Sports bodies’ backing for Varadkar

EVENTS in Cardiff, Croke Park and Cheltenham may be uppermost in most minds this month but Irish sport claimed its most important victory of the year yesterday when it was retained at the cabinet table by the new Government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed the welcome news shortly before 6pm when announcing that Dublin West TD Leo Varadkar is to serve as Minister for the newly-constituted Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport.

Under the previous administration, sport had been grouped in with tourism as well as arts but there were fears that the sector could be relieved of the cabinet seat which it had held since 1997.

Fianna Fáil had in fact relegated sport to a junior ministry in the shambolic cabinet reshuffle earlier this year and there was some speculation that it would be sacrificed in the latest rejig.

Had that happened, it would have been almost impossible to maintain the current levels of funding which are already seen as the absolute bare minimum required for sport at grassroots and high performance levels.

It is no coincidence that the level of funding set aside for sport grew annually from the day it was represented at cabinet until recently when the downturn in the economy saw a decrease in funds across the board.

“It’s good news all round,” said Sarah O’Connor, who is chief executive of the Federation of Irish Sports, a body which has been championing sport’s claims on behalf of over 60 national governing bodies.

“The link with tourism is probably a good one as there are some obvious synergies there and in Leo Varadkar, we have a relatively young TD who probably has higher political ambitions and will be looking to make his mark.

“He is probably coming to it with a fresh pair of eyes, no preconceived notions and it is good that sport has been linked with what is the more economic department as opposed to arts, which has been put in with heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs.

“The one hope would be that sport has not just been tagged on to tourism and transport which might be seen as the more heavy-hitting areas but we will be hoping to meet the minister in the next two to three weeks to discuss things.”

The federation will also be looking to establish a cross-party working group on sport in the hope that TDs can be better educated as to the benefits which the country at large can accrue from funding the sports sector.

The decision to retain sport in the cabinet was also welcomed by the Irish Sports Council (ISC), the organisation which serves as the conduit for the funds afforded to the sector from the exchequer.

Varadkar becomes the first ever Fine Gael minister with responsibility for sport and follows in the footsteps of Dr Jim McDaid, John O’Donoghue, Seamus Brennan, Martin Cullen and Mary Hanafin.

Jimmy Deenihan and Frances Fitzgerald, both of whom had been tipped for the job ultimately handed to Varadkar, were handed the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs and Children portfolios respectively.

Varadkar was first elected to the Dáil in May 2007 and was initially appointed Enterprise, Trade and Employment spokesman. In June 2010, he was appointed to Communications, Energy & Natural Resources.

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