Minister: Multi-national firms should finance elite amateurs

Minister Brendan Griffin has suggested that multi-national companies in Ireland should be approached with a view to providing financial support for elite amateur athletes.

The idea follows on from an interview given to the Irish Examiner by the Kerry TD earlier this month in which he made the case for tax exemptions for GAA inter-county players and other amateurs.

The opinion has generated significant debate. Among the potential problems pointed out was that the GAA was an all-island organisation, but tax breaks from Dublin would apply only to the 26 counties.

“Look, bar achieving a united Ireland at any stage, you are limited to the 26 counties and what you can do with taxation,” said Griffin, the Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, yesterday at the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin, which will host to the 2018 Para-Swimming European Championships.

“Maybe there are other areas as well, outside of Government taxation policy, where we can assist the players. I’d like to explore all options. If there are one or two measures that we can get over the line that can help our players and athletes, well, then it’s worth doing.”

“I think there is a greater role for philanthropy, especially with the number of multi-nationals we have in Ireland. I think they can pull their weight more,” said Griffin, who confirmed he was referring to support for individual athletes.

The minister is an active GAA member — he was due in Kerry last night to play full-forward with his club Keel in a Mid-Kerry Junior League game away to Cromane — but he stressed again yesterday that his proposals are not restricted to the national games.

“It may be possible and it may not be possible, but it is certainly worth exploring it,” he said of any tax breaks.

“That’s why I raised the point. Some people then would automatically jump down your throat, as if you had given a detailed explanation as to what you are looking to do. I just said that I want to explore the area. Some people reacted with specific points that I never made.

"The level of support on the ground has been enormous. I’ve had athletes contacting me saying ‘thank you for even thinking of us’, because they get lost in the equation a lot of the time.”

The same could be said for sports, as a whole. Though investment in sport is returned in a myriad of ways — among them social, cultural and health and fitness — the pot of money reserved for it by successive governments remains miniscule and, it has to be said, an afterthought.

“Look, there are so many competing demands for money,” said the minister. “You have issues like homelessness, people on trolleys and people who can’t get operations, so sometimes other issues get parked or put back the queue.

“That said, we don’t finance sport enough in this country. We don’t, and we haven’t been all along. Am I going to be the minister who changes that? I don’t know. I will try to. Will it be possible? I’m sure previous ministers have tried as well.

“I have a €30m Sports Capital fund at the moment for €155m worth of applications. I have looked for a top-up on that and it is isn’t there and I understand that it isn’t there and that there are other requirements for the money.”

The manner in which money is distributed can be as important as the amount.

Multi-annual funding has been sought by Sport Ireland and various national governing bodies for some time and Griffin echoed his predecessor, Patrick O’Donovan, in expressing his strong support for such a funding model, which would allow for greater security and planning.

Meanwhile, the 2018 Para Swimming European Championships, featuring 500 athletes from 40 countries, will run on August 13-19 next summer at the National Aquatic Centre.

It will be the first major international event held at the centre since the 2003 European Short Cross Swimming Championships.

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