MINISTER for Sport, Jack Chambers has called on Sport Ireland to engage with all sporting bodies about the growing crisis of retention of referees, in the wake of a spate of attacks on GAA match officials.
During a Budget 2023 briefing Wednesday - in which an energy fund of €35m was announced for sports clubs and grassroots organisations - the Minister-of-State at the Department of Sport and Gaeltacht was asked if he had spoken to the GAA about the recent violence at club games.
“We’re shocked by the number of instances in the last couple of weeks and there should be no threatening or abusive behaviour against any match official, in any code,” he said.
“They are essential to the function of our game (GAA) and indeed in all sports, and they need to be protected and respected.
“We have asked Sport Ireland to engage with all of the governing bodies in sport.
“This is something that we have heard from Micheal Martin, Chair of the Wexford County Board that there is an issue around retention and recruitment of referees. It’s something that we have to have a national conversation on (around) education and deterrents.
“In fairness, we had a 96-week ban in a recent high-profile case (in Roscommon) and we need to see similar sanctions taken against anyone who abuses a referee in any way, and Sport Ireland are leading on this piece of work.”
Chambers’ comments follow a weekend of attacks at GAA games in Wexford and Kerry, along with similar flashpoints in Roscommon and other counties in recent weeks, which Micheal Martin described as being at 'crisis point' in Wexford.
In better news for sport the Minister of State announced a total of €43m in increased funding for sport from Budget 2023, following yesterday's announcement of an €8m investment in Sport Ireland.
€4m of this money will support high performance ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics in Paris in 2024 with the remainder going towards other measures, including, the National Swimming Strategy, a Coaching Fund and the Sport for All initiative.
The energy fund of €35m will be made available to sports clubs and to support NGBs and grassroots sports organisations to meet to meet with floodlighting, heating of sports halls, swimming pools and gymnasiums, as well as other fuel related costs.
The distribution of the energy payment will be coordinated to clubs and organisations through Sport Ireland.
A further commitment, although one without a defined cash amount, has been given to support the Major Events Division to consider and host major sporting competitions here including Euro 2028, the 2027 Ryder Cup and the 2030 Cricket World Cup.
The €35m energy fund is part of a wider €60m package which was announced by Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath during yesterday’s Budget for a number key areas including the arts and rural communities sectors.
There was nothing in Wednesday's announcement in response to pre-budget submissions by the Federation of Irish Sport (FIS) for gambling and sugar duty revenues, which it wanted streamed towards sporting organisations.
The Federation had been seeking the reallocation of a portion of betting tax and sugar tax revenues, in which it requested 2.25 per cent of all gambling duty and 4.5% of sugar drinks taxation, to fund education programmes.
Despite the failure to gain additional funds from both revenue streams, the Department of Sport said it would continue to explore the proposals by the FIS, but ultimately the issue was one for Revenue.
“The matters raised by the Federation of Irish Sport in relation to taxation are a matter for consideration by the Department of Finance, in consultation with the Revenue Commissioners,” the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media said.
“The Department will continue to engage with the Federation of Irish Sport to explore possible ways in which taxation reform can assist the drive for more funding diversity in Irish sport.”
The €43m sports package is on top of a €1.1 billion budget which currently goes to sport, along with tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht and media.
The current increase represents core funding for all sectors of €45m along with a temporary fund of €90m, to help consolidate recovery from the pandemic.
During his announcements for sport and other sectors, Michael McGrath, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said measures were needed to help sport to rebuild following the devastation of Covid-19.
“These sectors are progressing through the post-pandemic recovery phase, with the easing of restrictions, attendance and participation rates have improved but they remain below pre-Covid levels,” he said.
“I am conscious of the need to provide support again next year for these sectors.”