ultimately did not succeed. The minister and his department officials used a scoring system to assess each valid application and this too will be explained.

"We did it as best we could," Minister Ring told the Sunday Independent. "The big issue we looked at was the urban-rural divide. Then you also had a division of sports because you just can't be giving it all to one sport even though we had serious difficulties in some places where there was only certain organisations making applications but you want to spread it through the sports. We did fairly well on that. Of course there are people who aren't happy; they didn't get what they wanted and that created problems for me but what can you do when you have €30m to give and you have €230m worth of applications for projects?"

The minister said he went to great lengths to ensure the process was fair and open and strenuously rejected suggestions that he had personal favourites.

"When people made applications I did not look at them," he added. "They all went to Killarney to be assessed by the officials. The officials adjudged them to be either valid or invalid. I made a political decision as a minister – not like previous ministers – that I was not going to touch anything that was ruled invalid. They were not to be considered, including some from beside me at home in Westport."

Surprisingly, the awarding of €26m to sporting organisations all over the country failed to grab much attention on the national stage last weekend. The decision by the minister to award €200,000 to his local soccer club, Westport United, was challenged in some areas – most notably on RTE's News at One last Monday – but it has been reasonably well established that it was merited. The club is one of the top junior soccer clubs in the country – one of only two from Connacht to win the FAI Junior Cup – and is in dire need of proper facilities. The club has purchased over 13 acres in Westport House and plans to develop a multi-pitch facility with car parking and a stand.

The total amount awarded by the minister to his home county was €777,235, which is €5.95 per person. Meath, for example, will receive just over €1.2m, or €6.80 per person. "If I had given Mayo 150 per cent, or I had given 200 per cent, or I had given Co Mayo everything then that would be the story, but I didn't do that," said Ring.

"What we did was we had a review of the last round and the round before that and we looked at counties like Carlow, Wicklow, Cavan, Meath and a few of these counties had done badly and we loaded them 20 per cent and we reduced the counties that did very well by a small margin and I think we evened things up that way."

Ring, however, refused to comment on reports that several of his Cabinet colleagues were extremely unhappy over projects in their own constituencies, although he did confirm that he was subjected to intense lobbying, including from journalists.

"I was lobbied by all parties and none. Doctors, nurses, priests, journalists, you name it – at one stage or another every profession contacted me about this. Now that is their right, I accept that, because it is a democracy. I never before got the goodwill for sport and for local clubs across all walks of life that goes way above politics. People just love their sport, and they love their club and they want it to have proper facilities and I experienced that first hand. It wasn't politics.

"I had to make difficult decisions. I agonised over it but I believe I can stand over what I did. I'm happy I made the right decisions. I'm happy too that in every county I tried to divide it geographically and I tried to divide it sportswise and where possible I looked at places that never got funding before."

Confirming that projects will be closely monitored, and that a stringent system of checks and balances will be enforced before money is paid over, Minister Ring commented: "This is public money; this is taxpayers' money in difficult times and we will be monitoring on behalf of the taxpayer to make sure that money is spent correctly."

Other notable grants announced last week were to Sutton Lawn Tennis Club (€296,751), Sandyford Baths (€207,785), Duagh Sports and Leisure Complex in Kerry (€200,000), Malahide RFC (€190,378), St Mary's GFC in Wexford (€189,000) and Bray Town Council (€190,000) for the local boxing gym where Katie Taylor is based.

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