The yearly spend on sports jumped from €17m in 1997 to €336m this year, although a sizeable chunk of that latter number incorporates the rebuilding of Lansdowne Road.
But despite talk of recession, the Minister insisted: “I wouldn’t accept that sport is one of the first things to be cut.
“Clearly, we have to make adjustments across all departments and my department won’t be immune to that but it is my job to ensure that we protect the level of funding we have built up.
“We have a very high base and it is (important) to keep that base in place.”
Pressed on what level of funding will be made for the next Olympic cycle which will culminate in London in 2012, Minister Cullen was more circumspect, pointing out that a full review of Beijing would have to take place before a figure is finalised.
But he added there will be “a huge Irish effort for those Games”.
The Minister was speaking at the announcement of the Irish Paralympic team for Beijing in Dublin where Paralympic Council of Ireland (PCI) High Performance director Liam Harbison implored him to maintain the current funding rates for the organisation.
“I ask you to keep our Paralympians in mind during the difficult economic times ahead, particularly with London 2012 in mind,” said Harbison. The Irish Sports Council (ISC) has contributed €4.8m in support of the PCI during the current Paralympic cycle.
ISC chief executive John Treacy was also confident that sport could ride out the economic storm and pointed to an Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report in 2004 stating that the main social aspects of sport have a combined economic value of €1.4bn as weight for his argument.
“These decisions are made by government, by the Department of Finance, and what we need to do is stress the importance of sport,” said Treacy. “We did a report on the economic benefits of sport a few years ago and the economic generation in terms of going to sporting events is huge.
“There is a whole social aspect to sport as well. The whole social capital side in a modern society cannot be overlooked. Sport is something that binds communities together. That can’t be forgotten. My argument is we should be increasing the budget for sport, not decreasing it.”
Meanwhile, Minister Cullen has expressed his confidence that the FAI will be able to fulfil their financial commitment to the new Lansdowne Road.
Reports at the weekend claimed the Minister had sent a letter to the FAI seeking assurances after the soccer body’s plans for the project were hit to the tune of €90m by problems concerning the sale of premium tickets.
The government insist it will not contribute a cent more to the project than the €191m it has already set aside. “I have been told that everything is in place and everything is fine. The stadium is being built and I look forward to it being opened. The government have made a commitment of a huge amount, €191m on behalf of the taxpayer, and we think that is as far as the government will go with it.”