Transport Minister Shane Ross has batted away accusations of engaging in ‘gombeen politics’ over the allocation of sporting grants and, instead, highlighted opposition TDs lobbying for club funds.
A blazing row erupted yesterday at the Oireachtas Sports Committee over sports grants with one TD declaring three bodies netted €450,000 in a five-mile radius in Mr Ross’ Dublin-Rathdown constituency.
Controversy in recent days focused on south Dublin’s Wesley College being awarded a €150,000 grant, despite the Ballinteer school having a wealth of facilities.
Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster noted that Wesley’s abundance of sports facilities included four rugby pitches, a soccer pitch, four hockey pitches, 16 tennis courts, two basketball courts, two cricket pitches, field and track facilities and a sports hall and gym.
“I just can’t figure out where the disadvantage is in Wesley College, maybe they are choking on their silver spoons.”
She also claimed there was “blatant discrimination and inequality” under the sports grants system, ignoring disadvantaged schools or clubs.
One yacht club, last year, was awarded €72,000 and a golf club with an €8,000 membership fee received €50,000.
The Louth TD also attacked the minister over the system. “You have really bought into this gombeen politics,” she said.
Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy said it was coincidental “the process” always seemed to benefit the minister, such as it allegedly had, he said, regarding a decision to reopen Mr Ross’ local garda station in Stepaside.
Three clubs and schools, Loreto Beaufort, Wesley College and Three Rock Rovers, all received a total €450,000 in grants and were within a five-mile radius in the minister’s constituency.
But the minister denied any interference or influence in decisions on awarding sports grants.
The objective of the scheme, he said, was to widen numbers in sports from all areas in society but it was also weighted to help disadvantaged schools or clubs, he told the committee.
Some 22 out of 44 schools that got sports grants last year were disadvantaged, as were 1,000 out of 1,800 clubs or bodies that received some of the €60m.
The minister defended the Wesley College grant, saying it would increase open access to the school, where ‘outside’ clubs including the YMCA would get up to 31 hours a week at its facilities for 15 years.
“It is a huge benefit to the surrounding community,” insisted Mr Ross.
The sports grants awarding process had also been taken “out of the political arena”, he explained. No ministers made any changes, not even a comma, on the last round of applications, he said.
Mr Ross disclosed, however, that Mr Troy had submitted no less than eight letters lobbying him about local sports grants in his constituency of Longford-Westmeath.
“I have eight representations from you asking me to interfere,” said the minister, accusing Mr Troy of hypocrisy.
He also said the committee’s vice chairman, Fianna Fáil’s Kevin O’Keeffe, sent him 16 letters last year about sports grants applications.
Junior sports minister Brendan Griffin also defended the scheme, saying: “We can’t stop people jumping up and down and crying that there is interference.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved