Relief as sport escapes worst of budget pain

THE majority of the country’s sporting fraternity was breathing a sigh of relief last night after escaping the worst of the budget’s cuts.

The entire sports budget for 2010 will be €115 million, which is a 9% drop on 2009. However, funding for the Irish Sports Council in 2010 will be €49.789m, which only represents a 4% reduction from last April’s emergency budget.

That in turn had represented an 11% drop from the 2008 figures, which various sporting bodies had argued was in itself a large enough cut for any sector to suffer.

In a statement, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen said that the allocation for his department represented “a significant investment by government to enable this important agency maintain existing programmes and build on recent significant progress in all areas”.

“We’re pretty pleased, 4% is a bit of a win,” said Sarah O’Connor, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Sports which represents over 60 national governing bodies and played a central role in lobbying the political body in recent weeks.

Another cause for celebration is the fact that there has been no mention of disbanding the Department for Arts, Sport and Tourism, as recommended by the McCarthy Report, which was one of the key points in the lobbying process.

“There has been some recognition of the role sport plays in society in this budget,” said O’Connor, “but we will continue to press the Government on the need to build on what we have achieved in sport in recent years.”

Bodies in related fields suffered more. The Arts Council’s budget has been decreased by 6%, for example, and the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund by 13%, which Horse Racing Ireland described as “disappointing”.

The Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, €54.5m after the previous budget will now be €47.4m.

However, the minister still spoke glowingly about the horse and greyhound industry and its contribution to Irish society.

“Ireland is the third-largest breeder of thoroughbreds in the world and Irish horses and jockeys consistently succeed at the highest level,” he said. “An estimated 27,000 jobs are supported by both the horse and greyhound industry in Ireland and significant inward investment is attracted to the country.”

Some €48m has also been provided for the Sports Capital Programme in 2010 but these funds are for projects which had already been given the green light some time ago. This year’s freeze on new funds under that programme remains in place.

Elsewhere, the first phase of the National Sports Campus project is to remain under review for now despite reports two weeks ago that the minister was contemplating handing over funds of up to €40m over the next two years to get the stalled project up and running.

The remainder of the funds announced yesterday are almost all for other projects to which the Government had already committed.

An amount of €3m is being provided for the refurbishment of the former Marine Institute building at Abbotstown, which will be used as a headquarters for national governing bodies of sport. The remainder of the allocation will be used to provide for capital maintenance at the National Aquatic Centre.

There is a further allocation of €4.5m for work at the new Aviva Stadium (Lansdowne Road), which is in line with the figures previously agreed. The Government’s total contribution to the project once work is completed will be €191m.


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